Car reviews - HSV - GTS - sedan
Deep well of performance, cossetting suspension even in performance mode, easy to drive hard, priced well against Euro rivals
Room for improvement
Lots of drivetrain noise particularly in reverse, soundtrack is all exhaust and no induction, electric steering doesn’t quite feel right, rattles in cabin
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8 Oct 2013
Price and equipment
The GTS is the current hero of the Gen-F cars that are based on the VF-series Commodore.
Priced from $92,990, and a $30,000-plus premium over an entry-level ClubSport, it’s an emotional choice given the range of other, European luxury cars you could buy for the same money. We’re driving build number 16 of about 700 that will be made up to the end of next year, fitted with a six-speed manual transmission and only one no-cost optional extra, a black satin-look boot lid spoiler. A six-speed automatic transmission – without paddle shifters – adds $2500.
The equipment list is long, as you’d expect from the high cost of membership.
There’s sat-nav, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, keyless entry and start – and even remote starting on auto versions – dusk-sensing headlights and rain-sensing wipers, heated electric-adjust leather race buckets up front with lumbar support, leather-look dash with bespoke instrument cluster and extra console-mounted gauges including boost, and an entertainment system that streams internet audio from a smartphone connected via the Bluetooth system.
The car sits on 20-inch alloys, and that’s as big as they will ever go. The GTS needs them to ensure there is enough ground clearance for the tricky torque-vectoring diff that sits in between the wider rear hoops.
The HSV range also benefits from the Chevrolet-sourced technology that underpins the VF Commodore. As part of that, you get a self-parking system that takes control of the steering wheel, a forward collision alert system, a track day-friendly head-up display and lane departure warning.
You get a highly bespoke HSV, too. The LSA engine, supercharger and airbox all come out of the Chevrolet Camaro ZR1 performance car, as does the gearbox and the rear suspension system. The suspension and engine’s character also harden up at the twist of a centre console-mounted dial. Even the brake calipers – machined aluminium to save weight – are race-bred.
The car has a data logger so you can review your driving performance and improve on it. However, to do so you need to insert a USB key in a slot in the glovebox. A smartphone logging app allowing drivers to compare their laps in real time with others, and show where improvement is needed, would have been a better idea.
Notice the wee spoiler? The aluminium bootlid cannot support too much downforce, so the days of the lairy big rear wing have gone.
Most of the money you pay for the GTS is hidden away underneath the car, so HSV can be forgiven for scrimping a bit on the interior.
A lot of the switchgear is the same as an entry-level Commodore, which helps to identify the origins of the car. However, it has been pimped up to include carbon fibre-look plastic trim, suede-look material on the dash, and a faux leather cap on the instrument binnacle lid.
Other than that, the Commodore’s hard plastic interior abounds, including the odd rattle where something like a loose wire knocks against a door skin.
Not so the front seats. Slipping in behind the square-bottomed steering wheel reveals deep, comfortable and supportive pews with plenty of adjustment, helped by the reach-and-rake adjust column. The side bolsters on the squab are so firm that dropping too quickly into the seat and misjudging it slightly can be a painful experience.
The “EDI” interface that shows up on the big seven-inch LCD screen on the top of the dash displays all sorts of data such as pitch, yaw, wheelspin, braking and cornering forces, a digital dashboard that is better than the analogue dials in front of the driver, and more. It also shows the build number of the car on start-up – I’d prefer a badge, thanks.
The one big compromise with the GTS is boot space. Fitting the rear suspension from the Camaro has eaten into the boot, which has a much higher floor as a result. The GTS will still swallow plenty of luggage, but there is no room for a spare wheel. Instead, there’s an air pump and can of puncture sealant.
Engine and transmission
Up front is a 6.2-litre V8 producing 430kW of power and 700Nm of torque, making this the most powerful Australian production car ever.
In between its 90-degree-bent banks is an Eaton supercharger delivering 9psi of boost. That mates to a six-speed manual gearbox with a performance twin-plate clutch and pressure plate, sending drive to a heavy-duty rear diff.
The combination is explosive. Mash the accelerator pedal and the GTS explodes from a standing start, helped by a launch control system that holds the revs and rides the clutch like a formula one kart.
