Car reviews - HSV - ClubSport - R8 sedan
Looks, grunt, handling, practicality
Room for improvement
Thirst, baulky gearchange
10 May 2001
HSV's Clubsport R8 is a stealth bomber of sorts - or perhaps it would be if it were not for the meaty burble from the exhaust.
The latest incarnation of HSV's road rocket is a potent, finely balanced machine that is virtually everything a musclecar should be.
In VX guise, the R8 gains an angular look that sets it apart more clearly from the lesser Holden Commodore SS - and this was no coincidence.
HSV stylist Ian Callum was issued with a directive to endow the new lineup with the latest European-inspired Edge styling.
This was partly driven by the need to make it look more radical than the Holden Commodore SS, which looks stunning in VX guise.
The overall result is pleasing. Clubsport R8 has a menacing yet tasteful visual presence.
In lieu of the teardrop-shaped headlights used on the SS, the Clubsport's face is adorned by sharp-edged lamps borrowed from the Berlina/Calais.
Nestling between the headlights is a similarly sharp-edged twin-nostril grille.
The angular theme extends to the aggressive-looking chin spoiler, which houses a pair of massive air intakes - with silver painted surrounds - and round driving lights.
It is fair to say the desired result has been achieved. The Clubsport R8 has the sort of face that makes other drivers move over as soon as they see you looming in their rear-view mirror.
The flanks are not left untouched either - they gain nicely sculpted skirts bearing Clubsport badging.
The rear styling treatment is similarly aggressive. The rear bumper/valance features a striking cutout, in which resides a mesh grille.
Twin chromed tailpipes protrude menacingly through a cutout in the bottom left corner of the bumper assembly, while an elaborate wing sits atop the bootlid.
The aesthetic appeal of the fussy looking wing is debatable - some people will like it and some won't.
Rounding off the visual upgrades is a striking set of 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels shod with beefy Bridgestone rubber.
The cosmetic modifications are sufficient to set the car apart from the Commodore SS and at least partly justify the price premium the HSV offering commands.
So much for the show, how does it go?
Well, it would not be an exaggeration to say it goes like the proverbial substance off a shiny digging device.
HSV has waved its magic wand over the alloy 5.7-litre V8 LS1 engine and the net result is that power and torque have been upped to 255kW at 5600rpm and 475Nm at 4000rpm. This compares with outputs of 250kW and 473Nm for the outgoing model.
The slight power and torque increase is the result of a high-volume inlet manifold, new fuel injectors and new PCM software.
Apart from the improvements in peak power and torque, driveability is also better than before.
Perhaps one of the key upgrades - at least as far as die-hard enthusiasts are concerned - is the introduction of a new low back-pressure rear muffler that endows the R8 with a more sporty exhaust note.
Gone is the flat sounding note that emanated from the tailpipes of the old Clubsport, replaced instead by an altogether more macho growl.
More importantly, the R8's straight-line performance qualifies it as a genuine supercar.
HSV claims the 1706kg sedan can accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds and cover the standing 400m in 13.9 seconds.
Equally impressive to the car's out-and-out performance is the abundance of torque on tap at virtually any speed.
Squeezing into gaps in traffic requires little more than a twitch of the right toes and a tweak of the four-spoke steering wheel.
Overtaking is similarly simple: just tromp on the loud pedal and watch that semi-trailer recede in your mirror.
And the baritone bellow from the tailpipes provides marvelous musical accompaniment anytime your right foot gets a bit weighty.
Be warned though, you will pay dearly at the fuel pump if you overindulge the lead-footed antics. But that is a fair price to pay for such good, clean fun.
The only weak link in the drivetrain is the recalcitrant six-speed gearbox, which does its best to hamper your slick-shifting endeavours.
Throws between ratios measure almost an arm length and shift quality is also abominable.
You learn to live with the gearbox after a while, but it detracts from what is otherwise an accomplished driver's car.
Given the Clubsport R8's ballistic straight-line performance, it is just as well the chassis is thoroughly well sorted.
In VX guise, the R8 gains revised suspension settings designed to deliver sharper handling and a more compliant ride. The car's cornering capabilities are truly awesome for a relatively heavy sedan.
No doubt, part of the credit must go to the sticky Bridgestone 235/40ZR18 tyres. Pushing the car hard through corners reveals sharp turn-in and near neutral handling characteristics.
Switch the traction control off and it is possible to virtually steer the car with the throttle. In other words, you can induce power oversteer slides that are predictable and controllable.
The same cannot be said for the Holden Commodore SS, which does as not feel as responsive and finely balanced as its HSV cousin.
Of course, not many Clubsport owners will be inclined to test the outer limits of the car's handling, but those that venture out for occasional track days will certainly appreciate its poise and balance.
Stopping power is also up to the mark and the huge discs (330mm front, 315mm rear) pull the car up faithfully even after repeated hard applications. The standard anti-lock system boosts confidence levels, particularly in wet conditions.
Overall refinement levels are beyond reproach, given that the Clubsport is an overtly sporting sedan.
Ride quality is firm, but it rarely becomes uncomfortable, even when traversing gravel roads and suburban speed humps.
Wind and road noise are similarly well suppressed, allowing the driver to revel in the burble of the big V8.
The sporting theme of the Clubsport is reflected by the interior, the centerpiece of which are the sculpted sports seats embroidered with the HSV logo.
Apart from being comfortable, the seats also do a fine job of keeping the occupants from being tossed around when the car is being driven exuberantly.
The driver is faced by a leather-bound four-spoke steering wheel, behind which lurks traditional white-on-black instrumentation bearing the HSV logo.
The dash and centre console surround are coated in a silver powder finish that helps differentiate the car from its lesser Commodore siblings.
Tickford has been more creative in decking out the interiors of its FTe range, but the HSV's cabin is still a pleasant place to be.
Overall, the HSV Clubsport R8 is a consummate sports sedan. It goes, stops and corners like a sports car, yet offers virtually the same practicality as a Holden Commodore Executive.
One may argue that the R8 represents a sizeable price premium over the Holden Commodore SS - which, incidentally, is no slouch - but there is no doubting the cachet of the HSV badge.
There is also no doubting the sheer grunt and finely balanced handling of the Clubsport R8.
FTes TE50 is a worthy rival but the Blue Oval's performance marque currently suffers from a lack of brand identity.
All things considered - including resale values - HSV's barnstormer appeals to both the heart and head.
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