Holden’s new European-sourced hot hatch is older than you might think. But that doesn’t stop it being a bit of a wild child.
Base price: $49,990.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre turbo petrol four, 206kW/400Nm, 6-speed manual, front-drive, Combined economy 8.0 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 5.9 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4466mm long, 1482mm high, 2695mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 380 litres, 20-inch alloy wheels.
We like: Mad performance, involving handling, sexy styling.
We don’t like: Exhausting after a while, chassis lacks finesse.
How it rates: 7/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? The Holden Astra VXR is a car full of contradictions. It’s a new model intended to foreshadow an increasing European presence in the brand’s lineup, as Australian manufacture winds down. It is of course exactly the same car as the Vauxhall Astra VXR (which stands for VauXhall Racing) sold in Britain and the Opel Astra OPC (Opel Performance Centre) available in other parts of Europe.
The odd thing is that it’s not really new at all. You might not pick it from the dramatic styling, but this generation of Astra dates back to 2009 and is in fact about to be replaced in Europe with an all-new car.
Nor is this really new ground for Holden. The previous Astra was sold in New Zealand until 2009 and the hot three-door version was marketed as the HSV Astra at that time, although the Aussies hadn’t been anywhere near it apart from attaching the badges. It even had an OPC-branded instrument panel.
So newness is perhaps not the defining characteristic of this machine. But it looks pretty exciting all the same, for the VXR is the full-on, fire-breathing performance flagship for the Astra range – a rival for the likes of the Ford Focus ST and Renault Megane RS.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The VXR is an Astra with touch of madness. Peak output of 206kW is extreme for a front-drive small-car and the substantial rubber still struggles to maintain contact with the road under hard acceleration. The VXR revels in imparting a slightly unhinged attitude in hard driving. It’s pretty old-school in that respect – but still blindingly fast.
Here’s how old-school the VXR really is: it’s only available with a six-speed manual transmission. That, and the manic acceleration, make this an enthusiast car only and you’ve got to love that.
There are three drive modes available: standard, Sport and VXR. They change not only the powertrain and steering response, but also the FlexRide adaptive suspension. In truth, the ride is pretty busy even in the standard setting, thanks partly to those monster 20-inch alloys.
But the engine really livens up in Sport mode, which is still quite usable for brisk road driving. VXR max-attack mode makes things pretty abrupt – it’s great for a track day (which we did experience at the media launch of this model recently) but arguably too aggressive for everyday use.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The quality of the Astra is way ahead of anything from Holden’s Australia/Korean stable, such as Cruze, but elements are still a bit old-fashioned. You know, a bit 2009.
There are plenty of soft-touch plastics, but the silver inserts on the dashboard are garish and there’s a weird mix of displays, including a retro-looking red-lit readout in the main instrument panel.
The Astra does get the excellent MyLink information and entertainment system including satellite navigation, but unlike most other Holdens (including the humble Barina) it’s not a touch-screen interface. Nor is the switchgear altogether easy to work out.
There are some pretty sexy detail additions for the VXR though, including a sports steering wheel and gorgeous Recaro seats upholstered in Nappa leather, with eight-way power adjustment.
No, you cannot have the VXR in five-door form. Or any Astra in five-door form at the moment, although that will surely change when the new model comes on stream for New Zealand and the range is broadened.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? The Astra VXR lacks the performance finesse and delicate chassis dynamics of rivals from Ford and Renault, but its sledgehammer attitude is hugely likeable nonetheless. It’s a tremendously exciting car to drive and a pretty sexy one too.
The VXR is certainly showing its age in some respects – but it’s full of youthful vigour in others.
Blind spot warning: No
Lane guidance: No
Cruise control: Yes
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
Parking radar: Rear
Self-parking technology: No
Head-up display: No
Satellite navigation: Yes
Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
Air conditioning: Dual climate
Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/No
Leather upholstery: Yes
Power boot or tailgate: No
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40