It’s safe to say that the Gen-F2 HSV range will go out with a bang and a half when their supplier, Holden, ceases local manufacturing of the Commodore in 2017. With the entry level sedan, the R8 ClubSport, packing 400 kilowatts and a massive 671 Newton metres of torque, there’s subtlety and brutality in equal measure to be found by the discerning driver.Hiding, or perhaps more correctly, lurking, under the lightweight aluminuim bonnet, is 6.2 litres of the General’s latest alloy blocked Gen 4 V8, complete with a supercharger. In this car, it sits ahead of a Tremec six speed manual transmission, with enough clutch pedal required to test but not wear out the left leg. The gear selector movement is a delight, clicking through each ratio simply but with weight and under low throttle application, it’s easy to snick the lever along, with no feeling that you need to press against it to move.
The sledgehammer up front though, is a surprise and delight feature. It’s possible to have it as docile as a slumbering puppy but as cranky as a freshly wakened crocodile that’s missed out on his coffee. That peak torque is at a high 4200¬ but there’s plenty, oh there’s plenty of twist well below that. In suburban driving, it’s possible to pootle around, at 60 to 80 kmh, in fourth to fifth, with absolutely no indication of the engine stuttering because it’s straining against the ratios.
At even lower speeds, in fourth, it’s loping along yet a mere flex of the ankle has the R8 upping the speed level ante in an eyeblink. At freeway velocities, it’s possible to see under 2000 on the tacho and license losing, here’s your cell, sir, speeds just a few seconds later. At the blunt end is a quad tipped exhaust, linked to a switch just to the driver’s left in the centre console. Select Touring, and the sound is muffled, subtle in its V8ness. Twist it clockwise to select Sport or Performance and the note immediately deepens. Under acceleration and gearchange at 4000rpm, there’s a noise like Thor clearing his throat as he whirls Mjölnir, readying for battle. Thank you, bi-modal exhaust, for your thunderous appeal.
The downside is the fuel consumption; HSV quotes around 21L/100 km for the urban cycle, a figure certainly achievable due, simply, to the truly sensational surge of acceleration that engine offers and overwhelms common sense. A Wheel Thing’s varied driving style and locations had a final figure of 13.1L/100 km. For the manual, HSV says it’s a more reasonable 15.3L per 100 km on the combined cycle and 15.0L per 100 for the auto.
Although as potent as a fleet of battleships, the R8 really is a doddle to drive. In Touring, the steering has enough weight to connect the driver to the front end, but the next two modes increase the heft, the effort needed to twirl the somewhat too thin wheel. The clutch travel feels two stage, as in the initial part of the press has an easy progression before feeling as if it tightens up and squeezes before releasing. A little practice is all it took, before getting the procedure dialed in and becoming very quickly accustomed to the mechanism.Braking is looked after by HSV’s own setup, with red painted AP Racing four piston calipers at the front and four pots at the rear. The brake pedal has minimal travel before there’s positive feedback, with the driver confident of real power to stop the R8.
For a big car, at 4991 mm long and in the order of over 1800 kilos, it’s a wonderfully nimble beast. There’s a fairly tight turning circle of 11.4 metres, considering the front and rear track of 1616 mm and 1590 mm rides on HSV specific dampers which impart a firm, solid, yet surprisingly non harsh ride quality. The steering system has been calibrated to give a heavier feel, having the driver use more effort and supply a muscle car heft. The R8 will also change direction with alacrity but there’s always the sense of mass lurking in the background.
The exterior is possibly the most restrained we’ve seen from HSV. Taking the donor vehicle from Holden, there’s vents inserted into the bonnet, the new front bumper with LED driving lights sitting above a blacked out and globeless insert and the larger nostrils now familiar to HSV. Along each side are sill add-ons and the rear gains a simple spoiler, sitting just proud of the bootlip itself. Rubber is from Germany, with Continental supplying the grippy and large 255/35 and 275/35 x 20 inch alloys, in a moderate twin spoke design.The interior is also surprising in its subtlety, yet also the point where some more visual appeal would have been welcomed. The plastics need more punch, the electric seats (neither heated nor warmed, as far as A Wheel Thing could ascertain) have drab plastic (with not evening markings, like some, to indicate what the buttons actually do) on the side and look as exciting as something found on a ten year old Korean car. Although HSV eschews the ventral stripe in the squab the donor car has, with a red squab and plain black leather, there’s no real visual cut through. The dash has black velour only, some piping here would have helped.Entertainment wise, there’s Holden’s MyLink satnav system, with Pandora and Stitcher apps, a tab for the Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) which isn’t enabled in the R8 car, and an AM/FM only tuner, lacking DAB and a feature we probably won’t see before local manufacturing ceases in 2017. That’s a pity, as HSV has specified Bose as the speaker suppliers and they deserve a sound source capable of showing off their ability.
Being a large sedan, there’s cubic acres of leg space front and rear, a boot the Mafia would love (good for 496L), good vision all around and the usual assortment of hidden driver and safety supplements such as Forward Collision Alert, Blind Spot Alert, Park Assist and Hill Start Assist. The driver also gets the HUD, Head Up Display, which in A Wheel Thing’s opinion is one of the best around, with a clean look and great range of information available.
At The End Of the Drive.
The R8’s street appeal is the monster under the bonnet, and it’s not even the most powerful or most torquey engine available from HSV. The spread of that torque, the sheer usability of it and the not so troublesome once you get used to it clutch, genuinely make it an easier car than expected to drive. There’s plenty of urge to satisfy almost anyone’s need for speed, but at the cost of visiting the bowser more frequently, as the 71 litre tank gets drained quicker than Niagara Falls.
The interior lacks real presence, which, given it’s the place an owner will spend time, handballs the excitement factor back to the engine. It’s a responsive handler and stopper, as expected, looks good in the flesh and, sans R8 badge, would be a real sleeper in red light grands prix.
It’s a fantastic handler, with real communication back to the driver and is a better than anticipated ride, but again, the sell factor is that mammoth torque that makes this car one with and for the driver. At around the $80K price, it’s space shuttle ability for a box of fireworks price and does what it does well enough to make the price, if performance is your goal, outstanding value against the Europeans. Head to www.hsv.com.au to build your HSV.