Vauxhall Astra VXR (2012–2019)

Models Covered: (3-door Coupe) 2.0 petrol


One of the most powerful front-driven hot hatches ever made, Vauxhall’s second generation Astra VXR, isn’t all about power – and is all the better for it. 280PS is certainly more than enough beneath the bonnet but clever suspension, torque steer technology and a limited slip diff are the key factors that made this machine, based on the Astra GTC coupe and sold between 2012 and 2019, one of the most rewarding performance cars that Vauxhall ever brought us. If you automatically default to Renault or Ford when choosing a fast hatch from the 21st century’s second decade, give this VXR a try. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

The History

Fast Vauxhalls – and especially fast Vauxhall Astras – have always been something of an acquired taste, machines for the Max Power generation. Get yourself behind the wheel of one and you certainly went very quickly, but in a wildly wayward fashion that was fun at first but wearing within a week. It’s all right to sell such a car if it’s priced within reach of the Halfords hell raisers that can afford it, but there’s not much profit in doing that, as Vauxhall found with a first generation Astra VXR model which sold between 2005 and 2010.

In 2012, Vauxhall decided it was time to tame the beast, not something easy to do while at the same time giving it a healthy slug of extra power. But a job that Vauxhall cleverly completed with this model, the second generation Astra VXR, launched here in Summer 2012 as pretty much the most powerful hot hatch you could buy.

On the face of it, there are a few contradictions here. Can a car tasked with putting a frantic 280PS through just two front driven wheels really claim to be as civilised as a Golf GTI? It wasn’t so long before this Astra GTC Coupe-based model’s launch, after all, that we’d seen this kind of output from supercars like Nissan’s Skyline GTR and Honda’s NSX. Here, you could get it beneath the bonnet of a civilised family three-door that aimed to gain for Vauxhall the hot hatch credibility it had long been seeking against its fastest rivals at the top of the shopping rocket segment, cars like Volkswagen’s Scirocco R, Ford’s Focus ST and the Renaultsport Megane 265.

To beat brands like these, Vauxhall knew this car would have to be very good indeed, a masterclass in everything General Motors knew about automotive dynamics, developed by a team of red-blooded race enthusiasts. And that’s exactly what this VXR delivered. It sold until 2019.

What You Get

Buy this car and you’re going to need to get used to being stared at. Not only are the basic proportions right, but a lot of the detailing is spot on, in contrast to some previous generous models which could feel a little Halfords in their final execution. Visual identifiers for VXR owners to set themselves apart from drivers of humbler Astra GTC models include a set of specially sculpted front and rear bumpers, side skirts, an aerodynamic roof spoiler and two exhaust tail pipes in a trapezoid shape.

The cabin feels genuinely solid; certainly a lot beefier in terms of materials quality than a Renault or Ford and almost on a par with a Volkswagen Scirocco. It’s also a nice bonus to find that this is the most practical car in its class from its period, for both people and packages. The boot is a decent size at 370-litres.

What To Look For

This Astra VXR seems to have a reasonable quality record and the Gen-3 Ecotec 2.0-litre turbo engine is solid – though we did come across an owner with a blown engine. There have been reports of a few issues with the gearbox and clutch, so check that the car swaps ratios easily. The Brembo brakes are brilliant, but are expensive to replace at about £800 a disc. Yes really. We came across little issues in our ownership survey, like water collecting in the tailgate rear window channel, cabin rattles in the interior, and the aerodynamic skirts getting caught on kerbs. Ensure that the car has been serviced on the button and that the mileage on the service record stamp tallies with what the odometer says. It's also worth checking the car for accident damage, as many cars will be de-fleeted early if they've had a prang and have been repaired. Ask the seller explicitly if the car has had accident damage and inspect the usual points for overspray and kinks in the under-bonnet flitch plates. The engines tend to be tough units with no serious problems to report. Insist on a service history and check for kerbed alloy wheels.

On The Road

Ex-DTM racer Volker Strycek and his development team honed three dynamic features to perfection in this car: a Drexler limited slip differential to help you get the power down through the corners, a HiPer Strut suspension system to eliminate torque steer – that feeling of the steering wheel writhing in your hands under heavy power. And Vauxhall’s FlexRide adaptive damping system to ensure that you only feel every bump and ripple in the road when you want to.

All of this, we have to say, is probably of far more importance than what lies under the bonnet, as with the previous generation Astra VXR, a 2.0-litre turbo petrol unit, though this time with 280PS, 40PS more than was previously offered and 10% pokier than the engine you’ll find in a rival Ford Focus ST. It’s an unit developed primarily for torque, pulling power, 400Nm of it hurling you towards the horizon between 2,450 and 5,000rpm, good enough to spirit you from rest to sixty in just 5.9s on the way to 155mph.


That this MK2 Vauxhall Astra VXR was the most accomplished hot hatch that Vauxhall ever produced isn't really up for debate. It's head and shoulders better than any fast hatch or coupe that's worn the Griffin badge in the past - but how much is that actually saying? What really counts is how it stacks up against the very best cars in its class from its period – rivals like the Renaultsport Mégane, the Ford Focus ST and the Volkswagen Scirocco R. Can it possibly be thought of as a viable alternative to this talented trio? Absolutely. Which means that what we have here is a VXR that finally came good. Respect, it seems, is most definitely due.