- Vauxhall Astra VXR, 2013
The Vauxhall Astra VXR is a more extreme version of the GTC, and nothing embodies the visual changes more than the new model's exterior design revisions.
Adding extra presence, the Vauxhall Astra VXR gets a specially sculpted front and rear bumper, side skirts, aerodynamic roof spoiler and twin bumper-integrated tailpipes. Standard 19-inch wheels with 245/40 ZR tyres underpin the dramatic body, with 20-inch forged items available as an option for those customers who want to make their cars look even bolder.
The VXR shares much of its design with the GTC. Only three lines are used to create tension and define the outline of the silhouette. A fine, crisp line sweeps downwards from the front door to the bottom of the rear wing; a second line strikes through the door handle and stretches to the rear, emphasising the car's dramatic stance and broad shoulders. A third line follows the roof's clean, rakish silhouette.
The centre-piece of the Vauxhall Astra VXR's cabin is Vauxhall's all-new flat bottom steering wheel. Its diameter has been reduced from 370mm to 360mm compared with all other models in the Astra range, making the steering feel even more precise and direct. The handwheel's grip has been enhanced by packing supple sponge rubber around a magnesium/steel hybrid ring and then covering the entire wheel in premium, soft cross-stitched leather. The wheel is available with an optional heated rim, and features the VXR logo, as well as multi-function controls on its spokes.
The other VXR-specific features abound, including a unique sports gearlever and alloy-plated pedals with rubber studs for better foot grip. Glossy piano-black chronograph-inspired dial rings contrast against a satin-black background, while the wing-shaped upper instrument cluster flows back into the doors and armrests. Black headlining, VXR-branded floor mats, and door panel stitching in Arden Blue or Cool Pearl give the Vauxhall Astra VXR's interior a purposeful yet exclusive feel.
A new design of front sports seat, made with cutting-edge lightweight material is standard across the Vauxhall Astra VXR range. Mounted 17mm lower than in the Astra GTC (and 30mm lower than in an Astra Hatch) the seats give front occupants a heightened sense of connection with the car's chassis.
Made from a strong but agile polyamide/fibreglass composite, the seat shells are formed using an organic injection-molded sheet which due to its strength only needs to be 2mm thick, and contributes to a 45 per cent weight saving compared with a seat using a conventional shell.
As standard, all Astra VXRs get manually adjustable front seats trimmed in half Black Track cloth and half Morrocana fabric. However, two option packs are also available. The VXR Performance Seat Pack (£495) adds full electric adjustment, heated seats, a manually extendable front seat cushion and lumbar/side-bolster adjustment as part of a package that includes a total of 18 different seat settings.
In addition, a Full Leather Pack (£1150) is available, comprising the multi-adjustable electric seat with a high-quality leather finish, embossed with the VXR logo. Two versions of the leather seats are available, each of which has a vertical leather stripe in the centre, picked out in either Arden Blue stitching or a gloss leather with Cool Pearl stitching (with matching door panel stitching). The VXR logo is embossed into the upper part of the front seats, while the seat itself is perforated to provide an air circulation function.
While the Vauxhall Astra VXR is based on the new GTC, it has benefitted from a raft of bespoke chassis modifications to cater for the significant boost in performance brought by the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, which produces 280PS and 400Nm of torque.
With its dynamics developed by Vauxhall's engineering team, led by ex-DTM star Volker Strycek, the Vauxhall Astra VXR will target the very best rivals in class for handling, grip and overall driving excitement.
Setting it apart from all other current Astras is a specially developed mechanical limited slip differential, which works on the front wheels. In conjunction with the GTC's sophisticated HiPerStrut (High Performance Strut), the LSD provides the Vauxhall Astra VXR with exceptional lateral grip and traction through the bends.
Further changes to the chassis include brakes developed by competition supplier, Brembo, standard fitment of Vauxhall's fully adaptive FlexRide damping system, uprated springs and new dampers developed between VXR and ZF Sachs.
Mechanical Limited Slip Differential developed with motorsport supplier
Drexler, who supply differentials to the motorsport industry, have worked with Vauxhall to develop a mechanical multi-plate limited slip differential for the Vauxhall Astra VXR.
The unit, derived from that used in the Corsa VXR Nürburgring Edition, creates a locking effect with a ramp angle of 45 degrees under acceleration and 90 degrees under deceleration. The locking effect improves traction when it's needed - such as under acceleration through bends or over changing cambers and surfaces - but the effect is relaxed off-throttle, when it's not required, making the steering more benign.
To cater for the improved traction brought by the LSD, the Vauxhall Astra VXR's Traction Control (TC) and Electronic Stability Control (ESP) systems have been re-tuned to ensure the best performance, even when the car is used on track or in wet conditions.
