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Car reviews - HSV - E Series 3 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Raw performance, fun factor, optional blind-spot warning system, big-car comfort, latest driver data gadgetry, seamless dual-fuel operation of the LPI option
Room for improvement
Still heavy at the bowser, drive-line snatch in manual models, hefty price of LPI option

HSV logo22 Sep 2010

By RON HAMMERTON

MOST of the best things in the automotive realm involve brains, not brawn.

The latest case in point is Holden Special Vehicles’ big – and undeniably brawny – Commodore-based E-Series range that has just been given its third spruce up since its original launch in 2006.

This latest facelift – the second in a year – eschews the power increases and flamboyant body-work gestures that have often defined the brand, instead focusing on refinement and those tactile elements of the driving experience that mean a lot more to owners day-to-day than an extra 10kW at the red line, which even engineers working on these cars every day have trouble discerning without the aid of a dyno.

Let’s face it – who needs more than 325kW of power and 550Nm of torque from a thumping 6.2-litre V8 on our roads, apart than those wanting the dubious thrill of telling mates about it over a business lunch?

Even in a racetrack environment, where we – along with Holden Racing Team drivers Garth Tander and Will Davison – gave the fresh range a jolly good thrashing this week, the HSV E-Series 3 is hardly short of wallop.

Whether the venerable Chevrolet Corvette LS3 pushrod engine will be able to match Ford Performance Vehicles’ all-new quad-cam supercharged ‘Miami’ 5.0-litre V8, which is said to boast 335kW of power, remains to be seen.

Within a couple of years, HSV will probably go ‘snap’ with General Motors’ all-new small-block V8 that is under development at huge cost in the depths of the Detroit’s Warren technical centre, anyway.

But it was instructive to hear from the aforementioned Tander, who basically has the pick of the HSV E-Series bunch for his daily drive, confide in a quiet moment at the track that for his next car, he is leaning towards the sports-luxury Senator model rather than the hard-edged GTS that he has been driving.

This Senator is fitted with the lesser HSV engine that produces ‘just’ 317kW, as opposed to the premium 325kW unit of the GTS and, now, Grange.

If the two-time Bathurst winner and 2007 V8 Supercar champion is not worried about a smidge less grunt, why should mere mortals?

It was also interesting to hear his take on the new electronics gizmo now fitted to all models in the E3 range – the so-called Enhanced Driver Interface (EDI) system.

Taking advantage of Holden’s move to upgrade to touch-screen technology in the VE Series II Commodore, HSV has advanced it a whole step further with a plethora of data functions to lift driver interactivity with their car to unprecedented levels.

As Tander commented, the data traces of G-forces, brake and throttle position, circuit lap times and myriad other techo stuff that can not only be accessed on the in-car screen but also downloaded via a USB stick on to a computer for hours of trainspotting fun, is essentially what he and his engineers use in the V8 Supercar pits to hone their performance.

And not surprising, really, as the EDI system was developed in a joint venture between in-car race data equipment specialist MoTec and HSV engineers, many of whom have race team experience.

The impressive graphics were also done in-house at HSV, and they, like the functionality, are world beating. Only Nissan’s GTR can boast anything close, and HSV’s system is brilliantly thought through.

Will it turn you into Garth Tander? We doubt it. This is basically a toy to enhance the fun of owning an HSV product, especially for enthusiastic members of HSV clubs with access to track days.

The system could, however, make for scary driving in the wrong hands. GoAuto questions the wisdom of displaying data such as extreme G-forces in real time on a screen near the top of the centre console in full view of the driver.

HSV encourages safe driving, but it seems just a matter of time before some genius tries to set a personal G-force record while watching the screen instead of the corner, with disastrous consequences. Like TV screens in view of the driver, such functions are likely to attract attention from the dour, grey-suited naysayers in Canberra before too long.

The system is, however, surprisingly easy to use, with 11 screens to scroll through using a button on the steering wheel.

HSV says most drivers will settle on one or two favourite data screen displays during their daily commute, and this was also our experience on the launch drive program.

