2016 HSV Clubsport R8 LSA Review

$80,900 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
  • ANCAP Rating

If the garden-variety HSV Clubsport R8 didn't have quite enough grunt for you, HSV has come to the party with an LSA-powered variant. It's a monster of an engine and a comparative bargain.

The 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 LSA is many things - one of the most potent of which is that it is a muscle car done right. It’s an Australian muscle car for the ages. Front engine, rear-wheel drive, an overdose of power, all fire and brimstone. The bellowing V8 engine is non-negotiable as you’d expect. No matter what the naysayers argue, turbocharged sixes never gave the smackdown in the '60s when the muscle car first came into vogue - and as such, the V8 will always be the muscle car must have.

It doesn’t matter one iota that there might be a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder hatchback that’s quicker from 0-100km/h or faster around a track - that argument completely misses the point. Muscle cars were never about that and they shouldn't be about that now, either. The caveman in you needs proper muscle cars to exist, if only for the raw, visceral experience that comes with it. Thank god for the USA, because we’re losing the muscle car plot in Australia and the end is coming up fast - only the USA will be able to quench our thirst soon in the true sense of the term.

Forget the arguments about whether the HSV product is better or the equal of similar European machinery or offers better bang for your buck. I’ve had plenty of those stand-ups with punters and fellow journos alike over the years, and if they’re happy to fork out two-and-a-half times the cost of an HSV GTS to pocket the key fob to an E63 AMG S for example, then more fool them. Note: the majority of people who do argue the case so strenuously for the Euro option don’t actually have the money to buy one. They’re just saying… Don’t sweat the resale value either. This Clubsport R8 LSA is the last of the breed effectively, and it’s future value is almost certainly assured. Given its imminent extinction status then, HSV is determined to send it out with a monumental bang.

Bang probably isn’t the right word either. Violent explosion would be more apt. The fitment of the savage supercharged LSA powerplant beneath the R8’s bulging bonnet has moved the Clubsport R8 right out of the heavy hitting GTS’ shadow and put little brother front and centre. Clubsport R8 gets a few other upgrades besides the engine as well, but more on that in a minute. The R8 looks right, sounds right and does exactly what it needs to do. If you don’t miss this kind of thing when it’s gone, you might need to check if you still have a pulse.

Enough with the rose-tinted glasses then, here are some cold, hard facts. On test, we have the 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 manual (yep, manual), with pricing that starts from $80,900 - add $2500 to that for the six-speed automatic transmission. The cheaper LS3-powered HSV range remains, but you won’t need to think too hard to find a reason to step up to LSA power if you test drive one.

You can read our HSV pricing and specification information story here.

You can read James' review of the Clubsport R8 LSA tourer here.

The R8 LSA is just over 15 grand cheaper than the GTS, despite running the same drivetrain and delivering very similar acceleration figures. Under the bonnet, there’s a monster of an engine in the form of the 6.2-litre, supercharged LSA, which pounds out 400kW and 671Nm. That’s down on the range-topping GTS, which makes 430kW and 740Nm. Perhaps more poignantly though, HSV’s 0-100km/h claim is 4.6 seconds for the R8 - only a 0.2sec deficit to the GTS. HSV reckons the R8 LSA is capable of a 12.7sec quarter-mile run. While HSV claims consumption of around 15.0L/100km, our return after a week behind the wheel was 22.5L/100km. Will buyers care that the R8 LSA is so thirsty? We’d say no and if they do, they’ve bought the wrong vehicle altogether.

The engine might be centre stage, but the R8 LSA also shares the GTS drivetrain, to really beef things up. There’s a chunky 9.9-inch differential, heavy-duty six speed manual (or upgraded auto not tested here) strengthened driveshaft and prop shafts, and enhanced cooling systems for the engine, gearbox and differential.

Cleverly, HSV has made the Clubsport R8 LSA more enticing than ever, but not detracted from the appeal of the range-topping GTS. With HSV’s excellent magnetic ride control, the GTS is more comfortable around town over poor surfaces, while its torque vectoring system keeps things on the straight and narrow at speed, and it also has a superior braking system - six-piston versus four-piston front brakes - ensuring plenty of buyers will still want to stretch to the GTS.

The R8 LSA weighs in at 1907kg and features stiffer suspension as such to cope with that extra weight. The enhanced drivetrain equipment is partly to blame for the portly weight, but the engine’s prodigious power and torque ensures you won’t notice that too much. We’d suggest the ride is marginally firmer than the last Clubsport R8 we drove, but around town, especially considering the 20-inch rims and tyres, the R8 LSA is comfortable and well insulated. The added heft will only be noticeable on a racetrack at warp speed too, so it’s not a factor day-to-day.