VXR and Brembo develop bespoke braking system
With cross-drilled and ventilated 355 x 32mm front discs, four-piston callipers and harder compound brake pads, Vauxhall and Brembo have co-developed a bespoke braking system to cater for the Vauxhall Astra VXR's 280PS performance.
Using 'floating discs', the brakes are made from two different materials, with a cast-iron rotor mounted on an aluminium disc bell. This helps combine the heat resistance from cast iron with the light-weight properties of aluminium.
The key advantages of the system are reduced heat build up during repeated braking, as well as an improvement in overall brake feel through the pedal. There has also been a significant weight saving compared with the system found in the GTC, with each front calliper weighing 5.1kgs (-2.8kgs) and each front disc weighing 4.2kgs less than on the standard coupe. This means a total reduction of 7kgs per front corner from the car's unsprung weight.
The brakes, as well as all other chassis elements, were tested on public roads and in the toughest of environments including the Nürburgring and Contidrom race tracks in Germany, as well as on ice and snow in Scandanavia, and in the searing Spanish heat at the Idiada test track.
Springs, dampers, roll bars and bushes all improved for greater performance
Compared with the 1.6-litre, turbocharged GTC model, the Vauxhall Astra VXR's springs have been stiffened by 30 per cent and the car lowered by 10mm at the front and rear, to allow more driver connection on road and track.
The Astra's clever compound crank/Watt's link rear suspension was also stiffened, as were suspension bushes all round to cope with the extra chassis loads. The front anti-roll bar's diameter increased by 5mm over the GTCs, again for added stiffness.
Working with motorsport manufacturer, ZF Sachs, Vauxhall developed bespoke damper settings for the Vauxhall Astra VXR, using larger diameter pistons to the GTC's. The suspension sub-frame also rests on special mounts, the elastic-kinematic nature of which improves steering agility and support even when subjected to extreme lateral forces through tight bends.
HiPerStruts improve steering feel and help reduce torque-steer
The Vauxhall Astra VXR is equipped with a version of Vauxhall's HiPerStrut, also found on all GTCs and the 325PS Insignia VXR.
By reducing camber change during cornering, the HiPerStruts improve grip, reduce torque-steer significantly and enhance steering precision, due to a shorter and more compact rotational axis. Each strut has a 44 per cent reduced kingpin inclination and a spindle length (or kingpin offset) reduced by 46 per cent. This in turn means less camber loss during cornering, and therefore more grip, while the shorter spindle quells torque-steer reactions.
Standard FlexRide provides drivers with ultimate control
Vauxhall's FlexRide adaptive damping system is standard on all Astra VXRs. Drivers have the choice of three separate chassis settings which can be selected at the push of a button. 'Standard' delivers all-round performance for a wide range of road driving, with 'Sport' stiffening the dampers for reduced roll and tighter body control.
'VXR' is FlexRide's most extreme mode. Not only does it enhance throttle responsiveness, and change the instrument backlighting from white to red, but it alters the dampers settings once again. A ramp-control sub-mode further stiffens the dampers, but ensures that the wheels are in contact with the road instantly after hitting a bump. This means the car has a soft landing even when the springs on the struts rebound on an uneven surface. Meanwhile, the roll control sub-mode reduces tilt further during cornering.
Three modes of ESP to suit road and track driving
The Vauxhall Astra VXR's ESP (stability control) system offers three different modes. In its default mode, optimum safety is prioritised for everyday road conditions. 'Competitive' mode raises the threshold at which the automatic systems intervene, though when it senses a dangerous situation it will stabilise the car via the braking system. Finally, in 'ESP-off' mode, activated by pressing the button down for five seconds, the ESP system can be completely deactivated.
Two choices of unique wheel designs
As standard, the Vauxhall Astra VXR is equipped with flow-formed 19-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli 245/40 ZR tyres front and rear. However, customers can also opt for state of the art forged alloy 20-inch wheels, which weigh just 1.86kgs - 14 per cent less than the 20-inch rims available on the GTC model. The forging process used to make the lightweight rim creates a tougher material, allowing less aluminium to be used in its construction, and therefore reducing weight.
Combined with the savings in weight brought about by the Brembo discs, opting for the 20-inch rims on the Vauxhall Astra VXR gives drivers a total unsprung weight saving of over 14.5kgs across the front axle.
Vauxhall's new Astra VXR will incorporate deliver a class-leading 400Nm of torque, giving it a 0-60mph time of 5.9 seconds and robust mid-range performance.
