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Car reviews - HSV - GTS - W1

Our Opinion

We like
474kW power rush, 815Nm torque tsunami, race-style handling from SupaShocks and fat, sticky tyres, slick close-ratio gearbox, communicative chassis, carbon-fibre trim, bi-modal bellow
Room for improvement
300 units is never going to be enough


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27 Jan 2017

BOY, we are going to miss that V8 burble. How plug-in hybrids or other hi-tech powertrains are ever going to match that aural pleasuring, we don’t know.

The prospect of losing that aspect of big-iron Aussie sports sedans this year as Holden follows Ford out of local manufacturing is heightened by the fact that Holden’s partner in crime, Holden Special Vehicles (HSV), has loosened the restraints on its bi-modal exhaust on its 2017 offerings to let more of the delicious bent-eight noise run free.

And to rub salt into the wound, it has excelled itself by introducing this revised system on the most powerful, fastest, most sophisticated and arguably best-looking homegrown mass-produced muscle car in the history of the Australian motor industry, the GTSR W1.

The figures speak for themselves: 474kW of power, 815Nm of torque, zero to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds. Yikes.

The fact that just 300 of these cars will be built as a last hurrah to Aussie manufacturing is a reflection on the industry: it could do wonderful things, but often too few, too late.

Still, we take our hats off to HSV for having the spirit, determination and deep pockets to finish its 30-year run of local Commodore-based vehicles on an unprecedented high.

How it will match this with its next-generation of imports, we have no idea.

For now though, we are at the Phillip Island grand prix circuit to sample HSV’s final fling with Holden’s rear-wheel-drive Zeta platform. We get to drive the standard HSV Gen F2 range which has been given an upgrade under the 30 Years banner to celebrate the company’s anniversary later this year.

This includes 10kW more power from supercharged 6.2-litre LSA engine for ClubSport, Maloo and Senator Signature, plus other tweaks such as torque vectoring on the rear axle for better powering out of corners.

We also get to sample the new GTSR that returns to the range after 20 years, this time with a 435kW supercharged LSA V8 and a fresh look that, for the first time, includes bespoke front mudguards to go with the new front and rear fascias.

But, all this is really just marking time until we get to the big one: the GTSR W1. Sharing the GTSR’s new-look styling, except that the big brother has more carbon-fibre highlights and matte-black wheels, the W1 swaps the 435kW LSA V8 for the most powerful engine ever offered in an Australian car, the 474kW/815Nm LS9 that once graced the sixth-generation Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.

Filled with go-fast bits such as titanium conrods and inlet valves, dry sump and carbon-fibre airbox, this engine is linked with Corvette’s close-ratio six-speed transmission that HSV has taken great pains to re-engineer from its rear-mounted transaxle application in Corvette and into the Zeta layout. Yes, the W1 represents a massive investment by HSV for a mere 300 units.

And yes, its dealers will charge each customer $169,990 plus on-road costs for the privilege, making the W1 the most expensive Australian-developed road sedan in history, but try getting this power in a European supercar for that price.

At Phillip Island, HSV has two examples of the W1 on the track for journalists to sample. As production of the GTSR range won’t start until April, these cars are development mules still clad in black-and-white camouflage wrap and unfinished inside. Never mind, just let us at them.

Waiting our turn, the hairs rise on the back of the neck as other drivers accelerate out of pit lane, the supercharged V8 topping 6000rpm before each up-change while emitting a V8 thunder unmatched this side of V8 Supercars.

As the cars come down the main straight at 200km/h-plus, the whine of the supercharger precedes them until, as they blast past, the V8 bellow takes over.

Eventually our turn comes, and we have the pleasure of chauffeuring brave race driver Warren Luff as we head out on the circuit, ensconced in the deep sports seats that, like the steering wheel and gear knob, are clad in suede-like Alcantara.

Expecting a heavy clutch pedal and lumpy gear changes from the beefy six-speed gearbox (no auto option for W1), we are surprised at the lightness of it all.

We had scoffed when an engineer had suggested the gear changes were as “easy as a Hyundai Getz”, but he was not too far off it.

We had also been told that the first gear was rather tall in the interests of close ratios, but we had no trouble getting the beast off the line. 815Nm of torque does that.

Once underway, we lean heavily on the loud pedal and – whoosh – an instant rush of force takes hold. A massive supercharger pumping up 6.2 litres of V8 does that.

The engine revs to the red line so quickly that we find ourselves blessing the ease of the gear change as we frantically snap fresh cogs.

Into the sweeping turn one, the W1 tucks in like a racecar. Not surprising really, as it rides on race-bred coil-over SupaShocks and massive 20-inch forged alloy wheels shod with sticky track-ready rubber (nine inches wide at the front and 10 inches at the back) courtesy of Pirelli.

Into the tricky Southern Loop, the W1 just drives on the throttle, easy as you like, before hunkering down for a big blast down the back straight to the slowest corner on the circuit, the hairpin.

Mr Luff suggests we brake at the 150-metre marker. A little over-excited, we brake at the 100-metre point, and luckily for us, the W1 is up to the job.

The brakes on the W1 remind us of that knife scene in Crocodile Dundee. You know, those aren’t brakes, these are brakes. The front discs are a whopping family pizza-sized 410mm in diameter (the Porsche 911 Turbo’s discs are 380mm), clasped by six-pot monobloc callipers from V8 Supercar supplier AP Racing. Yep, these are brakes.

With the driving mode selector set on Performance, we power on around the circuit, marvelling at the feedback from the chassis on the limit, and feeling the traction control let us get a little out of shape under hard acceleration before tucking in the rear end to keep it tidy.

Similarly, the steering – although electric-powered – communicates like a trained public speaker, at least on the smooth racetrack surface where the biggest bump is a ripple strip.

Unfortunately, we will have to wait until we get our hands on a road test car – if HSV can afford to let one go – to judge if the firm suspension settings have more in common with those of HRT than HSV.

Undoubtedly, without the benefits of HSV’s semi-active magnetic dampers, the suspension is track stiff – 2.2 times more than that of the HSV GTS – but enthusiasts are likely to just wear it for the thrill of the ride.

That’s if they can get one, that is. With just 300 to go around, getting their hands on arguably the best Australian-developed, Australian-built car could be the biggest problem with this product.

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