2017 HSV GTSR W1 review: Phillip Island pre-production mule quick drive

$169,990 Mrlp
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Dave drives a late-stage, pre-production version of the single most powerful production car ever created in this country - the 474kW/815Nm, LS9-powered 2017 HSV GTSR W1 - around the phenomenal Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit... Lucky boy.
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It's sunny. It's 24 degrees Celsius. And I'm about to drive the single, most powerful, locally-built production car ever created, the 2017 HSV GTSR W1, around a racetrack I've never driven before – only one of this country's most famous and full-on racetracks: the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. Am I shitting myself? A little bit.

The word ‘need’ is an odd one, inherently tied to perspective. Do you really ‘need’ those new shoes? Do you really ‘need’ that new phone? Or, in the case of the 2017 HSV GTSR W1, do you really ‘need’ a supercharged 6.2-litre LS9 V8 engine with 474kW of power and 815Nm of torque?

Well, ask those behind the project, and the answer is a pretty straightforward, ‘Yes’.

“[With this being our last program on the Zeta platform], we didn’t want to go quietly into the night,” HSV managing director Tim Jackson tells local media prior to our Phillip Island drive event, with the Clayton-based operation’s engineering director Joel Stoddart adding, “This was a car that really gave us a little bit of licence to push beyond where we’d ever been before.”

Now, before you get too riled up about a lanky, 30-something-year-old journo, with stuff-all hair, getting to drive the hugely-limited GTSR W1 – HSV could only secure a maximum of 300 LS9 engines from Holden’s parent company, General Motors, and thus, 300 is all that will be made – know this: with W1 production not actually due to begin until April 10, of the three ‘W1s’ on hand on the day, one was a close-to-production static ‘show car’, the other two, late-stage, pre-production, development test mules. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the car.

You can read more about the 2017 HSV GTSR W1 in our ‘Behind the Beast’ special, but in short, apart from being one of the most highly-anticipated cars ever produced in the world, ever, the LS9-powered W1 is the culmination of everything that is cool about HSV, wrapped into one hell of a swan song for the long-serving, Holden-developed, Zeta platform – underpinnings debuted back in 2006, beneath the billion-dollar VE Holden Commodore.

Sitting atop a newly created three-model GTSR range, additionally comprised of the 435kW/740Nm LSA-powered GTSR Maloo and GTSR sedan, the W1 sports unique styling and even more hardcore hardware.

“The [original] 1996 VS GTSR is obviously a strong, iconic vehicle we’ve made in the past,” HSV chief designer Julian Quincey explains. “In terms of where we want to sit today, [with the W1], we wanted to produce a modern, up-to-date, clean, track-focussed vehicle.”

And looking at what the local performance-car manufacturer has bolted to the thing, the brand’s intentions are clear. Take the stoppers: although the W1 shares its brake package with the rest of the GTSR range, rest assured, it’s significant.

Comprising 410mm fully-floating cross-drilled two-piece rotors up front, 372mm cross-drilled items out back, and six-piston mono-block AP Racing calipers all around, there’s enough stopping power on board to pull up a small train.

For context, the last iteration of Car of the Future-based Supercars were also fitted with AP Racing brakes, however, these were a combination of six-piston calipers and 395mm discs up front, and four-piston calipers and 355mm discs at the rear.

Also taking influence from the involvement of the HSV and Walkinshaw Racing Supercars operation, is the W1’s model-specific suspension.

“What we found was, trying to implement a complete race system just didn’t work on a road car – it was just too noisy,” engineering director Joel Stoddart reveals. “We wanted that race environment, but we just thought it unpalatable for people trying to drive these cars.”

So, while the W1’s bespoke suspension comes from South Australia-based SupaShock, a partner of HSV and Walkinshaw Racing, the car’s original suspension mounting system was still employed in order to manage noise isolation and overall refinement.

Incorporating fixed-rate SupaShock dampers, instead of HSV’s own variable Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) system, the fractionally heavier (9kg) W1 sits about 5mm lower than either the GTSR Maloo or GTSR sedan, with its front and rear springs rated at 2.2 and 2.0 times stiffer, respectively, than those of a standard HSV GTS.

“I would suggest that with those spring rates, we’re getting towards the lower end of a street circuit-type setup for a Supercar," Stoddart confirms.

Speaking of circuit setups, you’re unlikely to see many GTSR W1s out in the wild if it’s ever raining.

Sure, with numbers this limited, most are destined to remain garaged and possibly bubble-wrapped for the majority of their existence, but also, HSV has fitted the thing with some genuinely extreme rubber.

How extreme? We’re talking around $2800-worth of 265/35 front and 295/30 rear Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres.

