Car reviews - HSV - W427 - sedan
Stunning engine, mighty brakes, improved gearbox, relatively comfortable ride
Room for improvement
Ridiculous price, understated styling, easy-to-scratch wheels, it’s still a Commodore
16 Apr 2009
THE first thing you notice when you drive an HSV W427 is that you get noticed. With just 120 built (at the time of writing), that is not really a surprise.
The people who pay attention to the W427 are almost always male and many of them are so excited to finally see one of these rare muscle cars in the metal that they will do almost anything to get closer.
They will swerve across lanes, hang out car windows with camera phones and follow you for several kilometers.
I imagine the W427 would cause more of a stir if it didn’t have relatively understated styling.
It does have a bold nose, with that massive grille standing out in a crowd, but there is no wild body kit or outrageous rear wing like the original Walkinshaw Group A that started it all.
Those in the know can pick the pencil-thin carbon-fibre rear spoiler on the W427, but they are enthusiasts who are likely to know everything about the car down to the diametre of the wheel nuts.
It’s not yet clear if history will remember the W427 as a failure or a hero car.
HSV managing director at the time of the 2008 release, Scott Grant, said that HSV would sell no more than 427 of the cars, before that number was revised down to 200 last year.
It’s now unlikely HSV will sell more than 130 with the order book closing soon.
It is no surprise that there aren’t that many people willing to pay $155,500 for a car based on a Commodore.
Some of the customers think they are making a sound investment on a rare muscle car that will increase in value, and who knows, maybe they are on to something. Others are simply rewarding themselves with the meanest HSV available.
The engine is, of course, the real draw card. There are other mechanical upgrades, but the big lump of Detroit metal under the bonnet is the reason people hand over the cash.
This engine is a delight on the track because it is not only strong down low, but also has an incredibly strong top end, almost all the way to the 7000rpm cut-out.
The hand-built LS7 V8 can never be fully explored on public roads, but that said, the big Chev is still fun at legal speeds, slingshotting the W427 from 0-100km/h in a hurry.
It has plenty of muscle from 2000rpm to 4000rpm, largely due to its sheer size, which makes it a pleasure to use around town.
Strangely, the big W427 is not too bad in traffic, despite its big and bulky gearbox and heavy clutch which actually feels feels better than the standard transmission. It it is a world away from the truck-like manuals of a few years ago and their clutches which required calves of steel.
The new Tremec TR6060 gearbox, which will be rolled out across the range, feels a bit crisper than the standard one, but is still not perfect.
Driving hard, especially on the track, it is possible to get the wrong gear, but this might be more to do with our technique than the gearbox.
Due to its prodigious torque, the W427’s engine is easier to operate in bumper-to-bumper gridlock than a standard HSV, crawling along with few revs.
This next point will probably viewed as sacrilege by many HSV fans, but we think this engine would be an absolute beauty with a quality six-speed automatic. We are not talking about the slushy transmission from the regular HSV/Holden range, but something like the ZF six-speed that makes it into Jaguars, Maseratis and Ford Falcons.
But back to the manual: the gearing allows for relaxed highway cruising, with the engine doing just 1100rpm in sixth at 100km/h.
We measured the fuel consumption after some city and highway driving (not including the track work) and found the big HSV used 16 litres per 100km. It is not going to win the Green Car of The Year award, but it could be worse, given the engine size.
The fuel bill would hurt most of us, especially as it drinks 98 RON petrol, but these kinds of costs are unlikely to worry those who drop this kind of money on a car.
The exhaust note is loud and gruff even in city driving and is at its best between 2000rpm and 4000rpm. Surprisingly, after that it seems to go a bit quiet.
Our track testing revealed the W427 sounded absolutely terrifyingly wonderful from outside the car when going flat-out, spinning to 7000rpm. Unfortunately, it didn’t sound as exciting inside the car.
The ESC has been tuned to allow the driver to have a bit of fun before it switching in. On a track, you might get a bit adventurous and turn it off, but because it allows a fair bit of slip it is hard to see why you would need to turn it off on the road.
That is important, because you would probably turn it off pretty quickly if the system was too intrusive and then you can’t rely on it when you get into trouble.
The engine is clearly the best bit about this car, but a lot of other work has gone into other aspects. Take the brakes for example. HSV selected top-shelf AP brakes with six-piston calipers, which do a great job of pulling up this 1874kg machine as quickly as possible.
Repeated fast laps on a track eventually cause a little fade, but they could handle anything you will get up to on public roads.
As is the case with other HSVs, and indeed the SS and SV6 Commodores, the handling is a high point. Crisp steering and predictable ride make this a very easy car to drive fast.
There is a reasonable amount of body roll in corners, but not too much to spoil the fun. It is still evident with the magnetic ride control (MRC) turned on, but the MRC does make the ride noticeably firmer.
I tried it on the road, but quickly turned it off as it just seemed to make the car crash and bash over imperfect surfaces.
The W427’s ride is still on the firm side with the MRC off, which is expected, given it has 20-inch rims with super-low-profile rubber, but it is better than I expected on public roads.
It’s not the kind of kidney rattling ride that makes living with a car like a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO or Subaru WRX STI difficult and you could happily drive the HSV every day.
We took the W427 for a long country drive and found it generally comfortable.
It has big red seats with protruding side bolsters. However, the seat cushions are wide, so people of average weight will not have much lateral support. They are nice and comfortable on a short trip, but you can get a bit of ‘numb bum’ on longer runs.
The W427’s cabin is fairly quiet at highway speeds and there isn’t much wind noise, but that makes the tyre noise more intrusive.
The cabin is both impressive and disappointing at the same time. Those seats, the door trims, the steering wheel and gear shifter are lined with extremely bright red leather which is lovely and soft and smells wonderful. It might be a bit too brash for some, but at least it is different.
There are also nice carbon-fibre trim elements on the dashboard and steering wheel to make the interior more special.
Unfortunately, some cheap, dull plastics, especially on the centre console and the handbrake (which even looks bad in the base Commodore), are a real let-down.
The information display looks all right in a Calais V, but not a $150,000-plus vehicle, and the instrument cluster graphics look dated.
Like the Commodore, the W427 suffers from bulky A-pillars that block out entire motorbikes on right-hand bends. This was a massive design oversight that Holden and HSV will have to live with until an all-new Commodore comes along.
Parking the W427 is stressful as you try desperately not to scratch those massive wheels which sit proud of the tyre. Our test car already had one gouged wheel (not us, your honour), and we bet it’s not the only one.
While it may have fallen well short of its sales targets, the W427 is still an impressive muscle car that is easy to live with if you can afford the fuel bill.
It is over-priced when you consider the humble car it is based on, but that doesn’t stop it from being a fantastic drive.
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