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Car reviews - HSV - W427 - sedan

Launch Story

HSV logo16 Apr 2009

By DAVID HASSALL

THE seven-year gestation period of Australia’s first 7.0-litre supercar has given it almost mythical status and our first experience of HSV’s final production car this week proves that the driving experience at least matches the hype.

Putting the mighty HSV W427 through its paces both on the road and the race track revealed a car with the heart of a lion and the temperament of a pussycat.

In the hands of Mark Skaife, even on a desperately slippery Calder Raceway, the W427 feels and goes like a race car, yet it is can also be so docile and well-mannered that you would have no problem letting your mum drive it down the shop for a litre of milk.

This is an impressive achievement and reflects the growing maturity of Holden Special Vehicles – appropriate given that the company recently celebrated its 20th birthday.

In another time, HSV may have gone hardcore and matched the mighty LS7 engine with a suspension that sat flat on the track but rattled the fillings in your teeth, along with brakes, steering and clutch to suit. It might have been a wild weapon with a menacing edge, but perhaps not something you would want to drive every day.

No doubt many buyers will simply park their W427s and hope that in a couple of decades they will have an investment to match the Falcon GTHO Phase 3, but that would be a waste of a great car – and probably a dubious financial choice as well.

What HSV has done is produce a car that ostensibly celebrates the company’s original model, the race homologation Group A special known to everyone as ‘the Walkinshaw’ – hence the ‘W’ in W427 – but it’s the differences more than the similarities that distinguish the 21st century version.

Whereas the Walkinshaw was a lumpy, overt, impractical and difficult beast, the W427 is exactly what a modern-day supercar ought to be, blending useability with red-hot performance.

HSV first dabbled with a 7.0-litre engine early in the decade and built a few Monaro-based HRT 427 models, mainly for racing, but could not present a sufficiently good business case to put it into production and the project was abandoned.

Legend now tells how the project was revived a few years ago when Holden boss Denny Mooney met HSV owner Tom Walkinshaw in a bar and suggested he could access supply of the Chevrolet LS7 7.0-litre engine out of Detroit, and wouldn’t that make for a really special model to celebrate HSV’s 20th anniversary?

Now here we are, sitting behind the wheel of the fastest and most powerful local supercar ever launched onto Australian roads, one of only 90 that will be built this year, with production never to exceed 427 units.

Hand-built in the US and dropped into the W427 in a dedicated area at HSV’s Clayton plant, the locally-calibrated LS7 engine has an exact capacity of 7008cc and pumps out some 375kW of power (500 horsepower in imperial land) at 6500rpm and 640Nm of torque at 5000rpm running on 98 RON premium fuel.

There is simply too much power for an automatic transmission, so the W427 comes only with a six-speed Tremec TR6060 manual gearbox, which features two overdrive gears and slots through with little fuss once you get used to it.

More impressive is the lightness and feel of the clutch, thanks to HSV’s revised actuator system that increases the leverage for that very reason. We didn’t drive the car around town, but reckon it would be a breeze, even in stop-start traffic.

Put your foot down and the W427 leaps into life with an expected urgency, and the power delivery is very linear from the mid-range, with no sudden peak in the torque curve, making it all feel very controllable, without the risk of a sudden traction-breaking surge mid-corner.

It certainly makes light work of the car’s considerable weight, which at 1874kg is 45kg more than a ClubSport R8 and 30kg more than both the GTS and Senator – all of which use the 6.2-litre LS3 engine that develops 317kW and 550Nm.

HSV does not produce official performance figures, but chief engineer Joel Stoddart said that a 0-100km/h time of about 4.7 seconds has been recorded, making it at least three-quarters of a second faster than its manual-equipped siblings, if not quite into European supercar territory. The standing 400-metre time is said to be just under 13 seconds.

From the outside, the car sounds great when revved hard thanks to active bi-modal rear mufflers (which are needed to meet idle and drive-by noise requirements) while inside it is still pleasing but more muffled than many hardcore HSV enthusiasts would prefer, and is accompanied by a notable level of induction sound.

Fourteen months of stability control calibration work has resulted in an ESC system that is well-matched to the car and non-interventional, allowing a healthy amount of throttle oversteer without being over-nannied while still providing a comforting backstop.

There is enormous grip available from the big tyres and the wet roads revealed a progressive breakaway that is easy to control, while the massive new brakes – featuring six-pot front callipers for the first time in an HSV car – provide the sort of stopping power required, but with a commendable level of feel.

What really surprised was the ride quality, which we were not expecting from a car like this running on 20 inch-wheels (8.0-inch wide at the front and some 9.5-inch at the rear) with low-profile performance tyres (35-series front, 30-series rear), let alone one that rides 20mm lower than a GTS and with 30 per stiffer springs and shock absorbers all round.

Revised calibration of HSV’s familiar magnetic ride control (MRC) suspension has endeared the W427 with remarkably good manners over all but the sharpest of bumps, even when the dash-mounted ‘Track’ button has been selected for ultimate handling performance.

Frankly, it felt more compliant that some European cars with half the performance capability and underscores the W427’s unexpected daily drive credentials.

The steering was also an admirable blend of feel and lightness, although the wheel itself is rather on the thick and hard side, lacking the quality feel you might expect at this price level.

And that brings us to the elephant sitting in the room – the price.

This is by far the most expensive car to ever wear an HSV badge, let alone a Holden badge, and $155,500 can buy a lot of car elsewhere. Just for starters, there’s the incredible BMW M3, which is just as quick and comes with a frankly incomparable level of mechanical sophistication and interior refinement.

Can any Commodore-based car really be worth that sort of money? Of course not, but we suspect that does not matter a jot to potential buyers who simply want the meanest, fastest Holden ever built and probably hope that the original purchase price will ultimately represent a good investment.

Real estate or even a term deposit would probably be more effective, but where’s the fun in that?

HSV buyers have become increasingly affluent over the past 20 years and perhaps still may not want to be seen driving an M3, but it will be interesting to see how they will respond to a car that is almost double the price of the GTS that previously topped the HSV range.

Even with limited supply, pushing the price envelope that far could be a challenge.

It might be easier to justify if there was a real ‘wow factor’ with the interior and exterior treatments, but the W427 really looks like a regular HSV model with a few new enhancements.

The big style statements are the wheels (with a ‘castellated’ design graphic that extends to the exhaust tips and the W427 badge), the low-key carbon fibre-look rear spoiler and a red interior (which has polarised opinion, with our view leaning to the negative). HSV talks of a “unique face” for the W427, but only its aficionados will spot the subtle differences.

Inside, you get well-bolstered but quite wide bucket seats and some nice glossy ‘technical cubic’ detail finishes on both the dash and steering wheel, but there remain many familiar HSV components and Commodore giveaways that prevent the W427 from feeling as special as it deserves.

There is no question that the W427 is a high-water mark in HSV’s history – the car they always wanted to build, they tell us – and also a performance, driving and engineering benchmark.

But it massively breaks a Holden/HSV price barrier and, if it succeeds on that front, will go down as a marketing benchmark as well.

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