Vauxhall Vectra VXR Estate | The Brave Pill

Buy, hold, sell – or run away?

By Mike Duff / Saturday, June 12, 2021 / Loading comments

The word investment is dropped into an increasing number of car adverts these days. This week’s Brave Pill could be the first time it has been applied to a Vauxhall Vectra. Age and natural wastage is thinning the population of Vauxhall’s one-time Mondeo-fighter quickly – the last was produced 13 years ago – but its former ubiquity means it is still a vehicle that most will see as street furniture. There are still plenty of cheap, banger-grade ones smoking around. Often literally.

This isn’t one of those. Indeed it’s pretty much the pinnacle of the Vectra tree in terms of original cost, rarity and the fact it has made it into the 2020s unsullied by rust, panel damage or grizzly modification – a late, clean-looking VXR estate. As such it carries a price tag to match, for £6,500 this seems to be very nearly the most expensive Vectra in the country. But with one owner, a full service history, 63,000 miles and a clean MOT record that isn’t ludicrous considering its rarity.

The VXR story is undoubtedly one of the bright spots in the mostly dull recent history of Vauxhall. Think of an exciting example of any of the cars produced wearing a Griffin badge in the last 20 years and it almost certainly carried VXR branding too. Plenty of less exciting ones got it as well.

Vauxhall had enjoyed success with GTE and GSI performance models in the ’80s and ’90s, but it had pretty much lost its way in the early ‘noughties. Opel was already producing OPC branded versions for Europe, so the decision was made to bring these to the UK under VXR branding. Also, against GM Europe’s wishes, to add some non-Opel models to the portfolio, too, in the form of the Australian HSV Monaro.

In short, VXR wasn’t a hard club to get into if you were a Vauxhall, with the badge slapped on almost everything in the range. Corsa and Astra versions were popular and sold well, but the only real success for the Zafira and Meriva VXRs was to establish just how limited the market for go-faster people carriers was. The Vectra VXR was a much better car than the MPVs, but it also struggled – only 1,000 were sold here between 2005 and 2008, the number Vauxhall had originally projected it would shift each year.

That’s because tastes were changing, even as the VXR was launched. Those seeking thrills in what was known by the more cynical auto analysts as the ‘D-for-dull’ segment were increasingly opting to upgrade to premium badges. By the early noughties repboxes were increasingly ‘D-for-diesel’, too – and although GM’s decision not to offer its OPC/ VXR models with compression ignition now looks forward thinking it made it very hard for British user-choosers to justify them on the basis of the CO2 benefit-in-kind beatdown they would earn.

Not that there wasn’t plenty to like about the VXR Vectra itself. It replaced the now almost entirely forgotten Vectra GSI, swapping that car’s anaemic 208hp 3.2-litre V6 for a far punchier 2.8-litre turbocharged V6. This engine had mostly been developed by Saab, and appeared in various late era 9-3 and 9-5s, but was actually produced in Australia. As launched the VXR had 252hp but got upgraded to 277hp in 2006. The Vectra was front driven and had a standard six-speed manual gearbox – an auto option was offered right at the end, but found few takers. It was also offered in both hatch and estate guises.

The Vectra VXR was much more mature than the frantic, grabby Corsa and Astra versions. The V6 was a belter, with strong, linear urge and an impressively bristly top-end soundtrack. The Vectra felt unsurprisingly nose-heavy on tighter roads and, despite standard active dampers, the chassis struggled to maintain discipline over corrugated surfaces. But it was an excellent high-speed cruiser, with the fact that any of the darker colours made it look like an undercover police car helping the clear motorway outside lanes better than almost anything else.

Vauxhall took the brave decision to hold the original media launch in Sicily, using parts of the route of the Targa Florio. The VXR took to the unlikely challenge impressively well, although one lead-footed journo proved that the brakes were marginal under hard use by reaching a rest stop with the alarming sight of flames licking through the spokes of the front alloys. (No, it wasn’t me.)

The VXR was also tuneable, something Vauxhall positively encouraged owners to do. The company’s own VXR Performance Centres sold warranty-backed remaps which could boost the early cars to around 290hp and the later ones to 310hp, while adding up to 100 lb ft of torque to the stock 262 lb ft. More extreme unsanctioned upgrades were also easily applied, and the VXR inspired an enthusiastic tuning scene. Another appeal of our Pill’s estate body is that it predates the trend for curved and contoured lifestylish station wagons, the no-nonsense vastness of its boxy load area making it easy to load big objects.

So what’s brave about this one? Beyond the need to be able to front driving around in a bright red Vectra wagon, not a great deal. Springs are known to snap and the active dampers often fail, with these needing to be replaced as a pair. Under-loved engines sometimes pick up timing chain rattles which, if left untreated, can lead to expensive failure. The motor is also intolerant of incorrect spark plugs and prone to consume coilpacks. Like lesser Vectras of this era the VXR can also suffer from damp carpets due to blocked drainage pipes and from the sudden borkage of the wiper motor, this inevitably happening in a heavy rainstorm.

Our Pill is a facelifted estate, meaning the more powerful engine but also pricier road tax – currently a sizeable £585 a year. Despite clearly being cherished over the years, it is also a fairly basic example, having been ordered without the options of dual-zone climate, parking radar or satnav, although its sole previous owner did specify the DAB radio upgrade. The MOT history isn’t blemish free, but does speak of diligent care and attention, with no advisory cropping up more than once and the two fails – for a leaking fuel filter in 2016 and broken coil springs in 2014 – rectified with straight passes on the same days. It’s also wearing aftermarket alloys, which is a shame because the original VXR rims were pretty smart.

So definitely not the most courageous Pill this week – variety rather than terrifying financial peril providing the spice this time. Yes, £6,500 is a big ask for any Vectra – it was possible to get heavily depreciated early VXRs for pretty much the same ten years ago. But compared to the optimistic valuations that are being attached to some very shonky looking not-quite classics it doesn’t look outrageously expensive. If any Vectra is investment grade, it’s probably this one.

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