The VXR's turbocharged, 2.0-litre direct-injection engine harks from the Insignia family, but while its aluminium block is similar, the VXR has a unique aluminium cylinder head and new turbocharger to liberate 280PS (up 40PS on the previous model) and over 200Nm per litre of torque - the highest specific output in its class.
Developing a high-torque engine for the Vauxhall Astra VXR was the key to unlocking the car's real-world, mid-range performance, rather than focusing on power alone. And with maximum torque produced on a broad plateau between 2450rpm and 5000rpm, VXR drivers will never want for instant acceleration.
An all-new, state-of-the-art intake system was developed to feed as much air into the turbocharger as possible. The turbocharger itself was also improved to take more charge-air pressure, which builds from as early as 1400rpm for linear and strong acceleration. The maximum charge pressure is now 1.5 bar - 25 per cent more than in the Insignia 2.0T.
Vauxhall Astra VXR drivers can also look forward to a soundtrack that has been carefully engineered to appeal to enthusiasts, both from inside and outside the car. Drivers will get the full effect in the mid-to high rev range, especially when they change up from third to fourth under full throttle.
But outright performance hasn't come at the expense of efficiency and durability. Like all recent VXR models, the Astra was subjected to prolonged testing at the Nüburgring's notorious Nordschleife for 10,000 kilometres under race conditions - the equivalent to around 110,000 road miles.
And while the Astra VXR can accelerate from 0-60mph in just 5.9 seconds and hit a maximum 155mph, standard Start/Stop technology has reduced fuel consumption by 14 per cent (compared with the previous model) to a combined 34.9mpg, and reduced emissions to 189g/km.
All-new engine air intake system
Vauxhall engineers developed a completely new air intake system to improve air flow dynamics, reduce pressure loss and boost the engine performance even further.
The size of the intake air duct was significantly increased, as was the air cleaner's volume, reducing intake noise and allowing a greater quantity of air to be processed. This helped improve fuel consumption to a combined 34.9mpg, while reducing emissions to 189g/km - a 12 and 14 percent drop respectively compared with the previous Astra VXR.
Toughened and more durable turbocharger for quick throttle response
The engine's turbocharger is based on the twin-scroll principle. This means that in the exhaust manifold and turbocharger, the channels of the first and fourth cylinders are separated from those on the second and third cylinders. The pulsating exhaust gases are fed through spirals (scrolls) and brought together directly ahead of the turbine. By separating the flows, their dynamics are fully exploited.
The build-up of pressure starts as early as around 1400rpm. The maximum charge pressure has been increased to 1.5 bar - that represents a 25 per cent increase compared with the one used in the 2.0T Insignia. It was therefore necessary to make the turbocharger even tougher, more durable and able to withstand the increase in pressure.
Further important features to this compact turbocharger include the pneumatic over-run air valve and an efficiency-optimised turbine wheel. At a defined vacuum, a valve is opened which leads the air back to the compressor inlet. This keeps the speed of the charger at a high level. When the accelerator pedal is pressed again, charge pressure is then immediately available. To increase volumetric efficiency in the combustion chambers, the pre-compressed air is cooled by around 100 degrees Celsius in an intercooler before entering the chambers.
Optimised exhaust system for even better performance
Engineers also focused on reducing exhaust back pressure as a way of improving engine performance. Both the closed-couple converter (the catalyst near the engine) and the under-floor converter were tuned to reduce exhaust back pressure. Along with increasing the bore of the entire exhaust system, Vauxhall's engineers achieved a 25 per cent overall reduction in exhaust back pressure, versus the system used in the Insignia 2.0T.
In line with the mechanical changes made to the intake, exhaust and turbocharger, elements of the engine control unit (ECU) governing charge air pressure, fuel injection rate and ignition were all re-tuned.
For drivers of cars like the Vauxhall Astra VXR, the soundtrack when you accelerate is almost as important as the time it takes to reach 100mph. So needless to say, engineering the right type of engine noise was an important part of the car's development.
Using a recent amendment to European noise regulations on pass-by noise - also known as the Lex Ferrari rule - engineers were able to liberate 75 decibels for the Astra VXR, a full decibel louder than the Astra GTC 1.6T. In order to pass the Lex Ferrari test, the Vauxhall Astra VXR had to accelerate from 50kph to 61kph in third gear on a stretch of road measuring just 15 metres - normally a challenge for all but the most powerful cars.
With an underlying robustness in its character, the engine noise recreates the jet-like noise of its predecessor under mid to high revs, when heard from inside the cabin. And thanks to the removal of one of the GTC's three silencers, there's even a distinctive burble at idle.
The twin bumper-integrated tailpipes have parallelogram-shaped openings and are unique in this class.
Nordschleife - the ultimate proving ground!
