2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition review

Rating: 9.0
$68,990 $71,490 Mrlp
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Dave drives the 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition on road and on track to really put it to the test, and he's impressed...
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Now is the time. If you've ever thought of buying a limited edition Aussie muscle car, now is the time. With local production's imminent end drawing ever closer, every last special edition model to come out of Australia is worth some consideration. And the 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition is certainly one special model.

‘Track Edition’. It says it on the transmission tunnel, front and rear door sills, special ID build plate, and – on our Prussian Steel test car, anyway – alluded to on the number plates. But rather than being an all-out, caged-up, racing seat-equipped Porsche 911 GT3-rivalling monster, the 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition is a more subtle brute.

Sure, it might only have a naturally aspirated 6.2-litre LS3 V8 engine under the bonnet, and not the supercharged 6.2-litre LSA V8 found in the dearer Clubsport R8 LSA, but with 340kW of power at 6100rpm and 570Nm of torque at 4650rpm, the Track Edition is no slouch.

Priced at $68,990 (before on-road costs) for the six-speed manual and $71,490 (before on-roads) for the six-speed automatic tested here, the 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition is limited to 150 units in Oz, with six reserved for those across the pond in New Zealand.

Costing $12,000 less than the respective manual or auto Clubsport R8 LSA equivalent, the R8 Track Edition does come up 60kW and 101Nm short on the former’s beastly 400kW/671Nm LSA V8.

That said, the naturally aspirated Track Edition is still 36kW up on the 304kW/570Nm LS3 found in your garden-variety SS Holden Commodore – a range starting at $44,990 and $47,190 for a manual and automatic, respectively.

A step up from the $3000 cheaper Clubsport R8 SV Black, the HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition comes standard with black fender vents, mirror caps, and door surrounds, quad shadow-chrome exhaust tips, a ‘Hyperflow’ performance rear spoiler, and stiffer, “track-tuned” HSV performance suspension.

The Track Edition also rolls on ‘dark stainless’ 20-inch ‘Blade’ forged alloy wheels, and is equipped with meaty AP Racing brakes, comprising forged six-piston calipers and 390mm two-piece cross-drilled discs up front and four-piston calipers and 367mm single-piece cross-drilled discs out back – both pinched from the $95k-plus flagship GTS.

Additional goodies include a limited-slip rear differential with an HSV-specific ratio, a hi-flow, bi-modal air intake/exhaust combination, a suede-wrapped multifunction sports steering wheel, alloy-faced sports pedals, and leather-trimmed sports bucket seats – the driver’s being eight-way power adjustable.

Claiming to drink 12.9 litres of 98 octane premium unleaded fuel every 100km, the Track Edition’s thumping 6.2-litre engine is paired to a six-speed automatic transmission with a ‘Sport’ mode and plastic paddle shifters, as well as a three-mode driver preference dial offering drivers a choice of ‘Tour’, ‘Sport’, or ‘Performance’ driving. A launch control function is reserved for manual models (which HSV says make up 60 per cent of the limited model's production).

With HSV’s $1095 optional Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) on board, drivers and passengers are able to view and analyse information across a range of real-time performance and vehicle dynamics parameters, or take advantage of full data logging functionality.

Starting on the road, though, gives us the chance to enjoy the basics.

Just as happy cruising around at 60km/h at 1300rpm as at 100km/h at identical revs, the LS3 engine is a delight to immerse yourself in around town.

Offering enough low-down torque that you can literally spend every drive below 2000rpm if you so wish, the naturally aspirated 6.2-litre powerplant still provides ample hustle – even when driving in a relatively subdued manner.

With the driver preference dial set to ‘Tour’ exhaust noise is kept to a minimum – which is good for not annoying neighbours when getting home late – while ‘Sport’ sees volumes rise to a more aurally-pleasing level. Opt for ‘Performance’ and, while noise remains at ‘Sport’ levels, stability control is leaned off a touch, meaning greater slip angles can be achieved before the systems cut in.

Much of the gear you could want is here. Automatic headlights and LED tail-lights, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, a head-up display, cruise control with speed limiter, front and rear parking sensors, semi-automatic parking, a rear-view camera with active gridlines and rear cross-traffic alert, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, MyLink, voice control, and music apps such as Pandora and Stitcher.

There’s also a nine-speaker premium Bose stereo (which kicks) and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, as well as a forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring.

With big, comfy, seats up front, loads of space in the back, and a cavernous 496-litre boot, the near-five-metre-long Clubsport R8 Track Edition is simply a lot of car for the money. It’s not without flaws, however.

A glitchy MyLink system in our tester meant we couldn’t pair a phone for the first three days it was with us. We had the rear-view camera refuse to display while in the EDI menu with reverse engaged. Vision out is average thanks to thick B-pillars, small wing mirrors, and a restricted view out the back window. The paddle shifters feel cheap and plasticy, and are attached to an unsatisfying ‘click’. There’s not enough engine or exhaust noise unless you’re really on the loud pedal – regardless of mode. Heated seats would be a nice inclusion for the price, as would adaptive cruise control, matching suede on the gear shifter, and a nicer headliner. Only the front power windows are auto up/down too, with the rears only being auto down.

Gripes aside, it is worth noting that the Track Edition’s steering is on the weightier side when performing low-speed manoeuvres such as parking. Though, once speeds increase, it lightens up, and partners with good amounts of feel and feedback to deliver a quality overall combination.

