Packing a solid 280PS and featuring a bombproof feel and sharp driving dynamics, the Vauxhall Astra VXR is a car that feels as if it's been engineered with care and not just to attain a headline-grabbing power figure, writes Andy Enright. It's also probably the best-looking car in its class. In other words, there's a lot to like.
There's talent here. The HiPerStrut front suspension does a great job of reducing front wheel camber changes during cornering, boosting steering feel and quelling undesirable torque-steer under hard acceleration. As a result, the VXR's front end feels enormously reassuring. The ESP stability control can be switched from 'Normal' to 'Competitive' and then fully off. Unlike some rivals which feature a mimsy e-diff, the Astra gets a mechanical multi-plate limited slip differential made by motorsport component manufacturer, Drexler. This offers great traction out of corners, where you can feel the diff dragging you to the apex under power. Delicious. As you'd expect, the VXR is properly rapid, smashing its way to 60mph in just 5.9 seconds on the way to a 155mph maximum. It also makes quite a few odd noises, the soundtrack being a symphony of chuffs, whistles and muted roars under full power. It's not a peaky engine, with maximum torque being developed all the way from 2,450 to 5,000rpm. As such, power delivery isn't as dramatic as you might expect, but it's one of those cars that can make effortless cross country progress and is always going 15-20mph quicker than your initial estimate. The Astra VXR is based on the GTC three-door which is one of the best-looking hatches around. I can't think of a more handsome car in its class and the VXR builds on the GTC's fundamentally elegant lines, adding a well-judged amount of aggression without lapsing into caricature. The Vauxhall Astra VXR is an interesting vehicle. It's intriguing from a technical perspective in the way that it makes 280PS through the front wheels seem like such a sensible engineering solution.
It's well equipped, it's a lovely shape, it offers a great blend of ride, handling and sheer oomph and it's not overly showy. Perhaps it lacks that last couple of per cent that separate the very good from the great. Talking to some of the engineers , I left in no doubt that if those last couple of per cent aren't quite there now, they'll be along shortly. This is one to watch.