HSV Clubsport R8 Sedan

Price range

$67,990 – $69,990

Overall

Good: Muscle power; on-road presence, throaty engine note; spacious interior for five adults; excellent grand touring choice – equal part performance car and family hauler; honest bang for your bucks.

Not so Good: Thirsty in traffic or when pushed; Carry over Commodore minuses.

Design and Engineering

Good : In September 2009, three years after HSV released the all new Clubsport R8 E Series (the first one based on the all new 2006 VE Commodore) the radically face-lifted E Series 2 went on sale across Australia.

The twin-nostril bonnet (a la Pontiac G8) and a new nose treatment which has an official name of ‘Shockwave Graphic’ ensure this model will never be mistaken as a ‘regular’ SS Commodore. HSV engineers also focused their attention on improvements to the handling. We say ‘job well done’.

E Series 3 arrived in October 2010, the most noticeable change to the exterior is the new, flatter rear spoiler, fitted primarily to aid rear visibility.

Not so good : Love it or hate it styling (but we reckon this is the right way to go as a 6.2-litre V8 is never going to be politically correct in this day and age).

We’re not so sure if the new rear bumper styling works as well as the changes up front and one of our reviewers thinks the flash new daytime running lights (of which Audi owners will be familiar with) are a little too ‘razzle & dazzle’.

Interior and Styling

Good : Usual Commodore pluses – no shortage of space in the front, second row or boot space – accommodating five full size Aussie blokes in comfort. The dual zone climate control is on top of our lands big temperature fluctuations. The HSV changes help to differentiate the ‘Clubbies’ Commodore origins. We like the colour coded background in the driver’s instrument cluster which matches the exterior paint colour, the three gauge binnacle on the top of the dash above the centre console features readouts for voltage, oil temperature & oil pressure, giving a not so subtle hint of the vehicles capabilities.

The grippy cloth covered front sports seats (leather covered pews are optional) provide good support, possibly the most comfortable sports seats on the market and the alloy pedals look the real deal.

From October 2010 (E Series 3) the Clubsport is fitted with HSV’s Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) which allows the driver to access performance data such as lap times and g-forces. As with the donor Commodore the centre dash design is now more logically arranged – the sat-nav and audio controls are positioned higher than previously and surrounded by classy piano-black trim.

Not so good : Usual Commodore negatives – overly thick windscreen pillars means vision suffers (a disadvantage at a round about or t-intersection or when scanning ahead when slicing through your favourite super twisty b-road; excessive amounts of hard plastics and the cheap-looking, uncomfortable to grasp hand brake. The sports seats are very good, but they’re on the large side so smaller folk will move around a little more than they wished.

Performance

Good : The late 2009 facelift (and the late 2010 tech-change) see’s no change to the output’s of the big 6.2L V8 (still 317kW of power and 550Nm of torque) but who are we kidding – one thing the Clubsport R8 doesn’t lack is a shortage of ‘oomph’. We love when driving the six speed automatic in manual mode, the Clubsport R8 blips the throttle when shifting down a gear to keep the engine on song. Go for the six speed manual gearbox and the Clubsport R8 comes with ‘Intelligent Launch Control’ whereby the system manages traction control and torque output to maximize acceleration. Just a few features to stay competitive with its luxurious German rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Not so good : The HSV Clubsport R8 is a big car, so performance is seriously quick rather than ‘oohhh my …. God’ quick. Nevertheless, the standard V8 kickdown in gears will not disappoint.

Ride and Handling

Good : Truly impressive handling for such a large car; excellent amounts of traction in the dry (much more so than previous generation HSV’s). The HSV Clubsport R8 plays both roles well, being a refined highway cruiser thanks to a comfortable ride over a wide range of surfaces or a real player as you slingshot from corner to corner on a twisty back road (impressive stuff in a car weighing 1800kg and a sign of excellent weight transfer capabilities). The steering inspires confidence and the new ‘Competition mode’ stability control allows for more driver control within a limit.

Not so good : The performance brakes are well up to the task of hauling down 1,800kg out on the road however on the track might be a different matter. Find drilled and grooved ventilated discs all round attempting to keep the brakes at an operating temperature. The more expensive HSV GTS comes standard with larger six-piston brakes.

