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Car reviews - HSV - E Series 2 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, handling and ride, Competition ESC and Launch Mode for the track and licence-saving Extended Cruise Control to get there
Room for improvement
Lack of spare wheel as standard, standard VE issues of thick A-pillars and small side mirrors

HSV logo22 Sep 2009

By PHILIP LORD

PLENTY of ‘Series 2’ cars have represented only a once-over-lightly of the previous model, but the HSV E Series 2 is not one of them.

For a start, it is hard to miss the E Series 2’s new looks. While the E2’s new nose and tail treatment may not satisfy everyone, for the most part it is a well-executed design change that clearly separates the HSV range from Holden’s hot Commodores.

You do not have to be an enthusiast to pick the differences any more, and importantly for HSV, you do not have to be an enthusiast to like them.

Maybe the E Series 2 does not look like an instant Audi S, BMW M or Mercedes Benz AMG alternative, but for about $60k-$80k, not much else provides HSV’s bang for buck.

To reiterate the potency of the HSV range, HSV sent us on a meandering drive through the Yarra Valley – with Winton Raceway as our destination. The easy and slow road loop showed the new model to be a comfortable, lazy cruiser, although the optional 20-inch wheels and performance suspension on the ClubSport R8 felt a little hard when belting down patchy back roads.

Lugging along in sixth gear allowed us to play with the new cruise control. It unobtrusively reigned in speed creep with the smoothness and subtlety of a career diplomat, saving us from the ever-present and pernicious VicPol radars.

When a slow meanderer needed to be dispatched on a long straight, the 6.2-litre LS3 did not need much encouragement to economise on its use of wrong side of the road. The baritone bark of the new bi-model exhaust system made itself known here too, with none of the vibration and droning that seems to constantly dog most customised exhaust systems

While the 6.2-litre V8 will lug along in top gear, rev its heart out or anything you like in between, the six-speed manual does not exactly hold the promise of whip-crack gearchanges at first acquaintance. Yet get to trust it, and ignore its feigned balkiness, and you will not need to wait for long between orders of bulk kilowatts to the rear wheels. The seemingly slow-changing gearbox somehow can be prodded into fairly quick changes.

On the track, the GTS, with its optional six-piston calliper brake set-up and standard Magnetic Ride Control, was clearly a sharper track-day tool than the ClubSport R8 sedan that we also sampled.

The GTS’s power gain is hard to pick, but the optional brake package is fairly obvious for its better bite.

Yet the ClubSport R8 acquitted itself well, with good balance. Of course ‘balance’ is a relative term for a big, heavy car on such a tight track, but the HSVs held tight lines prescribed by someone who would not know a racing line if they fell over it. Ultimately, understeer was a trap.

The ClubSport and GTS both seemed to entreat you to drive more smoothly and pick a better line. The Competition Mode also proved that even a driver whose skill is best described as average can be made to look talented. That is, of course, until the HSV race drivers at the track did hot laps in the cars to show how it was supposed to be done.

Competition Mode is no competition on that front, but tellingly, even the race drivers could achieve better lap times using this mode rather than the standard ESC mode.

The race-track experience not only highlighted the excellent dynamics of the new HSV range but also the persistent VE design flaw of thick A-pillars. We all know that Holden says this offers better crash safety, but it comes at the cost of vision, especially in tight corners.

The bolstered front seats curiously seemed a little flat on first sitting, but laps of the track proved beyond doubt their ability to keep you planted.

We also got to sample launch mode at Winton. The ability to get away cleanly and quickly for sprints or time trials is a bonus. As for road use, perhaps it’s like the low-range transmission in an urban-use four-wheel drive – it will probably will not – or should not - be used by many owners.

A big sedan that looks good and that has the ability to devour big long stretches of Aussie highway at a comfortable lope just as easily as it shaves lap times on the track for half the price of the top-shelf hi-po Euros is a heady mix. The new E Series 2 might be a bit big and boofy for some, but benefits of the refinements in styling, features and engineering in this latest evolution of HSV’s E Series are hard to ignore.

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