Sitting on matte black, ‘W1’-stamped versions of the GTSR’s ‘GTSR’-stamped 20x9-inch front and 20x10-inch rear forged-alloy wheels, even Pirelli says the Trofeo R tyre is “designed for racetrack driving on dry asphalt” and “is not recommended for use in very wet track conditions”.

A fair step up from the GTSR’s more street-friendly ContiSportContact 5P Continentals. For an extra chuckle, the Italian tyre maker goes on to say, given the Trofeo R’s risk of aquaplaning on very wet asphalt, “prudent driving at reduced speed is recommended”.

The W1’s most significant element of all, though, is its powertrain. And, make no mistake, with the W1 being the only Australian-made production car ever to be powered by General Motors’ monstrous LS9 small-block V8 engine, it is indeed significant.

Not quite matching outputs seen from the 476kW/819Nm Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 – GM’s LS9-powered track weapon that ceased production in 2013 – in the GTSR W1, the blown 6.2-litre churns out a recently confirmed 474kW of power at 6500rpm and 815Nm of torque at 3900rpm.

For reference, that’s 44kW and 75Nm up on the brand’s previous most-powerful-ever model, the 430kW/740Nm supercharged 6.2-litre LSA-powered HSV GTS.

Exclusively tied to a close-ratio, six-speed Tremec TR-6060 (MH3-spec) gearbox – rated to 850Nm – the LS9 turns the W1’s rear wheels via a custom-made input shaft, a solid flywheel, and a twin-plate SACHS clutch.

So, how much will stepping up from the GTSR’s LSA to the W1’s big-boy LS9 cost you? Try $60,500 (before on-road costs).

That’s right. Priced at $169,990 (before on-road costs), the GTSR W1 is $71,000 more than the 2017 HSV GTS ($98,990), and more than $14,000 dearer than what HSV charged for the brutal, $155,500, 375kW/640Nm 7.0-litre LS7-powered W427 back in 2008.

It’s worth noting, too, that apart from being the most expensive production HSV model ever built, the GTSR W1 is also priced just shy of $100,000 more than was charged for each the original 85 215kW/475Nm 5.7-litre naturally-aspirated V8-powered VS Commodore-based GTSRs. Interestingly, though, converted into today's money, that $75,000 car (at the time) works out to between $120k-odd and $160k-odd depending on if you opted for HSV's factory blueprint option.

Fortunately, with HSV (preliminarily) claiming the W1 can hit 0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds and smash the quarter mile in 12.1 seconds, the guaranteed future classic is now also comfortably the fastest production car ever produced in Australia – bettering the previous title holder, the W1’s GTS stablemate.

Here are a few other figures that really help hammer home (pun intended) just how much performance they’ve managed to cram into the flagship GTSR. It’ll hit 98.5km/h (conveniently 61mph) in first gear, hustle from 80-120km/h in second gear in 2.16 seconds and, highlighting both the response of the close-ratio gearbox and the immense torque of the LS9, go from 80-100km/h in fifth gear in 5.2 seconds. Go by the numbers then, and yeah, it appears HSV has pretty much nailed it.

But, before we get to head out on track in the cammo-wrapped, LS9-powered ‘GTS’ test-mule waiting for us in pit lane, we first get to build our confidence in a selection of 2017 ‘30 Years’ range cars, followed by a handful of laps in both the GTSR Maloo and GTSR sedan.

Keeping things brief, our short stints in the now 410kW/691Nm Maloo R8 LSA, ClubSport R8 LSA, ClubSport R8 Tourer LSA, and Senator Signature – all with torque vectoring and a re-calibrated bi-modal exhaust system now standard – is a positive start. Each is a tidy refresh of their respective model, with improved performance, dynamics, and importantly, noise.

Next up, we get to try the two ‘entry-level’ GTSR models.

Go with the one with a tray instead of two rear doors, and you’re looking at purchasing what will forever be known as the most powerful production ute ever built in Australia, and likely too, the fastest – no doubt trumping the HSV GTS Maloo.

Opt for the sedan, and, given it – like the ute – can be had with an optional six-speed automatic transmission, you’re quite possibly securing yourself the ‘realistic’ sweet-spot in the entire GTSR range, W1 inclusive.

The GTSR Maloo is a total hoot, but the GTSR sedan will be available in greater numbers, offers huge fun and excitement, is vastly capable, and is as amply well-suited to an occasional track day as it is a family holiday. You get space for five, a boot to match, and, if you so choose, gears that you don’t need to change yourself. Just a thought, anyway…

With these in the bank, though, it’s time for the ‘Big Dog’ W1.

