There was every reason to mourn the passing of the Monaro, but the Thunder from Down Under hasn’t stopped yet. What better to replace the 6.0-litre V8, rear-drive Aussie performance icon with than an all-new Antipodean muscle car. A car, in fact, just like the VXR8 – a car even more powerful and exciting than the Monaro.
The dramatic-looking new saloon is powered by the same 6.0-litre V8 as the outgoing Monaro VXR, but revisions have made it even more efficient. It now develops a massive 417PS and 550Nm of torque, giving it enough grunt to sprint from 0-60mph in just 4.9 seconds. No other supercar offers this sort of power for anywhere near the VXR8’s bargain price of just £35,105.
Yet the VXR8, based on the Australian Holden VE HSV Clubsport R8, offers more in the way of practicality than the Monaro, with four doors and space for all the family.
Although practical, with a spacious boot, comfortable, long-legged cruising ability and luxuries such as climate control and leather trim, the VXR8 is certainly no softie. Driver aids such as the stability system and traction control can be turned off at the flick of a switch – perfect for drivers who want to hone their skills on a track day!
In response to customer demand, the VXR8 will also be the first VXR model to be offered with an automatic gearbox, but that doesn’t mean that VXR shifted to being dull. Performance figures are hardly affected, and the auto’s fuel economy is actually better than the manual’s.
Satellite navigation and 20-inch wheels are among the options for those who want to make their VXR8 look more distinctive and help find their way to the best driving roads. Even with all the option boxes ticked however, the VXR8 is still around half the price of other cars with comparable performance.
When was the last time you saw an Australian bloke drinking a half of lager? Never? That’s because the Aussies don’t do things by halves, and if you need proof, look no further than the VXR8.
Beefy, muscular and well-toned, the feisty four-door wouldn’t look out of place flexing its muscles among the beach crowd.
Based on the elegant yet unassuming looks of the latest VE-Series Holden Commodore, VXR8 takes the clean lines of a well-proportioned saloon car and gives them a supercar touch.
Neat styling features include a butch-looking front spoiler with extra mesh air intake, along with piercing round driving and foglamps set in unique, trapezoidal pods. Supercar-style cooling fins adorn the car’s flanks, while the wheelarches are flared outwards to give the appearance of stability and provide room for the huge tyres – 245/40 19s at the front, or 275/35 19s at the rear.
If 19s are too weedy, 20-inch alloys developed by Walkinshaw Performance are available as an option at £2,500, along with a Walkinshaw developed exhaust system, which sounds even more brutal than the standard set-up and costs £950.
At the rear, VXR8 comes with a twin-post rear wing, quadruple exhaust outlet pipes and unique ‘afterburner’ rear lights, which include the latest LED technology to not only look stealthily cool, but also offer greater safety by being faster to reach full brightness than standard bulbs.
Inside, VXR8 is just as special as it looks from the outside. Uniquely-tailored sports seats, complete with hand-stitched VXR8 logos, give the car a distinctive yet alluring look.
The cabin incorporates all of the switches and gadgets you’d expect from a sporting saloon, including automatic climate control, electric seat adjustment and a multi-function trip computer, complete with full colour display screen for infotainment and ventilation options.
But there are other features that mark the VXR8 out as truly special. The flat-bottomed steering wheel, for example, is a feature shared with the highly-acclaimed Corsa VXR, while other sporting touches include alloy-covered pedals, red backlit instruments and an additional pod of dials incorporating oil temperature, oil pressure and battery voltage measurements.
Bluetooth phone connectivity means you can keep mobile while on the move, while other convenience features include automatic lighting control and speed-dependent windscreen wipers.
As well as offering a sense of occasion and comfort for up to five passengers, VXR8 is also big on protection, with six airbags, active head restraints and three-point seatbelts for all passengers, front and rear.
One of Monaro’s most alluring features was its beastly V8 engine – a modern interpretation of the legendary GM small block, which has powered – quite literally – millions of performance cars across the globe throughout the past 50-plus years.
And the good news is that VXR8 gets an even newer variant of the venerable powerplant. The 6.0i LS2 unit is based on the same engine that has powered the Monaro to success in the Australian V8 Supercar Series, and has thrust the Corvette to class victories at the Le Mans 24-Hour Race.
Yet despite being one of the most established engines of all-time, the Generation 4 evolution of it is modern where it matters, with a sophisticated intelligent engine management system that monitors and adjusts its activities every 6.25 milliseconds, ensuring peak performance at all times.
The exhaust manifolds split from four into two into one to minimise power loss, while the large diameter stainless steel exhaust offers an aural accompaniment that’s easily in keeping with the engine’s legendary reputation for awesome power and performance.
Speaking of which, VXR8 delivers 417PS (307Kw) at 6,000rpm, coupled to an impressive torque output of 550Nm (405 lb ft) @ 4,400rpm. That’s 45PS and 40Nm more than the smaller Mercedes C55 AMG, despite the VXR8 being more than £14,000 cheaper to buy.
For the first time, VXR8 introduces the option of an automatic gearbox to the VXR brand, although a six-speed manual transmission comes as standard. The self-shifter is also a six-speed, and was introduced to satisfy customer demand. A £1,400 option, it is actually more economical than the manual, and includes selectable ratios so you can drive it like a manual.
Whichever model you go for, the performance is phenomenal. 0-60mph takes just 4.9 seconds in the manual or 5.0 seconds in the auto. We’d love to tell you how fast it goes flat out, but the Australians never quote top speeds and Vauxhall has yet to put one on a track and find out!
Chassis, brakes and suspension
In keeping with the rest of the VXR range, VXR8 is a carefully-honed performance car, and not just a tweaked saloon. Beneath the skin it features a highly-developed and sophisticated chassis, with bushes and damper rates specifically developed to cope with the demands of British driving surfaces.
At the front, a MacPherson strut arrangement benefits from progressive rate springs and an anti-roll bar, while at the rear VXR8 comes with a state-of-the-art independent, multi-link set-up, again with progressive-rate springs and matched damper calibration. Here, the springs and dampers work in harmony to deliver optimum stability, yet at the same time help deliver a comfortable and compliant ride, with none of the tooth-rattling firmness of some rivals.
A sophisticated ESP system comes as standard to enhance the car’s safety on the road, but should you venture along to a track day, the whole lot can be turned off, allowing you to exploit the chassis’s capabilities.
VXR8 also gets the largest brakes ever fitted to a Vauxhall. At the front, there are 365mm diameter ventilated and grooved discs, aided by race-bred four-piston callipers to help deliver incredible stopping power. At the rear, the discs are 350mm in diameter, and are again ventilated, grooved and helped by four-piston callipers. This enables the VXR8 to brake to a standstill from 62mph in under 36 metres – shorter than a Lamborghini Gallardo.
Despite this impressive stopping power, further brake improvements and chassis tuning packs are available through Walkinshaw performance, turning it into an even more focused muscle car.