Buying and Owning

Good : Ticks the safety box with standard anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) and six airbags; as with the Commodore, the Clubsport R8 is awarded a top crash rating in independent crash testing. You should sleep easier at night knowing that from the September 2009 facelift, all Clubbies feature an improved version of the DataDot anti-theft identification called DataDotDNA Platinum as standard. Another useful new feature is ‘Extended Cruise Control’ – it could even help you keep your license – the system applies gentle braking pressure when it senses that a set speed is being exceeded by 1-2km/h. HSV offer more cost options than ever before; these include a performance suspension upgrade, a bi-modal exhaust, 20 inch wheels (19’s are standard) and leather interior.

Not so good : The automatic Clubsport R8 misses out on ‘Intelligent Launch Control’; whilst Holden Special Vehicles claims fuel consumption has improved over the pre facelift model (now a more respectable 13.9 litres per 100kms), in the real world the 6.2-litre V8 can still post some scary high economy figures.

HSV Clubsport R8 Tourer Wagon

Price range

$64,990 – $79,490

Overall

Good: Muscle car performance meets family friendly bodystyle; Muscular engine note; Stylish design plus HSV’s distinctive add-ons; So, so much better than HSV’s previous Avalanche and Senator Signature Estate wagons.

Not so Good: Only seats five; Shallow cargo bay; Fuel economy.

Design and Engineering

Good : Launched in September 2008, with the E Series 2 technical upgrade arriving 12 months later and in September 2010 a second revision arrived in the way of interior upgrades and a bunch of high-tech driver aids.

HSV used the Holden Sportwagon as its base (a great place to start) adding ‘go fast’ bits under the bonnet and ‘go fast’ looking bits to the skin. The performance engine hood with dual scoops, the wild ‘shockwave’ inspired front grilles and the intimidating daytime running lamps up front ensures (from the front at least) it’ll never be mistaken for anything other than the real deal from Clayton (home of HSV). For more than one of our tester’s, the R8 Tourer is one of the best-looking HSV’s you can buy! The optional 20″ SV Performance Forged wheels in Blade Silver look sensational.

Not so good : Whilst the frontal design can’t be mistaken from a Holden, the rear end of the Tourer is less distinguishable from the Holden Sportwagon, however the chrome strip running between the tail lights, sourced from the Calais Sportwagon, ensures a more premium look compared to say an SS Sportwagon. HSV sedans feature bold looking ‘Shockwave’ exhaust outlets, the Tourer goes for a more subtle looking quad exhaust outlets instead (one could argue the quad exhausts are much tougher in appearance).

Interior and Styling

Good : Usual Holden Sportwagon pluses – no short of space in the front or second row – easily accommodating five adults in comfort. The HSV changes (but only a little) to help differentiate the ‘Tourer’s’ Sportwagon origins. The grippy cloth covered front sports seats with electric adjustment (leather covered pews are optional) provide good support, the flat bottomed steering wheel (HSV unique) adjusts for both rake (up and down) and reach (in and out) and the alloy faced pedals look the real deal.

Heaps of rear seat leg and headroom on offer – even with the sloping rear roofline. Almost twice the cargo space over the sedan (895 litres compared to 496 litres) with the rear seats up, and with the split fold rear seats folded flat this ensures over 2,000 litres of load space (the adjustable luggage net comes in handy when there’s 317kW under the bonnet).

The Tourer also comes standard with a reverse camera and rear park assist for those tight car parks.

The E3 R8 Tourer is fitted with HSV’s Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) which allows the driver to access performance data such as lap times and g-forces. As with the base Holden Sportwagon, the centre dash design is now more logically arranged – the sat-nav and audio controls are positioned higher than previously and surrounded by classy piano-black trim.

Not so good : Usual Commodore / Sportwagon negatives: overly thick windscreen pillars, excessive amounts of hard, dark plastics and the cheap looking and feeling hand brake lever. The sports seats are very good, but they’re on the large side so smaller folk will move around a little more than they wished.

Performance

Good : The Tourer’s big 6.2-litre V8 engine produces an impressive 317kW of power and 550Nm of torque – all wrapped up in a family friendly wagon bodystyle – ensuring that is one of the fastest people and cargo carriers on the market. Unlike a number of smaller capacity sports car’s, as speed increases in the Tourer acceleration remains strong (well into three figure speeds for those tempted to test the R8 on the racetrack).

Whilst the 6-speed manual gearbox is a touch heavy and gear changes feel notchy, it does feel refreshingly enjoyable to have this level of interaction with the mighty LS3 engine (especially so in this age of Automatic transmissions easily outselling Manual’s. Auto fans need not worry though, as most Tourer buyers tick the optional 6-speed Automatic transmission box).

Above 4000rpm the V8 roars at a level that turns nine out of ten pedestrian’s heads and inside it’s the sound of the engine (and the thrust forwards) which has kids in the rear giggling with excitement.

