Road test rewind: Vauxhall VXR8

Production ended last October for arguably Australia’s greatest automotive export, the Holden Commodore – and with that end, one of the UK car market’s strangest and most enriching seams of import supply has forever dried up. Vauxhall’s lurid, unreconstructed, antediluvian, V8-powered, infamous Aussie-built Anglophile – the VXR8 – is no more.

But before it stopped, Vauxhall put in one last order with HSV for just 15 examples of a special-edition VXR8: the GTS-R. It comes with a dab more power than the GTS we tested in 2014, as well as various other mechanical tweaks, styling modifications and cabin upgrades.

Running the same LSA-family Chevrolet ‘small-block’ V8 as the Camaro ZL1 (remapped and fitted with a new air filter compared with the one in the regular VXR8 GTS), the GTS-R has 587bhp on which to struggle by. And although that’s more than any VXR8 or indeed Vauxhall has ever had before, it does leave the car shy of the headline power output of cars of its ilk from Mercedes-AMG, Audi Sport and BMW M by a clearly present margin, however narrow.

The GTS-R’s dying-breed status is detectable in the weight and tactile feel of almost every one of its controls; in every delicious crack and flaw of its bleeding heart, blood and thunder motive character; and in so much of the wonderfully idiosyncratic way that it goes about flinging its 1.9 tonnes at the horizon when you really stretch its legs.

In an era of 4WD, paddle-shift-equipped performance saloons crammed to the roof with advanced chassis technology intended to make ever increasing speeds ever more easy to achieve, the GTS-R asks you simply to clock on and play your part before returning on your investment incredibly vividly.

Equally, when it comes to offering habitable handling margins, and really entertaining its driver with its supremely well-balanced and singularly benign cornering manners, there probably isn’t another performance four-door in the world this good. On the road, there are more agile and immediate-feeling rivals and, at times, more composed ones, but the brilliance of this wonderful driver’s car is that it would make many of them seem soulless, flat and unexciting in a broader sense.

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