One wonders at the counterintuitive ability of automotive manufacturers to intentionally make something significantly better than something else. Follow me: the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG is, underneath it all, very similar to a Mercedes-Benz E200 Kompressor taxi you see on Munich streets. Strip away the exhaustive rebodying, and the story behind the Vauxhall Astra VXR 888 and the Saturn Astra strides along the same path.
Surely you’re aware that the Astra available in North America at Saturn dealerships began life as an Opel/Vauxhall in Europe. In fact, Holden had it before us, too. In some countries, the Astra’s badged as a Chevrolet. But we were last in line.
When the Astra finally arrived on our shores, currency issues meant it wasn’t priced quite low enough to be a high volume car on this continent. Despite knowing the Astra was a better car than a Chevrolet Cobalt, swinging a slightly larger monthly payment for buyers with this sort of income isn’t easy. So, for the most part, people have avoided the Astra, perhaps one of the best small cars General Motors has ever offered to its domestic customers.
Besides the price, other issues cropped up. Why did something as sporty-looking as the 3-door Astra, with its wonderfully arching roofline and beautiful 5-spoke wheels, come equipped with just a 1.8L, 138 horsepower engine? Okay, that’s fine as a starting point…. maybe. But if this is going to be a premium player, where’s the beef?
With this in mind, take a look Across The Pond. GM’s UK branch, Vauxhall, hasn’t been shy about the power quotient of the current Astra since the day it debuted. Engines generating significantly less than 138 horsepower are available, but so are a 1.6L turbo with 177, a 1.9L diesel with 150, and a 2.0L turbo with 237 in the VXR.
Now, for something more. Triple Eight Engineering is the team behind VX Racing’s Astra in the British Touring Car Championship. Success is the order of the day. With previous special edition Vauxhalls under their belt, the latest Astra VXR 888 was inevitably going to be truly special. At least under the hood.
295 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque must now be transmitted through the front tires. Yikes. The Remus sports exhaust is £850 but accounts for 20 of the additional ponies. £550 of software updates helps discover the remainder of the extra horsepower. Better brakes thin out your wallet to the tune of £1,600. evo magazine (pic provision) says, ” No, the 888 doesn’t have the deeply impressive deployment skills of Renault’s class-leading R26 Mégane, but it remains on the right side of the line that divides fun from terror and control from chaos.” Lack of chaos is good.
Any Astra VXR, however bruised and battered, can be retrofitted with the parts that make up the recent Triple Eight package. Complaints regarding steering feel remain and obviously the price is depressingly large. One way or another, we all know that Saturn would never consider offering this car to North Americans. Sad reality? It’s unlikely that, were it to be offered, there’d be very many takers because of a prohibitive pricing scheme.