Car reviews - HSV - ClubSport - R8 Tourer LSA
Outrageous blown V8, wagon practicality, versatile ride, strong brakes
Room for improvement
Fuel consumption, tall wide gearing, muted soundtrack
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14 Oct 2015
WHATEVER your feeling is on Holden, there is something to admire about the Commodore. There are not many models that have a range of such beefy engines, that the smallest is a 3.0-litre V6.
But that creates an ironic problem for HSV. When the top of the range Commodore SS already has 6.2-litres of V8 under its hood, where do you turn for an even faster and more powerful donk?The answer is simple – a sixth-generation Eaton R Series supercharger that displaces the same capacity as the entire engine in an average mid-sized sedan.
With the 400kW General Motors LSA 6.2-litre unit, HSV has given all variants but the Grange (the GTS gets an even more powerful tune of the LSA) a new lease of life and performance to respect, but more about that later.
Our test car was the boot-boosted Touring which has all of the equipment and performance of the Clubsport R8 LSA but with an added dose of practicality and, we think, an even more appealing look.
Choosing the Touring is rather like getting to the end of the all-you-can-eat buffet, realising you have filled your plate with fried chicken, dim sims and chips, and then balancing a handful of salad on top so you don't look too bad on your way back to the table.
There is no doubt the wagon of the range certainly adds a good dose of practicality, but lets be honest – no one walks into an HSV showroom because they are after a sensible car.
People buy big V8 powered Australian-made cars because they are prepared to sacrifice a little in the way of practicality for something that feels brutish.
If the Commodore was a toffee mallet, the new R8 would be a sledgehammer.
At idle, the beefy V8 makes a comforting rumble, which can be increased in volume by shifting the Driver Preference Dial to either Sport or Performance, but that volume falls away disappointingly when off idle – perhaps in the name of noise regulations.
However, if the accelerator is kept buried, the bi-modal exhaust system and variable inlet tract change their mind again just beyond 4000 rpm and the accompanying soundtrack is demonic – almost V8 Supercar-like.
With all the windows closed, the volume of the wagon boot amplifies the sonorous quartet of tailpipes, while the supercharger sings soprano. We loved the combination of real exhaust note and induction whine but would have liked a little more at all engine speeds.
Particularly as the HSV's six-speed automatic transmission has such wide gear ratios combined with a very long-legged differential. The result is a transmission that lends itself to high-speed cruising but with frustrating ratios.
Full acceleration in first is strong but before the engine has barely entered the 4200rpm sweet spot with a sensational gasp from the supercharger, noticeably more acceleration and noise, most speed limits had been exceeded or were getting perilously close.
We would gladly sacrifice some revs when on the freeway to push the gears closer together for a more involving experience.
The LSA engine has bags of torque and making progress is not a problem regardless of engine speed, but we would have liked more choice whether to use its low-down torque or higher-rev power.
After finding a remote road in the Victorian country to stretch the ClubSport's long legs, we were surprised to discover a chassis that is compliant and comfortable over some of Australia's typical variable roads, but also resistant to roll, and sporty when pushed through corners.
It may be a big, heavy car, but the R8 can be thrown around with confidence and responds with impressive lateral grip even when pushed hard.
With 671Nm of torque sent to the back wheels at 4500rpm, a gentle foot is required but with such a long wheelbase and a suspension set-up perfectly tuned for Australian roads, the HSV is predictable and forgiving.
Most manufacturers are capable of making a large car go fast but some neglect the all-important area of slowing down again – not HSV though. The R8's massive AP Racing four-pot callipers are a highpoint.
Brake pedal feel is granite solid, progressive and vitally confidence-inspiring when piloting a big car through technical sections of road. Hugely expensive carbon-ceramic systems are cutting edge, but HSV proves that more traditional tech can be excellent too.
Not only did our test car look muscular, imposing and head-turning on the outside, its red and black leather interior nicely matched the Sting Red paint.
The deeply concave seats provided excellent support and a comfy spot for carving up canyon roads or gliding along interstate highways.
We couldn't detect a huge difference between the switchable driving modes but the top Performance setting was perfectly livable for all driving styles.
So you get, looks, comfort, family-swallowing practicality, a rewarding chassis and lots and lots of power, so what's the catch? Well you don't get something for nothing and the R8's Achilles heel is its appetite for petrol.
Before embarking on our trip of varying driving styles from freeway to freestyle we reset the trip computer and when we returned the mighty wagon the figure was... well let's just say it was under 20 litres per 100 kilometres.
But the ClubSport R8 Tourer LSA is priced from $85,990 before on-road costs and to get even close to its package of performance and practicality but with greater efficiency, you would be spending more than double – if you could find an alternative at all.
And anyway, Australian petrol prices are still about the same as milk, so consider filling up your 6.2-litre supercharged hunk of Aussie muscle just another “essential” on your weekly grocery list.
The R8 is a simple, mechanical and honest approach to high-performance. Other manufacturers may apply more advanced and sophisticated methods of achieving the same results on paper, saving fuel in the process, but none of the alternatives have the same theatrics of an HSV.
While almost all other manufacturers tirelessly pursue ever more efficiency and increasing mileage from each drop of fuel, HSV is the antithesis.
For petrol-heads and ourselves included, there is something utterly loveable about that.
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