It’s a straightforward car, the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS. A 576bhp supercharged 6.2-litre V8 engine sits under the bonnet and sends power to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox.
The big four-door saloon – which is a rebadged Holden model imported from Australia – is also around £20k cheaper than similarly powerful rivals such as the BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG, so the appeal is pretty straightforward, too. A Jaguar XFR is closer on price, if slightly down on power.
A six-speed automatic is available for an extra £1700 over the entry price of £54,499.
What’s the 2014 Vauxhall VXR8 GTS like?
In a market that’s brimming with cars characterised by electronics – which includes the Vauxhall’s core rivals – the latest VXR8 feels refreshingly raw. Everything from the hefty shove the stumpy gearlever requires, to the supercharger whine that overlays the classic V8 warble speaks of a car that’s made with hammers and spanners rather than laptops.
This grittiness is no bad thing. It gives the big Aussie saloon that heavy-handed, no-nonsense muscle car feel that has always been key to its charm ever since its predecessor, the Monaro, was introduced back in 2004. Yet things have definitely moved on with the GTS.
For a start, that mechanical feel is really an illusion. Twist the Driver Preference Dial and you can switch between Touring, Sport (the default mode), Performance and Track, which adjusts the dampers, stability and traction controls, exhaust note and steering weight.
Regardless of which setting you choose, the VXR8 offers addictive performance. At lower revs there’s an echo of the lazy, naturally aspirated V8, but it becomes gradually more frenzied as you rip through the rev range to the 6000rpm redline. It’s not unpredictable – it piles the speed on in a linear fashion – but the sheer abundance of power gives the VXR8 GTS a real ferocity that its predecessors lacked.
The performance focus is far more obvious in Performance or Track mode because the exhaust gains a more rebellious note and the steering weights up.
True, there’s always noticeable body movement from this big saloon, and you’re very aware of its size, but the active dampers keep things pretty well controlled, so you can thread the VXR8 through bends with a surprising amount of finesse. The new torque-vectoring system, which brakes the inside rear wheel to help the car turn into corners more keenly, is partly to thank for this.
The steering lets the side down, though. Regardless of which setting the GTS is in, the responses are inconsistent and it's also pretty numb. It falls way short of the sort of precise, natural feeling you get from, say, a Jaguar XFR or a Mercedes E63 AMG.
Ride comfort is more impressive. Despite standard 20-inch alloys, the VXR8 GTS settles well on the motorway, and although it can thump over sharp-edged holes or cracks in the road, even town driving is a reasonably relaxed affair. The brakes are no less successful, offering reassuring initial bite and easy modulation.
Refinement is unlikely to be a key concern if you’re considering this hearty muscle car, but actually on a steady cruise the engine quiets to a gentle thrum, and although tyre and wind noise is quite noticeable, the Vauxhall deals with long distances very well.
What’s the 2014 Vauxhall VXRS GTS like inside?
An eight-inch colour touch-screen is the focal point of the interior, and metal highlights contrast nicely with the leather and Alcantara that adorn the dash and seats.
Put simply, the GTS has a more appealing cabin than any previous VXR8 model, but it’s still a long way off the quality of its key rivals. Everything from the big, brash fonts on the dials, to the too-fiddly touch-screen and the oversized, slightly tacky VXR8 name-plate set in front of the gearlever, feels a bit low-rent.
That said, the electrically adjustable seats are very comfortable and supportive, and while the pedals are a bit offset to the right, most drivers will be able to get comfortable easily enough.
There’s also loads of room on the back seats to allow two very tall adults to slouch in comfort, or three to fit with some elbow shoving. A decent-sized, if slightly shallow, boot finishes the package.
Should I buy one?
Vauxhall reckons it’ll sell just 25 examples in the UK.
That’s no surprise, really, because the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS is hard to justify. It just doesn’t feel like a £55k car to sit in – despite the interior improvements over previous models – and it doesn’t steer or handle as precisely as other super-saloons, such as the BMW M5, Jag XFR or Mercedes E63 AMG.
Our money would go elsewhere, particularly given that those rivals already mentioned are available with huge discounts that bring them closer to the VXR8 than list prices suggest – very close in the case of the XFR. However, the VXR8 GTS is still a fun, charming car that takes the classic muscle car formula and adds a welcome new layer of sophistication.
What Car? says...
Engine size Supercharged 6.2-litre V8 petrol
Price from £54,499
Torque 546lb ft
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy 18.9mpg