Understated, yet seductively powerful.
Understated, yet seductively powerful
It’s with little doubt that I approached this road test cautiously. I didn’t want to judge a book by its cover without giving the new HSV range a decent test.
The first thing I can say (in all honesty) is that the E2 range looks at least twenty thousand times better in person. While the ridiculous bonnet scoops of the HSV GTS, HSV Clubsport and HSV Maloo don’t do it for me, the Senator’s sedate, yet aggressive styling strikes the right chord.
At the front end of the Senator, a Honda Accord Euro esque grille has been employed to draw attention, in addition to lashings of chrome and a dual strip of LED lights. The body kit has also been lowered to give the Senator a sweeping feel.
A more aggressive rear end has rounded off the Senator, giving it the mean looks it deserves, without the outrageous design elements of its more sporty siblings. The E2 Senator also features new wheels and performance options, jump starting the HSV range both visually and behind the wheel.
Inside the cabin, it’s hard to spot any changes. The same sporty leather/suede seats are used to carry passengers and differentiate the range from its Holden cousins.
All changes come in the form of technical advancements. Our Senator was fitted with bi-modal exhaust pipes – classed as a SV Enhanced Options. The bi-modal exhaust opens a set of butterfly flaps (one on each exhaust outlet) as exhaust pressure builds. The flaps open at around 3500rpm and give the Senator a thumping feel that is enough to tickle the fancy of any V8 diehard.
Even without the bi-modal exhaust, it’s obvious that HSV has beefed up the idle exhaust note. After the 6.2-litre V8 fires to life, the throbbing idle can be heard from blocks away. Inside the cabin, it’s loud enough to put a smile on your face but not loud enough to give you a headache.
Behind the wheel, visibility is much the same as a run of the mill Commodore. Visibility around the A-pillar is very average; it’s not hard to lose motorcyclists and bicycles in the A-pillar blind spot. Rear visibility is great, on the other hand.
Front and rear leg room is superb, clearly the main boasting point of this executive-express. Five adults will comfortably fit in the Senator, with the only issue coming down to ground clearance. With a full complement of adults on board, the Senator catches everything from speed humps to gutters, certainly unhelpful to both your ego and the undercarriage.
It’s behind the wheel that the Senator really starts making sense. Mash the throttle from a standing start – or pretty much in any gear – and hold tight as the force of all 317kW and 551Nm of torque is unleashed on your body. The loud V8 works up a sweat racing to the 6000 cut-out and starts becoming very sonorous from around 3500rpm courtesy of the bi-modal exhaust.
If you’ve ever heard an Audi RS 4 at full flight with the bi-modal exhaust active, it sounds very similar to the Senator. The engine note is very mechanical and deep, throbbing through the entire cabin.
Fitted with Magnetic Ride Control (MRC), the system is based on the magneto-rheological principle. Small iron particles (when in a magnetic flux) align themselves in the direction of the magnetic flux. An electromagnetic coil is integrated into each of the four damper pistons, so that when it is energised the magnetic flux runs crossways to the admission ports of the damper piston.
From there, if the piston moves, flow resistance is created by the aligned iron particles in the flowing suspension fluid. The more energy that is applied (and hence greater magnetic field), the more resistance applied to the damping power. The system can then adjust each individual suspension component automatically variable upon road conditions.
The driver can also select between two driving modes, Luxury and Performance. Both modes obviously vary firmness to accommodate for a luxury ride or a sporty ride.
The system works well, but is overly firm in Performance mode. When pushing through a corner, the car can sometimes skip over bumps in the road due to the suspension being far too firm. Over regular road surfaces in Luxury mode, the suspension is great and soaks up bumps with ease.
Under the bonnet, HSV’s 6.2-litre LS3 lives on. Producing 317kW and 551Nm of torque, the mammoth V8 officially consumes a combined 13.9L/100km with the six-speed automatic. The figure was close to the average consumption recorded by us at 14.3L/100km.
Pushing the Senator hard is often an easy task but extra attention needs to be paid to sudden direction changes and too much throttle out of corners. Unlike its FPV rivals, the HSV range is fitted with adequate 275mm wide rubber. Powering out of a corner is met with plenty of grip, giving the extra confidence required to keep the throttle buried out of a corner, but on occasions the rear end can skip if bumps are encountered mid-corner.
Along with the added firmness of the Performance suspension mode during rough corners, the steering rack exhibits considerable rattle if you find abrasions and bumps mid-corner.
Steering accuracy is impressive, but I felt the steering could have a bit more weight and the wheel itself could easily be reduced in size, it sometimes feels like you’re steering a bus opposed to a sports car.
As you could expect, the massive AP Racing 365mm slotted, four-piston front brakes and 350mm slotted, four-piston rear brakes bite with intensity. The brakes held up well during performance testing and are testament to the level of engineering that has been put into the HSV E2 series.
During regular driving, the six-speed automatic gearbox is okay. It shifts smoothly and keeps the whole package in check. It’s only when you begin pushing the big HSV that the gearbox begins showing its true colours. The often confused gearbox has a mind of its own and won’t kick down gears unless you bury the throttle.
The Sports mode is the only option left for people looking for sharper responses and an exciting driving experience. In addition to the Sports mode, the gearbox can be manually shifted using the tiptronic mode.
Unfortunately the only day left for us to conduct performance testing was a 36 degrees Celcius scorcher. The first three runs returned results between 6.5-seconds and 6.8-seconds over the 0-100km/h dash.
The slow times were all due to the gearbox refusing to change between second gear and third gear at any great pace. There was a half second lapse between the cogs swapping, which obviously slowed everything down.
After waiting for the weather to cool down, the car went for three more runs. This time, the fastest time posted was 5.37-seconds for the 0-100km/h dash. The gearbox behaved on the cooler runs, but was still short of HSV’s claimed 4.9-second 0-100km/h time, which has been impossible for any journalist to obtain.
The HSV Senator Signature is available in manual and automatic, priced from $82,990. The automatic gearbox is a no cost option.
The new HSV E2 series of vehicles is a big step up for HSV in terms of technology and design. While the Senator might be a bit expensive for some, it is a desirable package that gives you all the straight line thrills of more expensive European vehicles at half the price.
In terms of bang for your buck, it’s hard to look past the Senator if you’re after sedate looks and a heck of a lot of performance. You just have to find a way to fund its fuel addiction.
VBOX supplied courtesy of Applied Measurement
*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer.
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