The VX220 was screaming lunacy for a major manufacturer, but a great buy
Just clambering aboard is an experience, thanks to the small door opening and wide sill. That sets you up for an experience that is reassuringly old-school.
This is a car for driving, with few concessions to comfort. The steering is remarkably direct and full of feel, while the ride is firm but not jarring. Performance is extraordinary, especially on the Turbo. Cars of this era are so loaded up with safety kit that can blunt speed and handling. Not here – the 2.2 will race to 60mph in under six seconds.
The unremarkable origins of the engines means that these cars are surprisingly docile and easy to drive around town. The reason that people indulge in track days soon becomes obvious though – it’s so hard to exploit the performance on public roads. Speed limits are reached in no time at all, and you’ll be keen to find roads free of traffic and other dangers.
Power (bhp@rpm) 197bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 184lb ft@2000rpm
Top speed 151mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
An HPi check is essential. An internet search gives plenty of options. A very large number of VX220s have been written off, but this can be for minor bodywork damage. The ‘clams’ that make up the front and rear bodywork can be very expensive to replace, though aftermarket options are now available.
Check the low nose for stonechip damage. It’s very common and can be expensive to sort out properly. Blistering is possible on the body, usually on the doors or top of the rear clam. It’s a problem well known in owners circles and it is unsightly. It will require someone with glassfibre skills to put right. Many cars suffered this even when they were new and were repaired under warranty by Vauxhall dealers with varying degrees of success.
Engines are entirely run-of-the-mill, plucked from Vauxhall’s Vectra range, so parts are plentiful. The 2.2 uses a timing chain, so check for a rattle from start-up. They’re very tricky to replace with the engine in-situ but replacement every 60,000 miles is considered sensible. The Turbo uses a 2.0-litre engine with a timing belt, which should be replaced every four years or 40,000 miles. Check the water temperature on a test drive as water pumps can fail, causing overheating. They’re also very tricky to replace. On the Turbo, listen out for a ticking noise, which might be a cracked exhaust manifold. Engine mounts can wear badly, especially if the car has been driven hard. Replacements are around £30 each.
On a test drive, make sure the ABS light illuminates and then goes out as it should, and if possible, test that the ABS is functioning. The system fitted to most VXs is deemed a bit over zealous so some disable it – which may cause issues at MoT time.
Check the front-mounted radiator for damage and/or leaks and then see if you can check the wishbone mountings for the front suspension. Any damage here is very bad news as the aluminium main structure is not repairable. It’s very difficult to check thoroughly due to an extensive undertray, so check the tyres for unusual wear patterns.
The tyres are unique to the model and unlike the Elise, use 17-inch wheels all round. The 175-section front tyres are £140 each, while the rears can be as little as £90. Some fit aftermarket wheels for more choice – then fronts can cost just £60 each. The rear track control arm (or toe link) can suffer from seized balljoints. Failure is pretty catastrophic, so ask if they have been replaced, especially on a track car. An upgrade is available from Lotus specialists. Getting the geometry checked every few years is very wise.
Brake discs are off-the-shelf Vectra. Pad upgrades are considered wise, but the AP front calipers and Brembo rears tend to be reliable. They’re the same as the Elise. Some owners are tempted to fit sports exhaust systems. Check on the test drive that the result is not too harsh on the ears.
If you want a proper driver’s car, then the VX220 is about as good as it gets. Values seem lower than the equivalent Elise, which tells you a lot about badge snobbery. It isn’t a car you’d want to use everyday, but weekend fun is guaranteed. The only downside is that you may well find yourself booking track time to really get the best out of one.