Brilliant Aussie muscle car at less than half the price of its German competitors
HSV E3 GTS; 6.2-litre, eight–cylinder petrol six-speed manual four-door sedan - $82,900 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
There are several road going family size four-door executive jets around these days; the Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG and the BMW M5 come to mind. They both go like the clappers, but are also hugely expensive and the new M5 has not yet been released. That’s where the homegrown advantage comes into play. At well under half the price of its closest German rival, HSV’s 6.2-litre HSV GTS makes all the right noises and perfect economic rationale.
Driving out of HSV’s press car facility, you need to watch the deep front apron as you gently angle the car over a fairly decent lip on the driveway. Once you're through that obstacle, it only takes you a couple of gentle shifts to recalibrate your left foot with the clutch take up point before you remember that there’s a sum total of 325kW and a thunderous 550Nm of torque waiting to be unleashed. The temptation to drop down a cog and put the boot in for a quick squirt, just to see how she goes, is more than I can resist.
Again, I forgot to specify auto or manual when I booked the car for review, but was quietly hoping for the automatic, given the start/stop nature of city driving these days, particularly in Sydney.
That said momentary disappointment morphs into a big grin as I drop down a gear and give the GTS a right royal boot full, but just for a few seconds, you understand. The 6.2-litre V8 at full roar is one of the world’s great engine notes. Sounding more like a V8 supercar climbing up Mt Panorama at full tilt on race day, it’s pure aural bliss for any car enthusiast worth his salt. It doesn’t matter how hot the weather is either, you’ll want to lower the driver’s window and listen to this over and over again.
Acceleration off the line is huge, and like the latest E3 HSV Maloo I drove recently, the GTS gets the power down with a fair degree of refinement and just as effortlessly. I tried to induce wheel spin with some heavy doses of throttle, and was surprised at how composed the car was under such loads. There’s an awful lot of grip from these 275/30 series rear tyres as they bite into the tarmac.
HSV engineers have done wonders with the current E3 range, as exceptional road manners have made these high-powered sedans incredibly easy to live with on a day-to-day basis.
The short throw shifter is a treat too, although shifts can be a tad notchy in the lower gears, but overall, this is a user-friendly six-speed box that can be a whole lot of fun, especially with the relatively light clutch. The six gear ratios are well spaced and highway driving in sixth is a thoroughly quiet affair.
Peak torque comes on song at 4600rpm, but there’s still a truck load of pulling power down lower in the rev range. Ambling up and down in suburbia, you can pretty much leave the GTS in third all day such is the pulling power in that gear.
At 4.9 seconds for the proverbial 0-100km sprint the GTS is a fast car, no two ways about it. But where this large displacement V8 really shines is its ability to blast off from third through to fifth. In-gear acceleration when you’re at peak toque in third is nothing less than ballistic (accentuated no doubt by that glorious induction roar) and it doesn’t let up. Even in sixth there’s still some ‘go’ remaining.
At 1777 kilograms the GTS is no lightweight, and when you factor in the serious power and torque output, stopping power becomes a critical element of the overall performance package. Thankfully, this car is fitted with a couple of optional extras, one of those being the six-pot front brake caliper package (comes with a 20-inch spare wheel) which although I wouldn’t call ‘reasonably priced’, is worth every bit of the $4475 asking price for peace of mind alone.
As with any performance-based car, steering weight and communication through the steering wheel is critical, if you intend to have a little punt through your favourite piece of twisty road occasionally. The GTS doesn’t disappoint in this regard, as its variable ratio rack and pinion set up provides plenty of feel from the dead centre position and is relatively quick to respond to driver input for such a large car.
It’s the same story in the handling and ride department too with ride quality around town light years ahead of HSV’s efforts with classics like the VN Series SV 5000, which was a great car unless you were trying to keep up with a 911 Turbo, in which case things got a little scary. Thankfully, that’s all changed, and the GTS despite its body mass, doesn’t mind being pushed hard through turns. In fact the harder you push, the more composed this chassis is. There’s some mild weight transfer on turn in, but that’s about it. Switch over to Track Mode in the GTS’s standard fit Magnetic Ride Control and there’s even less tip with reduced damper rebound. That's good news, as there’s very little impact on the overall ride compliance.
HSV’s current styling direction probably doesn’t appeal to appeal to all enthusiasts, too overdone perhaps, but that’s what’s the brand has always been about and the GTS is the ‘loudest’ car in its stable, and personally, I think it looks more interesting than some of its competitors. It's also much better looking in the metal than in any photo.
Engine wise, the E3 GTS is identical to the E2 version, and for all intents and purposes looks the same too, but for a new rear wing for improved aerodynamics. Where the E3 benefits mostly is with a suite of new standard kit including Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI), Reverse camera with rear park assist, Satellite Navigation and Touchscreen radio with iPod connectivity. Every one of these new features is a welcome attribute on the GTS for less than $200 more than the previous model.
That said the touchscreen isn’t the world’s best resolution, but functionality is good. Satellite Navigation systems can be idiosyncratic, and while this system is mostly intuitive, it couldn’t find the WIN TV studios in Wollongong after we tried every which way. That could be just a mapping issue or dare I say, user error.
The Enhanced Driver Interface, while not essential, is a fun bit of kit with a raft of cool functions and multicolour displays including Race (allows you to set a start and finish line the GPS and the computer calculates the data), Stopwatch, Gauges (allows you to select gauges for torque, manifold pressure, etc) Driver screen (provides gear position, RPM, brake and accelerator pedal positions), Fuel economy and Data logging.
The other option worth a tick is the Side Blind Zone Alert, which I find particularly useful in heavy traffic when undertaking frequent lane changes. It’s a small blue light that sits either side of the dash and lights up whenever there is a car in the blind spot.
While the GTS cabin has some nice touches, such as the carbon fibre look and piano black trim around the centre console and doors, it’s not quite up to European standards. Soft touch material covering the top half of the dash is largely spoiled by some less than premium hard plastic surface below. The exception is the metallic look switchgear, and the hand-stitched leather sports pews, which I rate as some of the most comfortable and supportive in the business.
The GTS, like all other four-door sedans from HSV’s stable, is a proper five-seater (that’s five adults) with what I would call extended leg and headroom for the over 185cm club. Boot space is large too, but with relatively shallow depth.
Safety is well catered for on board too with six airbags and a full suite of active driver aid systems including ABS, ESC with TCS and competition mode ESC and launch control with the manual transmission (not tested).
If you’re worried about fuel economy in a proper Aussie muscle car with all the trimmings, then you best look elsewhere. Our average fuel consumption for the week-long test was near enough to 16.5L/100km, but then I wasn’t exactly driving it like an entrant in the Global Green Challenge either.
Whichever way you swing it, HSV’s latest GTS is a lot of car for the money. It’s also a lot of fun and entirely practical as a family tourer or an executive jet.