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It’s no secret that we at CarAdvice are pretty big fans of the humble station wagon. The combination of everyday practicality and balanced design is pretty hard to beat.
The only thing better than a wagon then, is a fast wagon. Enter the 2016 HSV Gen-F2 Clubsport R8 LSA Tourer – a car whose lengthy name is bettered only by its hefty performance figures.
How hefty? How does 400kW and 671Nm sound.
For 2016, the Clubsport Tourer has been given a heart transplant by way of the 6.2-litre LSA supercharged V8 engine – similar to what you’ll find in the range-topping HSV GTS and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
You’ll never be late for school again, as the LSA has enough oomph to shovel the 1974kg Tourer from 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds. That’s HSV’s claimed figure, mind you. We achieved 4.7 seconds on the VBox - and left twin lines of rubber in our wake, suggesting there’s even more in it.
Fast wagons are nothing new. HSV have actually been doing it since 1989 when the 180kW VN ‘Limited Edition’ wagon joined the range. Mercedes-Benz have offered their E-Class estate in both 55 and 63 AMG variants over the years and the current C63 S Estate is 375kW of parental perfection. Let’s also not forget Audi, who can’t seem to get enough ballistic box carriers, with the current RS4 and RS6 Avant only the latest in a long line of swift school-run racers.
The thing is, though, the European mega-wagons also command pretty mega-dollars. The current RS4 and C63 are both north of $150,000 and the Audi RS6 makes school fees seem cheap with a list price of $229,100.
HSV’s new Tourer however is just $85,990 (before options and on-road costs), making it great value family muscle. It is beaten in the kW/dollar stakes by its ‘lesser’ Holden brethren – the $48,690, 304kW SS Sportwagon… but 400kW is 400kW.
That said, the LSA Tourer is $9500 more expensive than the previous, LS3 powered Tourer ($76,490) and the most expensive wagon HSV has offered – just pipping the rather rare 1997 Senator Signature Wagon’s entry price of $83,750.
The 12 per-cent price rise for the Gen-F2 brings an 18 per-cent power increase though and, as it is based on the recently updated Holden Commodore VFII, the HSV Clubsport Tourer is already a very solid package before it rolls into HSV’s Clayton factory for surgery.
It’s not just a new bumper and some stickers, though. HSV has improved on many key areas to boost both vehicle performance and dynamics, as well as comfort for occupants.
The Clubsport receives HSV-specific seats that are electrically adjustable for both driver and passenger - no heating though. They look good and are comfortable and well bolstered, but could do with a bit more lumbar support. There is an electric lumbar adjustment (on both), but I found after a day behind the wheel that my lower back was a bit stiff.
The twin-gauges that used to sit below the climate control switches are gone, as is the standard HSV EDI (Enhanced Driver Interface) app on the MyLink infotainment system (it is available as an option). Not a huge deal, but the gauges were a particularly ‘cool’ HSV feature and will be missed.
The rest of the interior is the same solid quality we’ve come to expect from the donor Holden. Nothing too flash, but well put together, ergonomic and very comfortable.
Some of the Commodore carry-overs, like the light vinyl cargo blind over the boot feel a bit low-rent as, despite the power credentials, a $90,000 car should feel like one. It would be nice to see some special touches, like a leather-stitched dash-top, find their way into the HSV, just to add an extra sense of quality to the interior.
On the outside, there is a revised front end that incorporates LED running lamps as well as a lower lip extension that continues along the side of the car, forming a ground-effect style skirt. This really helps make the R8 seem visually lower, and definitely underlines the wagon’s muscle credentials.
The rear is largely the same as the Holden, getting a black trim section above the number plate as well as a small spoiler on the roof.
The tailgate isn’t powered and is still very heavy, although it does have a soft-close function that sucks it shut. The new LED tail lamps are another standout, giving a somewhat three-dimensional ‘lava pool’ look, and raise the quality appeal of the wagon in a big way.
To let everyone know you chose the HSV over the Holden, are carbon-look HSV badges to replace the regular Lion, as well as Clubsport lettering on the rear door and none-too-subtle LSA and chequered flag logos on the tailgate.
This, combined with 20-inch wheels, quad exhaust tips and the new Slipstream blue paint makes the 2016 Tourer look pretty sharp – and normally we’d suggest you stand out from the crowd… except that in our day with the car, no one really noticed it.
Perhaps people are so used to seeing a Commodore wagon with snazzy wheels, that they don’t recognise the real-deal when they see it.