This means that while the car can feel big and heavy at times – mostly when stuck in traffic and at shopping centre-speeds – generally, when out on a twisty road for example, it feels far smaller and more nimble than you’d expect of a 1754kg Aussie-built, four-door, performance sedan. Thanks in no small part to the mega, bright yellow, AP Racing package, it stops well too.

The Clubsport R8 Track Edition boasts excellent brake feel, making accurate, finite, modulation easy. And on the road, the standard 35-aspect, 20-inch Continental ContiSportContact 5P tyres – measuring 255mm wide up front and 275mm wide out back – provide consistent, reliable, and confidence-inspiring grip.

Working well with an equally responsive throttle pedal, the six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox is also a good 'un. Although I’d personally stick with a stick if it was my money, the auto is intelligent enough to source the right gear at the right time, most of the time, while delivering smooth shifts along the way.

Juggling traffic stints with ‘enthusiastic’ short journeys, the Clubsport R8 Track Edition averaged 13.4L/100km over its week in the CarAdvice Melbourne garage. A more conservative driving style mixed with several highway runs, however, resulted in a figure of 10.9L/100km.

Being one of the last naturally aspirated Commodore-based V8 HSVs to be sold here – and given it is called the ‘Track Edition’ after all – we decided the track is exactly where this car needed to be driven.

A phone call later and we were on the entry list for a Driver Dynamics Level 3 High Performance driver training day at Sandown Raceway.

Despite torrential rain, temperatures hovering around eight degrees Celsius, and a coefficient of friction far from in our favour, the HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition proved to be one of the most highly sorted and dynamically outstanding cars I’ve ever had the privilege to drive around the 3.1-kilometre Melbourne circuit. Not to mention, hugely entertaining.

With its timeless, old-school engine note resonating off the pit lane garages, we slap the shifter across from 'Drive' to 'Sport', click the left paddle once to engage first gear, and turn the driver preference dial to the right twice to select 'Performance'.

Leaving pit lane wide-eyed with the wipers all but a blur, we hit the track for our first session.

Immediately, while the Track Edition’s effortless urge encourages you to explore the longest ways home via all manner of highways and backroads when on the road, on the track, that sense of almost limitless grunt simply makes you want to plant the foot and wind the thing out. We oblige.

With stiffer spring and damper rates – intended to reduce body-roll and improve corner-entry response – the R8 Track Edition is unquestionably firm on the road, and can occasionally become quite jittery over tram tracks and the like. On track, however, with spring rates more than 200 per cent stiffer than those of the previous MY15 LS3 Clubsport R8, the 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition has seriously impressive turn in and initial bite.

Turning into Sandown’s off-camber Turn One at 74km/h-odd, the Track Edition, with huge help from its Continental tyres, simply stays on line. And while the tyres surprise us with their wet-condition lateral grip, even under power – with some patience on the throttle – the tyres continue to astound, ensuring the big V8-powered HSV adeptly nicks off out of corners.

But again, thanks to the high levels of communication and feedback through the lovely suede steering wheel, whether it’s the front end starting to push wide or the backend starting to step out, you are instantly aware of what’s happening. From there, particularly when it comes to oversteer, the choice is yours: ease off the throttle and straighten things up, or control the slide and smile.

Lough-out-loud-fun in the wet, and no doubt legitimately fast in the dry, the HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition is not remotely sketchy. It never feels like a handful, and, provided you treat it with some respect, it will continue to be balanced, controlled, and, most importantly, fun.

The strong and reliable brakes may not have got the hardest going over given the cooler temperatures and super slippery conditions, however, they remained consistent and strong. The ride too, while on the firmer side on public roads, is pretty spot on for the track.

Controlled and compliant, the track-focussed set up reels in roll but isn’t stiff enough to ever make things unsettled or unstable. In fact, combined with the brakes, the car’s exceptional stability gave us the confidence to still hit a top speed of 212km/h up Sandown’s 910-metre back straight… in the wet, remember.

Achieving such numbers is easy too, with the engine pulling so strongly from 2500rpm that, while it revs out to 6500rpm, you can comfortably short shift at around 5000-5500rpm and still pull numbers up around 200km/h up the back straight.

With our day on track done – and the HSV’s average fuel figure jumping up to 28.6L/100km – we take stock of the car as a whole.

With a name like ‘Track Edition’, it would’ve been good if the chunky HSV logo-embroidered headrests didn’t annoyingly push the back of your head forward when driving with a lid on. And we would’ve liked to have seen the car’s standard plastic valve caps swapped out for some neat, metal, HSV-stamped items perhaps, but hey…

Although it is fast approaching, it will be sad to see the end of cars like the 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition. They might not be cutting edge, they might not always be scalpel-sharp performance cars, they might not be perfect, but what they are is quintessentially Australian. And, furthermore, in this case at least, legitimately exceptional product too.

There’s certainly a lot to like about the 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition. On the road and the track, it is one hell of a machine, and never struggles to put a smile on your face. It’s not ‘fancy’, but it’s honest. And that’s what gives it the kind of character most European supercars and exotics would struggle to match.

Whatever you may have thought of HSVs in the past, now really is the time to have a proper look at one. And even if you don’t buy one, given HSV estimates around 60 per cent of Track Editions have already been snapped up since arriving into dealers in late September, take the time to appreciate one. You never know; you might just be as impressed as we were.

Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition images by Tom Fraser and David Zalstein.

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