Car reviews - HSV - Senator - Signature 30 Years
Monstrous supercharged V8, perfected exhaust, cruising comfort, powerful brakes, 30-year special edition exclusivity
Room for improvement
Don’t even mention fuel economy, fussy steering, not enough supercharger noise
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15 Mar 2017
Price and equipment
AT $95,990, the HSV Senator Signature 30 Years costs $3000 more than the ‘standard’ version, for which you get a 10kW and 20Nm power and torque boost, a 20-inch set of forged Rapier wheels that are normally an option, a new stainless bi-modal exhaust and a scattering of ‘30 Years’ badges.
In our book that represents good value in terms of an upgrade because there is not a single options list in the land that will allow you to upgrade any car with an engine tune, very attractive big wheels and a limited edition build number for the same money.
As well, the Senator gets a new torque vectoring system that was previously the preserve of just the GTS flagship.
That aside, customers will have to justify spending nearly $100,000 on a car that essentially started life as a Commodore SS-V, but the value equation is made simpler by a good dose of notable standard equipment that includes a full black leather interior, posh stereo, head-up display, keyless entry and start and Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension.
There is also a generous amount of driver assistance technology if your attention lapses.
With a little extra refinement over its other stablemates, the Senator’s cabin is its point of difference.
We particularly liked the deeply-bucketed, leather-upholstered Performance seats with eight-way electric adjustment for the driver, but occupants with wider, err, dimensions may find the lower part embraces them a little too tightly.
Forget you’re the owner of a 30 Years special and its branded doorsill trims and floor mats will remind you every time you climb aboard, complemented by the Senator Signature central identification place.
A nine-speaker high-end sound system by audio authority Bose is also standard fare which sounds as good as the V8.
Second row passengers are also well accommodated with more of the same black leather luxury for all and plenty of space in the back.
Engine and transmission
With ever-increasing global emissions and average fuel economy standards, all car-makers are making big investments into ways of boosting or maintaining power output while reducing emissions.
Impressive advances in turbocharging, direct injection, valve technology and timing and exhaust-gas treatment have all cut carbon emissions while allowing increases in power and torque output, but HSV is still managing to provide an oasis of unapologetic brawn in the desert of frugality.
The 6.2-litre LSA V8 under the bonnet of the Senator is undeniable proof that simply looking at torque and power figures in a brochure tells you virtually nothing about how an engine will actually deliver on the road.
Yes, there are other cars out there that can match the HSV’s 410kW and 691Nm from smaller more efficient engines, but none can serve up that performance with the same constant urgency and instant response throughout the entire rev range of a large capacity V8 with a supercharger.
There are only six ratios in the Senator’s automatic transmission but the sheer might of the V8 and its ability to deliver mountainous torque at low engine speed and massive power higher in the range negates the need for the nine and ten-speed ultra-tight ratio boxes that other brands are experimenting with.
A gentle toe is required getting off the line but once rolling, the 20-inch rear rubber does a sterling job of getting all the power to the ground for sensational, spine tingling acceleration at all speeds and revs. After one full-noise blast to 100km/h, an unsuspecting passenger said he felt a bit sick.
We firmly believe that the HSV’s engine can consume a gallon of fuel quicker than if you poured the same amount of petrol onto the ground and set fire to it. If you can’t live with a car that uses 17.3 litres of juice per 100km then consider something else.
While some may regard the Roots-type supercharger to be some kind of wasteful and unethical antithesis to efficient motoring, we regard it as a monument to high-performance cars and exactly the reason we would like the Senator to make a bit more of the classic whine that is associated with a big blower.
At the back end though, HSV has finally perfected its bi-modal stainless exhaust system.
In previous applications, the system made a promising rumble at idle but then completely silenced itself when pulling away and only sang again at much higher engine speeds and throttle load.
For the 30 Years range however, the engineers re-tuned the exhaust when in the Performance and Track driver modes to start making its delightful and unapologetic report at lighter throttle application and lower revs. The result is a typical HSV soundtrack that is easy to appreciate without having to drive like you stole it.
If you don’t want to be quite so noticeable then the central dial can be turned to select Sport mode for a more polite exhaust note.
Ride and handling
With all the fat wheels, aggressive bodykit and muscular performance, it is easy to forget that there is a more humble Commodore at the core of the HSV Senator, but one way to peer under its skin and see the Holden origins is by taking it on a road trip.
Despite the lowered suspension and huge wheels, the HSV has a silky ride with a serene cabin when cruising and with no stress on its big engine, the eight cylinders settle down to a low hum.
It is an accomplished result and a combination of large luxury comfort but a dynamic personality that may surprise some.
Only the steering lets the side down a little which is excessively light about the dead-ahead position and irritated by the tendency of the wide front wheels tram-lining on imperfections in the road. It took a while to get used to the twitchy feel and even then not completely.
With more lock however, the steering gains some weight and feels more substantial with a low ratio although we were left wanting a little more feedback. Flicking through the three driving modes made a noticeable difference to ride firmness but not a lot to steering sensitivity.
For a big heavy sedan, bodyroll is suppressed impressively and the HSV maintains a steady line through corners with composure and confidence irrespective of the drive mode.
With a serious amount of power under your toe it is not difficult to pick up speed in the HSV, but thanks to massive AP Racing brakes in each corner, losing speed is just as effortless. We love the rock-hard pedal feel and the aesthetics of the bright yellow callipers viewed through the slender wheel spokes.
Safety and servicing
Despite the Senator’s massive engine and equally massive power output, its servicing requirements are relatively straightforward which is reflected in the servicing costs. Under a special five-year capped-price deal, customers are charged $329 for the first four scheduled services and $399 for the following three after that.
Safety systems include forward collision warning, HSV’s TCS faction control and stability electronics, brake-force distribution (EBD) brake assistance (EBA), forward collision alert, hill hold, rain sensing wipers, parking assistance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and six airbags including curtain type.
When HSV announced that almost all members of the line-up would be given LSA supercharged power to say thanks for all the years of tyre-shredding fun, we didn’t think there could be a better send-off for the Australian-built Commodore-based car.
But the 30 Years editions have proved us wrong. With even more grunt, a dusting of extra technology, the best standard exhaust note any HSV has made and some special edition aesthetics, the final Senator Signature is at its very best.
All versions except the HSV Grange now have power that trails the mighty GTS by just 20kW and have adopted much of the flagship’s technology to boot, but with added exclusivity of the 30 Years mods the special edition is almost the more desirable pick.
At a sniff under $100,000 the latest and last Senator Signature is a lot of money but you get a lot of car for your cash. Bricks and mortar aside, if you quick enough to grab an example, you’ll also be buying into a car that, for those in the know, will always instil feelings of envy, respect and nostalgia.
Chrysler 300 SRT from $65,000 before on-road costs
The Chrysler can also offer a big V8, which weighs in with a 200cc advantage over the HSV but lacks the supercharger and the same mighty output. 6.4-litres of bent eight is still enough for fizzy performance accompanied by a typical muscle car soundtrack.
Holden Caprice from $60,990 before on-road costs
If you can’t quite stretch to nearly $100,000 but want to be ferried in an Australian-built luxury limo with a 6.2-litre V8, then Holden can offer the Caprice. It doesn’t have the under-bonnet bang of the Senator but it does have more second-row room and it will still earn you patriot points while you cruise around in comfort.
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