Vauxhall VX220 dynamic exterior

Vauxhall VX220 | Alternative Classics

Vauxhall VX220 | Alternative Classics

The Lotus Elise carved itself a niche as a lightweight British sportscar the committed driver could use every day, but in 2003, there was an even better option; surprisingly, it was a Vauxhall – the VX220 Turbo.

The standard Vauxhall VX220 had been on sale for a couple of years before the Turbo landed – a convenient collaboration that was apparently sparked by Lotus’ need for development in safety and GM’s need for development in ‘sexy’.  It was an excellent idea, but with a USP, the Vauxhall could have made a more significant dent in the sales of the better-looking, sweeter-handling and more appealingly badged Elise.

The Turbo’s introduction brought the defining character the VX220 craved. Offering significantly more performance than the standard model, the Turbo was, surprisingly, billed as the softer of the two, with more cosseting suspension and an easily accessible mid-range. That was the theory, at least, but it didn’t entirely live up to the microscope of the car’s launch where journalists – keen to sample the Turbo’s so-called-docile nature – crashed six of them.

They should have known better. With no stability control, a short wheelbase and a mid-engine layout, the standard VX wasn’t immune to stepping out, and the Turbo merely added power oversteer to the mix.  But it was indeed quick. Not only did the Turbo have the measure of the S2 Lotus Elise 111S – the fastest sold then – it also dished out beatings to the likes of the Porsche Boxster S and Honda S2000. One (evidently quite brave) Evo correspondent reckoned the Turbo could match a 996 GT3 in the right hands.

While that’s up for debate, what can’t be argued is that VX220 Turbos can now be had for the same price as a basic Lotus Elise, with close to half the horsepower, and it’s this value that remains the Vauxhall’s biggest attraction.

Rarity could be another pull because only around 4500 Turbos were built, with the car’s life coming to an end in style in the form of the mildly tuned VXR220 run of 65 cars, which landed a year before the Vauxhall went out of production in 2004.

Vauxhall VX220: why buy one?

The Vauxhall VX220 Turbo was a performance bargain when new, and the passing of time has enhanced its value.

Key to this boast was its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. Its 200PS (147kW) sounds modest by modern standards, but in a car weighing 930kg – or about half the weight of a current BMW M3 – it proved to be plenty, getting the Turbo from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds, 0-100mph in 13 seconds and onto a respectable top speed of 151mph.

What explains the Vauxhall’s character even better is that its 250Nm (184lb ft) of torque arrived at just 1,950rpm – compare that to a Lotus Elise 111S with just 174Nm (128lb ft) delivered at a peaky 4,500rpm, and it’s clear where the differences lie.

Vauxhall claimed the VX220 shared just ten per cent of its parts with its Hethel-based brother, but one of those parts was the famous aluminium bonded tub that made the Lotus light and strong.

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Vauxhall then increased the VX220’s wheelbase by 30mm, the car’s rear track by 20mm and added ABS brakes, adjustments that aimed to tame the Lotus’ at-times-challenging on-the-limit handling, with an airbag thrown in case the company’s efforts proved unsuccessful. 

Designed to be even easier to live with than the standard car, the Turbo had a softer suspension setup that allowed it to breathe with bumps rather than crash over them; plus, you got a gear-shift-indicator light and a revised instrument cluster.

Touring Pack-optioned cars brought untold luxury in the form of a proper fuel gauge (in place of the annoyingly inaccurate digital readout), extra sound deadening and carpets that make the Turbo more tolerable on long drives.

Even so, it’s hard to argue the VX220 Turbo is practical. A talented gymnast would have trouble elegantly clearing the car’s sills on entry. While taking the roof off helps with access, it’s not easy, taking around a minute to navigate the soft top’s combination of slider, catches and struts before snugly squeezing it into its roof bag.

You do at least get a 206-litre boot with plenty of room for a couple of soft bags, and fuel economy of 33mpg officially – high 20s in reality – is tolerable given the performance.

Vauxhall VX200: Problems to look out for?

The reliability issues that blighted early VX220 Turbos were less forgivable, with reports of suspension problems and engine covers that allowed water to leak into the spark plugs – Vauxhall released a new engine cover to sort out the latter. Seats are also known to work loose from their mountings.

Age brings new problems that previous owners may have yet to iron out. The Vauxhall fibre-glass body is easy to damage, and even a tiny knock requires an entire new clamshell, which will be hard to source. The same goes for head and tail light clusters.

Another prominent weak spot is the roof, never the most watertight; wear and tear means leaks are likely, and a replacement will cost around £1,000, although an aftermarket hardtop will cost roughly half that.

Servicing cost should be reasonably affordable, ranging from £300-750, and the Lotus lightweight means tyres, brake pads and discs will withstand plenty of abuse before needing replacing.

Vauxhall VX220: How much to pay?

Today, you can pick up a used Vauxhall VX220 Turbo for roughly half the price of a well-specified Mazda MX-5, which is impressive considering the gulf in pedigree and performance.

Crash-damaged cars start from less than £12,000 and could be a sensible option for thrashing on track. Adding £6,000 to your budget gives you several low mileage/owner cars to choose from, and as most (if not all) have been modified, it makes sense to pick the vehicle with mods that best suits your tastes. Over £20,000 buys you a mint, bonestock example with a verifiable history that stretches back to when the car’s tyres first hit Tarmac.

Limited-run VXR220s are the most prized of the lot and will set you back £25,000. Arguably, their five-spoke Speedline alloy wheels are with the price hike alone, but they also get more power and torque – up to 219PS (161kW) and 300Nm (221lb ft), respectively – for 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds and a 155mph top speed. Ohlin dampers and smaller wheels – down from 17 to 16-inch – also make these the sweetest handling of the lot. 

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