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I should probably be dead. If you believe the old-school thinking of what a supercharged, rear-wheel-drive, V8 Holden-based HSV should drive like, then, by all rights, I should probably be dead. Because there is simply no way you should be able to drive a car like the 2017 HSV GTSR through a cold, damp, twisty forest mountain road the way I did and survive.
But the fact is, you can, and I did.
It’s 10 degrees Celsius, and the mountain roads through Victoria’s epic Reefton Spur are patchy-to-damp at best, and properly wet at worst.
As the roads climb towards the clouds, the risk of cold blacktop quickly becoming treacherously slippery blacktop increases significantly. And frankly, given I’m in a not-so-subtle, super-bright Spitfire green 2017 HSV GTSR with more than 430kW of power, I probably should’ve turned around and headed home a while back.
I haven’t though, because – fortunately – HSV’s second-most-powerful-ever model isn’t just fast, it’s also bloody good.
Although it’s difficult to get over just how angry and sinister the GTSR sounds, go beyond its glorious aural delights, and you’ll find a car that’s hooked up, sorted, and far more agile, pointy, and responsive than a five-metre-long, 1841kg (tare), four-door sedan has any right to be.
Teaming a supercharged 6.2-litre LSA V8 engine with a six-speed manual transmission, the 2017 HSV GTSR costs $109,490 (before on-road costs) and boasts 435kW of power at 6150rpm and 740Nm of torque at 3850rpm – up 5kW from the no-longer-available GTS.
Sitting one step below the strictly limited manual-only flagship $169,990 GTSR W1 – with its monstrous 474kW/815Nm LS9 powerplant – based on numbers alone, the GTSR is in the company of the 445kW/700Nm Audi RS7 Performance ($259,300) and 420kW/750Nm Mercedes-AMG E63 ($209,610), but at least $100k cheaper.
Sure, the HSV is no Audi or Mercedes-AMG – you won’t find the HSV’s halogen headlights, archaic roof-mounted aerial, or standard light-grey ‘Taxi-spec’ Holden Commodore headliner on either German – but the GTSR is no stripper.
Automatic headlights, LED daytime running lights, and LED tail-lights are all standard, along with automatic wipers, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning, a head-up display, cruise control, a nine-speaker Bose stereo, and an 8.0-inch MyLink touchscreen with satellite navigation, plus Bluetooth phone connectivity, audio streaming, and voice commands.
Ridiculously plush and comfortable, heated, eight-way power-adjustable Alcantara and leather HSV ‘Podium’ seats are also included, as well as a leather-wrapped gear knob and flat-bottom multi-function sports steering wheel.
Being a Commodore underneath, you of course also get tonnes of space, plenty of storage, cupholders, USB inputs, 12-volt outlets, and rear air vents.
Additionally, the GTSR is fitted with HSV’s two-mode Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension and Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI), a re-calibrated quad-exit bi-modal exhaust, torque vectoring, and 20-inch ‘GTSR’-embossed ‘Hyper Dark Stainless’ ‘SV Panorama’ forged-alloy wheels.
Of further note are the massive AP Racing brakes sitting inside the nine-inch-wide front and 10-inch-wide rear rolling stock.
Comprising six-piston single-piece mono-block calipers all around, 410mm fully-floating cross-drilled two-piece rotors up front, and 372mm cross-drilled rotors out back, the setup is identical to that bolted up to the mega GTSR W1.
Even in a different – less retina-searing – colour, the GTSR knows how to stands out.
From its aggressive front and rear bumpers and side skirts, to its 12mm-wider front polypropylene fenders, black fender vents, and blacked out ‘HSV’ badges, the GTSR looks the part, further helped by front and rear ‘GTSR’ badges and an ‘Aeroflow’ rear wing that’s almost a match for the W1’s, sans the latter’s carbon-fibre upper plane. Oh, and for those playing at home, the GTSR is home to a total of 16 ‘GTSR’ logos.
Limited to 300 units – with one rumoured to have already changed hands for $300,000 – the W1 might be the most potent, track-focussed HSV ever built, but when it comes to driving on a public road in the real world, the performance gap between the GTSR and the W1 is almost negligible.
That’s not to undersell the W1 in any way – the thing’s an astonishing feat of engineering – but rest assured, the GTSR is no slouch either.