Before the modified Astra VXR engine could go into production, it was subjected to a series of challenging tests, one of which was to circulate the Nordschleife segment of the Nürburgring at race speeds for 10,000 kilometers, roughly equal to 180,000 road miles.
To achieve this level of durability, the Vauxhall Astra VXR's engine incorporates some novel features. Its high thermal endurance is supported by a water jacket which extends to the bottom of the cylinders, as well as oil-spray cooling for the underside of the pistons. Both camshafts in the engine respond automatically to an electro-hydraulic cam phaser, matching the valve opening times to the engine load status via the engine control unit. In addition, a higher overlap at lower speeds with continuously variable camshaft phasing ensures the turbocharger responds more quickly. The outlet valves are sodium-filled and all valves are actuated via low friction roller valve levers.
Other engine features are two counter-rotating balance shafts, low-maintenance chain drive for the camshafts and a cast-on oil filter housing, which is easily accessible from above. An oil change simply requires replacing the cartridge and is signaled by an interval indicator. Sensors measure wear and tear of the fully synthetic lubricant according to parameters such as the number of cold starts, as well as the overall number of starts.
MARKET & RIVALS
Volker Strycek, head of VXR product development and a former DTM driver and Nürburgring 24-hour winner, makes it clear about what his team wanted to achieve with the all-new Astra VXR. "Our goal was quite simple: to be the best in segment."
And with the UK's 'hot-hatch' market brimming with fresh and exciting products, the new Astra VXR had to raise the bar still further. Key to its success was the sophistication of its powertrain and chassis. With 280PS, the VXR produces more power than any of its current rivals, allowing it to accelerate from 0-60mph in a class-leading 5.9 seconds. But the killer punch is its 400Nm of maximum torque, giving it the highest specific output in its class.
The new VXR's chassis will be equally competitive, with a mechanical limited-slip differential (unique in class as a standard item), HiPerStrut front suspension, and bespoke brakes, springs and damper settings.
As with the previous Vauxhall Astra VXR and the current GTC, the UK will be the new model's biggest market. Around 10 per cent of all GTC volume will be VXR, equalling about 1200 units per year - the highest of any VXR model.
Key rivals will come from Volkswagen and Renault in the form of the Scirocco R and Megane Sport 265 (as well as the Focus ST, when it arrives in the UK). But the Astra VXR's keen pricing - £26,995 on the road - will undercut the Scirocco's by nearly £4,000, and that of the Megane 265 by more than £2000 when the Renault's equipped with its optional Cup Pack, including 19-inch alloys and a limited-slip differential (both standard on the Vauxhall).
Other standard equipment on the Vauxhall Astra VXR includes FlexRide adaptive damping, DAB, USB, Bluetooth and LED tail lights.
Vauxhall's unique Lifetime Warranty will also provide first owners of the VXR with the reassurance of comprehensive cover for however long they own the car.
The UK's hot-hatch class has become significantly hotter in the seven years since Vauxhall launched the first Astra VXR. Back then, the class norm for power was between 200PS and 250PS (the first Astra VXR produced 240PS), whereas now it starts at around 230PS right up to the new VXR's 280PS.
VXR customers can choose from a wide range of optional extras, including full leather upholstery and electrically adjustable seats, satnav with SD card and aux-in and Intelligent Adaptive Forward Lighting. One of the most popular options will be the VXR Aero Pack, which Vauxhall expects 85 per cent of customers to choose. For just £995, it includes 20-inch alloy wheels, a BiPlane Rear Spoiler and extended side skirts.
VXR - one of the fastest growing automotive sub-brands
The VXR brand has gone from strength to strength since the first car - a VXR220 Turbo - went down the line in 2004.
Buoyed by the success of Vauxhall's BTCC programme, the VXR badge was soon applied to a wide range of models, from the V8-powered Monaros to the Corsa, Vectra, Zafira and even the humble Meriva. The original Astra VXR joined them in 2005 and instantly became the best-seller in the VXR range.
More recently, the range has been rationalised and now extends to just four models: the Corsa VXR/VXR Nürburgring, new Vauxhall Astra VXR, Insignia VXR and VXR8 family, including the VXR8 GTS, Maloo and Sports Tourer.
Premium VXR sports front seats with Morrocana side bolsters
Three-spoke, flat-bottom, leather-covered sports steering wheel with VXR logo
Unique VXR instrument panel graphics
VXR floor mats
VXR leather-covered gear knob
VXR sports pedals
VXR alloy-effect door sill covers
VXR Performance Instruments
VXR honeycomb sports front grille and air dam/bumper
VXR side sills
VXR rear bumper with diffuser
VXR rear roof spoiler
Performance-optimised exhaust system, tuned for sound
LED tail lights
19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels