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Monaro, 6.0iV8 (LS2),, 1/3/05

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  • Monaro, 6.0iV8 (LS2),, 1/3/05
    Date: March 1st, 2005
    By: Tom Ford
    Three average family saloon cars, six economical runabouts, ten Smart ForTwos... and a partridge in a pear tree. Quite possibly gingerly grasping at a credit card smoking white-hot with petrol receipts.
    Whichever way you spin it, a six-litre V8 is not born of parsimony; it was created to produce 400bhp and a gloopy throb of torque from between switched off and idle. That's right, the 5.7 litres and 382bhp of re-badged HSV they called the Vauxhall Monaro VXR MkI felt a bit Elton John, so they've fitted the six-litre GM V8 (the same one as in the latest Corvette) to titivate the chest wig back up to Hasselhoff standards. I can almost hear the local tyre shop guys rubbing their hands.
    It's not just the engine, either; the bonnet has gained a pair of nostrils worthy of a fat camel, plonked unceremoniously in the middle of a scowling face. Fair to say where the old Monaro looked a bit grumpy, the new car looks positively homicidal, and I caught at least two small children weeping hysterical tears on my drive and calling for their mothers to 'stop the monster'. Still, if you like people to glance in their rear-view mirror and see a vehicular incarnation of death bearing down, all the better. It certainly clears the outside lane of stragglers effectively.
    The remainder of the exterior is pretty much the same, apart from a new exhaust with two pairs of tailpipes either side of the necessarily reshaped rear valance, and new double-spoke wheels. These two things don't sit entirely comfortably. The quad pipes, though far better for symmetry, are still a bit Eighties showboat. Far better to have a simple pair of fat mortars either side than enter into some ours-is-more-fussy-than-yours game. And the new wheels simply aren't as cool as the previous model's five-spoke blades, which wouldn't have looked out of place mounted on Boudicca's most slash-and-burn war chariot. Still, on UK roads it makes people stop and stare - we're just not used to something like the VXR.
    Inside, nothing much has changed apart from some silver flashing around the centre console and forward binnacle, as well as all-leather seats. The dash-top oil pressure and voltage gauges have changed style and font, but you'd have to be quite **** to notice. Flick those various gauges into life via the ignition key and there's an instant change in the timbre of response from the exhaust. It sounds almost refined when compared to the original, raspy-throated 5.7-litre, although you still get the amusing back-and-forth rocking when you blip the throttle at standstill.
    The clutch is much softer too, with less-instant pick-up - not the greatest feeling when you've got a big car threading through London traffic. The gearbox also feels much more cosy; still hefty compared to any other car currently on the UK market, but still less robust - which is also not a good thing in a car whose personality is transmitted through its control surfaces.
    The powertrain delivers, though. That new six-litre pumps an easy 400bhp and 391lb ft of torque from an engine the size of my lounge, which might sound a lot, but really isn't when you look at the bhp-per-litre. A Honda Civic Type R gets nearly 200bhp from an engine a third of the size - the Monaro isn't exactly stressed out. But it delivers in a great sweat-free stroke of torque and power that sees the 6,000rpm redline all too quickly. Power slides are on at every roundabout, junction, curve and corner. All supremely easily collected thanks to a long wheelbase and decent steering. The traction control won't save you, though, so beware - you can get a Monaro sideways with the electronics all to attention.
    Clonking through the six-speed gearbox will see a car geared for familiar 80mph/2,000rpm sixth-gear toddling. It's comfy and quiet and has a great stereo - so much so, on a long trip it's a potential licence-loser. Want to make that point a little more clearly? Stretch far enough and the VXR will see the wrong side of 185mph and five-and-a-bit seconds to 62mph. It's big. It's fast. It's from the same people who make the Signum.
    Which is to say that the news isn't all good. The injection of an extra 300ccs and 28bhp isn't the real story behind the six-litre Monaro, because a whole raft of things has been changed. The simplified story is this: the six-litre car is known as the Pontiac GTO in the States, and to comply with several of the more bizarre prongs of American legislation to do with crash protection, the fuel tank has migrated northwards. Into the boot. This means that the fuel tank now takes up half of the boot's available volume, as well as securing a roll-cage all of its own in case you get rear-ended. So that's potentially 60 litres of fuel that's riding just over the rear-axle; a very effective liquid pendulum.
    It shows. There's a stretch on our test route where a left-hander switches back into a long right. In the six-litre car, with half a tank of fuel on board, the flip between radii brings a distressingly hefty movement from the rear axle, followed by continued loading after the suspension has pushed over. It feels as if the fuel is draining through the tank baffles and re-weighting the car. It also changes the 'feel' of the Monaro as fuel is used up. There's also hardly space for a Samsonite anymore. This is really not good.
    I'd like to be more horrible, but even given its faults the Monaro is a shiny little wonder in a world full of drab econo-boxes. But it has emigrated. Somehow the car has lost a little bit of its Australian-ness and become American. It's softer, more manageable and less inclined to corner. It's still a bargain for the big-muscle vibe - but the edge is duller. Then again, it has been said that 'only milk and orange juice should come in two-litre sizes', so I guess I'll take that extra 300ccs and burn my rubber the easy way.
    Score: 15/20
    We say: Muscles bulging like a cartoon superhero, but the six-litre is a little less mad than the image
    Price: £36,995
    On your drive for: £912pcm
    Performance: 0-60mph in 5.7secs, max speed 185mph+, 17.6mpg
    Tech: 5970cc V8, RWD, 400bhp, 391lb ft, 1680kg, 378g/km CO2
    Arden Blue