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Car reviews - HSV - ClubSport - LS3 V8 range

Our Opinion

We like
Strong engine, rorty exhaust note, good ride and handling balance, looks different to Commodore range
Room for improvement
Lumpy idle, dated display, some plastics below par, minimal change to engine performance, automatic could be better

HSV logo13 May 2008

By JAMES STANFORD

ANYONE expecting a 200cc increase to dramatically improve the performance of the HSV range will be disappointed.

The 6.2-litre LS3 engine is a great powerplant, but an initial test drive reveals it is not all that different to the 6.0-litre LS2 it replaces.

That is not a bad thing. After all, the LS2 has plenty of punch and is quite fuel efficient given its awesome performance.

It would be interesting to see how much different the LS3 would be compared to the LS2 if HSV was able to realise its full potential.

While power is up by 10kW, the torque has been capped at 550Nm, lower than the output of the engine when it serves in the Corvette in the US. This was done to protect the automatic transmission and rear differential of the HSV cars.

Maybe that extra torque would have made the upgrade more noticeable. Still, a Commodore-based HSV is still able to pull a 0-100km/h time of just 4.7 seconds, according to its own figures, so no-one can accuse it of being a slug.

The 6.2-litre LS3 is pretty torquey already.

Unlike the 5.7-litre LS1, which had to be revved hard to get anywhere in a hurry, the LS3 can kick hard low in the rev range all the way through to the engine cut-off.

You can also pick a gear, any gear, and the LS3 will just pull away. It proves, to an extent, that "there is no replacement for displacement".

GoAuto tested the LS3 at the national launch just out of Perth. It was enough for a light sample of the cars, but the limited kilometers and the open nature of the roads meant we were unable to truly test the engine's capability.

The only place you can really do that is on a racetrack, but a road with lots of tight corners and opportunities for acceleration would also allow you to comprehensively explore the engine's wide powerband.

The LS3 delivers a wonderful growl at all points of the rev range, which builds to a menacing howl from around 4000 revs onwards.

In the long-wheelbase Grange, the exhaust is a little more sedate, but all of the cars are loud and gruff, both when running at low engine speed or when pushed hard.

The LS3 is quite lumpy at idle. This is either good or bad depending on what you want from your prestige muscle car. Sitting at the lights, you can feel the big V8 wobble and shake the whole car.

This issue is largely due to a more aggressive camshaft profile and the lowering the idle from 800rpm to 650rpm to save fuel.

Some performance car fans won't mind, in fact a lot like it and feel that such a trait is part and parcel of big and brawny eight-cylinder machine.

Others, especially those who are looking at the more luxurious Senator or Grange might, not appreciate the 'hippy-hippy shake' a characteristic that would never be tolerated in a German luxury vehicle that HSV says are its competitors.

The manual gearbox is quite good given the power and torque characteristics of the cars. Its clutch is relatively light compared to the hefty pedal of the past and the gears are easy to select.

The automatic transmission has been improved and it is a reasonably good gearbox. It changes are not shorter and the gearbox can be more intuitive than before when put into sport mode.

Still, customers will compare this gearbox to the ZF six-speed available in the potent Ford models, which shows-up the HSV box. The HSV auto does not change gears as smoothly or as quickly as the ZF and is also not as intuitive.

For example, in some cases when you press the throttle considerably hard, the HSV transmission will drop down a gear, pause and then shift down another. In the same conditions, you would expect the ZF to judge the throttle input and simply drop down two gears.

Mind you, if you didn't know of the ZF auto and how good it was, this automatic would be good enough.

Both the manual and automatic versions of the LS3 returned relatively respectable fuel consumption figures. On the launch, figures displayed on trip computers suggested the cars used around 14 to 15 litres per 100km, which is largely in line with the official figures.

Given the cars are generally given a good work-out on launches, owners can expect to better these figures. Consumers are likely to demand better fuel consumption as fuel prices bite, but the economy of the LS3 is impressive given the sheer potency of the engine.

HSV has managed to do a very good job with the damping of its cars too. Whether it is one of the models with regular damping or one of the premium models with the magnetic dampers (GTS, Senator and Grange), the balance of handling and comfort is very good.

Most of the cars on the launch were fitted with massive 20-inch rims and tyres with such a low side profile that they look like rubber bands, so expectations were not high.

Even so, the cars remained quite composed over many of the bumps, but the aggressive low-profile tyres were no so good when it came to noise, with a fair amount of roar making it into the cabin in most models.

To be fair, the roads we tested the cars on were unfamiliar and had a coarse-chip surface, so we will have to wait for a local test to determine how load the tyres really are. On some of these roads the tyres made particular high-pitched noise and a small vibration that passed through the steering wheel. Again, this could be due to particular surfaces.

There was some wind-noise evident around the A-pillar, which spoiled a relatively quiet interior. The long-wheelbase Grange felt much quieter than the short-wheelbase sedans and the Maloo ute, but some wind-noise also stood out.

The steering of these cars, especially with 20s fitted, is excellent. Slight inputs can determine the exact position of the car on the road. The steering has been well weighted and there is enough resistance to avoid any nervousness, but you still don't have to be a complete he-man to haul it around.

There might be a lot of attention on the FG Falcon at the moment, but it is also nice to have a reminder of how well the VE Commodore and its variants steer and handle. But the arrival of the new Ford also reveals weak points of the HSV range.

The central information display which shows controls for the heater and the sound system, as well as the info display in the instrument cluster, now look decidedly dated compared to the FG Falcon's system.

The instrument cluster reads look chunky and old, like some kind of 1980s computer font in comparison, while the central info screen is not as crisp and the resolution is not as good as the system available in the XR6 Turbo Falcon – a considerably cheaper car than any HSV.

Some of the interior surfaces are letting the interior down a bit - some of the panels and the plastic used look a bit cheap. There is nothing wrong with the seats though: every model tested, from the Maloo through Grange, had super-comfortable seats, with supportive side bolsters.

The interior fabric quality was also high in all models, but one thing you notice from the driver's seat of any HSV is just how chunky the A-pillars are. This is the same as the donor Commodore and now stands out more given the new Falcon has quite narrow A-pillars. You especially notice this when turning right and the pillar obscures a very large section of the road.

One thing HSVs always have going for them is the way they can be quickly and easily distinguished from a Commodore SS. The aggressive front-end is one thing, but the unique lights at the back of both sedans and the Maloo ute really make the cars stand out.

The unique tail-light surround and especially the ringed stop-lights are an example of making HSV owners feel far more special than those who have saved some pennies and bought an SS.

Some might not like the look of the Maloo, but no-one can argue that it looks like nothing else on the road. It just looks so mean.

Fitting 20-inch rims is also another way to make the HSVs stand out, as they add another dose of testosterone. The rims look great from the side, while the 8.5-inch rear tyres also appear very wide from the back, but buyers should be aware that the spokes of both the 19 and 20-inch rims actually protrude, ever so slightly, past the tyres, which means they are easy to scratch on kerbs and the like.

The new LS3 engine doesn't deliver huge gains, but it is a bit stronger than its predecessor and is a nice, torquey engine, reminding us of just how good the E-Series HSV cars really are.

The only question now is how will the new HSV engine will compare to the soon-to-be-released Boss V8 and slingshot Turbo I6 from FPV.

Stay tuned.

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