Is the entry-level HSV a leap ahead of a flagship sports Holden, or is it just a stepping stone?
Is the HSV Gen-F Clubsport worth the extra $15K over its VF Commodore SS V brethren?
That’s the question that looms large over the still split-twin grille and lion-plus-racing-helmet badge of our bright red test car. The $60,990 Clubsport is the entry point to HSV Gen-F ownership, and the entry ticket to a 6.2-litre V8 petrol engine, which replaces the 6.0-litre in the Commodore SS V flagship.
The HSV engine delivers a 47kW and 20Nm hike over the Holden, with 317kW of power and 550Nm of torque, delivered to the new Continental rear tyres (275mm wide, compared with the 255mm fronts, also Contis) that wrap tight around 20-inch rims – the SS V only gets 19s.
Behind the wheels, the Clubsport gets 367mm four-piston callipers, front and rear. The entry level HSV also gets launch control and competitive mode stability control. The $51,490 SS V Redline gets those latter two items, but only front four piston callipers.
The HSV does, however, lack equipment standard on the top Holden, including leather trim, rain sensing wipers, Bose audio, rain sensing wipers, forward collision alert and lane departure warning. So the Clubsport is, therefore, equipped more like the $45,490 SS V – hence the $15K impost.
To get all that kit, the $71,290 Clubsport R8 (below) is required. The R8 ups the ante to 325kW, and adds features to the across-the-range centrally-located driver preference dial; steering weight can now be altered, and a bi-modal exhaust allows the R8 to switch between loud and only slightly quieter…
Although the 317kW Clubsport and 325kW Clubsport R8 are familiar numbers and names, with the HSV Gen-F range an optional ($4995) SV pack raises power to 340kW – handily 5kW above an FPV – and torque to 570Nm. Although the SV adds another exterior badge, black detailing and forged alloys, every single HSV Gen-F grade runs the same wheel and tyre package.
Primarily thanks to lighter alloy wheels, in addition to the aluminium bonnet, bootlid, suspension components, and front dash brace inhertied from Holden, weight drops substantially across the range – by more than the regular Holden’s, too.
The Clubsport is now 68kg lighter, now 1755kg as a manual, or 1773kg auto, while the Clubsport R8 drops by 40kg to 1764kg manual/1782kg auto. All of the non-supercharged HSV range now slurp 12.6L/100km as manuals, or 12.9L/100km with an auto, down 0.9L/100km on the Clubsports.
With the stats and figures absorbed, HSV unravelled a local launch test loop from Melbourne airport to Phillip Island, which detoured through twisty roads, then let us loose on the iconic racetrack at its destination.
Even from idle the refinement difference is obvious. The big V8 no longer hums through the dash but stays quiet in the background when the throttle is left untouched.
The Gen-F range picks up all the inherent interior design excellence from the VF Commodore range, but then spoils it with traditional (but in a bad way) analogue battery voltage and oil temperature gauges glued under the climate controls. Along with the chintzy chrome model designation applique just ahead of the transmission selector, they look ugly and feel cheap.
HSV’s Electronic Driver Interface (EDI) system carries over from the previous models, and is standard on all models bar the base Clubsport and Maloo. Now integrated as a HSV EDI ‘app’ within the Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, the display flicks through colour mapping of the bi-modal exhaust, bi-modal air intake, understeer and oversteer graphics, slip angles, and stability control intervention.
It even allows racetracks to be downloaded and lap times saved to a memory card; a good way of denting the ego of those pedalling around one of Australia’s best racetracks.
Although EDI is cool, HSV admits that it was too costly to bring the display to the highest resolution found in the VF Commodore range, so while the stuff shared with VF – the main display, apps, audio, basically everything except EDI – so the graphics on the EDI look slightly blurry and aftermarket.
HSV must find a more sophisticated way of distancing its cabins from its Holden donor cars, because every other bit of the car is a demonstration of focused engineering.
Curiously, for the first time ever HSV had to run its Commodore program exactly alongside Holden’s development of the VF, yet they weren’t allowed drives of VF mules. Usually, HSV development would lag slightly behind that of Holden, but this time there was no cross-checking of what the other guy was doing.
So the HSV range has different steering and stability control maps, and for the Clubsport models, a unique HSV Performance Suspension.
As with the VF, the HSV’s electro-mechanical steering is exemplary. Weighted a little heavier than the Holden’s, even in ‘Tour’ mode, it then gets weightier in ‘Sport’ and again in ‘Perf’.
The brilliant consistency carries over from VF, but driving the system on a track made the steering feel even better than it does on the road. It is so accurate, nicely quick without being nervous, and unlike hydraulic systems doesn’t ‘load up’ (or lose assistance) during fast changes of direction.
HSV will no longer be known for occasionally dropping a power steering pump on a racetrack as it once was, either.
Switching between a Clubsport sedan, Clubsport R8 Tourer and Clubsport R8 sedan, all manuals, highlighted only mild differences between them.
On the road, all ride with a definite firmness verging on a slight edginess. HSV’s Generation 3 Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) remain only available on Senator, and its brilliance (read more here) means it renders the regular dampers slightly uncomfortable.
With big V8 engines up the front, surety with braking applications into tight corners and patience with the throttle coming out of them is always required.
But the new tyres glue themselves to the road.
The Tourer has a greater propensity to roll oversteer; the R8’s bi-modal exhaust renders the base car too quiet; and the SV’s extra power and torque aren’t really that noticeable in normal driving.
Switch to the race track, however, and the extra grunt of the SV is more clearly felt.
Yet the good looking, red-with-charcoal-alloys base Clubsport manual sedan still feels super sweet. With strong brakes, superb stability control – in Perf mode it is unbelievably subtle – stacks of grip and the least amount of grunt, it all gels as a lovely entry-level package.
Where the Clubsport R8 SV gets the base car is in the mid-range, when powering out of corners in third gear.
In particular, the uphill left-hander called Siberia at Phillip Island is a too-quick corner for second gear, yet only the SV pulls with genuine punch up towards the next straight.
Although the HSV Gen-F can feel a bit nose heavy on the road, it is a car that rewards commitment. Once past the slightly blunt initial turn in and after a decent-sized weight transfer is felt, it’s all about throttle linearity, and the sort of delicate rear-wheel-drive balance that suddenly makes it feel smaller than it really is.
All of which is backed by fantastic steering, terrific stability control modes, top brakes, a great noise and plenty of performance, in addition to significant refinement and technology upgrades – and, subjectively, hugely improved styling.
Whatever the HSV Gen-F Clubsport, these are fabulous sports cars and evidence of a big mid-life investment. Without MRC, however, they aren’t the pick of the Gen-F range. Surprisingly, until we reveal our verdict on the heroic supercharged GTS when its embargo lifts in late July, the Gen-F pick is the luxury model…