James cuts loose with the ultimate Australian sports coupe: the HSV Maloo.
I’m going to throw you a word that has absolutely no place in a review of the 2016 HSV Maloo: practicality.
For if this word is even remotely part of your new-car shopping criteria, leave now. In fact, just click here. You’re welcome.
It’s not discarded without cause or effort, either. In my week with this 400kW muscle machine, red as a brand-new Sherrin, I tried very hard to justify my own personal hole in the ozone layer under the guise of this being a sensible car.
I mean, it is a ute, right? Surely that makes the Maloo the thinking-person’s choice when it comes to two-seat transport. I’m pretty sure you can even claim it as a commercial vehicle, providing you gloss over the ‘supercharged V8’ bit when explaining the purchase to your accountant.
The thing is, in practice, there is not one iota of practicality about the iconic HSV-amino – and that’s OK.
As for everything it misses in sensible handiness, it makes up for in sheer irresponsible fun.
The inclusion of the supercharged LSA engine has shifted the hooligan-nature of the Maloo to another level. It’s the last of the old guard – the anti-Prius if you will – from a time when rear-wheel drive and mountains of power were the only measures of importance.
With a displacement of 6.2 litres (376ci in the old language), the LSA is equipped with an Eaton supercharger and offers peak output of 400kW at 6150rpm. Pair this with 671Nm of torque available from 4200rpm, and while the numbers look high, those peak ranges are key to the driveability, or sometimes lack-of driveability, of the Maloo.
Off the line, the big HSV can feel like it takes a while to gather pace. As if to amplify this, the bimodal exhaust doesn’t open to full active mode until around 4000rpm - where, by now, you are starting to pick up a decent head of steam.
Miss the mark when you change gears, and you are off-noise, and off-pace very quickly.
Time it right, and the change in exhaust note from rumble to wail encourages you to keep your foot in even longer — like a line of mates cheering you to keep going on that jug skol, as immortal victory is not far off.
Push the V8 all the way to redline, change up with the stubby paddles, and the show starts again… until you realise that you are now approaching lead story on the six o’clock news territory and need to back off.
But don’t back off too much, as that powerband above 4500rpm is where the Maloo feels every bit the sledgehammer it should.
Tickle the throttle while the revs are up, and the Maloo will quiver in response. Keep it going and you can prolong the enjoyment, reaching peak after euphoric peak. Master the technique, and you’ll have the Maloo screaming on demand, offering a howl of aural ecstasy even after just a few moments behind the wheel…
Ahem. Where were we..?
Settle back to urban speeds (after a cold shower), and you’ll find the exhaust flap is closed, the supercharger barely whistling away, and the Maloo an even more pronounced impracticality trying to deal with daily life.
Point one: storage.
The front row of a Commodore is not a bad canvas to start with. There is a good glovebox, a handy tray where the once HSV-specific dials used to be, door bins and a centre console… but that’s it.
Make the mistake of dropping by the supermarket on the way home, though, and the simple question of ‘where does the shopping go’ doesn’t have quite such a simple answer.
There is a little gap behind the front seats that looks promising, but there are no baffles to stop your flimsy Coles bags from spilling their contents all over the floor and under the seats.
Plus, if you are anything like me, you’ll inadvertently stack the milk on top of the bread, and that never ends well.
What about the tray, you say? Yeah, no.
Anyone who has found themselves at the shops with a ute and thought ‘what could go wrong’ will no doubt be familiar with the sssshhhhh… bang noise as your shopping slides around and somehow manages to solve quantum theory by finding a way to be everywhere at the same time.
What would be great, is some kind of storage system in the tray. Some removable tubs, perhaps – something to keep the roast chicken hot and the eggs in one piece.
Point two: vision.
The Maloo features a sailplane and hard tonneau design that gives the car a unique and menacing stance, but does nothing for outward vision. The rear view is all but obscured by the double humps on the deck, and the fat C-Pillar turns the blind spot into a blind-spot suburb.
It’s hypercar-level frustration, even with the reverse camera and blind-spot detection systems.
That said, no one buys a Maloo under any pretence that this unique machine is not compromised in some ways. Leave the city behind, then, and let those compromises fade away.
Traditionally, a Holden ute has been a bit of a handful when pushed. Big engine in the front and nothing in the back is a simple oversteer recipe, something that surely increases, given the 536 horses under the bonnet.
Somehow, though, the engineers in Clayton have managed to sort out this age-old power struggle, with a healthy dose of fun thrown in.
Make no mistake, there is a huge amount of dynamic ability in the Gen-F2 HSV chassis, even without the tricky torque vectoring and magnetic ride adjustment of its big brother GTS.
Wind the Driver Preference dial out to Performance, and the car is in its most youthful setting. It’s your best mate now – out for a great time, always the lovable larrikin. Note to HSV marketing – maybe rename this the ‘Warney’ mode?
Come in hot to a tight sweeper, mash hard on the four-piston AP-Racing brakes, and you can feel the near-weightless rear-end squirming around. Look through the bend, power out, and the Maloo will make a solid attempt to visit oversteer town – except that it doesn’t.
There’s a wider track at the front (1616mm to 1590mm) that helps with turn-in and overall stability. The 275mm wide rear tyres complete the equation, a solid 20mm fatter than the front, balancing out the Newtonian forces at play. They're helped in no small part by the ever-active traction control systems, working to keep you pointing the right way.
Here, you forget the shopping and forget the blind spots. The exhaust pumping out its best baritone warble, it's a pretty hard place to beat.
No one ever asked the Maloo to be sensible. It was an answer to a question we had all asked at one time or another. And for buyers who want to stand out like Crocodile Dundee on a subway platform, there really is no other choice.
So, with about 18 months left on the Commodore clock, what more could we want from this iconic hairy Australian?
Put simply, it needs to be louder. The Driver Preference dial needs a ‘cruise’ setting that opens up the exhaust bypass valves for a little more Lygon Street cred.
We don’t ask for much, and as the saying goes – if you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly!
As a configuration, the Maloo is largely unique in the world. A highly-tuned, sedan-based utility – the two-door sports car with the really big boot. It is the ultimate Australian lifestyle choice, a finger to the establishment. A sea of red in an ever-growing expanse of green.
The 2016 HSV Maloo is the last of its kind. Perhaps out of date, but never irrelevant.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.