Five first impressions of HSV's Clubsport V8 swansong
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Driven were happy to get our fingers on HSV's 30th Anniversary Clubsport R8 recently, but we were also a little sad — knowing that the big lovable V8s from over the ditch are running on borrowed time.
We enjoyed a week with the big white brute; proudly displaying chassis number 0001 on the EDI every time we started it up. Here's a few of the things we learned early on.
1. It's so ... normal
It might seem a bit surprising, but the thing about this big, brash, powerful, shouty sports sedan that impressed at first was just how calm it is in daily commuting.
Sure, when you start it up and play with the pedal on the right it can scare animals and trigger car alarms (not that we tested this at all...). But once you're on the road venturing to the shops, work, wherever, it just feels like a big Commodore. The ride is comfortable, the gearbox is predictable, and the engine is relatively quiet — so long as you keep the revs at a low burble below 2,500rpm, which is where the newly fettled bi-modal exhaust kicks in.
That might seem a bit disappointing for those hoping for an unbridled red-blooded devil on wheels, but it's ideal for those who intend to use this as a family wagon. Which I expect would be most buyers.
2. It's quick, in the most approachable of ways
No surprises that the new R8 is fast. None at all. The 6.2-litre LSA unit spits out 410kW (10kW more than the last) and 691Nm of torque at around 4000rpm, enough to scamper from 0 to 100kph in no time. Yadda yadda yadda.
What makes it feel different from some of its rivals, special even, is how easy it is to prod the HSV's performance without incurring consequence. The relatively soft nature of the beast that makes it comfortable to drive daily also makes it simple fun to lark about in when your heart calls out for it.
If there's any problem with this, it's that you can't really hang onto that limit for so long before things get overwhelming. A hearty jab of the throttle on an empty motorway on ramp is a very different kettle of fish to attacking a B road with gusto; and the latter is where the HSV truly comes out of its shell.
3. Don't expect the interior to impress
I'm probably preaching to the converted, since this has always been a trait of fast Holdens and HSVs, but the interiors still aren't really up to snuff with 'ze Germans'.
By all means things have improved over the days of VS Commodores with dashboards made from melted Barbie dolls. It's sharp enough in the design department, and there are several nice touches in there if you look; the temperature dials with LCD screens on the face, the metal, and the alcantara are all nice additions. As are all the bits put in by HSV — that is, the soft padding on top of the dial display, the 30th Anniversary mats and sill trim, the carbon fibre, and the lovely seats.
But you can't really escape that this six-figure car is based on a humble Commodore. The plastics are quite scratchy, the controls don't have a premium feel to them, and that steering wheel is a minger.
4. It loves to drink
There's an unwritten rule in this car reviewing stuff that we're meant to return these cars to their respective manufacturers with about a quarter of a tank of petrol. For my week with the HSV, I only really planned the one longish drive (a trip to Hampton Downs), plus some gallivanting through Titirangi's winding West Auckland roads, and driving it into town each day.
Long story short, neither I nor my wallet stood a chance.
5. It's unique, which is why we're sad to see it leave
Most cars we drive can automatically be compared and contrasted with a set list of rivals. But I'm not sure this is entirely true of the Clubsport.
Sure, historically you'd compare it to its traditional blue-ovaled mate. But since the last of those has rolled off the line, this year's Clubsports are sort of all on their own.
The first instinct is to look to Germany's obvious M, AMG, and RS–badged machines. But their tall pricing in this size bracket is difficult to compare with the R8 LSA's 'bargain basement' sticker price of $105,490. Many of the smaller offerings from those brands won't offer the same room or power as the R8, which only complicates things further. Hot hatches priced near that magic six figures can't offer the space, comfort, or power, and nor can the best four-door performance sedans from Japan.
HSV have hinted that their future remains bright beyond the Commodore. Our fingers are crossed.
Stay tuned for our full review of the HSV 30th Anniversary Clubsport R8 LSA in Driven magazine, and online at Driven.co.nz