What is it?
The Vauxhall Astra VXR Arctic Edition. Not a cooler version of the capable new Astra, but effectively a run-out special edition of the old one. There’ll be 500 and it costs £23,595.
Nothing new to report, unfortunately. There are no changes under the skin, no new exhausts or extra horses, so it’s the same 237bhp/236lb ft 2-litre turbo petrol engine hooked up to an uncomplicated front-wheel-drive chassis. At the time of its launch, the VXR led the way in the hot hatch class; that much power through the steering wheels was unprecedented. Now it’s trumped by hatches from Mazda, Ford, VW and SEAT to name a few, and they handle more power with (mostly) more ability.
What’s it like to drive?
Old school. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is entirely down to personal opinion, but it’s hard to deny the Astra VXR has its own appeal.
The engine pulls strongly, in all gears and from few revs, with very little lag. Nail the throttle, however, and you’ll be contending not only with torque steer but – thanks to a jostly ride – a noticeable amount of bump-steer too, the wheel fidgeting in your hands as the car deals with imperfect roads.
When cornering there’s a disconcertingly disconnected feel on turn-in, the ride suddenly uncommunicative and the steering light. It’s rather at odds with the impressive amount of traction (hence speed) you can take out of bends.
It’s a car you need to learn then, the VXR. To begin with you’ll be taking corners with much less gusto than the grip can handle until your confidence builds. When it does, your progress is accompanied by amusing amounts of turbo whoosh, exhaust pops and tyre squeal. It may not be the smoothest point-to-point hot hatch, but it’s certainly not dull.
How does it compare?
Its price and gadget-count may impress on first acquaintance, but the Astra feels old now. The interior and driving position feel off the pace in today’s hot hatch market. For price and practicality, the cheaper and identically powered SEAT Leon Cupra has it licked. If you want a characterful, special edition hot hatch, a lightly used Renaultsport Megane R26.R delivers greater pace, a more beguiling driving experience and true individuality for less cash.
Anything else I need to know?
There’s a lap timer in the media/nav/trip computer interface. If you intend taking the VXR on track to try it out, consider uprating the brakes, which don’t inspire much confidence when pushed hard. And check that the timer won’t invalidate your trackday insurance, too…
There’s also a properly hot version of the new-style Astra not too far around the corner.