Vauxhall Monaro VXR - The Verdict

Vauxhall's new 6.0-litre beast has a Down Under heritage and bags of beef, says David Wilkins. It also drinks like a fish, but the ride is spectacular

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Price: £36,995
Engine: 6.0-litre petrol
Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, 17.6 mpg
CO2: 384g/km
Worth considering: BMW M3 coupe, Jaguar XK, TVR T350

Desirable coupés with huge, 6.0-litre engines are the exception rather than the rule on The Verdict but, like the proverbial London bus, you can wait for ages for one to turn up, only for two to come along at once.

I'm not quite sure what quirk of scheduling had the Aston Martin DB9 that featured in last week's test sharing my drive for few days with the Monaro VXR, although it certainly made for an interesting back-to-back comparison.

The most obvious difference between the two cars is their price; at £36,995, the Monaro costs only about one third as much as the DB9. Does that mean that the Aston is over-priced? Or is the Monaro the bargain of the century? Actually neither, because beyond the basic similarities in layout, these two cars are quite different.

The Aston is stuffed with technology not shared with other Ford brands, while the Monaro is a more prosaic collection of parts gathered from around the General Motors empire. The V8 engine, for example, comes from the sporty US Chevrolet Corvette; that's a pretty respectable pedigree, but still not one that can quite compete with the huge kudos of an Aston.

In fact the Monaro, despite its Vauxhall badge, comes from Australia, where it is sold as a Holden. Nevertheless, it bears a strong family resemblance to GM's Nineties European cars and looks a bit like an enlarged two-door version of the old Vauxhall Omega saloon; or at least it did until this 6.0-litre version, which recently joined the basic 5.7-litre model, grew some dodgy bonnet scoops and side skirts. I'm not keen on these additions.

But, that apart, the Monaro is mostly very good news. Don't go thinking that it's some crude colonial lash-up that is being foisted on us; it's not.

Some of the interior fittings lack a bit of class but most people who buy this car will be interested in the driving experience, not the dashboard plastics. And the driving is excellent. The V8 engine is immensely civilised except if pushed, when it sounds terrific, although the Monaro's pedals are offset to the right, making it slightly awkward to press the long-travel accelerator all the way home in order to enjoy the car's muscle to its full, and glorious, extent.

Manual gearboxes paired with large powerful engines are often disappointing, but the one fitted to the Monaro works nicely. A well-sorted rear-wheel-drive set-up completes the picture.

The only real drawback - and it is this that messes up the sums, not the car's keen pricing - is that the Monaro likes a drink. What it really needs are American petrol prices to go along with that American engine.

Shaun Tolan, 32, doctor from Manchester
USUAL CAR: SUBARU IMPREZA WRX

This Vauxhall has spent the winter bench-pressing and injecting growth hormone. The gleaming six-litre V8 engine isn't disappointed by the aggressive styling, which is straight out of a kid's video game. There is a nice "cockpit" feel to the driver's position, the clutch is heavy, the engine noise divine and the acceleration will leave you grinning like a simpleton. It eats up and spits out corners and hills, and on the motorway it spanners along. Negatives? It's a struggle getting into the back despite the electric seats. It undoubtedly will be thirsty and expensive to insure. I can't help feeling, given the chance, I'd upgrade to an STi and keep the 10 grand difference.

Tony Buckley, 42, public relations officer from Warrington
USUAL CAR: SAAB 9-3T

If this car were a man, your mother would think it was charming and you wouldn't leave it alone with your daughters. It's a civilised place to be if you drive it moderately and a snarling but lovable animal if you don't. Sure, the boot-space is limited and rear three-quarter visibility isn't great, but you won't buy this if you want a practical runabout. The cabin is comfortable, the suspension is just right for UK roads, the clutch, gear-change and steering are spot on and the engine... well, that's why I'm still grinning: so much torque that changing gear is almost an option rather than a necessity, even going up a steep, winding, B-road.

Griff Morley, 46, managing director from Bolton
USUAL CAR: JAGUAR X-TYPE SPORT, SMART FORFOUR, FIAT X19

It reminded me of the style and shape of a Vauxhall Calibra, but heavily pumped with steroids. The boot for such a large car was a bit disappointing and I doubt the golf clubs would fit in. Around town it drove exceptionally well with no problem crawling in slow-moving traffic. But on the motorway it was something else - you can really feel the power, and with six gears it was doing 70mph using only 1,700rpm. The steering was light and positive, but at high speeds you tended to feel every bump. The leather seats were an excellent fit and very comfortable. I would have no problem using this car for long journeys.

THE VERDICT: If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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