Last week, we were in the blue corner, reviewing the Ford Focus ST, so it’s only fitting we introduce Holden’s very own hot-hatch, the Astra VXR, from the red corner. It seems only appropriate following Holden’s win at Bathurst last weekend, and with the knowledge the famous Holden v Ford battle, born on Mt Panorama, will, in future, be fought out with European cars.
To start with, the Holden Astra VXR looks the business. It’s sleek, stylish three-door body has puffed guards front and back, a solid shoulder line, heavily raked front and back glass, spoilers at each end, twin exhausts and stunning 20-inch alloy wheels, giving it massive visual appeal.
And it offers a very good bang for your buck.
GM’s engineers clocked up 10,000km fanging (they call it testing) around the punishing Nurburgring Nordschliefe circuit in Germany, so its little wonder it has plenty of on-road pizazz.
It packs a 206 kW and 400Nm punch from its two litre, direct injected, twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which matches the Golf R (and the original Honda NSX) and easily eclipses the Focus ST. Mated exclusively to a six-speed manual gearbox, the Astra VXR takes just six seconds to get to 100km/h and it will do 230km/h.
I enjoyed the mid range grunt that had me catapulting out of corners and its raucous exhaust tune that filled the cabin with a sense of excitement. I barely used the audio system, as I was swept up by the music of the turbo four, under the bonnet.
With all that torque driving through the front wheels, I was expecting a fight to keep it straight every time I planted my foot. But its big Michelin tyres fed the grunt to the ground surprisingly well and there was no torque steer to speak of.
I found the electro-hydraulic steering nicely weighted, quick, communicative and accurate and despite the VXR sitting on firm springs and having a low ride height, its ride was never harsh or uncomfortable.
All that fanging, (er, sorry testing) at the Nuburgring paid off, as the independent front and watts link rear suspension makes it corner as if on rails and it’s a very intoxicating feeling. Its agility and poise can be attributed to its limited slip differential, and driver selectable, three-mode Flex-ride system. Each mode, Normal, Sport and VXR deliver different levels of suspension stiffness, steering weight and throttle response and unlike the Insignia VXR I drove recently, it is easy to pick the differences in each.
Its racetrack breeding continues with its strong braking performance, the cross-drilled discs and Brembo brakes have a lovely progressive and solid feel.
Inside, it is superbly finished and surprisingly roomy, though taller folk should reserve a front pew. The front seats are electrically adjustable nappa leather Recaro’s; the steering wheel is also leather trimmed and a dial rather than a touch screen operates the MyLink infotainment screen and the centre console controls are a bit fussy. There is no reversing camera or front parking sensors.
Apart from those omissions, Holden has ticked just about every box in the features book and loaded the VXR with dual zone air-con, auto headlights and wipers, idle-stop, trip computer, digital radio and a comprehensive multi-function display.
Safety wise the Astra VXR gets six airbags, anti-lock brakes, daytime running lights, speed limiter, rear parking sensors, Electronic Stability and Traction Control Systems, Brake Fade Assist, Cornering Brake Control and Hill start assist
The VXR is keenly priced at $39,990 (+ORC) making it $1,000 more than the Focus ST. It offers a strong blend of performance, refinement and eye-catching looks.
Seems the Holden v Ford battle is set to continue as strong as ever, for years to come.