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Car reviews - HSV - ClubSport - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Midrange torque, top-end power, awesome steering, magnetic ride control, braking performance and feel, value for money
Room for improvement
Variable build quality, mismatched front and rear styling on ClubSport R8 and GTS

23 Aug 2006

Holden has done such an impressive job with its VE Commodore the biggest question was how much further could HSV go?

That question has been answered this week with the release of HSV’s E-Series range.

And the result is not only the fastest four-door family ever built in this country, but undoubtedly the most comprehensive range of high-performance cars this side of six figures.

HSV says it wants to take on the world’s best, and, after having sampled the new-age ClubSport R8, GTS and Senator Signature during a twisty drive through Melbourne’s eastern ranges this week, it seems it has never had a better chance.

The GTS is Australia’s new supercar superhero. It is not only super-quick in a straight line, it has near-perfect poise with an awesome amount of road-holding grip that is balanced by a surprisingly comfortable ride.

It requires a well-tuned backside to really appreciate the subtlety of the Magnetic Ride Control suspension, but it clearly works – and works well.

In every HSV before now, you would almost swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting a pothole, but on the drive through the Dandenongs this week, it was a case of searching for the most torturous bits of tarmac to test the strengths of HSV’s MRC system.

When activated, the MRC suspension soaks up even the harshest bumps and ensures the GTS rides as flat as an ironing board through the tightest turns.

It may seem like a big ask, with the GTS costing $12,000 more than the ClubSport R8, but on a back-to-back drive the GTS felt so much more composed on the twisty stuff and more comfortable on the freeways – even in the hard-core track setting with 20-inch rims.

The 6.0-litre V8 is so sweet, and noticeably better than the Holden 6.0-litre – particularly at the top of the rev range, where it is more willing to run to the redline where the Holden engine is a bit rough and raucous over the final 1000rpm. The deep trough of midrange torque is magical and will pull from well under 2000rpm in fifth gear.

The manual transmission feels a lot more direct than it has before while the unique calibration for the auto – with stronger shifts over the Holden – is obvious.

We are not convinced the front and rear styling of the R8 and GTS gel with each other. In isolation, the lamp-laden front is aggressive and has hints of BMW with its strong bumper line and twin-nostril grille. But all the lines are vertical, making the car look tall and slender, which opposes the fat and wide rear-end with its strong horizontal styling.

The Senator Signature, on the other hand, is a much more cohesive design and the matt-black lower rim does make the car look long and sleek – and very European. If one car is going to pull "Euro snobs" into HSV showrooms, then it will be the Senator Signature.

The interior trim suits the style of each of the models: the cloth trim in R8 looks tough and durable – although it was a little slippery in the side bolsters – the optional red trim in the GTS wraps around the cockpit and looks better than the top-of-the-dash inserts in the SS and the Light Urban optional trim in the Senator opens up the cabin.

The steering wheel looks and feels great, the gauge pod is well integrated into the top of the centre stack in the dash and there is plenty of adjustability in the seating position to suit most drivers’ style.

Apart from some minor variations in the quality of the cars HSV presented for its press premiere this week – the Senator had brake squeal, one R8 felt looser than the other, and there were electrical issues with the GTS – there’s a lot to like, and not a lot to criticise, in the latest Commodore clan from Clayton.

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