Fleet News

Vauxhall VX220



##vox220.jpg --Right##'JACK of all trades - master of none,' goes the familiar saying. To be viable in today's ultra competitive car market, a vehicle has to do lots of things reasonably well - like an MPV - or one thing extraordinarily well. In launching the VX220, Vauxhall has bravely adopted the latter strategy.

General Motors' striking new sportscar has a single, clearly defined raison d'etre - to deliver maximum driving pleasure - and it does just that.

Contrary to popular opinion, it's not a Lotus Elise with new body panels, although it is built alongside at a new factory at Hethel in Norfolk. The VX220 uses the Elise's aluminium platform as a starting point for a longer, wider and altogether more muscular machine. Less than 10 per cent of its parts are shared with the Elise, but the world class suspension engineers from Lotus have had more than a little input in fine-tuning the VX's awesome handling characteristics. Add on lightweight composite body panels and a mid-mounted all aluminium 2.2 16 valve engine pumping out 145bhp and the result is more akin to mini supercar.

With 90 per cent of the maximum 150lb ft of torque available from 1,900rpm, acceleration is bordering on track car territory. 0-60 comes in under 6 seconds and the VX is capable of 136mph.

Its angular lines and aggressive stance quite literally stopped the traffic on our test drive in France, where we covered 400 miles of hairpin-laden mountain roads. From the moment we clambered into the cockpit - there's no elegant way to do it - turned the ignition key and pressed the starter button, the VX220 provided entertainment by the bucketload.

The combination of a coccoon-like cockpit and limpet-like roadholding inspire tremendous confidence and the chassis is so damned competent that you almost find yourself craving more power. Not that performance is lacking - it's just that the VX delivers it with the minimum of fuss. Strong acceleration turns the tightest of overtaking opportunities into mile-long straights and the handling is simply uncanny. Body roll is virtually absent and the unassisted steering is so direct it's almost telepathic - you need do little more than think your way through a bend. It's all but impossible to unstick any of the wheels in the dry and most drivers would need a test track to safely explore the limits of the VX.

If there is a gripe, it's the lack of a short-throw gearchange. The five-speed box fitted is pretty clunky and jars against the overall fluidity of driving experience.

But the VX doesn't need to be thrashed to be fun. It's perfectly happy burbling around town in 4th gear and although the seats are a bit thin in the padding department, the ride isn't as spine-jarringly hard as one might expect.

Engage the long-legged 5th gear and it's also a surprisingly refined motorway cruiser. Even with the top down, you can sit quite comfortably at 80mph-plus and the directional stability is so good that you can take your hands off the wheel and it will still track as straight as an arrow.

This is all very well, but such uncompromised performance must come at a price, right? Well, the VX220 starts at £22,995 and with only 1,000 a year earmarked for the UK, second-hand values should be strong. It's also got the advantage of a standard low maintenance engine, which returns almost 45mpg out of town and with a high level of standard security and easily repaired panels, insurance shouldn't be too scary.

CO2 emissions of 192g/km are comparable with those of a standard 2.0 upper medium saloon, meaning a company car driver would pay BIK based on 20% of the list price in 2002.

GM intends to produce only 3,000 VX220s a year over the next three years, but one senior source said that if demand proved strong enough, capacity could be increased by 500-1,000 vehicles a year.

With these credentials, the contract hire industry should take more than a passing interest in the VX220 and Vauxhall fleet marketing manager Keith Michaels expects the majority of right hand drive cars to be purchased with company money - albeit from the smaller end of Britain's business community.

'Customers are likely to be entrepreneurial, individualistic and successful with a desire for something a little bit different. Most of these types of people are going to be successful businessmen - probably at a senior level, or running their own companies.

'A lot of these cars will go to small businesses, but I also think some fleet operators with enhanced choice policies in sectors like IT and communications will allow senior personnel to have this sort of car.

'We expect a lot of interest from the contract hire sector because we anticipate good resale values and competitive SMR costs, but it's going to be very important to talk to them, so they are quite clear about how the wholelife costs will stack up.'

Product manager Robert Gutsche added: 'The VX220 is a unique offering from a volume manufacturer and its performance and price open up a new segment for Vauxhall. It will be compared with cars like the Audi TT and Honda S2000, but they can't deliver the same performance in terms of acceleration and handling.

'This is a car for pure driving enthusiasts - it has been designed to deliver supreme driving excitement and there are very few cars at this end of the market that can match it.'

The VX220 is a showcase for the design values and technological abilities which Vauxhall executives say will drive the company forward in the 21st century. They also anticipate a halo effect for the rest of the range - with customer attention refocused on other performance derivatives like the new Astra Coupe, whose engine it shares.

Standard equipment includes such refinements as wind-up windows, ABS, drivers' airbag, alarm and an easy-to-fit soft top which stows behind the seats. Vauxhall is also looking at offering a package of performance driver training to each customer. There is no spare wheel, but the VX220 comes with a canister of puncture foam which should get you home. A radio cassette is a £300 option, leather seats cost another £600 and a hardtop will set you back £1,200.

If four seats, five doors and room for golf clubs/dogs/kids' clutter are high on your list of priorities, then this Vauxhall is not for you. If, however, you're wondering why the hell you bought that oh so sensible people carrier, how much you hate cup-holders and where all the fun in life has gone - perhaps a visit to one of the fifty specialist Vauxhall dealers is in order. It's not a question of whether you want a VX220, it's a question of whether you need one.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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