Car reviews - HSV - GTS - W1
Power to burn, instant thrust from supercharged V8, communicative chassis, eye-popping brakes, classy interior
Room for improvement
Gear shift not the easiest around town, limited run of just 300 cars will break hearts
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20 Apr 2017
Price and equipment
FOR what it is worth, the HSV GTSR W1 sells for $169,990 plus on-road costs.
HSV probably could have charged $250,000 and still sold the entire limited run of 300 units before one rolled from its Clayton production line, such is the aura around this home-grown super sedan.
As it is, unless your name is already on the list, you can forget about rocking up to your HSV dealership with your credit card. They are all gone, with many going to HSV’s staunchest buyers and collectors who believe they are investing in a piece of Australian automotive history.
The big news and main selling point for the W1 – the flagship of the new GTSR range that serves as a swansong to HSV’s all-Australian car era – is the powertrain with its staggering 474kW/815Nm 6.2-litre LS9 V8 and close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox (no auto), both drawn from Chevrolet’s sixth-generation Corvette ZR1.
But that would be selling the W1 short, as HSV was determined to make its new halo car the complete package, with suspension, styling and equipment levels to match the vroom.
Yes, the W1 is most definitely a neck-snapping rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, but it is not some sort of stripped out track car. Full Alcantara sports seats with heating and eight-way electric adjustment, dual-zone climate control, head-up display, sat-nav, keyless entry and start and a wide range of safety gadgets, including forward collision alert and reverse traffic alert, are included, along with lots more.
Real carbon-fibre trim on items such as the rear wing, side vents, under-bonnet inlet duct and badges is a classy touch too.
To like the GTSR W1 you need to like Alcantara – that suede-like material that car-makers use as an alternative to leather. The cabin of the W1 is smothered in it – seats, door trims, dash, steering wheel and gear knob. Luckily for this review, we do.
This dark-charcoal-coloured material is sewn in a diamond quilted pattern on the seats which, as you might expect, are of the deeply scalloped sports variety with large side bolsters in the front. The rear bench seat is similarly quilted, and also has a sculptured profile that makes the back seat more suitable for two passengers than three.
The seats are undoubtedly snug, non-slip and, for the most part, comfortable, but we found that the seatbelt buckle – sitting higher than the norm in a Commodore – rubbed irritatingly against our hip over a long drive.
Headrests are embroidered with a red and black W1 logo to match the GTSR logo embroidered into the dash material.
The red and black theme is carried over to the red contrast stitching and instrument gauges, which are of the regulation analogue type (of course, the head-up display is digital, with a variety of settings, even including a G-force meter if it tickles your fancy).
The bones of the W1’s cabin are unmistakably Commodore, with the usual cupholders, door bins and MyLink digital display and connectivity. One major difference is that the digital screen is also home to HSV’s Enhanced Driver Interface that feeds the driver performance data, even including the power and torque being generated by that big engine at any given moment.
Engine and transmission
Now we get to the main game. HSV virtually had to beg General Motors to give up a large chunk of its stockpile of Gen IV LS9 V8s leftover from the superseded Corvette ZR1.
Now out of production, these engines were being kept as spares, at least until Mr Walkinshaw’s representatives convinced GM to please, please hand over some for this special project. We assume a large supply of Tim Tams changed hands, the engines were duly consigned to Australia, and now the rest is fast becoming history.
Boasting a race-style dry sump, titanium conrods and valves and a monster supercharger fed by a locally-developed carbon-fibre air inlet, the V8 is the most powerful engine ever offered in a series production car in Australian history. Hell, by world standards it is powerful.
The rumble at idle is enough to get most V8 fans aroused, but the bellow at full noise through the bi-modal exhaust system’s twin big-bore tailpipes is aural heaven.
Power delivery comes on like a big beach breaker, starting big and getting bigger. At peak acceleration, the steering wheel becomes a white-knuckle hand grip rather than an instrument of direction, until the driver reluctantly lets go with the left hand to select the next cog and it starts again.
Because the gears are so close in ratio and because the engine can hit the 6000rpm red line with such ferocity, a straight line acceleration test becomes a frantic exercise in keeping up, not just for the driver but also the traction control system (unless a hoon wishes to switch it off via a button on the console).
HSV claims the W1 can complete the zero-to-100kmh dash in a little over four seconds. We think that is about right, although it felt like about three seconds.
The gearbox and clutch pedal are nicely weighted for such a heavy powertrain, and our only grizzle would be that we found third gear instead of first gear a few too many times at traffic lights.
We suspect most prospective W1 buyers could not give two hoots about fuel economy, but the official combined figure is 16.5 litres per 100km. Our trip was more like 20L/100km, but we didn’t do much cruising.
Ride and handling
So, this race car for the road rides like a dray, right? Surprisingly, no. The coil-over suspension from SupaShock – supplier to your favourite Supercar team – is firm, yes, but not annoyingly so.
The initial bump compliance is sufficiently pliable to make the W1 a contender for regular commuting duties, while at the same time delivering levels of handling and grip that an old Monaro 327 GTS owner would have never thought possible.
Big bumps at speed can rock proceedings, but by and large, the W1 steers, tracks and grips more truly than any HSV product – ever.
It helps to have torque vectoring on the rear axle, spreading the drive force to the wheel with the most traction for powering out of corners.
It also helps to have massive 20-inch forged alloy wheels shod with sticky Pirelli semi-racer track tyres, at least in the dry. Fortunately, it was bright and sunny when we ventured into the winding hill roads east of Melbourne, so we did not have to worry about the lack of water-channelling tyre tread that might have convinced us to park it up on a rainy day.
Our belt along country roads was a millennial’s wet dream: instant gratification at every turn of the fat steering wheel, every jab of the pedals.
Want to go blindingly fast? That will be the pedal on the right. Want to stop so quickly it feels like the engine has just fallen out and jammed under the rear axle? That will be the middle pedal that operates those humongous 410mm front brake discs with six-pot callipers from race supplier AP Racing.
Twist the console-mounted driving mode knob around from Sport to Performance and on to Race – the automotive equivalent of 11 on a guitar amplifier – and all sorts of demons break out of hell to bring forth fire, brimstone and quite a lot of tyre smoke.
HSV’s launch control – available for some years on other models – seems to take on more urgency with this engine in charge of proceedings.
Frankly, only a fool would try to get the most out of this car anywhere but on a closed circuit, which is where we sampled the prototype at the official HSV media launch, at Phillip Island.
Oh, yes, it goes fast.
Safety and servicing
One of the few safety items missing from the W1 is emergency autonomous braking, but at least it has forward collision alert, which is the next best thing.
Lane departure warning, side blind spot alert and reverse traffic alert are all included, as are Isofix child restraint anchorages.
There is no spare wheel (a wheel just won’t fit in the boot tyre well), just a tyre repair kit with a can of goo. You can buy a spare wheel as an accessory, but it sits above the floor, taking up most of the luggage space. It’s a good thing each HSV car comes with free roadside assistance.
Also thrown in is capped-price servicing for the first five years or 105,000km.
Warranty is three years or 100,000km, with service intervals of 15,000km or nine months.
Sight unseen, it would be easy to write off the HSV GTSR W1 as a big-iron dinosaur, a relic of a different age. But that does not take into account the sophistication of the package, including the abundance of technologies that lift the W1 beyond mere hot-rodding and into the supercar strata.
It is hugely powerful with retina-detaching acceleration and braking. But look at that design, look at the interior and equipment. Wow, this was designed and engineered in Australia? For $170k? No matter what HSV does in future, it is going to have to try rather hard to top this.
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