Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
Well, this was a surprise. You know what it's like when you climb into a car with low expectations and it totally shocks you? That's what the VXR Nürburgring did to me recently. It really is very good indeed.
Launched in 2005, this generation of Astra VXR was already a fairly manic thing, with 240bhp-odd and an aggressively firm chassis setup. The Nürburgring edition was, on paper, something akin to a cynical marketing exercise - a set of white wheels and some stickers, along with a modest 15bhp power hike. Oh, but it was so much more...
From time immemorial our motorsport heroes had been leaping and jinking through the Eifel mountains and, with the importance of lap times at this venue spiralling into an arms race, this was an easy win for the marketing men. With a few choice tweaks to the oh-so-eighties-inspired white-on-white hot hatch, they smashed in a time of 8:35 (well, they didn’t actually – that time was set in a stock Astra OPC some years previously, but don’t let something as trivial as a fact get in the way of a good story), then set about selling 835 special edition cars to celebrate. The chosen few of the clamouring public were treated to chequerboard decals and stylised ’Ring logos, but more significantly a shouty centre-exit Remus pipe, lighter wheels, and a certain implacable dynamic frisson. It worked, too – the Astra VXR Nürburgring cost a hefty £1,575 more than the standard VXR, but they shifted every one.
These cars are surprisingly fast - hooligan-fast, with a thudding power delivery and the ability to make the scenery go blurry really rather quickly, backed up by excellent brakes to scrub all that thrust off again - but the real bonus is that Remus exhaust. Sure, citing one sole bolt-on mod as the character-defining marker of a model may seem frivolous, but this truly is a great exhaust: the VXR Nürburgring pops and crackles like a rally car on the overrun, and blasts what sounds like shotgun fire out of the back end every time you change gear. It's absurd. Brilliantly absurd.
I wasn't expecting to like this car all that much, but it was so good that I started checking the classifieds to see what they're selling for. That, to me, is a pretty good sign.