A fraction laggy down low compared with its previous naturally-aspirated LS3 kin, the GTSR’s supercharged LSA engine is so good from 3000rpm onwards, any initial ‘delay’ – if you can call it that – is quickly forgiven.
Drive gently, and you’re provided ample cruising-around torque between 1500-2000rpm.
Change driving styles, give the throttle a fair dose of Wellie, and that fraction of low-end ‘lag’ isn’t something that lasts for long. And before you know it, you are seriously moving.
The really scary bit though? Out on a twisty mountain road, the GTSR has so much mid-range muscle, it can cover ground at a significant rate of knots without ever going beyond 4000rpm. That’s mental.
More thrills can be had when you find the space to rev the engine out to its 6200rpm rev limit – 400rpm shy of the LS9’s maximum – although, in all honesty, you very rarely actually ever need to.
Helping drivers better drive to their mood, the HSV GTSR’s driver preference dial offers three driving modes: ‘Sport’, ‘Performance’, and ‘Track’.
With the GTSR’s time in the CarAdvice garage limited to a mere seven days, rest assured it spent the majority of its time with us in the most ‘HSV’ of modes – a la, Track.
Matching heavier steering with a firmer suspension setting, sharper throttle, and a more ‘talkative’ exhaust, Track mode also leans off stability control, without completely disengaging the system.
Apart from making the GTSR even more horrendously addictive to drive, the setup also allows drivers to better bond with the car and better appreciate its impressive levels of engagement and communication.
Wrap your hands around the Alcantara-encased steering wheel – a $1590 option fitted to our tester that comes with a matched Alcantara-covered gear knob – and you can feel exactly what the car is doing.
The electrically-assisted, constant-ratio, rack and pinion power steering is direct, responsive, and attached to great feedback, meaning you’re aware of just how much available grip the GTSR has at any given time, and precisely when it’s starting to go beyond its limits.
This – combined with the GTSR’s monster AP Racing stoppers and downright brilliant 255/35 front, 275/35 rear Continental ContiSportContact 5P tyres – gives you a tonne of confidence to push on harder than you may think you should, and that’s despite the LSA’s more than ample power and torque outputs.
The six-speed manual gearbox is as solid and weighty as ever, but paired with quite a springy clutch, it feels good and oh-so-right in a car like this. That said, unlike on a W1, those keen on doing less work can option in a six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for $2500.
Better yet is the GTSR’s ride/handling balance.
A fantastic, if albeit sports-oriented, compromise between everyday comfort and track-day potential, the adjustable MRC suspension – although notably firmer in Track mode – proficiently blends a compliant and well-sorted daily ride with top-shelf performance handling when you want it.
Even though we got a brief sample of the 2017 HSV GTSR back in February, at HSV’s 2017 range launch event at Phillip Island, getting the car through the CarAdvice garage for a week provided us with the opportunity to drive it in a variety of environments and on a variety of roads. And really, that’s a much more relevant test.
Sadly, with hearts heavy, we also inevitably had to hand the damn thing back. And while some cars are harder to give back than others, the GTSR was particularly difficult to part company with.
Why? Because while it’s easy to get sentimental about the end of the Aussie-built, rear-drive, V8 muscle-car era, more than that, the 2017 HSV GTSR is just one genuinely impressive and entertaining vehicle.
It offers European super-sedan levels of performance, but for less money. It’ll handle 40km/h school zone pick-ups or drop-offs as easily as a cruise to Sydney or a track day at Sandown Raceway or Phillip Island. And at the end of the day, you get a big, family sedan, with loads of room, acres of space, and high levels of comfort, that also happens to go as hard as it looks, and look as good as it sounds.
Is it faster than a GTSR W1? No. But it costs $60,500 less, is more attainable, and – in this tester’s eyes anyway – is the better, smarter choice, because, if nothing else, you’re more likely to actually drive a GTSR rather than cover it in bubble-wrap and lock it in a shed (the way people are already doing with the W1).
So, while it might not be HSV’s ultimate halo car, the 2017 HSV GTSR is still one very special car, with an equally special blend of old-school cool, bygone-era brute force, and modern Aussie know-how that makes it, dare I say it, near-on perfect. All the more reason to snap one up, or at least hassle someone for a drive… even if it’s only for a week.
Click on the Gallery tab above for more 2017 HSV GTSR images by Tom Fraser.
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