While few can argue with the environmental benefits of downsizing performance engines, some still miss the raw engagement that only a naturally aspirated, rear wheel drive V8 can deliver. The Vauxhall VXR8 is one of the few cars left that can provide this sort of old school enjoyment and has been doing so since 2007, when the first examples arrived on our shores. It was essentially a four-door replacement for the much loved coupe Monaro, and was based on the Australian GM Zeta platform – hence the reason it bears so little resemblance to your Dad’s diesel Astra.
The VXR8 may not be the last or even second last word in performance motoring, but there are few challengers out there that can match its very desirable combination of V8 power and affordable pricing. It’s still in production today in supercharged GTS form, although for this guide we will be focusing on the first batch of cars that were built up until 2009. They are now reaching that sweet spot of becoming highly collectable while still being relatively affordable.
Which one to buy?
The VXR8 is a refreshing performance alternative to the generally sombre German alternatives that are available in its price range. What it concedes in refinement, fuel consumption and slightly cheap feeling interior plastics, it more than makes up for in driving entertainment. The first cars built in 2007 came equipped with a 414bhp 6.0 litre LS2 V8 and were soon upgraded to 430bhp LS3 6.2 Litre units in 2008, the differences in performance was minimal.
A supercharger on the LS2 engine produced 530bhp with the LS3 replacement providing a tad more power and a bit less torque to help keep the gearbox in one piece. The 2009 model year saw the introduction of the naturally aspirated Bathurst and supercharged 560bhp Bathurst S models, these cars featured upgraded suspension, brakes dampers and unique external graphics.
The VXR8 is generally very robust and with the four door body shell is a great family car that can double up as your weekend track toy. While they stand up to abuse well, their heft means that brakes, dampers and suspension rubbers all take a pounding especially if they are regularly driven hard.
The standard manual gearboxes are solid and meaty, adding that extra layer of driver involvement; there are a few auto box equipped cars out there as well and these are a good choice too, especially if your commute involves a lot of stop start driving.
With prices holding steady and a few cars to choose from you can be a bit picky. There really isn’t a bad choice in the range, the standard cars offer more than enough grunt while the Bathurst editions add some dynamic prowess and in the case of the S, an addictive supercharger whine into the mix as well as enough straight line performance to keep those pesky modern sports cars choking on your tyre smoke.
Performance and specs
Engine 5967cc 16 valve OHV V8 LS2
Power 411bhp @ 6000 rpm
Torque 406lb ft @ 4400rpm
Top speed 155mph (limited)
0-60mph 4.9 seconds
Fuel consumption 18.5mpg
Gearbox Six-speed manual/Six-speed automatic
Dimensions and weight
• In addition to old school V8 muscle, the VXR8 also brings with it old school toughness and reliability. Running costs can be high as these cars are thirsty and tend to require regular maintenance to perform at their best. Parts are still widely available.
• Both the LS2 and LS3 motors are lightly stressed and have no common issues to look out for. The Corvette sourced motor is easily modifiable and a number of cars have been fitted with aftermarket superchargers. As long as the work was professionally carried out this should not put you off a car.
• Consumable items such as tyres, brakes, suspension rubbers, dampers and clutches take a lot of punishment thanks to the performance on offer as well as the near two ton curb weight.
• Front end knocking can signify worn suspension struts or lower control arms. Get these checked out and negotiate the price down if any are in imminent need of replacement.
• Gearboxes are tough but some early manuals were known to have issues engaging reverse gear. 2008-on Automatics had oil coolers and these are retrofittable. An LS7 clutch upgrade is also recommended if track days and modifications are on the agenda.
• Rear indicators can fail requiring an expensive OEM replacement unit so check that they are functioning correctly.
• Fuel consumption is high on these cars so be prepared for frequent visits to the petrol station. Insurance is also predictably high so factor this in to the cars pricing.
2007: Vauxhall VXR8 launched with LS2 414bhp 6.0L V8, available with both manual and automatic gearboxes in four-door body style only.
2008: Engines upgraded to 430bhp 6.2L V8 LS3 units. Oil cooler introduced on automatics and supercharged VXR8 introduced end of 2008 with 532bhp
2009: Bathurst and Bathurst S edition launched, featuring upgraded suspension, brakes and a Walkinshaw performance supercharger in the ‘S’ which produced 560bhp. Bimodal exhaust option adds 10bhp. Production ends making way for new VXR8 range
Owners clubs, forums and websites
www.vxronline.co.uk – VXR forum
www.monkfishperformance.co.uk – Parts and modifications specialists
www.walkinshawperformance.co.uk – Parts and modifications specialists
Summary and prices
Mileages are generally low on these cars and their high desirability in the marketplace means that even the earliest 2007 models start at around £16,500. 6.2-litre models tend to be found at around the £22,000 mark with very low-mileage cars commanding a further premium.
A manual LS3 model is a great all-rounder and provides more than enough power to have fun with. Supercharged versions are another thing entirely and the nutty Bathurst S edition is a very desirable model but tough to find and values are already rising.
Running costs are in line with what you would expect from a heavy large capacity V8 so factor this into your budget. In today’s world it is amazing that such analogue performance machines are still available to be appreciated, without some sort of fun tax being imposed on them. Get one now and enjoy before that happens.
Words: John Tallodi