An Aussie belter: we drive the last HSV ClubSport V8
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Australia's sports sedans have long been stigmatised for being simpler than their more sophisticated performance rivals. And the first HSV ClubSport propably helped set the tone.
It was built around a base model Holden VN Commodore Executive — rolling on to the HSV showroom floor in 1990 with wind-up windows, manual mirrors and a basic interior (save for the luxury of a Momo steering wheel).
But this is night and day compared with the innards of its 2017 grandson; the HSV ClubSport R8 LSA 30th Anniversary.
Some of the plastics are scratchy, but otherwise the ClubSport is a nice thing to sit in. As you'd expect, most of the technology and trim is Holden VF Commodore-derived, though there's at least two main HSV additions that deserve a mention; the supportive performance seats and the Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI).
The latter lives inside the infotainment system, and perhaps is the best indication inside of what this car is made to do. In it, drivers will find a plethora of different meters and gauges where they can monitor things such as G-force and stability control telemetry. There's also the option of data logging via GPS tracking, with all of New Zealand's major racing circuits saved into the system.
Lashings of tech underneath the ClubSport's skin help feed this information to the EDI and the driver. HSV's own performance suspension ensures sharp response to steering input when the car's in Sport or Track mode, while torque vectoring — new to the ClubSport — helps direct power to the best places and mitigates understeer. An adequate AP Racing 4-piston braking set-up is standard, though a larger 6-piston variant also sits on the options list.
But don't assume this tech gets in the way of practical daily use. The R8 is a surprisingly refined car on the road, so long as you're mature with your right foot (a tall order for anyone with no resistance to temptation). The suspension, while firm, is more supple than I expected (even in Sport mode), the 6-speed automatic is obedient and predictable, and the engine is fairly quiet at low revs when slotted into Tour mode.
HSV has obviously not forgotten that the majority of ClubSports on the road are daily driven family wagons, not track day warriors.
Does this relative softness harm how the car performs when pushed? It's a problematic question, because the HSV's performance limits are exceptionally hard to reach on Kiwi roads. Indeed, on my typical winding West Auckland test road, the ClubSport's size made speed a daunting prospect.
Once you meet the limit, you'll find that the electric steering lacks the feel of some of its rivals. It's saved in part by the damping, torque vectoring, and the exclusive Continental ContiSportContact tyres wrapped around its 20-inch shoes.
The amount of grip and confidence that combination gives you is enough to overcome any doubts in the steering, and make the car feel a lot lighter than an 1800-odd kg Commodore ought to. And after you cross that bridge, it makes it easier to manage (or potentially encourage) the HSV's infatuation with oversteer.
But the hero of the dish is the supercharged LSA engine. A 10kW and 20Nm boost for the 30th Anniversary gives it a total of 410kW and 691Nm, which is more than enough for what's meant to be an entry-level car. It is an absolute pudding; from how it bubbles mischievously in traffic to how it howls fiercely when you dig your foot in. There's even a bit of supercharger whine in there.
Adjustments to the 30th Anniversary version also mean that you can enjoy more of that noise and performance earlier in the rev range -- a tweak made off the back of previous-gen HSVs.
It's not the most complex engine out there, nor do I think it's the best sounding. And with a claimed figure of 15.3L/100km (that we couldn't match), it's not exactly going to save you money at the pump.
But, it's good enough to do 0-100km/h in less than 5 seconds. And for a child, like me, sitting in the driveway and making it pop and bang is something that'll never get old.
The only real question left to answer is that of value. Pricing starts at $102,990 for the manual, with the automatic another $2500 on top.
Our optioned-out auto test car, with EDI, Rimfire wheels, fender extensions, phantom black roof, and hyperflow rear spoiler is more than $110,000.
As pricey as that might sound on the surface, many of this car's comparable performance rivals sit around or above $200,000.
Does that make it the bargain of the century? That depends on whether the temptation of a hand-me-down LS3 is enough to tempt you into the much cheaper Holden VF II Commodore SS.
Regardless, as much as the 30th Anniversary R8 represents an incredible progression for the ClubSport name, it's still fun. Gratuitous, honest, and incredibly silly fun.
And we're going to miss it dearly.
HSV 30TH ANNIVERSARY CLUBSPORT R8 LSA
Pro: Much more livable than you'd expect
Con: It'll be gone soon
(*Starting price for auto; $102,990 starting price for manual)