As the audio and sat-nav (the latter now standard across the range) also share the touchcreen in the new-look dash, many will just be happy to know all those other functions are there just in case they get the call up from HRT to race at Bathurst one day.

These owners will, however, be able to admire the fresh interior layout with its mix of piano black and other contemporary finishes, redesigned console and machined aluminium model label that now graces every car.

Without a doubt, it lifts the HSV short-wheelbase E Series models to new heights of elegance and functionality, although it is all rather busy in its disparate design elements.

And don’t worry, even though drivers can conjure up various ‘gauges’ on the digital touchscreen, HSV designer Julian Quincey has retained the traditional three-gauge binnacle atop the console at, apparently, the insistence of HSV managing director Phil Harding.

The exception to the new-look dash at HSV is the luxury long-wheelbase Grange, which retains the old, simpler – and increasingly dated – look with the low-set screen.

The more performance oriented models, the GTS and ClubSport R8, both get a new rear spoiler that blocks less of the rear view.

This revised spoiler is called ‘Smoothflow’, but really, the wing has simply been made flatter to improve driving safety, and quite rightly too.

On the road, the ClubSport R8 that we sampled was no different in its prodigious competency than the previous version.

The ride is pleasantly firm, leather-clad sports seats snug and performance eye-watering, in a big-iron way. Only the brave or clinically insane would chance their arm by turning off the nanny electronics that control the potentially tyre-smoking excesses of the big V8, especially on the drizzle-slick roads we travelled.

The bi-model exhaust, which provides a bypass to one of the mufflers at certain engine speeds, makes itself abundantly evident when the engine note turns from booming to roaring in an instant under soaring revs. Oh yes.

This system can be fiddled or even turned off using the new EDI system, in case, as one HSV man put it, you wish to sneak home late at night.

On the down side, the old-style rear-drive driveline snatch of the manual models we sampled needs to be addressed sooner or later, maybe with a European-style auto paddle shifter mated to the new GM V8 at the next major makeover…

Two of the more meaningful changes to the E3 can be found on the options list. One of them, the so-called Side Blind Zone Alert – a blind-spot warning system – should be compulsory on all cars.

Using similar Bosch ultrasonic sensors to those used in parking sensors, this $1990 system works remarkably well, with tiny but effective red LED lights mounted on the dash near the base of the A-pillars to catch the peripheral vision of the driver should a car creep up into the dangerous rear three-quarter blind spot.

We tested it on busy Melbourne roads and came away impressed. It even has sensors on either side of the car at the front so that the lights do not illuminate unnecessarily should you, for example, be passing a parked car, fence or chunk of street furniture.

Unlike more expensive radar systems employed by some European manufacturers, this system can be an extension of the parking sensor system. Yep, a good example of HSV brains, not brawn.

Another is the Australian-first Liquid Propane Injection (LPI) dual-fuel system co-developed with Aussie company Orbital – a welcome advance for a brand whose models that rarely return better than 10 litres per 100km on the highway or south of 20L/100km around town.

This $$5990 option ($6390 for the Maloo) starts the car on petrol, cruises on cheap LPG drawn from a standard Holden LPG boot-mounted tank, and when the going gets willing, switches back over to petrol from about 4000rpm all the way to paradise.

Reverting to petrol at the top end of the rev range is said to be about durability of the valves, not performance, as petrol provides better lubrication of the valve seats. In fact, HSV chief engineer Joel Stoddart reckons testing of liquid LPG at high revs revealed just as much poke.

We could not pick the difference between the pure petrol and dual-fuel LPG cars within the track environment, with seamless changeovers between the fuels and utterly identical performance. And, neither could HRT’s Will Davison, who said he did not even realise he was giving hot-lap rides in an LPG car. There goes that ‘taxi’ tag for LPG.

With a 1000km-plus range at highway speeds, there are plenty of good reasons to consider this option, although the upfront cost takes a bit of swallowing.

When oil prices go through the roof in future – as they surely must – the wisdom of this move by HSV may well become apparent. Basically, it is insurance for Australia’s biggest big-bore brand.

Again, it is about brains, not mere brawn.

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