The 2015 Holden Astra VXR has arrived to set the Lion brand amongst the pigeons in the lucrative, highly competitive hot-hatch segment.
And yes, if you’re thinking the new Holden Astra VXR looks familiar, you’re spot on. Apart from the new Lion badges front and rear, it’s essentially the same car as Opel Astra OPC of a few years ago.
That means under the bonnet is one of the most potent four-cylinder engines in the game – a 2.0-litre turbo engine with 206kW of power (at 5300rpm) and 400Nm of torque (from 2400-4800rpm).
It’s available exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission, with all that grunt making its way to the front wheels – which, in the case of our test car, are 20-inch rims lacquered in 35-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
The way the power makes its way to the tarmac is impressive – even in teeming rain and with a slippery surface underfoot, the Astra VXR scrambles to find whatever grip is available, though we did note a hint of understeer when pushing hard around a slimy, shadowy corner.
The brand’s HiPerStrut front suspension layout, which allows the front wheels to turn independently of the suspension strut, aids in providing more grip and traction through corners. It’s similar to Ford’s RevoKnuckle (used in the previous-generation Focus RS) and Renault’s PerfoHub setup.
The HiPerStrut suspension is aided by a mechanical limited-slip differential from Drexler that helps limit the amount of torque steer and kickback.
The result is steering that is precise, sharp and nicely weighted – though in dripping wet conditions we noted some torque steer upon hard throttle application. It’s not a wrestling match in the Astra as it is in some other hot-hatches (we’re looking at you, Ford Focus ST), and it doesn’t impede on the car’s day-to-day drivability, either.
In fact, one of the most impressive aspects of the Astra VXR is how comfortably it rides. Admittedly it is firm, but there’s no crashing or crunching over rough sections of road, with a level of compliance that belies the fact this is a performance-focused vehicle.
You will notice some low rev lag when you’re tooling around town, but the in-gear acceleration once the engine’s revs rise is more than adequate, and it will pull hard even in higher gears.
If it’s back road fun you’re after, we recommend hitting the Sport button which tightens up the dampening, stiffens the electric steering and also increases the throttle response.
It makes it feel even more connected to the road, and you can feel how much quicker the engine responds to right foot pressure, too.
The urgency with which the engine reacts is excellent, and provided you keep it in its torque sweet spot, you’ll be rewarded with immense power. There’s a great raspy induction note to make you want to push harder, too, though the exhaust note could be chunkier.
Then there’s the VXR button, which further adjusts the car’s behaviour to a level that is probably best left for the racetrack rather than B-roads.
The suspension becomes hard – yet still amazingly compliant – and the steering reaction time is quickened so as to make it feel as though you just need to think about a direction change and the front end will do your bidding. The intake noise that comes from under the bonnet under full throttle is pretty intoxicating, too.
That’s the performance side of things, but the Astra VXR isn’t just a fast car – it’s also extremely practical.
It’s a five-seat hatchback, and all five seats are usable – provided those in the rear aren’t big boppers. In the back there’s good head room and decent knee room, and access is quite good because the door apertures are wide.
If you have two in the back (which is recommended), there’s a flip-down centre armrest with cup-holders and a ski port. The seats also fold down for loading longer items, and the boot is equal to some small SUVs at 380 litres.
Oddment storage is good through the cabin, too, with large door pockets, a decent glovebox, cupholders between the seats and a covered centre stowage bin. There’s a small stowage nook alongside the USB and auxiliary jacks, too, which is good for small portable devices.
The seats are superb up front, with 18-way adjustment meaning even the most finicky of drivers will be able to find a setting that suits. There are pneumatic bolsters built in to the base and seat uprights, too, so you can adjust how hugged in you feel.
Perhaps the most frustrating element of the cabin experience is the media screen.
It looks like it should be a touchscreen unit, but it isn’t. Instead, control is managed by the array of buttons under the screen, the most confusing of which being the centre rotary dial that has a directional toggle on top which seems largely useless.
Inputting addresses into the satellite navigation is tedious, as you can’t type them in, or toggle to them – instead, you need to cycle through the alphabet using the dial. There is a voice control system, but it’s just as time consuming.
Disappointingly, the Astra VXR doesn’t come with a reverse-view camera – it could do with one, because the rearward visibility isn’t great. At least there are rear parking sensors.
On the topic of safety, the Astra has six airbags – dual front, front side and full-length curtain – but there are no safety or driving aids other than cruise control and those back sensors.
As with all Holden models, the new Astra VXR will be covered by a capped-price service program for the life of the car - though Holden is yet to reveal official pricing and maintenance intervals. The car is also covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty.
All in all, the Holden Astra VXR is a competent, confident offering in highly competitive hot-hatch segment. It’s fast, fun and functional, and it’ll undoubtedly add some extra spark to the Lion brand’s line-up.