Vauxhall Monaro VXR
The Vauxhall Monaro VXR doesn't pull its punches, so neither will we. The latest version is available now, and it boasts more power, bigger brakes plus improved suspension, but keeps the same price. What's more, this no-holds-barred muscle car is now the fastest Vauxhall of all-time, stealing the 15-year-old record held by the Lotus Carlton. Not much has changed on the outside of the Monaro - two bonnet nostrils (needed to aid engine cooling) are the most aggressive and obvious additions.
There are also new 19-inch alloy wheels and quad exhausts. But then the plain-speaking styling was fundamentally right, anyway - this is a big four-seater coupé that does exactly what it says on the tin.
The most significant difference has occurred not in the engine bay, but in the boot. This is because the fuel tank has been moved up behind the rear seats, meaning the load area's volume has shrunk from a generous 370 litres to a modest 245 litres. So you won't be able to carry four sets of golf clubs in it any more - in fact, even weekends away could pose problems.
The reason for the fuel tank's relocation is US crash regulations. Our transatlantic cousins are calling the shots on this car because in America, where it is badged as a Pontiac GTO, more than 25,000 are sold annually.
This compares to the 300 it's hoped the British will buy over the next 18 months, and the Australians' 260 a year. The tweak has freed up space lower down, allowing Vauxhall to fit a flat undertray to improve aerodynamics, plus a straighter exhaust system.
And this means the V8 sounds better than ever. But there's still not as much volume as you'd expect from a vast 6.0-litre engine, so it's just as well the firm is developing a sports exhaust kit that's too loud to come as standard.
There are no regulations limiting power, though. The manufacturer has bored out the original's 5.7-litre unit and uprated it to deliver more grunt. Resulting in 398bhp and 530Nm - up from 382bhp and 510Nm - this makes the Monaro faster than ever.
Although official figures have yet to be released, Vauxhall claims the car has a 0-60mph sprint time of around 5.0 seconds and a top speed of 180mph - quicker than the 177mph Lotus Carlton. In low gears, the VXR feels effortlessly fast, but slot into sixth on the motorway and the revs die away to only 1,900rpm at 70mph. This makes it a relaxing cruiser, but for meaningful acceleration you do need to drop a couple of cogs - not easy when the clutch and gearlever are so heavy.
The same macho mechanical feel applies to the rest of the car. It doesn't have as much finesse as the Porsche 911 or BMW M3, and the suspension is not well enough controlled to be considered a genuine rival. Instead, this is a pure muscle mach-ine, with bags of charisma, big seats, space for four and loads of kit.
True, the driving position is too high, and the less said about fuel economy and CO2 emissions the better, but what other car offers 180mph for less than £37,000? For value-for-money thrills, the Monaro VXR is a performance bargain.