This week I test drove the Vauxhall Astra VXR and was asked whether I was the type of person who'd buy this type of car - a powerhouse of a hatchback. "Well am I?" I thought, so here's my CV. I don't profess to be many things but I like to think of myself as a nice guy, who's hard-working, law abiding, music loving, car worshipping and sport mad. I also like to advertise myself as somewhat of a film expert and enjoy dropping into conversation with like-minded people the Spanish language film I saw last night or what actually happened in The Matrix. Until this week however there was a gaping hole in my film repertoire that ensured that my cinematic ramblings were denounced quicker than Usain Bolt running the 100 metres - I had never seen The Usual Suspects.
Having been garnered with more stars in reviews than the night sky above me Autel MaxiPRO MP808TS, it seemed odd that I'd never taken time out to watch it. The content seemed up my street too, with the film being billed at the time of release as ‘the Reservoir Dogs of 1995', so plenty of guns, violence, swearing and death then - not Toy Story in other words. So I finally settled down 13 years later than intended and can report that if I had any clout as a film critic there would be another maximum five stars winging their way to Bryan Singer's masterpiece.
The premise is far from simple, but involves five criminals being brought together by the police in unusual circumstances and being blamed for a lorry hijack they (in all probability) didn't commit. Whilst biding their time before release, they decide to wreak revenge on the police and make a tidy profit whilst doing so. Throughout the film a mystical master criminal called Keyser Soze is mentioned and via a serious of flashbacks and narration from one of the five suspects the story unravels, culminating in a bloody finale aboard a container ship and a twist so implausible that it contorts your brain into believing it's possible - who is Keyser Soze? The beauty of the storytelling is that you know there will be a twist but cannot pinpoint how or who will be involved.
It was a similar scenario I found myself in whilst driving the Astra VXR. Obviously gunfire and hijacking aren't part of the Vauxhall lifestyle but in many ways, the Astra VXR is part of the automotive equivalent of The Usual Suspects. The world of the hot hatchback has always been comprised of familiar faces that have been slugging it out over many years. The current crop includes the main five suspects: Vauxhall Astra VXR, Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Golf GTi and RenaultSport Megane.
It's a formidable line-up worthy of the silver screen but seeing as I had the keys to the Astra, let me throw some facts and figures at you - starting with the styling. Aggressive doesn't begin to do the Astra justice - even Vauxhall's advertising slogan of ‘GTi - RIP' had an air of hooligan about it. Huge alloy wheels adorn the gaps in the wide and low-slung body kit, with a roof mounted spoiler and mesh front grill completing the look. It's a bold statement which gives the impression the car is travelling at serious speed even when parked at the kerb.
When the 2.0 litre turbo-charged engine is awoken it does happily propel you to speeds that befit its looks. Developing 240bhp Autel MaxiSys MS906BT, the Astra VXR covers the 0-60mph dash in a mere 6.2 seconds but more importantly for a front wheel drive car, develops no discernible torque steer thanks to more processing power than a string of computer shops. Vauxhall honed the Astra's chassis at the fabled Nurburgring racing circuit in Germany and it shows. Despite the twisty roads and sheep that kept darting out in front of me, the Astra avoided becoming an abattoir on wheels thanks to responsive handling and the aggressive front end scaring them off.
My only concern is that to develop 43bhp more than the Volkswagen Golf GTi and Honda Civic Type R, Vauxhall have bolted on a turbo that with all the will in the world means one thing - lag. Often I found myself in the overtaking position only for all that power to have a sit down, make a cup of tea and then decide to get to work. There were also occasions when having zoomed past the car on my inside that the engine wanted to have another brew before stopping the flow of power. That said 43bhp is one heck of an advantage over the rivals so it's worth waiting for.
The Astra VXR is also priced to be cheaper than the Golf, Megane and Focus ST and comparable with the Civic Type R despite this extra grunt and sublime handling. So am I the type of person to buy a Vauxhall Astra VXR? Well unless there's a massive twist in this tale then the answer would be "Yes please".
Mark Creese reveals gaps in his film knowledge but not his car knowledge as he describes the Vauxhall Astra VXR