Farewell to Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R and other fondly remembered icons

Farewell to Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R and other fondly remembered icons
Farewell to Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R and other fondly remembered icons

The VXR8 GTS-R, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin Vantage, Ford Fiesta ST200 and Renault Sport Mégane are all being killed off. We say goodbye

Vauxhall is killing off the VXR8. The V8 bruiser has fallen victim not only to the demise of the Australian auto-manufacturing industry – which means the Holden Commodore it’s based on will soon be no more – but also to the PSA Group’s acquisition of the Luton marque. Mighty, if superannuated, muscle cars have no place in the French corporation’s future plans.

The super saloon is going out in style, though, with the VXR8 GTS-R. It’s Vauxhall’s most powerful model ever. We’ve lined it up alongside several of our other favourite performance cars that are also bowing out with grace this year: the Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin Vantage, Ford Fiesta ST200 and Renault Sport Mégane. The good news is that new models will replace all but the VXR8 in the coming months.

First to the GTS-R. This is the run-out special, with only 15 being sold in the UK, at £74,500 each. It features several induction and software upgrades to squeeze more power from the supercharged 6.2-litre V8. Its 587bhp and 546lb ft make the GTS-R furiously, rampantly fast, and its extreme torque and long gearing mean you can hustle the thing into the horizon without ever using more than 3000rpm should you wish.

Much better to stretch the mighty engine beyond 6000rpm, though, and revel in the staggering, thundering acceleration. Through bends the huge body rolls, heaves and pitches, but it’s actually very well controlled. The GTS-R isn’t especially sophisticated, but it sure is a blast.

After an esteemed 12-year career as a linchpin within Aston Martin’s model line-up, the original Vantage is also being pensioned off. It isn’t as sophisticated its newer rivals, but what it lacks in whizzy tech it makes up for in inherent rightness and gorgeous looks. That aluminium body, transaxle, front mid-engined layout, double wishbones all round, limited-slip diff… it’s all the result of a model that’s been honed and refined year after year. Its reassuringly weighty controls mean starting it up and manoeuvring it take a certain amount of effort, but it all comes together beautifully once you’re pressing on.

Only 300 of this limited-edition AMR model will be made. Taken from the Le Mans-winning Aston Martin Racing motorsport outfit, the badge denotes the first of a line of Gaydon’s fastest and most focused performance machines, although in this initial guise it’s really just a sticker set and some rather garish cabin trim.

We love it. Speed brings a harmonic coming together of steering, ride and handling, gearshift and engine. Its 4.7-litre V8 is sonorous and characterful, and the Aston feels perfectly balanced through corners. Will the marque be able to recreate such a unique experience with the Vantage’s replacement? We’ll find out soon enough.

On to another V8-engined, British-built sports coupé – the Continental GT, which is to be replaced after a 14-year career. We’ll miss this humble V8 S version even more than the 700bhp Supersports powerhouse. Its hi-tech successor will share a platform with Porsche’s Panamera, yet we’ll mourn the passing of the old-timer.

Its cabin is a sumptuous heaven of hand-crafted luxury, despite the occasional mass-produced, plasticky touches such as the dashboard buttons. And the Conti was the only model on our photoshoot to smooth out a particularly lumpy section of moorland road, remaining calm and unflustered in the face of its fidgety and jiggly counterparts. The V8 model is more nimble and well-balanced than any nose-heavy W12 version. Its 521bhp also make the V8 S extremely fast; who needs an extra four cylinders? Any criticisms such as the vague steering, dim-witted 4WD and high seating position will all soon be a thing of the past with the arrival of the car’s all-new replacement.

We can find very few faults with the Ford Fiesta ST200. A stiff ride that never really settles with speed, high-set seats and mystifying infotainment aside, it is just about ideal. From its perfectly matched control weights and contact points, to its immediate responses and natural, intuitive roll in bends, its driving behaviours are more cohesive than those of most cars costing ten times the amount. The four-year-old model’s entertainment factor alone will render it much missed. It’s so brilliant that we struggle to see how the new ST can supersede it. Only time will tell…

Also of modest price tag and humble underpinnings, yet with equally single-minded performance credentials, is the Renault Sport Mégane. The two hot hatches more than stand up against their more muscular and/or exotic rivals here. We’re at a loss which we’d climb into first.

The 275 Cup-S is a last triumphant hurrah for the outgoing generation of hot Mégane that arrived in 2010. The front-wheel-drive hatchback is stupendously good to drive, and even the impressive new Honda Civic Type R falls short of the Renault. The Cup-S’s singularity of purpose isn’t dissimilar to that of a Porsche GT car, and while the firm ride and unyielding seats make it a tad demanding over a long journey, it’s utterly brilliant on a winding road. The Bridgestone tyres help give huge grip, which perfectly complements the car’s very agile and massively exploitable natural balance. In RS driving mode, the Akrapovic exhaust spits out a torrent of outrageous rally car-style pops and bangs. Fantastic!

But we must now say farewell to the 275 Cup-S, as well as its four stupendous counterparts here. Now, what comes next…? We can’t wait to find out!

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