A certain car magazine recently bemoaned what drivers will miss out on in coming years, with the change to more technological features in our chosen chariots. Ripping up a handbrake lever to drop a skid on the tarmac or dirt, for example, or fiddling around with cassettes whilst hanging onto the steering wheel with one hand and a ciggie perched between the lips. But there’s more that we’ll miss out on. I’ll explain later as A Wheel Thing looks at the last of a breed: Holden Special Vehicle’s ClubSport R8 Enhanced. (http://www.hsv.com.au/Gen-F/See/ClubSport-R8/)
The Driven Heart
Recipe: take six litres of already grunty alloy block Chevrolet V8, massage and prod until it becomes 6.2, add a freer flowing exhaust and add the ingredients R8. Then massage even more, find a few extra ponies and torques then screw them up to a smooth shifting six speed manual, big 20 inch diameter black coated alloys, black highlights and that awesome bi-modal exhaust. That is what you’ll get when 340 killer Watts and 570 metres of Mr Newton’s torques appear after HSV waves their magic wand over the marvel that is a freebreathing V8 engine and uprated wheels; it adds the Enhanced part to the standard R8. It’s an engine that appeals instantly to a driver than can not merely understand, but appreciate, what these terms and numbers mean. It’s immensely flexible, with torque on tap from almost zero rpm which allows even fifth and sixth gears to be utilised at low revs, being able to pull away from 40 km/h in sixth is a party piece. With peak torque at 4400rpm but what feels like 99 percent of it available before then, it requires only a sneeze on the foot for the ClubSport to sprint away in lower gears. As it does so another party piece is put on show, this time an aural one. Inside the cabin, right where the window switches used to be in a VE Commodore, is a dial for the traction control and three suspension settings: Touring, Sport and Performance. The latter two engage an exhaust mode called Bi-modal, taking the already subterranean note to the earth’s core.
The gear shift is surprisingly (bad grammar alert) untight, meaning there’s not a hell of a lot of effort required to move the short throw gear lever…it slides from gear to gear with a hint of a notch as it does. the new Tremec T6060 transmission also throws up a softer, less pressure required clutch. I have a slightly arthritic left knee, courtesy of a prang as a passenger over twenty years ago and it’s come away unscathed. What this also means is that for those that whinge about manuals in Sydney’s utterly pathetic excuse for a road system that you can leave it in third or fourth in traffic and just clutch and accelerate without changing gear. The AP racing brakes are sensational, with a well modulated pressure, no fade and virtually no ABS intrusion when the anchors are thrown out from high speed.
HSVs of days gone by were sometimes a case of too much red was never enough. In the VF based ClubSport it’s more of a visually muted environment, with red highlights restricted to the headrests and squab on the seat cushion plus a tasteful alignment of fuel and temperature gauge needles with the red piping in the two main dash dials. Otherwise it’s a tasteful mix of charcoal fabric and leather accentuating black plastic. There’s also a relocation of the battery and oil pressure gauges to the empty space ahead of the gear lever, rather than on the upper dash. It’s comfortable to look at, comfortable to be in bar one thing…I’m of average height, call it 177cm. The placing of the pedals, steering column (adjustable for height and reach) and playing with the many ways adjustable electric seating still left me with my clutch leg’s thigh (the leading edge of the seat squab was pressing up and just behind the knee joint) just not feeling comfortable enough to push the pedal in all the way without feeling as if my arms were too close to my body. The support from the wings of the seat is admirable and into hard corners holds the body in tight and that’s a plus. Seats wise, I’d like to see the crocodile skin style replaced with a more suave looking suede style plastic.
Holden’s spend on new architecture has paid off; a relocation of the window switches and central locking to the driver’s door, a new touch screen setup plus HSV’s addition of the EDI (Electronic Driver Interface) which provides a treasure trove of info such as G forces side to side or front to rear, race track info and stopwatch information, actual kilowatts and torque figures thanks to the fly by wire interface; it’s intuitive, user friendly and supplies the kind of info a driver likes to have. There’s also the HUD, Head Up Display, providing an eye level (and height adjustable) information source including the aforementioned G forces, revs, and speed. It’s handy and well placed. Other fun stuff comes in the form of the Forward Collision Alert (FCA) and Side Blind Zone Alert (SBZA), which uss side facing sensors to warn of vehicles at the rear and side of the car that may not be clearly seen in the rear vision mirrors. There’s a reverse park camera as standard, the parking assist system (uses the sensors to measure and read a parking space) plus the hidden Hill Start Assist and Hill Hold Control (HSA/HHC) which applies a touch of brake to hold the car before moving off. Music wise there’s a Bose audio system powered and accessed via the eight inch touchscreen, with satnav and internet radio apps Pandora and Stitcher plus there’s a voice interactive setup alongside Bluetooth music streaming.
