Everyone always asks why I chose this over a Golf GTI or Focus ST. Several reasons:
1) It's the quickest of the three by a considerable margin.
2) It's the best looking of the three (in my humble opinion)
3) It's the only one of the three that really excited me to drive. Granted, that's in some way due to its flaws, but its occasional waywardness and the massive respect with which you need to treat the power hark right back to the days of the old school raw hot hatchback. No, it's probably not as capable as the Focus or Golf, but it makes me smile more than either of them, and that in my opinion is what a hot hatch should do.
The engine is an absolute belter. Boost comes in at around 2,000 RPM and the car just slingshots toward the horizon. It sounds absolutely gorgeous too, and is an object lesson in how to make a four cylinder engine sound and feel exciting. VW would do well to take notes here. It reminds me a lot of the old C20XE "red top" engine, with a slightly gravelly, raspy note to it, and an instant wallop when you open it up. Like the XE, it also sends the odd "zizz" and resonance through the pedals and the seat at certain points in the rev range, but it just has a raw energy to it that none of the rivals I drove (Focus, Golf, Megane 225) got even close to. Vauxhall have always known how to build a decent high performance engine, and this is one of their best yet. Certainly the VW unit can't hold a candle to it in terms of either performance or charisma.
Handling is much better than Vauxhalls of old with good bite from the front end (if you're careful on the loud pedal), and very direct, quick geared steering. Feel isn't as good as the Focus ST, but is easily the match of the Golf. The biggest problem is the ease with which you can overwhelm the front tyres with the power, but you soon learn to be smooth and feed in the power progressively. It's two handfuls in the wet, but again it can still be driven quickly once you learn it. To some this will drive them nuts, but I personally really like the fact that this car takes time to learn to get the best out of. You need to be able to (and be willing to) drive around its shortcomings, it really rewards. And you can drive around its shortcomings, and cover ground at ridiculous speeds. If you want to drive it everywhere foot to floor in all weathers, buy the Golf. Don't even waste your time test driving the VXR - you'll hate it.
The driving position is good, and build quality first class, although some of the interior plastics look a bit bland and cheap. Ride is very firm though (the reason I marked it down a bit for comfort) with sleeping policemen and potholes verging on the painful at times. Other than that, it's a comfy, refined car with a real Jekyll and Hyde character. Cruising the motorways in top it's quiet, responsive and stable. Under full chat exiting a corner, the engine snarls and bellows, and the steering wheel tugs gently as the chassis really starts to work for a living. The whole car comes alive and makes you concentrate - just like the best hot hatches of old.
So, the VXR is flawed, but brilliant fun, and a "classic" hot hatch in both the positive and negative sense of the word. It's well made, reliable (so far) and apart from the appalling ride quality, an absolute doddle to live with. If the new Golf GTI is too middle aged (and middle class) for you and the Focus too bland, try the VXR. It might just be what you are looking for.