The latest in our series of half price hot hatches is a car that deserves more attention than it’s ever given: the Vauxhall Astra GTC VXR. Underrated when new, it continues to fly beneath the radar even now you can pick one up for less than 50 per cent of its original £27,720 list price.
This is the second generation VXR, which went on sale in 2012 and is based on the Astra ‘J’. Where its predecessor had been crude but effective, the aim with its replacement was to create a more rounded car, capable of taking on a Volkswagen Golf GTI not only when it came to power and speed, but in design and comfort terms too.
Rather than basing it on the five-door Astra, Vauxhall (read Opel for markets other than the UK) instead turned to the three-door GTC for the foundations of its latest VXR. This immediately gave it a healthy amount of visual appeal, boosted by a restrained (by VXR standards) but effective bodykit and 19-inch alloy wheels. Compared with some hot hatches it could almost be described as exotic.
The mechanical specification is just as enticing. Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine kicking out 276bhp and 295lb ft of torque, which in turn makes this a Vauxhall Astra than can get from 0-60mph in just 5.9 seconds. Channeling that much power through the front wheels isn’t terribly simple, which is why Vauxhall equipped the VXR with both a mechanical limited-slip differential and its HiPerStrut front suspension, which reduces torque steer (that’s the wheel pulling from side to side when you accelerate hard).
There are a few other neat details to geek out on, like the way the upgraded 20-inch alloys are actually lighter than the 19s on account of being forged rather than cast, the use of Brembo floating disc brakes to reduce weight, and the standard inclusion of adaptive dampers to improve everyday comfort levels.
Sure enough, the Astra VXR is an accomplished car when it comes to long motorway drives, riding well despite its enormous wheels and lowered ride height. In fact, aside from a heavy clutch and lacklustre visibility, it gives the Golf GTI a good run for its money when it comes to the day-to-day stuff, and is roomy enough to fit for four with ease.
The engine can suffer from a little turbo lag if you floor the accelerator without enough revs on the dial, but once on song the performance is serious. It’s backed up by a great soundtrack, a hard-edged four-cylinder growl overlaid with the whoosh and whistle of the turbocharger. The manual gearbox isn’t the slickest around, but the brakes are seriously powerful, and although the steering lacks feel the way the VXR locks on to your chosen line and then sucks you through the corner is borderline addictive.
Not even the fancy front suspension can contain the torque steer completely, but for anybody who likes to feel involved in the driving experience that’s not necessarily a terrible thing.
First of all you need to decide whether to buy a standard VXR or one with the optional Aerodynamic Pack. This replaces the standard 19-inch wheels with the lighter 20-inch rims and adds a bi-plane rear spoiler and larger side skirts. In either case road tax is £270 per year and you can expect to see around 25mpg if driven sensibly, or closer to 20mpg if you start to really use the performance.
Inspect the paintwork thoroughly, as early cars were susceptible to stone chips, so much so that Vauxhall fixed many of them under warranty. Inside the car the lever for the seat folding mechanism can break, and it’s always worth checking the electrical items work too. Also bear in mind the long doors make it tricky to get out in tight parking spaces.
On a test drive the main consideration is the gearbox. Listen for any whining and crunching sounds between first and second gears in particular, or for the car jumping out of gear, and consider taking out a warranty if the car doesn’t already come with one. It’s also worth changing the gearbox oil when the car is serviced every year.
Replacement brakes and tyres are expensive so you’ll be wanting to find a car with plenty of wear left in both, and as with any hot hatch look for signs that it’s been looked after, which means checking the general condition, plus looking for a car with a full service history and high quality tyres. If in doubt it’s worth paying for a specialist to inspect the car for you.
Vauxhall Astra VXR
Power: 276bhp @ 5500rpm/295lb ft @ 2500-4500rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Shopping for a new vehicle?
Bring along CarGurus’ mobile app to help check prices, find good deals, and research cars on your smartphone.