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Vauxhall VXR220

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Tweaked VX Turbo leads Vauxhall's performance charge, but you'll have to be quick to secure one

Apologies if this is the first you've heard of the VXR220, the track-focused, fastest-ever VX220, because by now it is probably sold out. Just 60 of these ΂£30K specials are to be built and most of them were bagged at the motor show back in May. The VXR220 and Monaro VXR are the models that launch Vauxhall's new sporting brand; in time we are promised VXR versions of other models, including Astra and Vectra.

VXR brand manager Stuart Harris said: 'We want to make cars that are as much fun at 50mph as they are at 150, cars that you know are going to be fun after driving just 100 yards down the road.'

The know-how underpinning this welcome push will come from Lotus, which is behind the VXR220. Dynamics experts at the Norfolk-based company will be involved in fashioning the keener ride and handling of VXR-spec Astras and Vectras, though the VXR-spec Monaro has not been subjected to their scrutiny.

Looking at the VXR220 with its lightly squiggle-treaded Yokohama A048s and stiffer suspension you'd expect it to feel like an open-top Exige, but according to Gavan Kershaw, the Lotus engineer who has overseen its development, the basic Elise platform is so sensitive that a difference in wheelbase gives a different feel. In this case, the Exige is on a shorter platform which means it has added agility. We'll see. What you are getting, of course, is a VX220 built with the know-how that created the Exige, which has to be a good thing.

The crucial difference between the VXR220 and Exige is that the Vauxhall is turbocharged while the Lotus is normally aspirated. In standard form the VX Turbo has more power and torque than the Exige and new Elise (both use the 189bhp Toyota VVTLi engine) but for the VXR the 197bhp Vauxhall 2-litre unit has been uprated so that its power now aligns with the name. That means a strong 220PS (or 217 imperial bhp) and the gains in torque are even bigger, the peak rising from 184lb ft to 210. More significantly, it is a peak instead of being artificially capped, which should make a significant difference to the feel of the performance.

As in the standard ΂£26,495 VXT, the engine still sounds quite plain but within yards you can sense that the steering has a heightened alertness about it and the ride is firmer, too. Compared with the VXT, the VXR rides 10mm lower and its Bilstein damped suspension is six per cent stiffer up front and 14 per cent stiffer at the rear. However, the tougher sidewalls of the trackday-spec Yokohamas add to this, with 16in wheels at the front and 17s at the rear (the VXT has 17s all round).

Although the ride is firmer, there is still that marvellous sensation of a small, light and supple car beneath you, and once you've attuned to the more reactive steering, the pace and grip the VXR conjures up are simply superb.

The section of North Yorkshire Moors soon unfolding before us is outstanding, the tarmac looping, dipping and cresting in rapid succession, and the VXR feels poised and precise. The extra steering weight brought by the wider front tyres allied to tighter wheel control allows you to push on and flow along at a pace that would leave most other performance cars floundering. Snapper Kenny P is behind in our long-term Nissan 350Z and he's always game for a spot of tag, but even his legendary ability to make progress can't prevent the VXR romping away.

It's not just the VXR's handling that makes it so effective, though. The uncapped torque of its higher performing engine makes it feel substantially more potent than the VXT, with real punch right across the rev range. I didn't have the heart to tell Kenny that I'd hardly used full revs for the whole 20-mile length of the road. The VXR delivers terrific urge just when you need it, allowing you to hold a higher gear and get into a relaxed rhythm that results in effortless, entertaining and absorbing pace. For those more serious about trackdays, stiffer, adjustable Ohlins dampers are offered as an option for ΂£1000.

It's a shame that the run of VXR220s is so limited and that the life of the VX Turbo is coming to an end late next year because no matter how good the Astras, Vectras and even Monaros that will continue to promote the VXR brand, none will send such a clear, positive message that Vauxhall means business as the VXR220.

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evo RATING

 
[+]
Brilliant handling, gutsy engine
[-]
Same price as an Exige

evo SPECIFICATIONS

 
Engine: In-line 4-cyl, 1998cc, turbo
Max power: 217bhp @ 6300rpm
Max torque: 210lb ft @ 4800rpm
0 - 60mph: 4.2sec (claimed)
Top speed: 153mph (claimed)
Price: £29,995
On Sale: Now (see text)

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