The number of genuine muscle cars on the road today is pretty limited, so you have to praise Vauxhall for importing this HSV Gen-F GTS from its Australian sister brand, Holden, and badging it the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS.
The recipe here is about as muscle car as it gets. A 6.2-litre V8 related to that in the Chevy Camaro – supercharged all the way up to 576bhp – drives the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox (an auto is optional). It’s simple, but not as simple as the old VXR8, with this car also getting adaptive dampers, torque vectoring and launch control.
Most noteworthy of all about the GTS – once you’ve got over the brash styling – is the way it accelerates. Unlike turbocharged cars, the throttle response and acceleration are instantaneous.
There’s no flooring the pedal and feeling the revs build, before surging forwards – you simply plant your foot and brace yourself for a huge shove in the back. Acceleration from 0-60mph takes 4.2 seconds, but with the instant responses, the tyres scrabbling for traction and the roaring V8 providing the drama, it actually feels a lot quicker.
We’d only previously tested the VXR8 on its home soil in Australia and on smooth French roads. Thankfully, though, it feels much the same in the UK, and that has a lot to do with the adaptive dampers. Switch them to Tour mode and the GTS actually feels quite soft. Switch up through Performance, Sport and Track modes and you’ll feel everything firm up – but without the wheels ever crashing or thumping into potholes.
The handling is good, too, allowing this huge, heavy car to feel as nimble as a lightweight coupé. You have to be really careful with the traction control, though, because it doesn’t take much to light up the rear tyres in the middle of a corner.
The steering is slightly odd – it seems to do the reverse of most powered systems, boasting lots of weight at low speeds and then a disconcerting lightness at high speeds.
Also, the interior’s not quite as good as it should be. The amount of buttons is a little confusing, the boost gauge gets rather lost behind the gearstick and some of the materials feel a bit low-rent. The fact that you get a Holden steering wheel and a few HSV logos dotted about the cabin doesn’t help, either.
But there’s a very good reason for all those money-saving ploys; this car could actually save you a lot of cash. It’ll cost you ‘only’ £54,499, which is around £20,000 less than the Mercedes E63 AMG and BMW M5 – yet it offers an equally big boot, four doors and the same earth-shattering performance.
Admittedly, both these competitors have the edge for quality, styling and handling finesse – but the VXR8 GTS delivers an abundance of charm.
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