What’s Hot: Bang-for-buck quotient is huge, stellar handling, powerful engine
What’s Not: Getting old now, messy infotainment interface and sub-par interior quality
X-FACTOR: The Astra VXR is one heck of a hot hatch for reasonable money. Racetracks are definitely its preferred habitat.
Vehicle Style: Three-door hot hatch
Engine/trans: 206kW/400Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cl | 6spd manual
Look familiar? It should.
Mechanically it’s unchanged from its Opel-badged forebear, but Holden has sharpened the Astra’s value equation by dropping the price and adding more standard equipment.
At $39,990, the Astra VXR is one hell of a lot of performance hot-hatch.
Down below, 20-inch alloys are standard, a DAB+ digital radio tuner has been added inside and the Bluetooth system now has both phone and audio integration (the Opel only had phone connectivity).
Holden’s MyLink infotainment system also brings internet-enabled apps like Pandora and Stitcher, allowing you to stream music off the web via your phone’s data connection.
We’ve driven this car before as an Opel, but Holden’s (re)launch programme included plenty of track time at Queensland’s Norwell Circuit.
And with the Astra VXR targeting keen motoring enthusiasts with a penchant for the occasional track day, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a deeper look at how the VXR performs in the environment it was designed for.
On The Track
Settle into the leather-shod driver’s seat, and straight away the Astra VXR gives off a sporty vibe.
The seat is entirely unique to the VXR. Mounted low in the chassis and built around a lightweight plastic frame, it also boasts adjustable backrest and squab bolsters and can be tailored to fit any driver.
Once strapped in you feel hunkered down, shoulders level with the window sill. Its very racy, yet very comfortable.
The steering wheel isn’t so great, with two big slippery chrome trim pieces on its lower half that aren’t as nice to grip as the full leather rim up top. Don’t let your hands venture south of 9 and 3, and you’ll be fine.
The rest of the interior is similar to that of the Astra GTC, with the exception of two buttons at the top of the centre console: one marked 'Sport', the other 'VXR'.
Don’t touch either of them, and the Astra VXR is fairly docile. The throttle isn’t too sensitive, the adjustable dampers are slackened off and the steering is light.
But, punch in Sport and the suspension stiffens and steering weights up. Still looking for more? Prod the VXR switch and engine response becomes much sharper, full boost is unleashed earlier and the steering gets even heavier.
We’re at a track, so VXR mode it is.
Norwell Driving Centre is very flat, not terribly generous with runoff and not a fast circuit either. That said, it’s somewhere between a driver training facility and a full-fledged race track, and well-suited to hot hatches like the VXR.
And boy does the VXR just love it.
Pin the throttle and after a brief moment of lag the 206kW/400Nm 2.0 litre turbo four rockets the VXR down each straight with a roar of turbo induction noise.
The gearshift throw is a touch long but can be hustled quickly with a flick of the wrist.
The VXR may only be available as a manual, but it’s a good ‘un. With peak torque available between 2400rpm and 4800rpm, you don’t have to constantly row through the gearbox either.
Approach the first corner, stand on the sizable Brembo brakes with their 355mm front rotors and the VXR sheds speed just as rapidly.
Ease off the middle pedal as you turn in (relishing the direct and nicely weighted steering as you do so), and the nose tucks into the corner neatly.
Understeer is minimal, thanks to a combination of sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber and the Astra’s clever Hiperstrut front suspension, which blends the design of a common MacPherson strut with that of a proper multi-link front end.
The rear suspension is a relatively primitive torsion beam with a Watts linkage, but suspension sophistication isn’t quite so necessary for the back axle of a FWD performance car as it is for the front.
Cornering composure is outstanding; lift the throttle sharply on corner entry and the nose will tuck in instantly - this is a fun chassis, with approachable limits.
Because of the VXR’s nifty front suspension, torque steer is minimised when you start feeding in the power.
There’s also a mechanical limited-slip differential in the transaxle, which reduces wheelspin under power - especially when the front wheels are turned.
What that means, on track, is that you can start re-applying power sooner in the VXR.
The VXR’s ability to get drive to the road with the front wheels turned gives it a real edge over some other FWD cars in a track environment.
That’s a definite advantage on Norwell’s long sweeping right-hander, which can be tackled at full-throttle in the VXR without much threat of power understeer or acceleration-neutering inner wheelspin.
After a handful of hard laps the VXR’s brake pedal began to get a little long as the brake fluid got hot, but that’s not unexpected for a fast hatch with sticky tyres on a tight, relatively low-speed track.
Complaints? Not many.
Brake fade, though present, was fairly minimal and turbo lag is about on par with what you find in a Renault Megane RS 265.
As a road car we’d get frustrated by the dicky infotainment system and disappointed by the lacklustre cabin, but as a hot hatch the Astra VXR is tremendous value.
It’s very much capable of mixing it with the Scirocco R and Megane RS 265 (both of which are considered A-grade FWD hot hatches), has more power and torque than either and costs several thousands of dollars less.
It’s getting on in years now, but age hasn’t wearied it. If you’re looking for big performance in a little hatch for a competitive price, the Holden Astra VXR deserves a very close going-over.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Astra GTC - manual - $26,990
- Astra GTC - automatic - $29,190
- Astra GTC Sport - manual - $29,990
- Astra GTC Sport - automatic - $32,190
- Astra VXR - manual - $39,990