We always like to 'keep it real' here at Evo Towers (the odd £330K Porsche notwithstanding), so with our big, burbling 6-litre Monaro returned to Vauxhall, we were happy to welcome a replacement from the more affordable end of the fast car spectrum.
Our new Astra VXR arrived amidst a flurry of Fast Fleet activity, and with my own long-termer's arrival still some weeks away, I snaffled the keys to KE55 OFA to see for myself how Vauxhall's new hot hatch contender measures up.
First impressions are positive. The VXR range's signature Flame Red paintwork seems a little old-school compared to the funkier colours available on the likes of the Focus ST, but the exterior styling is sharp, with its hawkish front end, jutting chin, shallow side-windows and bold wheel design.
Inside, the Recaro seats grip nicely, although they lack lumbar support and the seating position is a bit lofty, your legs dangling down more than pointing forward. There's a lot to be said for a good vantage point for everyday driving, though.
Such is life here at evo, the Astra has been used every day since its arrival and was already well run-in by the time I got my hands on it, meaning that the 6500rpm red line could be approached without guilt. Despite having 237bhp to channel through its front wheels, the Astra isn't completely unruly. OK, its delivery isn't exactly refined either - there's torque steer, for sure - but it doesn't feel like a chore to push the Astra along a tricky B-road, even when you're not entirely in the mood. The VXR is a great ground-coverer.
It's not perfect, though. Comparisons with our long-term Golf GTI are inevitable, and it certainly lacks the last few degrees of connectedness that the VW hands over willingly. Prodding the Sport button on the Astra's dash brings you closer, firming up the steering and damping to levels that a hot hatch buyer probably wouldn't complain about if they were the standard settings, but it also takes the gimmickry too far by sharpening the already-twitchy accelerator's response to a level that makes it hard work to measure out the power smoothly. A bit of an own goal.
Other minor irritations have already raised their heads. The satnav (a £1250 option) can't be accessed without the radio/CD player being switched on, and every time you start the engine the radio blares out at you - regardless of whether or not you were enjoying some tunes the last time you drove the car. No doubt there's a fix if you can be bothered to root through the settings, but it seems like a dumb feature in the first place.
Gripes aside, there's a strong car inside the VXR. Whether its abilities can outshine its shortcomings we'll discover over the next few months.
|Date acquired||February 2006|
|Mileage this month||1972|
|MPG this month||25.9mpg|