Welcome to the second age of the hot hatch - we've never had more superheated versions of mainstream family cars to choose between. During the original hot hatch boom of the eighties and early nineties, even the most muscular GTIs barely mustered 150 bhp - now we're running out of fingers to count those breaking the 200 bhp barrier. And with 237 bhp from a turbocharged 2.0 litre engine the Astra VXR is, statistically at least, the hottest of the lot. But is it the best?
We're going to be getting used to Vauxhall's new performance sub-brand over the next couple of years - in addition to the Astra and Vectra we'll shortly be seeing VXR versions of the Zafira, Corsa and even the Meriva. All are meant to combine serious performance with aggressive styling for "real world" prices. And the Astra VXR certainly delivers on the aesthetic front, its chunky bodykit combining with the three-door Astra's already sporty lines to create an impression of barely veiled menace. Suspension is lowered over the standard car, too - while serious alloys (18 inch standard, 19 inch optional) fill the arches. It's not subtle - it's not meant to be - and it's certainly got far more raw visual presence than the VW Golf GTI or Ford Focus ST.
Inside the cabin, less has changed. New badges, a nifty gearlever and some pseudo-carbonfibre trim is pretty much the limit of the party - although the part-leather Recaro sports seats are almost intimate in their grippiness. And the VXR certainly hasn't been stripped out in the interest of performance - aircon, ESP and a trip computer are all standard, while climate control and a satnav system with a full colour screen are on the options list.