Acceleration is linear, building quickly and predictably and without the turbo rush that marks its European performance rivals. Fuel use is always going to be eyebrow-raising, but in reality, on a freeway run you can expect numbers in the low teens. On a spirited plast through the hills, expect the low 20s.
A big improvement in the Gen-F HSV range compared with the E-Series it replaces is driveability. The heavy, popping clutch pedal is now much lighter, making it better suited to commuting, and the engine will pull strongly from low revs in any gear. The old HSV manual needed the driver to grab it by the scruff of the neck, and driving it well was a tough ask. Now it is not.
The one big disappointment with the engine is the lack of noise from under the bonnet. There’s no supercharger whine at all, although the bass rumble from down the rear once the engine mapping unit is switched out of touring mode into sport is as pleasant a soundtrack as you’d ever want. OK, so superchargers can sound like a dentist’s drill, but isn’t it what this car is all about?
Ride and handling
This is where the GTS excels. The car sits on suspension tuned on the fly using four magnetic shock absorbers. When the magnet switches on, iron filings in the shock absorbers cluster together and slow down the flow of oil, stiffening them up and improving handling.
The GTS’s trick, though, is that while cornering ability improves markedly, ride quality doesn’t. Even on its stiffest setting, the GTS will drive with luxury-car feel, keeping road noise to a minimum and absorbing all the lumps and bumps of a rough road with little or no fuss.
Also helping things is that big, heavy diff down the rear. In corners, it will send more drive to the outside wheel to help twist the GTS through the apex and cancel out the lead-tipped arrow tendency to understeer as the car’s nose runs wide. The scary thing, though, is it needs throttle application to work properly. That means once you sense the big, supercharged V8 is pulling the GTS offline, roll on more throttle. It takes a bit of reverse psychology to trust the system, but the difference in cornering speed is noticeable.
The brakes, too, have incredible depth and stand up to repeated punishment. The only blight is the steering, which even when in sports mode feels a little too light and unnatural considering the 1800kg-plus heft of the GTS.
Dawdling along on a commute and in touring mode, the GTS’s ride and handling is as good as any European luxury car.
Safety and servicing
As well as all the Chevrolet-sourced driver aids, the HSV range comes with the Commodore’s suite of six airbags. It also carries across the top five-star crash rating.
HSV offers capped-price servicing across its range for the first four service intervals or three years, costing from $220. It is backed up by a three-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty.
Given that this could be the last locally designed, engineered and built HSV to wear the coveted GTS badge, it is a fitting tribute.
The queue of backorders is already long, with some buyers being told the line already reaches out the showroom door as far as August next year.
Then there’s the collectors, who are sure to hide quite a number of these cars away under humidity-controlled bubbles instead of enjoying them for what they are.
That would be a shame, as this is a car that deserves to be driven. Hard and often.
FPV GT-P (From $82,040 before on-roads).
There’s nothing like a huffed 335kW/570Nm V8, but in this case the US-sourced “Coyote” 5.0-litre donk doesn’t quite have the same visceral edge as the HSV.
Generational leap in driver-assist systems and interior fit-out make the Ford-based equivalent look aged.
Chrysler 300C SRT8 (From $66,000 before on-roads).
Under the bonnet is 6.3 litres of atmo V8 producing 347kW of power and 631Nm of torque to the rear wheels. Cheap horsepower in a bold, brash-looking package that is less accomplished than the GTS around a racetrack. Five-speed auto only.
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG (From $249,900 before on-roads).
Twin-turbo V8 produces 430kW and 800Nm for a heck of a lot more coin. Kills the HSV for interior quality and fit-out, matches it on ride and handling, but gives you a lot of spare change if you pass over it for the GTS. Seven-speed dual-clutch auto only.
MAKE/MODEL: HSV GTS
ENGINE: 6.3-litre supercharged V8
LAYOUT: Front-engined, rear drive
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
TOP SPEED: N/A
EMISSIONS: 363g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/4.5-link independent (r) with magnetic adjust
STEERING: Electric-assist rack and pinion
BRAKES: Ventilated disc (f)/ventilated disc (r)
PRICE: From $92,990 before on-roads
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