Not so good : The wagon bodystyle = almost 100kg of extra weight than the R8 sedan (thank the longer roof panel and all that extra glass), however we couldn’t notice any tangible performance disadvantage as a result. The notchy manual box can get tedious in peak hour stop-start traffic.

Ride and Handling

Good : Impressively sharp handling, true agility (even on a twisty road) and excellent cornering grip – thanks in part to the very, very good multi-link rear suspension of the donor Sportwagon, tweaked by HSV (the Tourer’s springs are 30 per cent stiffer than the Clubsport sedan); yet at the same time the ride (in the front seats at least) feels no less as polished as the R8 sedan (even with the optional 20-inch alloys with licorice thin tyres).

The Tourer really begs to be driven hard with mighty fine steering that provides dollops of feedback, yet never feels overly heavy.

Not so good : Rear seat passengers (at least on the optional 20-inch alloys) must put up with a firmer ride than in the Clubsport sedan. On the road the performance brakes are fine for wiping off speed quickly, however if you’ll regularly undertake track work, you’ll wish for the six-piston brakes that come standard on the HSV GTS.

Buying and Owning

Good : Ticks the safety box with standard anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) and six airbags; as with the Holden Sportwagon, the Clubsport R8 Tourer is awarded a top crash rating in independent crash testing. You should sleep easier at night knowing that all HSV’s feature an improved version of the DataDot anti-theft identification called DataDotDNA Platinum as standard.

The wagon bodystyle = extra versatility over the sedan and superior handling over a high riding SUV. Picks up some neat features over the less expensive and less powerful Sportwagon SS-V grade (including extended cruise control, a rear view camera and the distinctive running lights) and is great value against similarly powerful yet far more expensive high performance Euro wagons.

The standard equipped tyre pressure monitoring system stops any unnecessary worrying of a flat tyre.

If you’ll use the performance on offer regularly, we highly recommend the Clubsport Tourer.

Not so good : High official combined fuel economy figures of 13.9-litres/100km (auto) and 13.7-litres per 100km (manual); Urban driving and performance driving = significantly higher again fuel bills!

HSV GTS Sedan

Price range

$82,990 – $90,980

Overall

Good: Great exterior styling; Improved interior; EDI system; Class leading ride and handling; Exhaust note to die for.

Not so Good: The LPI system reduces the boot space and it is noticeably more expensive than Club Sport R8; No longer the most powerful Aussie muscle car.

Design and Engineering

Good : In September 2009, three years after HSV released the all new GTS E Series, the radically face-lifted E Series 2 went on sale across Australia.

The twin-nostril bonnet a la Pontiac G8 and a new nose job which has an official name of ‘Shockwave Graphic’ attract attention from all motoring fans.

HSV engineers also focused on improvements to the handling. We say ‘job well done’. The E Series 3 arrived in October 2010 and the most noticeable change to the exterior is the new, flatter rear spoiler, fitted primarily to aid rear visibility.

Not so good : The GTS Sedan is certainly a victim of love it or hate it styling, but we reckon this is the right way to go as a 6.2L V8 is never going to be politically correct in this day and age. We’re not so sure if the new rear bumper styling works as well as the changes up front and one of our reviewers thinks the flash new daytime running lights (which Audi owners may recognise) are a little too ‘razzle & dazzle’.

Interior and Styling

Good : Double stitched leather seats offer class leading levels of support and comfort. We love that the HSV lion and helmet logo is embedded into the headrests and every car receives a machined stainless steel plaque on the centre console with the individual build number proudly on show.

The new Oracle pentagonal shaped instrument surrounds is just one of the revamped interior’s highlights; design and equipment have certainly taken a spring forward over the E Series 2. An impressive new touch-screen for the new Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) system as well as the satellite navigation and audio controls now sits higher on the dash, so it’s safer to the eye than previously. Piano-black trim, lashings of chrome and the strip of brush aluminium helps lifts the ambience up a notch. As before, the traditional HSV instrument binnacle sits above the centre console.

The changes occurred in October 2010 (E Series 3) and the most impressive of the lot is HSV’s new Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) that provides the owner with access to performance data such as lap times and g-forces similar to a V8 supercar as well as adjustments to certain vehicle functions. Our favourite is the bi-modal exhaust setting, so on the move the driver can adjust the noise level. Track drivers will salivate at the extensive amount of data recorded by the vehicles system sensors, and it can all be downloaded onto your laptop via a USB port in the glove box. And of course a number of racetracks such as Mount Panorama come pre installed!

