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Car reviews - HSV - GXP - range

Our Opinion

We like
Not cheap but less expensive, comfortable ride, fantastic engine, top notch brakes
Room for improvement
Looks like a Commodore from the back, low-rent interior elements, no spare tyre

24 Feb 2010

IT DOES not look like a Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) model from behind, but pretty much everything about the new ClubSport GXP and Maloo GXP tick the boxes for what should be expected from an Australian muscle car.

If you do not mind the fact that most car fans could instantly pick the relatively poor member of the HSV family in the traffic, the GXP versions could be more enjoyable than a ClubSport R8 or Maloo R8 ute.

How so? Well, the Pontiac GXP was set up as a super sporty car for the US where cars are configured nice and soft to cope with poor roads with expansion joints and potholes.

So the GXP, which was sold for a short time in the US before Pontiac itself was killed, had a suspension setting that was a compromise between soft and sharp.

It turns out that this set-up, developed by Holden for the US, works a treat on Australian roads, many of which are also bumpy and rutted.

The result is a smooth and compliant ride with much more give than any other HSV model.

Some drivers will probably think it feels a bit too soft and that the body moves around a little too much. That’s ok they can buy a ClubSport R8 or any other HSV model.

For me, the suspension is just right.

Sure, the razor-blade sharpness of regular HSV chassis tune is what many customers are after, but the GXP suspension still allows for spirited driving.

The body is well controlled when pushed, and the benefit of a more comfortable ride is likely to please not only the driver but passengers as well.

The engine lurking beneath the bonnet is another trump card for the GXP.

When FPV introduced its cut-price model it decided to de-tune the V8 so that it did not quite match the more expensive GT’s output.

HSV decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble and left the LS3 engine well alone. So a GXP customer can get his or her hands on the same engine as a ClubSport R8 or Maloo owner and shell out considerably less cash, which is likely to be quite a lure.

And what a good engine it is.

Until FPV releases its supercharged 5.0-litre Coyote V8 in the middle of this year, the LS3 V8 is clearly the best V8 engine in an Australian vehicle. It has bags of torque and emits a note that is wonderfully similar to a V8 Supercar.

The aural sensation you get from revving out one of these 6.2-litre beauties cannot be replicated for anywhere near this money.

So much torque allows the GXP to lope around using few revs or, if you feel like getting stuck in, the engine is up for the job.

The problem for most customers is trying to enjoy the engine within the speed limits. Joining a club with access to a race track is probably a good idea.

People who push their GXPs are likely to appreciate the fact that HSV did not down-grade the brakes.

These Brembos (four-piston front and single-piston rear) are hefty anchors, and while we did not press them hard on Tuesday’s launch in central Victoria, they have a good reputation for deceleration.

We drove both the manual and automatic transmission on the launch.

The six-cog manual is the likely choice for enthusiasts, who don’t mind the fairly heavy clutch and the careful work required to change gears smoothly.

While the six-speed automatic is not the finest transmission known to mankind, it does the job reasonably well, aided by the engine’s terrific torque.

The interior of both the GXP sedan and ute will be familiar to both HSV and Holden Commodore SS and Calais drivers.

It looks better than most of Holden products, but still generally cheap and dated.

The highlights are the supportive and attractive wrap-around sports seats. They might only be available in cloth.

There is also the sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel which is the same as that found in the other HSV models.

The premium centre display screen, from the premium Holden models, still looks good despite its age and the HSV-only centre gauges give the driver and impression he or she is in a performance car.

Unfortunately, much of the plastic surfacing looks like it belongs to a far cheaper model and the instrument cluster computer graphics looked ordinary when the VE was introduced in 2006 and appear genuinely out of date now.

Then there is the terrible handbrake which looks decidedly low-rent and the super-thick A-pillars which obscure so much of the road when turning right that it is surprising it was ever allowed to make it into production.

Most of these problems are not HSV’s fault – they come with the Holden donor cars – but that does not make them go away.

HSV likes to compare itself with Audi and BMW, which is fine, but the fact is that its interiors do not come within a mile of these two brands despite best efforts to improve on what they have been given.

The exterior styling of the GXP sends out a confusing message.

Both the sedan and ute clearly look like HSVs when viewed from the front, but resemble Commodores from the rear.

For the past few years, HSV has done such a great job of making its cars look so much different from Commodores thanks to smart unique tail-light designs that make HSV owners feel so much more special than the person who bought an SS Commodore.

Now, there is an HSV that could be confused with an SS in traffic, at least if viewed from the back.

Of course, you could look at it from HSV’s perspective and say that this provides a reason for the customer to step up to a ClubSport or Maloo, and that is a fair enough call.

It is interesting that the GXP sedan has such a subtle rear spoiler. The lip spoiler of the W427 went down like a concrete diving jacket and it is generally accepted that when it comes to HSV customers and their view on spoilers it is a case of bigger is better.

The rear-lip spoiler is out of place with the aggressive front end with its masculine bonnet scoops, bold bumper and those daytime running lights which loudly announce your presence on the road.

The GXP has been cobbled together in a bid to hit a new price point, but the result is a car that handles well, has a comfortable ride, good brakes and a gutsy muscle car V8.

The fact that it looks like a Commodore from some angles is probably something many potential customers can overlook when doing the sums.

The GXP variants are about $9000 cheaper than their ClubSport R8 and Maloo ute equivalents when you take into account the value of the drive-away pricing included in the deal, and that is a handy wad of notes.

This alone is likely to bring new customers to the HSV brand.

I’d also be willing to bet a slab that the GXP and its sharp price will also lure some potential ClubSport R8 and Maloo customers who will welcome the chance to tighten their belts and still enjoy a rip-roaring V8 muscle car.

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