2016 Holden Astra VXR review
Paul Murrell’s first drive 2016 Holden Astra VXR review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
IN A NUTSHELL: The Astra VXR might be a little long in the tooth, but it has the credentials to take on the more highly fancied hot hatches.
2016 HOLDEN ASTRA VXR
PRICE from $39,990 (plus ORC); WARRANTY three-year, 100,000 kilometres; SAFETY five-star EuroNCAP; ENGINE 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, 206kW @ 5300rpm, 400Nm @2400-4900rpm; TRANSMISSION six-speed manual; BODY 4.47m (L); 2.02m (W); 1.48m (H); WEIGHT 1586kg; THIRST 8.0L/100km (98 RON premium unleaded, combined).
FOR A BRIEF MOMENT, Holden’s “new” Astra VXR was sold in Australia wearing an Opel badge. Along with all the Opel models, it quickly and dramatically disappeared from the local scene in 2013.
Now it’s back, and at a sharper price. Of course, it needs to be, because the opposition hasn’t been sitting on its hands, and there are some seriously tasty hot hatches around, and some of them are remarkably good value. So, does the aging Astra match up?
We think it makes a good fist of it. The first thing you need to appreciate, though, is the Astra VXR is strictly a three door coupe. That puts it firmly up against the front-wheel drive Euro coupes, the Renault Megane RS265 (although the Astra undercuts it by a useful $4000) and the Volkswagen Scirocco (six grand more at $45,990). Of course, you could always consider the Subaru WRX, get an additional two doors and save a grand, or the Ford Focus ST which is also $1000 less than the Astra.
But if performance is your aim, the Astra outguns them all. The Astra VXR puts 206kW of power to the ground through its 20-inch front wheels at 5300rpm and a solid 400Nm of torque at between 2400 and 4800rpm. As you would expect, this results in some impressive performance figures. As you might not expect, it all happens with minimal torque steer. Transmission is six-speed manual so if you’re looking for a self-shifter, look elsewhere. One hundred km/h comes up in six seconds dead on its way to a top speed of 230km/h (race tracks only, please). In this class, only the all-wheel drive Golf R can top those numbers.
Not only is the performance right in the hot hatch sweet spot, handling and composure measure up as well. Punting the car through twisty country roads, tackling off-camber bends, booting it out of corners and generally behaving exactly as hot hatch owners are wont to do exhibits precise handling, communicative steering and braking response and even, amazingly, a more than acceptable ride quality. Treat the throttle insensitively and the VXR will understeer, especially if you mash the throttle too early in a corner exit, but that’s only to be expected (and, if we’re honest, adds to the fun).
The steering response and lack of torque steer deserve a closer look. First of all, Opel has ditched the electric steering found in other Astras and replaced it with an electro-hydraulic system. Then Opel has fitted the oddly-named (but obviously effective) HiPerStrut front suspension, mechanical limited-slip differential and a well-calibrated stability control system that doesn’t interfere too early, but also doesn’t let you get yourself too far out of shape. Also chipping in to make things work well together is Opel’s FlexRide variable suspension damping.
As we’ve come to expect in this sporty world, there’s a choice of three drive modes – normal, sport and VXR – that change damping, steering and throttle response. The difference between “normal” and “sport” is fairly modest, but pressing “VXR” makes the car a snappy, nervous and highly responsive little hatch indeed. Keeping everything under control is a set of cross-drilled Brembo brakes. When you just feel like pootling around, the VXR doesn’t complain if you pick up a high gear early and expect it to pull from quite low revs. On the other hand, if you want real response, you need to keep the engine spinning in its sweet spot – it tells you you’ve found it with a rasping induction note.
The Astra VXR varies from the equipment found in the other two “European” Holdens, partly because they are all at different stages in their model life. The Astra gets six airbags, anti-lock brakes, body kit including a neat rear spoiler over the rear window, superb Recaro front seats (they may be a little snug for some), stylish perforated Nappa leather trim, leather-bound steering wheel, VXR-branded floor mats and tyre pressure monitoring. Other good stuff includes daytime running lights, speed limiter, rear parking sensor (although no camera), auto headlights and wipers, stop/start and a few other niceties. However, the Astra VXR misses out on front parking sensors and active front head restraints and the Holden MyLink infotainment system is controlled with a rotary dial rather than a touch-screen interface (and can be a right pain to use).
The Astra VXR is a viable alternative to the hot Euro hatches and despite its age, deserves to be placed on the shopping list. It bodes well for Holden’s post-local manufacturing future.