Exterior styling changes for the R8 LSA are minor, but noticeable. The bonnet vents are new, there are also new 20-inch alloy wheels, along with new front and rear fascias and new side skirts. The styling is as muscly and brawny as you’d expect and ensures the R8 LSA visually matches the power on offer. In fact, we reckon the low profile, matte black boot-mounted spoiler might look even tougher than the higher-riding GTS version.

The Commodore’s commodious cabin remains a highlight, with bucket seats that are both spongy and supportive ensuring you’ll always be comfortable. More than one front-row passenger commented on the comfort of the seats during our week of testing. Bolstering in the right places looks like it will keep you in place at speed too, should the mood take you - and believe me, it will. The standard BOSE stereo is a high quality installation, the MyLink infotainment system works well as we’ve come to expect, and there’s plenty of cabin storage and cup/bottle holders. An annoying nag we did have in the cabin is the console lid, which will not stay open. It’s annoying, when you’re trying to grab something on the move, like sunglasses for example.

The second-row seats are equally comfortable and nicely sculpted, there’s plenty of legroom and 496 litres of storage space in the boot. You’ll notice the data logging system is gone ahead of the driver (now an option), and the two console-mounted gauges are also gone, which is no bad thing given you’d hardly ever look at them anyway. Their removal also ekes back some storage space for wallets and phones.

Get comfortable behind the wheel, depress the clutch and push the starter button. The starter motor lazily winds into life and the big V8 announces it’s presence with a guttural burble. There’s a slight pop and crackle as it settles into a lumpy idle if you’ve left the R8 LSA in ‘Sport’ mode as we did, the experience a little more muted in ‘Touring’ mode.

The clutch is meaty, a little on the heavy side, and not as progressive as we’d like, but you do get used to it and smooth take-offs become easier the more time you spend behind the wheel. The torque of the engine is such that you can almost idle away from a standstill if you’re not intent on winning the traffic light drag race. Our preferred launch technique was to roll away and then mash the accelerator pedal a second later, at which point all hell breaks loose.

The supercharged engine delivers such thunderous power and torque down low that you never feel the need to thrash it to redline, but when you do, the soundtrack is offensive - in a good way. The power peak of 400kW comes up at 6150rpm, while peak torque of 671Nm is available at 4200rpm. The engine spins freely to its 6150rpm redline, and snarls ever louder as it does, until it reaches a murderous bellow at which point you dip the clutch, grab second gear and do it all again. Somewhere in the middle of the rev range, the bi-modal intake and exhaust crack, to dump even more sound in the direction of innocent pedestrians. The unrelenting speed you can pile on between 3000-6000rpm is a stark reminder of what the Clubsport is capable of. Muscle cars were always in your face, but rarely were they ever this easy to drive. Despite peak torque arrive well into the meat of the rev range, the R8 LSA feels as if it's delivering that slab of forward urge well before then, just off idle in fact. It makes for a relaxed and cruise driving experience at low speed if you so wish.

At speed, the handling is balanced and the steering precise - certainly more precise than we expected, no doubt aided by the quality Continental tyres fitted to our test example. The steering has a solid, mechanical feel to it - indeed it’s light enough around town, but certain and heavy enough at speed that it never feels flighty or wallowy. Lateral grip was also excellent at speed, as was the general body control. The big sedan doesn’t lurch, wobble and roll from side to side as you enter and exit corners, even tighter ones at warp speed. You’d be able to have plenty of fun behind the wheel of the R8 LSA on track, even if it can’t match the outstanding GTS LSA at the limit.

Working on the theory that too much is never enough, I went straight into a deep dive research plan on the power-adding packages available for the HSV range. Easy tuning is another reason the muscle car genre has always had such base appeal. 400kW not quite enough? How about 570kW? 580kW? 600kW and 1080Nm? That’s more like it. Three reputable tuning houses offer upgrade packages for the LSA all the way to an insane 600kW and I’d almost certainly be hapless to avoid spending that extra money the minute my HSV warranty ran out.

Is the HSV Clubsport R8 LSA perfect? Not by a long shot. There are a few things it doesn’t do well. The interior lacks some hard to define finishing touches to give it that dash of opulence. The classic Commodore A-pillar gripe about reduced front three quarter visibility remains. It’s not overly refined either, luxurious or expensive in it’s overall execution, but that’s the point. It shouldn’t be. Not one iota. It’s almost a metaphor for Australia in a way. The convict settlement, a bit rough around the edges. That's why our scoring here mirrors that for the wagon, a 9/10 overall.

If HSV is on a mission to leave the mark (or two black marks more specifically) we’d like to see it leave, it needs to say farewell with a balls-out muscle car that plays the game exactly like the R8 LSA. Loud, brash, bloody fast and practical. As a tribute to Australian engineering and our country’s love of the muscle car, the R8 LSA is a thoroughly mighty achievement. Mission accomplished.

Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.