The Holden Commodore is no more. The Australian plant producing it churned out its last car in October, and with it closed the book on Australian automobile production. Not one single manufacturer now builds its wares in the Antipodean nation.
The cold reality is that the rest of the world will shed few tears over this decision. Australia’s factories primarily served a Galapagos-like market whose products only really made sense within the continent’s confines, and ‘world cars’ produced at lower labour rates make more unique, lower-volume models economically undesirable.
The exception has always been the Commodore and its derivatives. While never a particularly strong seller overseas, whether in the United States as the Chevrolet SS or in the UK under the Vauxhall banner, it’s nevertheless always bustled with a blue-collar honesty and bang-per-buck value that Europe’s premium manufacturers have never quite matched. At £74,500 for the run-out VXR8 GTS-R, perhaps the value aspect is no longer true, but on paper this is the most extreme and probably one of the most appealing VXR8s yet.
Behind the snarling grille sits the familiar General Motors LSA V8 – all 6.2 supercharged litres of it – found elsewhere in the Cadillac CTS-V and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Tyres will squeal with more than just terror given its 587bhp and 546lb ft outputs – the former up by 11bhp for the R – all directed through a refreshingly simple six-speed manual transmission. Anachronistic perhaps, but a layer of interaction denied in anything you might consider a rival.
In other respects the GTS-R is more conventional, with a large four-door bodyshell, power to the rear wheels alone, and adjustable Magnetic Ride dampers that, combined with tweaks to the stability control, traction control, power steering assistance and exhaust valves, give the car a different feel in its Touring, Sport, Performance and Track modes.
There’s also a comfortable and spacious cabin and an enormous luggage area. If you’re used to M-cars and AMGs it’ll seem low-rent, and inside and out the proliferation of HSV logos illustrates that Vauxhall’s involvement in the car’s development amounted to getting it type-approved. But there’s still much to like. The driving position is low and figure-hugging, the wheel is chunky, the gearlever feels like it’s controlling the machinations of actual cogs, and there’s enough weight to everything to propagate a satisfyingly old-school feel.
The starter churns over for a tantalising second or two before the V8 fires into life and settles to a busy cold idle. Switch the Driver Preference Dial to Performance or Track – and you’ll want to – and the background burble increases a few decibels, the LSA taking a sharp and audible intake of breath with each blip of the throttle, combusting it with globs of unleaded and exhaling it with an angry growl. You’ll need a firm hand to slot the lever into first, but the clutch has a relatively easy action.
Just as well given how quickly you’ll need to start finding extra ratios if you use the right-hand pedal for any length of time. The GTS-R is thunderously fast, even considering the high standards of the class, and while you’re working a lot harder than in a turbocharged, self-shifting Mercedes-Benz or BMW, the rewards are even greater.
Torque is strong from idle, but as the needle passes 4000rpm it’s like a completely different engine takes over. It’s like flicking a switch as the V8’s tone hardens to a NASCAR-style bellow, the supercharger whines, and whatever used to be in front of you quickly ends up in your mirrors. It’s one of the most addictive, exciting drivetrains available today.
It could have been tough for other aspects of the driving experience to match up to such an engine, but HSV hasn’t gone halves on its final car. Perhaps most importantly, the brakes are mighty. They’re just a little too sharp for smooth heel-and-toe gearchanges at normal braking pressures, but standing on the pedal sucks every bit of grip from the four Continentals to convert the GTS-R’s blurry widescreen speed runs into sharp 4K landscape views.
There’s ample lateral grip too, and while the steering feels light and unresponsive just off centre (and don’t even bother with Touring or Sport, where it’s too light everywhere) it’s precise thereafter and tickles the palms just enough to let you know when the front tyres are working. You’d have to be trying hard to push them beyond their limits, and the same applies to the rear tyres despite that healthy power output. Corner-exit traction is fantastic, and on dry roads you’d have to do something quite inadvisable to unstick the rear wheels.
Solid body control doesn’t come at the expense of a long-legged ride, even in the more boisterous driving modes, and pointing it from one corner to the next the VXR8 belies its kerb weight with an engaging, agile feel. Only its size really limits your pace on tighter B-roads. The saying goes that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. We’ve always been aware of the VXR8’s appeal, but it doesn’t make its passing any less painful.
Top right: the view most of us will get of the GTS-R, but at least it’ll sound fabulous as it disappears from sight. Above right: brakes are a match for the monstrous pace
‘Whatever used to be in front of you quickly ends up in your mirrors’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATION 2018 Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R
Engine V8, 6162cc, supercharged
Power 587bhp @ 6150rpm / DIN
Torque 546lb ft @ 3850rpm / DIN
0-60mph 4.2sec (claimed)
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Weight 1880kg (317bhp/ton)
Basic price £74,500 (sold out)
+ Blistering performance, bursting with character
– You’ve missed your chance to buy one
Drive-My rating 4