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VXR220, 2.0iT, www.topgear.com, 6/7/04

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  • VXR220, 2.0iT, www.topgear.com, 6/7/04

    www.topgear.com
    By: Tom Ford
    Date: July 6th, 2004
    The Yorkshire Moors, a Vauxhall VXR220: A Driving Moment. Roads that roll and roll like a narrowboat in Atlantic swell are carved and slit by the VXR's steering, so sharp and precise that I doubt Yorkshire even feels a thing. Blazing sunshine is making the plus-size sheep sweat themselves into meaty little cotton buds and my contact lenses have welded themselves to my eyeballs because I keep forgetting to blink. Like a five-year-old full of fizzy pop and ice-cream, I'm going off my head with hyperactivity and feel slightly sick, but won't stop bombing around like I forgot my lithium.
    Stamp the newly enlarged cross-drilled brakes and the nose dips a fraction as the trees snap into focus for a moment before you hit the gas yet again. The bwap-bwaaaaap of the fat exhaust gets tingly and metallic the further up the rev-range you reach until, just as you crest that hillock of torque and power, you peer over the edge and slap another gear from the chunky ex-Astra gearbox. The wind rush eventually scoops the richness of the sound away from your ears, leaving a more muted fricative soundtrack, but it's a fine thing to be doing on a sunny day, burned forehead and all. A good day to be driving a car like this.
    But what is it, this new version of the VX220? Well, The VXR220 begins with a stock VX220 Turbo. To this is added some fairly standard performance tuning parts, the most obvious of which are a new turbo, reprogrammed electronic control unit (the ECU - basically the engine's 'brain') and bigger-bore exhaust. Slap on a free-flow air filter to make the thing breathe properly and, hey presto, you have 220bhp and, more importantly, 214lb ft of turbo torque. That's 20bhp-plus and another 15 or so lb ft up on the standard car. There's more to come on the suspension front too, because the VXR has some 10 per cent more torsional rigidity than a standard car, allowing the suspension to do its job without chassis flex messing up all the geometry. A wobbly chassis can often murder brilliant suspension. The suspension itself is different again from standard, with an uprated and lowered Bilstein spring and damper package coupled to new Speedline Corse black wheels and Yokohama A048 semi track-biased rubber.
    It works. With 16-inch wheels on the front of the car and 17s on the back pair, plus those slightly wider tyres (the standard Turbo runs narrower 17-inch front wheels as standard), the VXR has more response, better turn-in and more front end grip than any other VX. It also loses the crash and thump that the standard car suffers from when blatting down a British backroad with more tarmac acne than the average greasy teen. I haven't driven a car this much fun since the Lotus Elise 111R a couple of months ago.
    Ooops. The unmentionable. The Lotus. The VX is developed by the same people who bring you the Elise - it's the same hydroformed and bonded aluminium chassis - and as the Elise has progressed, so has the VX. And just like the newest Elise, where the VXT used to bounce, the VXR is supple and damped like a VW grab handle. Where it used to give in to understeer if you carried a bit too much speed into a corner, the VXR digs deep and simply turns directly from your wrists.
    A lot of the feel is down to those tyres which, when they get a little heat into them, Velcro themselves unswervingly to the tarmac. On a hot sunny day they must knock 10mph off your top speed as they increase your rolling resistance; like having sellotape sticky side down all over your tyres. It could also really do with a bit more throttle response. But overall, the VXR has been sympathetically tuned. It hasn't lost any of the driveability of the standard car. In fact, it betters it by some margin.
    Which makes me wonder why the standard VXT hasn't got these Bilstein dampers. You can specify an optional fully adjustable ?hlins suspension set-up too, but unless you plan to do lots of track work it's probably not worth the extra £1,000 over the standard set-up.
    The VXR only comes in red with black trim, which kind of lends it an air of an extremely grudge-laden mutant ladybird, or possibly a tomato that's been to prison. Inside, you get Lotus 111R sports seats re-trimmed with a VXR logo and fake carbon fibre bits. There's no radio, which matters not a jot. It costs a fiver short of £30k, and makes mincemeat of most supercars with acceleration to 60mph in just over four clicks of the second hand. The car is light, tactile and fun. Vauxhall has done a great job.
    But it's not hard to like small, super-fast roadsters on sunny days. I tend to like them as I enjoy other people's children; have fun with them, but feel rather glad handing them back when things start getting complicated. They have a limited appeal, in very specific situations. The VXR220 is just that little bit more special, though, that little bit more equal than the VX Turbo.
    I'd be tempted, if the finances stretched far enough, to have something like the VXR220 as a Sunday or track car. Enough to scare myself, but not enough to kill myself. And as a limited run of just 65, they'll make a nice halo car for the VX220 range and lend some credibility to forthcoming VXR-branded products. Try one if you can, you will have enormous fun. Just remember to blink.
    Three little letters that mean so much
    Let's face it: it's not exactly a revelation, this Vauxhall VXR business. It's making the basic car some 35-per-cent hotter than stock, garnishing with loudness and releasing back into the wild. Initial launch is with VXR versions of the new Monaro and VXR220 roadster. The VXR Monaro handles the big GT end of things, while the VXR220 is the track-focused racer-alike. In the case of the VX220 Turbo, there's a pretty sharp base car to start with. With the Monaro, well, sharp it ain't. On the basis of these cars, we're tentatively impressed, though the original cars are already characterful. The real test will come as we get the planned, UK-only 230bhp VXR version of the new Astra.
    Model: Vauxhall VXR220
    Rating: 16 out of 20
    We say: The best VX220 of the lot. More power and grip and better suspension. And it wasn't a shabby original
    Price: £29,995
    On your drive for: £750.44pcm
    Performance: 0-62mph in 4.2 secs, 153mph max speed, 33.2mpg
    Tech: 2.0 Turbo four, mid-engine, rwd, 220bhp, 214lb ft, 202g/km CO2
    13
    No No, Please stay...
    38.46%
    5
    Get your coat and leave town...
    61.54%
    8
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