Hearing it, though… oh people notice you then.
Fire up the LSA and the big V8 cranks lazily at first, then rumbles to life.
It has a purposeful note - the R8 lets people know it means business, but that’s not the best bit. The Clubsport’s big party trick is the bi-modal exhaust.
Anyone can press a button that opens a flap in the exhaust, but the HSV is different… you have to work for your noise. When the car detects the right combination of throttle position, RPM and vehicle speed, a valve opens and any restricted exhaust already in the pipes is quickly vented, giving a rewarding mixture of steampunk-style clanks and whooshes, paired with a change from bassline rumble to more baritone snarl.
What’s more, you have to keep the car on-boost and in the performance zone to ensure the exhaust stays open. It’s like the car is challenging you to drive it properly, and the result is undeniably grin-inducing.
The exhaust changeover is an addictive thing. You start to get a feel for when the planets are going to align, and time your moments to coincide with tunnels and underpasses – ideally not scaring too many pedestrians in the process.
Like all addictions, though, there are consequences for enjoying the high. For the LSA-powered Tourer, it’s the eye-watering fuel consumption.
HSV claims somewhere in the 15L/100km range for a combined cycle. We saw that at cruise on the freeway, but regularly sat deep in the 20s and even 30s on our mixed loop. In fact, we chewed a full tank of 98-octane in just 230km – how’s that for range anxiety!
Running the car in Performance-mode with the six-speed automatic (sadly there is no manual option for the wagon) tipped across to sport, and nailing it in first – to trigger the exhaust valves as often as legally possible - might potentially be the fastest way to have your Greenpeace membership revoked, but at last you can now put a price on happiness: $1.37 a litre.
For most of the HSV’s life, though, pottering around town or on the daily commute, the supercharged Tourer is a total pussycat. The steering is a bit heavier than a Commodore, which can make parallel parking a bit of a chore, but it’s generally a very easy car to live with.
Around town, with the car in its laziest self-shifting setting, if you need to change lanes, or quickly be somewhere you aren’t, the HSV can feel sluggish to respond. You wait for it to change down a gear and wait again for all 400kW to be let out of the cage (all while watching the fuel needle drop). It’s a car that needs to be driven to be fully exploited.
Get out of the urban sprawl and the big wagon really finds its feet. On-boost and thrown into some winding roads, the Tourer feels poised and capable. It has a tendency to push out when entering tighter bends a bit hot, but a slightly slower and more controlled entry can be easily countered by an explosive exit as the HSV just squats and runs.
Harsher corrugations would see the wagon skip slightly at the rear, but recovery was always quick and there was never a moment where the car didn’t feel in control of the situation. The HSV suspension tune is compliant and direct, and steering turn-in a particular joy, where again the car feels lighter and smaller than it is.
Go hard on the throttle and there is power, followed by power, followed by power. Don’t expect a short G-force rush, though - this is pure linear freight train.
That’s not to say it isn’t fast. The Clubsport picks up speed very quickly, so much so you’ll need to pay close heed to the head-up display so ensure you stay on the right side of Mr Plod’s radar.
It stops too, with bigger rotors (367mm up front 372mm on the rear) matched with four-piston AP Racing callipers.
Driven right, shifting with the paddles, the car eats up whatever tarmac you throw at it. Providing you are heading toward a petrol station, this is one big smile-making machine.
The carnival of noise and speed makes it easy to forget you have an 895-litre boot behind you, too (it expands to 2000 litres when the seats are folded). It easily swallowed all our camera gear and laptop-filled backpacks.
We would advise against picking up the antique porcelain tea set or crate of eggs in the Tourer, though, as there are no load-baffles in the boot - and, well, it’s more fun to drive in a manner where ‘loads may shift during transit’.
You’ll have a stack of fun either way.
It’s a shame to think this car, along with its HSV siblings and Holden cousins, isn’t long for this world. The loss of the Australian-built, V8 RWD muscle wagon is sad. It’s a tried and tested formula: add more power to an already capable package and you can only improve on the product. It’s just a pity that the world has moved in a way that places importance on other things.
Think of the HSV Clubsport R8 as the best of Aussie pub-rock. A bit of the Angels, AC/DC and Cold Chisel (not Midnight Oil because, you know, that fuel consumption thing) all rolled into one.
The glory days may have passed and they could be on the verge of retirement… but they still bang out a bloody good tune.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.