As with all Commodore origin HSV’s, the GTS comfortably sits five adults.

Rear ¾ visibility is no longer an issue thanks to the optional blind-spot alert system which flashes a red LED light (positioned inside at the bottom of each windscreen pillar) warning if a vehicle is detected.

Not so good : There is little to complain about with the HSV GTS Sedan, but the Commodore derived cheap-looking and uncomfortable hand brake remains, and the sat nav graphics are by no means industry leading.

The optional LPI system’s gas tank is located in the boot behind the seats, so it reduces boot space by 165 litres and the split fold rear bench is no longer usable.

Performance

Good : The late 2009 facelift saw a lift in power from 317kW to 325kW for the big 6.2L V8 and a very healthy 550Nm of torque remains. The GTS sounds utterly fantastic. Intense, exciting, and wild. Thanks in part must go to the bimodal exhaust, when you need to be politically correct a simple change through the EDI system will take the sound down from brutal to mellow but tough, like a pre-politician Arnie at the beach and then in a tuxedo. Importantly, it sounds great inside not just from the outside and this engine is just so tractable and responsive. Unlike a supercharged or turbo charged engine the power output on offer is beautifully linear and progressive.

Under the bonnet the big E Series 3 change is the optional petrol-LPG LPI system. It brings about a 15% reduction in CO2 emissions but likely to be of more significance to most buyers is the fact that LPG is far less expensive than petrol, savings of roughly 50 per cent in fuel costs can be expected.

Typically, the system starts on petrol then switches to LPG when the engine warms up for fuel economy savings. Whilst HSV state that the GTS produces the same power on either fuel type, whenever the tacho goes past 4000 revs it switches back to petrol power for optimum power.

Not so good : The optional LPI system adds roughly 100kg to the GTS’ already non lightweight 1800kg kerb weight, but we sure couldn’t notice a negative difference to the ‘standard’ car’s awesome performance. GTS can’t match the supercharged power of the competing FPV GT for brutal oomph (but for sound the GTS wins hands down).

Ride and Handling

Good : Traction is very impressive when you put the power down whilst coming out of a corner. And the front end feel is very, very good. The steering turns in quickly, and settles nicely and the ride is excellent, filtering out unwanted road imperfections. Conclusively the handling and ride are cohesive and communicative offering a brilliant balance between oomph, traction and handling!

Not so good : Potholes and larger bumps filter through a little more than desired especially if you’ve got the MRC set to Track mode.

Buying and Owning

Good : Ticks the safety box with standard anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) and six airbags; as with the Commodore, the GTS is awarded a top crash rating in independent crash testing. You should sleep easier at night knowing that from the September 2009 facelift, all GTS’ feature an improved version of the DataDot anti-theft identification called DataDotDNA Platinum as standard. Another useful new feature is ‘Extended Cruise Control’ – it could even help you keep your license – the system applies gentle braking pressure when it senses that a set speed is being exceeded by 1-2km/h.

Reverse camera with rear park assist, satellite-navigation and – like the Holden Commodore VE Series II on which the HSV models are based – touch-screen audio system are also now standard fare. Whilst the optional LPI system will set you back about $6k, if you do above average km’s it’s well worth a look as your fuel bill will drop significantly. Six piston brake pillars and 20inch alloys are a tempting option at under $5k.

Not so good : If you opt for the LPI system boot space is significantly reduced, however we could live with the reduced space. If you don’t opt for gas, real world fuel economy is all too often higher than the official stated combined figure.

HSV Senator Signature Sedan

Price range

$86,990 – $92,980

Overall

Good: Throttle response; muscular engine note; trick MRC suspension; a sports luxury car that focuses hard on the performance side.

Not so Good: Interior lacks a true luxury feel; fuel economy; carry over Calais negatives.

Design and Engineering

Good : As with HSV’s other Commodore based models – the Clubsport and GTS, the current generation Senator Signature took a significant step forward in October 2006 when the E Series (or VE Series in Holden terminology) was launched to rightful acclaim. Three years later, in September 2009 to be exact, the team at Clayton, the home of HSV, unveiled a big facelift for the range, calling it the E Series 2. However as the more understated model (but not sure if this is ever the right word to use with this brand), the more luxury targeted Senator Signature does without the lairy and polarizing twin-nostril bonnet fitted to the Clubbie and GTS. Thankfully the wild ‘Shockwave Graphic’ bumpers remain and in a number of our reviewer’s eyes this is best looking of the current HSV range. The E Series 3 model arrived in October 2010 but only HSV anoraks will notice the differences to the exterior. Umm, the chrome exhaust tips are now mounted in the rear fascia instead of attached to the exhaust pipes, delivering a flusher fit.

