2013 HSV GTS Review

Rating: 9.0
$92,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
  • ANCAP Rating
The fastest car Australia has ever produced, tested at the best racetrack the country has to offer.
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Wiping off big speed approaching a tight hairpin then powering out of it resolutely confirms that the 2013 HSV GTS can handle 430kW of supercharged V8 grunt.

That specific corner – turn four, or the Honda hairpin at Phillip Island raceway in South-East Victoria – is super tough for any fast production car, but the $92,990 HSV GTS flagship tackles it brilliantly.

Torque of 740Nm, produced at 4200rpm, and power of 430kW online at 6000rpm means that the HSV GTS is always going to pummel through the sweeping third corner on approach to that hairpin.

The all-alloy ‘LSA’ 6.2-litre V8 uses an Eaton supercharger to achieve its outputs, and a dual-mass flywheel, forged steel crankshaft and engine oil cooler helps to maintain its performance during the heat of track work.

This engine, employed in the States in the Cadillac CTS-V and Camaro ZL1 (the latter of which Holden helped develop) is US beef primed to smoke German super sedans.

At 1882kg, the HSV GTS is only marginally heavier than its Yank cousins. With a launch control system standard, both the heavy-duty Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual – with a twin-plate clutch, triple synchros and oil cooler – and no-cost optional 6L90E automatic – also with an oil cooler – record a claimed 4.4 second 0-100km/h and 12.3 second quarter mile.

So the approach to turn four isn’t just fast in the context of the HSV GTS now being the most powerful and fastest production car ever built in Australia, but it’s relentless full-stop (they politely asked us to keep below 180km/h, but...).

Barely seconds after the ripple strip of turn three is nudged and the right Continental tyres – 20-inch, 255mm front, 275mm rear, the same as all HSV Gen-Fs – and hardened Track-mode magnetic dampers do their best to control big-speed, big-sweeper weight shifting, it’s on the brakes for turn four.

Up from 367mm discs all-round on every other Gen-F grade, the HSV GTS utilises 390mm fronts and 372mm rears, with their two-piece cross-drilled design shared with V8 Supercars and saving 2kg all up compared with the regular units.

It’s a make-or-break moment for the HSV GTS; piling on straight line speed is relatively easy, but especially in a big sedan it’s the control of that big grunt that often betrays the half-price tag of a local performance flagship compared with the German bruisers that complement speed with poise. (Yes, we’re talking about the under-tyred, under-damped FPV GT right now…)

Promising start – the GTS has a brake pedal much firmer than the Clubsport we’d previously been lapping, despite all the cars being out on the track for a few laps. The automatic transmission of the pre-production car driven – no manual was available – blips handily on downshifts on the approach.

Eyes wander to somewhere within the vicinity of an apex, and the weighting of the steering in the Track mode selected – so chunky you could carve it – melds with the deliciously direct and consistent electro-mechanical steering that has quickly become a hallmark of every VF model.

Experience with every other Gen-F model in this corner in the preceding hour told a predictable tale of having a big, heavy V8 up front requiring patience on turn in as the nose lumbers onto the outer front tyre and finally settles.

With an even heavier supercharged V8 up there, it’s much the same with the HSV GTS. Except the range flagship gets torque vectoring designed to fight the battle of every car with big kilos on the nose – understeer.

Get on the throttle early – which would usually worsen the understeer – and the GTS, supernaturally if you understand physics, yet to the driver naturally, pulls its nose tighter to that apex you’d glanced at moments before but thought you’d miss by miles.

Torque vectoring works by subtly braking an inside rear wheel to reduce understeer, but it can also work to increase torque to the outside rear wheel which has the most grip.

It would be hyperbolic to say the HSV GTS turns in with the alacrity of a Porsche 911, but a $270,000 M6 Gran Coupe driven on the same track weeks later? Bet you a pork knuckle that the Aussie does it better.

Electronic stability control can be completely switched off in the HSV GTS, though, to allow drivers to fully experience the mechanical limited slip differential. But it also turns off the launch control and torque vectoring, and HSV claim that their V8 Supercars drivers are actually quicker around Phillip Island with the system on.

As with the E Series II that preceded the Gen-F range, only the HSV Senator and Grange luxury barges and the focused GTS, get standard magnetic dampers. It’s a generation three unit in the newer car, and while the Senator and Grange get softer Tourer and firmer Sport modes for the adjustable dampers, as mentioned the GTS uniquely gets a harder Track setting, too.

Although we only experienced the HSV GTS on the track, driving the HSV Senator that uses the same tyres on public roads revealed that softer Tourer setting provides the sort of exquisite balance between comfort and control that an Airmatic-equipped ($262,645) Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG offers. It’s also far superior to the aforementioned M6 Gran Coupe

Further distancing the HSV GTS from every other VF Commodore is a unique rear suspension module and subframe, larger diameter half shafts and aluminium hubs. Oh, and a 9.75 inch differential with oil cooler. If you’ve picked up that ‘oil cooler’ has been used quite a lot here, it’s because HSV came under immense pressure from GM to ensure that the car is kept cool.

The addition of more alloy, the lighter brakes, and forged alloy wheels, in addition to the alloy bonnet, bootlid and suspension parts means the GTS’s 1882kg kerb weight seems reasonable. Put into perspective, that’s just 32kg more than a VE Calais V Sportwagon, and 9kg less than a BMW M5.

Of course, the closer the price etches towards six figures the harsher the comments on interior quality need to be. There are rough edges, and gaudy details, and seats that are clearly designed for VB-swilling larger folk. In fact there aren’t too many $92K cabins that have this much hard plastic, or such low resolution and aftermarket-looking graphics. Equally, however, there are no large sedans around this price as talented as the HSV GTS.

Compare it to, say, an almost identically-priced BMW 335i running 18-inch wheels and a 5.2 second 0-100km/h, and every enthusiast would choose a ballistic GTS. Whether buyers of the Audi RS6 Avant, BMW M5, Jaguar XFR-S, and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG would welcome the HSV GTS into that lofty ‘400 (kilowatt) club’ and ignore that it doesn’t fit a European, $200,000-plus common criteria is another matter.

The rest of the lap further highlights everything promised by the specification sheet and experienced in that tricky turn four. One final blast to the tune of supercharger whine in fewer-than-expected but still ‘numerous’ decibels, absolutely confirms the sheer speed bragging rights.

To drive the HSV GTS on a track feels as though the company has been absolutely engineering-led in finding their path to greater power. Far from dropping in a supercharged V8 and bundying off to the pub, HSV has given the HSV GTS the weight reduction, the tyres, the transmission, the differential, the cooling, and the electronic wizardry to back it.

There’s a word to describe the HSV GTS – it feels complete.