The VXR8 is a lot of fun to drive, thanks to the huge amount of power from the 6.0-litre V8 engine. With 411bhp and 405lb-ft of torque at your disposal, it gets to 62mph from a standing start in 4.9 seconds – which is pretty phenomenal for a car of its size and weight (it tips the scales at 1,831 kg). The top speed is said to be around 170mph, but we haven’t been able to test that particular claim.The power delivery is smooth, with no real sudden bursts to jolt you – unless you suddenly stamp hard on the throttle, at which point you’re pinned to your seat as the brutal acceleration kicks in. It doesn't feel quite as quick as the BMW M5, but that's largely illusory, as there's only a 0.2-second difference in the 0-62mph sprint: pretty impressive considering the price disparity between the two cars.
The VXR8 feels agile and you can throw it into and out of corners without too much wrestling with the steering wheel. The grip is impressive, although perhaps not on a par with the best from BMW, and the car changes direction with a sure-footed ease. However, it lacks steering feedback from the rack-and pinion system and you're never quite sure how much grip there is left when pushing the car to its limit. The VXR8 goes lean a bit more than you’d expect in the corners, though, and despite having a decent level of body control, the suspension can be found wanting on long, undulating roads. However, the ride is compliant enough to make it perfectly usable on a day-to-day basis, despite the car's sporty character. Passengers might get unnerved when you unleash all that power, but there shouldn't be any complaints about being bounced about.
The VXR8 falls down slightly on the quality of its interior, which, despite the use of leather and soft-touch materials on the upper part of the console and dashboard, has some quite cheap and nasty plastics covering the lower part. Not good, but not unexpected for the price of the car. Elsewhere, quality-wise there are no major problems. The exterior has consistent panel gaps and the paintwork has a high-quality finish. In terms of reliability, the VXR8 is produced in Australia and sold in the UK, so the car doesn't feature in reliability surveys. In Australia, however, Holden cars have a good reliability record and this should prove to be the case with the VXR8. The engine is well established and proven, relying upon fairly straightforward technology, with any faults in the design having been ironed out long before now: any problems are therefore likely to be relatively minor.
The VXR8 comes with the full complement of usual safety features, such as the now-standard ABS and electronic brake-force distribution, and electronic stability control (ESP). Passive safety features include six airbags, Isofix child seat anchor points, active head restraints and three-point seatbelts throughout. There are no Euro NCAP crash test results, as the car is imported and sold in such small numbers. However, based on current models in the Vauxhall range, and Holden models in Australia, it's fair to assume that it would be pretty safe in the event of a collision. The closest guide is the ANCAP (the Australian version of our Euro NCAP) five-star rating of the Commodore on which the VXR8 is based, awarded after an overall score of 33.45 out of 37 in testing.
The driving position in the VXR8 is very good, with plenty of electric adjustability in the enveloping bucket seats, and a reach- and rake-adjustable flat-bottomed steering wheel. However, rear visibility is rather poor, obscured by that huge rear wing, which cuts out about a third of the available view out of the back. There's plenty of room in the cabin, with lots of space for adults in the back to stretch out in the three rear seats. The boot is also capacious, with 496 litres-worth of bootspace, comparable with the Insignia and the Mondeo. Dials are clear and backlit in red, including a bank of three small, sporty dials at the top of the central console recording oil temperature, oil pressure and battery voltage. A central control unit features a multi-function display panel for the sat nav, audio unit (which accepts MP3 discs and CDs), and Bluetooth phone connection.
The VXR8, at just over £35K, may be a cheap car to buy, relative to its power and performance, but you'll need fairly deep pockets to keep it on the road. Fuel economy is 18.5mpg, but if you drive it the way that howling V8 demands, it's more likely to be in the low teens in real-world situations. Regular trips to the petrol pumps are guaranteed. And with CO2 emissions of 365g/km, the VXR8 is in road tax Band G, so that’s another £400 a year. It won't be cheap to insure, either. It's in Group 20 in the old ratings and 50 in the new ABI (Association of British Insurers) ratings, so it's at the top of the tree, either way. The VXR8 has been imported in limited numbers, so we expect that its high-performance nature and rarity will mean plenty of demand for it on the second-hand market.