Date: November 2nd 2005
By: Matt Prior
VAUXHALL IS LABELLING VXR as its aggressive, angry brand, just in case any of us were still in any doubt after the extreme VXR220 and a 398bhp Monaro.
But now the meat of the VXR range is arriving: first the Astra VXR, now the Vectra tested here and next will be the Zafira and Meriva.
And UK buyers are expected to lap them up. Of the 8000 or so VXRs that’ll be made each year, Vauxhall reckons more than half will be sold in Britain. Most of the rest, sold as Opels under the OPC (Opel Performance Centre) tag, will find homes in Germany and Switzerland.
In keeping with the hotshoe reputation that Vauxhall is trying to endow the VXR brand with, the Vectra version gets rather a lot of power, courtesy of a 2.8-litre, turbocharged V6 engine. With 252bhp and 262lb ft of torque, this is the most powerful production Vectra ever, good for 0-60mph in 6.5sec and a 161mph top speed.
Generally the 2792cc V6 is a very good engine; refined and with a broad powerband. At low revs there’s a vocal boom to the exhaust note that’s pleasant at first but could become tiresome in everyday use.
Further up the rev range, power builds smoothly and progressively. The boom disappears, too, but there’s no obvious V6 howl to replace it. Instead, there’s a softer throb through the mid-range, with a cultured growl as you approach the 5500rpm power peak.
The engine’s response, though not its actual output, can be adjusted by a Sport button on the dashboard. In normal mode, throttle response is fairly linear and adjustable, with barely any lag – good for both cruising and fast road driving. But stick it in Sport and, like its Astra VXR stablemate, the Vectra’s turbocharged powerplant becomes rather unruly. It delivers dollops of power when you asked for a smidgen, and a gobful when you ask for a dollop, making it difficult to apply power gradually.
With that kind of engine response delivering hefty power and torque to the front wheels, the Vectra VXR’s chassis needs to be good. Yet, unlike the Astra VXR, the Vectra hasn’t received any of the UK-specific chassis tuning that endowed its sibling with exceptional agility and poise.
Instead, all hot European Vectras feature the latest version of Vauxhall’s IDS-Plus adaptive dampers. It continually adjusts damper response dependent on road and driving conditions, and also controls the stability and anti-lock braking systems.
Like the engine, the dampers’ response is calibrated differently depending on whether you’ve pressed the Sport button on the dashboard. And, like the engine, the dampers are best with IDS-Plus left in normal mode on the closest we could find to a typical British B-road in Palermo.
On that standard setting the Vectra VXR – even running on optional 19-inch alloys with 235/35 tyres – rides fairly well. The dampers do a reasonable job of taking the edges off surface imperfections and bumps, while body control remains composed with spirited driving. In Sport mode, ride quality deteriorates without hugely noticeable improvements in body control.
But in either setting the Vectra is far from perfect. There remains an uncomfortable feeling of being detached from the road surface – something cars with adaptive damping often suffer from. There’s a layer of mush and a slight delay that adversely affects the Vectra VXR. This is especially annoying as it’s so outwardly sporting.
The steering is also guilty here. In overall feel it’s actually not unlike the Astra VXR’s. It’s fast and accurate enough, but lacks any genuine feel – except when the power is gently tugging the wheel one way or the other.
As you approach the Vectra’s (admittedly high) limits, the steering doesn’t respond with any signal of impending loss of grip until the front wheels have actually relinquished it. The brakes could be more progressive, although there’s no doubting their power.
But this is a fast and capable car, and a spacious and refined one at that. Although it’s noisier than a standard Vectra it’s not a loud car, while the decent ride on the standard suspension setting and exceptional Recaro front seats mean it’s a pleasant cruising vehicle.
It also scores highly for practicality. The extremely supportive front seats don’t inhibit rear legroom, while the boot is cavernous at 480 litres.
As you’d expect for a range-topping Vauxhall, equipment levels are generous and, at £23,995 for the saloon and £24,995 for the estate, the Vectra VXR offers plenty of power per pound.
For a fast family car the Vectra is sometimes inhibited by its unruly nature. But as a performance car it falls further short of the mark. Because while the Vectra has adopted some of the Astra VXR’s annoying characteristics, it has inherited rather too little of the smaller car’s magic.
Quick, reasonably capable but ultimately uninvolving fast car.
How much?
Price when new £23,995
Price as tested £23,995
How fast?
0-62mph 6.9 sec
Max Speed 161 mph
How thirsty?
Combined 27.4 mpg
CO2 emissions 274 g/km
How big?
Weight 1390 kg
Layout V6, 2792 cc
Max power 227 bhp at 5500 rpm
Max torque 243 lb ft at 1800 rpm