Sliding in between the W1's deliciously Alcantara-covered ‘Podium’ seats and sports-profile multi-function steering wheel, we’re not alone in the cabin. Strapped into the passenger seat is Supercars driver and HSV racing instructor Warren Luff.

Seat, mirrors, and steering wheel all adjusted, we get the thumbs up and begin to roll out of pit lane. But despite the huge power and outrageous torque we’ve been hearing about for the last two days, the first thing that grabs our attention isn’t the engine.

Slowly letting the clutch pedal up, we discover that this big-number beast is, in fact, not scary to drive at all.

The twin-plate clutch is smooth, and easy to modulate and control. First gear bites cleanly, and, with so much low-down torque on tap, the GTSR W1 simply heads off in the direction of Turn One, with as much difficulty as getting sunburnt on Australia Day. No stalling, no jerking, no issues.

As we grab second gear and squeeze on a bit more throttle, the second thing we notice seems to have also been noticed by everyone else around, because we’re all suddenly wearing the same smile: the noise.

If you love the sound of an old-school, thumping V8 engine, you need to hear a GTSR W1 on noise. And, if you’re more a small-capacity, turbocharged-engine fan, shut up and listen to a GTSR W1 on noise. Simply put, it’s the business.

Going up from the ‘30 Years’ range to the GTSR Maloo and GTSR sedan, the progression in performance and ability is immediately evident, but not at all intimidating. Step up from those to the W1, though, and it is genuinely next-level.

As HSV engineering director Joel Stoddart shared with us the night before, “This car is all about the driver, it’s about people with passion, and people who want to drive their car.”

“Putting the right chassis under this car, getting all of that performance to the ground, was a really important challenge for us. You get that right, the car’s really going to shine. You get it wrong, it’s going to feel nothing like what it should – what its potential can do.”

With guidance and encouragement coming thick and fast from ‘Luffy’, what’s remarkable about the W1 is how quickly you can become confident and familiar with it. So much so, you really do need to remind yourself of just how much sheer grunt is ready and waiting for you under your right foot.

Talk to HSV's chassis engineers and, like us, they are huge fans of the work carried out on the 2016 HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition. Well, in the same way that car impressed, the W1 is even better.

The steering is a beautiful balance of weighting and feedback, offering terrific accuracy and engagement. Front-end turn-in is sharp and immediate, while the rear end maintains composure and poise – even under more 'enthusiastic' throttle applications.

The brakes are firm underfoot but never wooden, with their consistent stopping power tied to supreme confidence.

And, while the SupaShock-based suspension is unquestionably firm – the entry to pit lane being our only sample of a remotely bumpy road – the W1 changes direction better than any 1895kg (unladen) four-door ‘family sedan’ has any right to.

As complimentary as the above assessment may be, though, most of it comes down – quite literally – to one key factor. The element that has the most profound impact on any vehicle’s ultimate performance: its tyres.

Sure, drive the GTSR W1 on a soggy road or racetrack and you’ll be kept well and truly busy juggling steering and throttle – you’ll still be grinning, mind you. Get it on a dry track, however, like we were lucky enough to do, and it simply becomes a device for speed.

No doubt, with this much power and torque directed only to the rear wheels, the W1, especially with all stability controls off, could very well be a car that bites you and sends you backwards into a fence you were facing just moments before.

But, driven with respect and even the slightest bit of intelligence – and believe me, the slightest bit is all I have – the GTSR W1 is capable of some incredible feats.

Exploit the grip, dynamic ability, and power, and, combined, you have a brilliantly executed, stonkingly brisk, performance machine that you can place just about anywhere you want on the road, at any time you want, time and time again.

With our all-too-brief flying laps completed, I drive Warren Luff and myself back into pit lane – me, still smiling like an idiot.

I may have been mildly apprehensive to have my Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit debut in the most powerful production car this country has ever bolted together, but it turns out, I needn’t have worried.

With the launch of the 2017 HSV GTSR range, the iconic four-letter nameplate is well and truly back, and in a way that will surely please the majority of fans heartbroken by the incumbent demise of the Zeta platform.

We only got to sample a pre-production, development test mule, but if the final production cars are anything like it, the 2017 HSV GTSR W1 will not only be a vastly fitting and appropriate send-off for the VE/VF/VFII platform, it’ll forever be a tribute to the men and women behind the project, as well as to this great V8-loving land we call Australia.

So, do you really ‘need' 474kW of power and 815Nm torque?

As it turns out, yes. Yes, you do. We all do.

Click on the Photos tab for more 2017 HSV GTSR W1 images, including selected images by David Zalstein.

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