Body mods on the ClubSport aren’t as “in yer face” as the VE based models; a restyled front bumper locates the LED running lights closer to the top of the corner mounted vents, which themselves are more of a functional look and feel. The hawkeye look headlights have the internal blackout colouring and the side vent insert is a matt black, rather than the chrome on a Commodore. At the rear it’s subtle, with a smaller rear wing (a bigger one is an option), LED taillights and restyled rear apron. It’s still a matter of taste regards the look as the quad exhaust tips poke through the matt black plastic but are separated by a colour coordinated (test car was Heron white) V strip. It’s a better look than before but a subjective one. Of note is the shark’s fin radio aerial which, at speed and on a rainy day, funnels a stream of water directly down the middle of the rear window, making the rear vision mirror useless in seeing vehicles behind and there’s also no airflow to clear the side mirrors of precipitation either. The bonnet is now aluminuim and with that comes a small yet vital change; there’s only one gas strut required to keep it up. There’s a subtle restyling to the grille as well.
On The Road
The combination of a lightish clutch, a smoothish gear lever movement and more torque than a chat show means the ClubSport is a doddle to get off the line. Acceleration is pushed back in your seat rapid, with the first couple of gears snatched quicker than a wallet by a pickpocket as the ClubSport reels in the horizon. Whilst you’re peeling your eyeballs off the back of your skull, your ears are reverberating with the bass notes produced by that superb exhaust. Freeway speeds come up with indecent haste (HSV quotes 5.0 seconds to 100 km/h) but it’s the seamless delivery of torque that excites; at Bathurst’s Mt Panorama it was almost possible to climb up through the Esses in no lower than fourth. Around town in sixth it’s barely off idle and will pull away with a touch of drivetrain vibration quite comfortably with nary a hint of road noise via the Continental tyres at 255 and 275/35/20s front and rear. The ride is superb; the ClubSport comes with HSV’s MRC (Magnetic Ride Control, see here: http://www.hsv.com.au/gen-f/feel/performance-technology/) with three settings: Touring, Sport and Performance. Touring turns off the bi-modal exhaust and gives a smooth, firm and flat ride. Sport and Performance up the ante, sharpening the response of the steering, firming the ride yet without crashing through potholes or speedbumps and opens up the exhaust. One would expect the hardest setting to provide the hardest ride yet it simply ignores road imperfections. Steering is three fingers light, with the electrically assisted steering wonderfully weighted; it’s full of feedback, telling the driver exactly where they’re going whilst the grip levels from the European Continental tyres pair up with the traction control to allow a measure of spin before the fun police step in. All of this can be monitored via the EDI, it is not recommended doing so in traffic even with the front collision alarm engaged…Thankfully, at Bathurst, although a full lap wasn’t permissible due to track work, the ClubSport could be given some room to stretch its considerable legs and was not found wanting.
Just a few days before I picked up the V8 powered HSV ClubSport R8 Enhanced, it was announced that the new Commodore model, in a couple of years (think 2016), would more than likely not have a V8 engine in the range. It’s also been rumoured that the V8 Supercars will have a named change of sorts as they investigate other engine alternatives. Could it be that future generations will only know of and hear the thunderous soundtrack that is a bare chested, muscle flexing V8 via whatever audio and video means will be available in ten, twenty, fifty or more years? George Lucas was quoted as saying, about watching a movie, that sound was half of the experience. A well balanced surround sound system has clear highs, a defined middle range and bass that kicks you in the guts while subsonically curling hairs. The ClubSport with the bi-modal exhaust, that source of so much aural pleasure, is what we stand to lose alongside its brethren such as the GTS. That spine tingling sensation of sound along with the neck bending acceleration that a ball tearing V8 offers is in true and real danger of being a museum piece. Priced at $76285 + on roads, the R8 Enhanced delivers an almost surreal, brain altering experience; it’ll pull Superman’s cape off while being almost gentle enough for Nan to wander off to Bingo at a price that leaves Euro rivals gasping. But at well over twenty grand more than the Holden SS V Redline edition, with 517Nm and 260kW I have to ask, is it worth it? If only for that sound, then the answer is yes.