As I step into the 2016 HSV Senator Signature LSA, I have a moment. A moment recollecting some of the great names given to HSV and Holden models through the years.
Commodore, Executive, Grange, Calais — they're all grand names and titles that suit a luxury item with plenty of power. And when it comes to power, the only name you need to know is 'Senator'. So it only seemed fitting then, to grab the keys to the last locally-built HSV Senator and go for a burn.
The thing I've always loved about the HSV Senator is that it looks tough and menacing without the glitz and bling of cars like the Clubsport and flagship GTS.
With a starting price of $92,990 (before on-road costs), the Senator is the second most expensive HSV on sale (that is until the likely GTS-R arrives later this year) and now features the incredible supercharged LSA engine from the GTS.
From the outside, the Gen-F2 HSV Senator Signature LSA has picked up minor styling changes including revised intake gills and new bonnet vents that provide functional cooling to the engine. The rear remains largely unchanged.
Under the new bonnet is a mammoth powerplant: a 6.2-litre supercharged LSA V8 engine that produces an ego-stroking 400kW of power and 671Nm of torque. While it's available with either a six-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmission, our test car featured the slick six-speed auto. Mated to this gearbox, the 1857kg Senator claims 4.6 seconds 0-100km/h — that's seriously quick.
Now, while it's the same engine fitted to its GTS big brother, it receives around 10 per cent less power — down from 430kW of power.
The interior follows the same styling cues as the exterior. A chunky steering wheel is fitted with paddle shifters (in the automatic), while the dashboard features a suede-esque lining with carbon-fibre-look panel inserts.
There are 'HSV' insignias on the dashboard, seats, infotainment system and speedometer. The HSV 'branding' on the infotainment system can also be optionally accompanied by HSV's EDI (Enhanced Driver Interface) system which adds an accelerometer and track timing functionality.
It's a great system that lets the driver measure cornering g-forces, acceleration, power, torque and even throttle positioning. It's a $1095 option box worth ticking.
Other options include a sunroof ($1990), black roof ($550), red leather inserts ($795), full-size spare wheel ($695), and 20-inch forged alloy wheels ($595).
One of the Senator's best features — inherited from its VFII Holden Commodore base car — is internal head and legroom. Front seat passengers are afforded plenty of both, while rear seat passengers have copious amounts, plus ample toe room.
Curiously, as the rear seats don't fold flat, aside from a ski port, there is no in-cabin access to the boot. All three rear seating positions do, however, offer ISOFIX points, which is great to see in a car placed in this segment. Boot capacity is also an impressive 496 litres.
Let's not kid ourselves, though, you're reading this review to find out what the Senator is like at speed. Hit the start button and the meaty supercharged V8 engine turns over, rocking the car slightly at idle.
Without the 'driver preference dial' being in 'Touring' mode, the bi-modal exhaust sits open, assaulting passers by to 400kW of brute V8 force. A prod of the throttle confirms the Senator's intentions, with a bark and a crackle emitted from its four rear pipes, before it settles back into idle. Engaging Touring mode reduces the noise to a distant rumble — perfect for visiting the in-laws.
Slide the shifter into 'D', ease off the brake, and the Senator moves off in rumbling glory. Shortly after take off, the exhaust's two secondary baffles close again for a surprisingly quiet exhaust note, until the engine is summoned once more.
At low speeds, the Senator is pleasant and quite refined to drive. The supercharged V8 provides eager response in virtually any gear.
In Touring mode, the third-generation of HSV's magnetic ride control (MRC) system helps smooth out the ride. Sensors around the car update every 1000th of a second to adjust damper firmness. The MRC system features magnetorheological fluid-based monotube struts and monotube shock absorbers that can react almost instantly to changing conditions.
Switch the driver preference dial to 'Sport' or 'Track', and the Senator transforms into a wieldy beast.
The MRC enters its firmest setting and the bi-modal exhaust becomes 'active'. The driver can also select the electronic stability control's 'competition mode', which adjusts the intensity and intervention point of the car's safety systems. In this mode, the 275mm-wide rear tyres are permitted to arc up, with the stability control system only intervening to stop the car from getting completely sideways at the very last second.
Stand on the throttle and the six-speed automatic kicks down several gears, triggering the supercharged V8 into delivering a full helping of torque. As the tachometer wraps around to 4000rpm and beyond, the exhaust baffles fully open and emit what can only be described as a hellish exhaust note capable of waking the dead.
In fact, it's so good that you hunt for every possible opportunity to unleash the throttle. That said, when the baffles are closed, it's conversely far too quiet. Thankfully there's a quick and easy solution to having the exhaust permanently open, but you didn't hear that from us...
The seats are very comfortable (and heated in the first row), but are designed to suit the slightly bigger individual, meaning you can move about a bit through corners.
The 275mm-wide rear rubber works well in unison with the 255mm-wide front tyres, but come in too hot into corners, and you can still expect the Senator to understeer.
Stopping power comes courtesy of huge 367mm slotted rotors with four-piston AP Racing calipers. Brake pedal feel is excellent and the brakes can cop a battering with minimal fade.
Steering feel is also excellent, despite the fact it's channeled through an electrically-assisted steering system.
When punting the Senator through corners, there's no disguising its portly mass, but it manages to remain reasonably nimble for a car its size.
One point worth mentioning (although, if you've made it this far into the review, I'm sure you don't care) is fuel consumption. The official combined claim is 15 litres per 100km, but expect to see well north of that in practice. Our running average was just over 20L/100km. Also keep in mind the minimum 95 RON fuel required by the thirsty V8.
Whether you're a fan of big-capacity V8 Aussie muscle cars or not, it's going to be bloody sad when, only in a couple of years, HSV no longer produces its Commodore-derived range. The 2016 HSV Senator Signature LSA is a real gem and perfect alternative to buyers who don't want the glitz and glamour of the $3000 dearer GTS but still need the ability to lay down endless amounts of rubber.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 HSV Senator Signature LSA images by Tom Fraser and James Ward.