Not so good : Some may think that the Senator Signature has lost a little too much subtleness with the wilder E Series 2 styling. If you’re coming from a more restrained BMW or Mercedes-Benz, this makes sense, however we’re glad that HSV is proud of the 317kW under the bonnet and is willing to advertise on the outside the power within. The HSV logo has definitely grown in size of late and sits in a front grille that shows no restraint in the use of ‘bling-like’ chrome.

Interior and Styling

Good : As the sports luxury choice of the standard wheelbase HSV’s, the Senator Signature’s interior is a notch more premium – think Calais versus base model Omega in Commodore world. And as with all Commodore’s, the amount of room inside for a family of five is excellent. A couple of six foot plus teenagers will comfortably fit in the rear behind equally tall parents in the front row. On top of this a couple of golf bags will still fit in the boot, which in truth isn’t as big as previous generation model’s, thankfully styling was given priority over an ungainly rear end.

The driving position is very good – the chunky steering wheel adjusts for both rake (up and down) and reach (in and out) and the soft Nappa leather finished HSV luxury seats have three memory settings for the driver. The use of a combination of leather and suede-like finishing’s around the cabin also helps lift the ambience of a vehicle priced well over the luxury car tax threshold.

From October 2010 (E Series 3) the Senator is fitted with HSV’s Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) which allows the driver to access performance data such as lap times and g-forces. As with the donour Holden Calais, the centre dash design is now more logically arranged – the sat-nav and audio controls are positioned higher than previously and surrounded by classy piano-black trim.

Not so good : As a sports luxury sedan, it’s evident that more focus and dollars has been spent on the ‘sports stuff’ under the bonnet than the ‘luxury stuff’ in the cabin. However we shouldn’t be too harsh on HSV, as they are effectively stuck with the pluses’ and negative’s of the donor car. As with all VE Series based Commodore’s, the hand brake looks and feels cheap and there is an excessive amount of hard and non luxury feeling plastics scattered around the interior.

Performance

Good : HSV made the move from 6.0L to 6.2-litre in 2008 with power jumping from 307kW to 317kW and torque remaining a big 550Nm. The facelift in late 2009 saw no increase in power, but we’re not complaining as this engine is a real gem. Whilst a number of manufacturers are turning to smaller displacement engines and turbo or supercharging, one drive of the Senator Signature quickly tells you why HSV has done so well sticking with the traditional big V8 formula. The sound of this 6.2-litre motor is hairy chest tough and utterly addictive. And whilst the performance isn’t supercar like quick, make no mistake it’ll still beat 99 per cent of cars off the lights, you’ll have to pay over double the Senator’s asking price to get the same performance from a similar sized European luxury player.

Not so good : Acceleration doesn’t feel as scary rapid as say an FPV F6E, however HSV’s 6.2-litre V8 power comes on tap smoother.

Ride and Handling

Good : As with the HSV GTS, the Senator Signature comes standard with the excellent Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension. Of the three settings we prefer the middle ‘Sports’ mode which provides an impressive balance between ride and handling. The MRC suspension is calibrated differently compared to the more sports focused GTS model, with the Senator Signature a greater emphasis is placed on luxury. But make no mistake this almost 2 tonne vehicle still handle’s like a sports sedan should. Praise should also go towards the communicative chassis which stays composed and competent when the Senator Signature is pushing on with a real turn of speed. The steering is great, inspiring confidence and high levels of feedback between the road and the driver.

Not so good : The ride on the standard 19-inch alloys is on the firm side, however not significantly worse than similar powered competitors.

Buying and Owning

Good : DataDotDNA Platinum is standard = makes your Senator Signature less attractive to thieves. Standard front and rear park assist will reduce the likelihood of scraping the bumpers, dual zone climate control should keep everyone at the right temperature inside and the rear seat overhead DVD player will be a positive for the teens in the rear. The options list is nice and short, with even Magnetic Ride Control suspension coming as standard – just the bi-modal exhaust to tick (we recommend doing so) and for every five Clubsport’s sold, HSV move only one Senator Signature, in fact this model is even rarer than the GTS.

Not so good : The official fuel economy is high at 13.9 litres per 100kms with the six speed automatic transmission or 14.8 litres for the six speed manual. And it’s worth noting that this is the combined figure – in traffic it’s significantly higher again!