JUST when everyone thought Vauxhall had completed the sixth-generation Astra range with the 2012 launch of the GTC Coupé to add to estate and hatchback pairing, the British arm of the massive General Motors marque upped the ante yet again.
Enter the Astra VXR Coupe, an awesome pocket rocket that, while not for the general masses, had their lucky owners believing they are heading for the grid of a touring car race every time they fire up the engine.
With its main competition centred around the Renault Megane Renaultsport 265 Cup and Volkswagen Scirocco R coupÃ©s - and to a lesser extent the Mazda3 MPS, SEAT LeÃ³n Cupra R and Ford Focus ST hatchbacks - the Vauxhall stood up nicely on the price front, beating off the German-built contender by nearly £4000 and a similarly-specced Megane by more than £2,000.
With no less than 276 charging horses waiting to be released from its four-pot, two-litre engine, it was the most powerful coupÃ© in the sector, so it was easy to see why the VXR high-performance offering became so sought-after by the UK's band of four-wheel adrenalin junkies.
From a standing start to 60mph in less than six seconds, a top speed of 155mph and a torque figure that could pull a massive 400Nm from just 2400revs, the VXR was certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Yet the Astra could behave like a timid pussy cat when required.
And it was all down to the FlexRide adaptive damping system which gave the choice of three different settings, from the sublime to sporty, to ...er ... manic.
At the car's heart was the same two-litre engine that was seen throughout the Vauxhall range, but heavily revised to squeeze out every last ounce of power that was physically possible.
Uprated Bembo brakes especially designed for the job in hand and highly-tuned suspension to match, along with mechanical limited-slip differential from racing car experts Drexler also helped make the car something a bit special.
Select the VXR setting and everything tightened up. Throttle response and steering became razor sharp, while the suspension became as stiff as a board, helping to keep the machine firmly planted on the black stuff no matter how tight the twists and turns became.
Go for normal setting, or even sport, and you geot a much more relaxed and comfortable ride whereby the fillings in your teeth were not be in any danger of being dislodged.
Smooth and refined on the hoof, the VXR kept you firmly in control with the minimum of effort required from the driver.
Vauxhall kept things simple with the VXR, with just one model available. Standard goodies in the basic price included cruise control, air con, automatic wipers and headlights, digital sound system, 19-inch alloy wheels and a tuned decibel-bursting exhaust system.
For those looking for extra style, an aero kit was available which adds a rear wing, larger 20-inch alloys and extended side sills to the mix.
Other options included climate control, sat nav, leather interior and adaptive bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights.
There was no doubt that this was by far the finest model Vauxhall had produced for many a long year, and with limited sales of just around 1,200 cars a year, the Astra VXR proved to be something a little bit special.
Prices for a 2012 12-plate VXR will range from between £9,980 and £12,710. Move up to 2013 and an 13-plated example will cost between £11,645 and £14,580.
However, most used examples will undoubtedly be loaded up with a host of options, so buyers might have to pay something of a premium over the guide prices.