10 / 10
A trio each of numbers and letters separates the HSV Senator Signature from the regular Gen-F range – 340 and MRC.
The number denotes the kilowatts extracted from the 6.2-litre V8, which rises 15kW and also 20Nm of torque compared with both the old model and the Clubsport R8 thanks to a reworked air intake and engine management changes.
Although the gruntier 6.2-litre can be optioned into R8 via an SV pack, the pricing gap between it and the Senator narrows to $7705 as manuals or $5705 as automatics because, uniquely, an auto is a no-cost option on Senator only. Other than an electric-adjust passenger seat and plenty more chrome, there aren’t many equipment differences between sports R8 and luxury Senator to warrant the extra surchage.
Well, that is, except for one major difference, and it’s down to those three letters. HSV has had Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) on its Senator and GTS models since the E Series launched in 2007, but the Gen-F gets a Generation 3 system claimed to respond more quickly and be more comfortable.
It has absolutely worked. The Gen-F Senator Signature rides superbly even against entry-level luxury cars running chubby rubber. But taking into account the 35-aspect 20-inch wheels, its comfort levels are absolutely astounding. It rides much, much better than the Clubsport, and is better even than the Holden Calais V on 19s, both of which get fixed dampers.
The Senator doesn’t fidget on freeways, it ignores small road imperfections, and barely dignifes road joins. Yet it always remains controlled. It truly rivals the air suspension of the Mercedes-Benz E- and CLS-Class, which have long been the benchmark for compliance, and likely beats them both for body control.
Get the luxury-oriented Senator out on the race track, however, and it shrugs off its silver-tinted image and does everything almost as brilliantly as the rest of the range.
Okay, the HSV Electronic Driver Interface (EDI) only has two modes in the Senator instead of the Clubsport R8’s three, dropping the track-focused ‘Perf’ mode but retaining ‘Tour’ and ‘Sport’. One lap in the Tour mode is enough to show why it rides on-road bumps so well (because it is rolly) and even Sport perhaps doesn’t quite sit as flat as the Clubsport R8 on its fixed sports dampers.
But picking the handling difference is a hair-splitting affair, where the difference between their ride quality can be measured in furlongs…
Swapping between manual Clubsport R8 (tested here) and auto Senator on the track also shows that a vast chasm no longer exists between the performance of a HSV self-shifter and auto-shifter.
As with the rest of the automatic-equipped VF Commodore range, and in fact the Cruze, the Senator now banishes the old, long-held saying that GM can’t make a decent automatic.
The six-speed in Sport mode is fantastic. Although it’s curious that HSV doesn’t offer steering-wheel-mounted gearshift paddles on any model, at least the tipshift gate is around the correct way (push forward to downshift) and it rev-matches neatly when burrowing back through the gears.
Not once in the Senator was the tipshifter really required, though, despite hard track driving. Get onto the brakes into a corner and the gearbox, in Sport, will quickly and aggressively flick back one or two gears.
Only very occasionally will it go back two, though, when sometimes it needs to – like in the Honda hairpin at Phillip Island, for example. But the 570Nm V8 has plenty torque to pull out strongly in third.
Perhaps ironically, for years the HSV Senator was available as an auto-only proposition, yet the automatics were always disappointing. Now, when a good one arrives, the no-cost manual once demanded seems less required.
Perhaps even more so in the auto than the manual, the 340kW/570Nm 6.2-litre V8 feels fast. Together with the slick auto, and hugely grippy 225mm front/275mm rear 20-inch Continental tyres, it gets its stuff together with potency and poise, not just brute force.
Although the Senator misses the Perf mode of the Clubsport R8, it still gets the bi-modal air intake and exhaust system, the latter of which makes the car instantly louder, whether at idle or full throttle. With the exhaust butterflies closed, and with the refinement-enhancing work inherent in all VF models, the Senator sounds as quiet as a luxury car should.
Let them fly open, however, and a note deeper than the burr walnut of a managing director’s desk eminates, along with more than a few ‘Qs’.
Unfortunately, inside, the Senator suffers the same quality issues as the Clubsport R8, and all HSV models, with the Electronic Driver Interface (EDI) system – the graphics are a bit low rent, while the analogue battery voltage and oil pressure gauges below it are woefully tacky.
But the interior basics are done masterfully well, with great seats and lots of adjustment, in addition to the classy new dash design inherited off Holden.
An excellent head-up display, intuitive sat-nav, audio and connectivity controls, and collision-alert and auto parking tech may be available in cheaper Holdens, but they remain an impressive addition at this price point.
In the regular Holden VF Commodore range, it’s the entry-level Evoke that benefits most from the generational overhaul. Yet in the HSV range, at least until the supercharged GTS embargo lifts in late July, it’s the short-wheelbase flagship Senator that feels most improved.
The automatic is a revelation, the ride quality is superb, the 340kW engine is a stormer, and while some of those attributes come together in other HSV Gen-F grades, only the Senator blends them all with superb steering and handling. Add newfound refinement and technology, and for $83,990 the single blemishes on its scorecard are some cheap cabin elements and, perhaps, resale values and fuel economy relative to price-point German opposition.