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First drive: HSV's ballistic LS2 Z Series

Powerhouse: 6.0-litre LS2 V8 packs an ECE-measured 297kW, or 305kW in the DIN rating.

HSV raises the Aussie performance bar again with its 6.0-litre V8 Z Series

7 Oct 2004

THE Aussie V8 performance car war steps up another level with the unveiling of the 6.0-litre HSV Z Series range at the Australian International Motor Show today.

Armed with fundamentally the same LS2 pushrod engine as the C6 Corvette and Aussie-built Pontiac GTO in the USA, the Z Series - as well as GTO Coupe and WL Grange - comes standard with 297kW at 6000rpm on the ECE rating, or 305kW DIN.

Why the differentiation? Because DIN is the way that Ford measures power, which means by that scale the HSVs are now 15kW ahead of their FPV V8 rivals, the GT, GT-P and Pursuit Ute.

And HSV has now also passed the FPVs on torque, producing 530Nm at 4400rpm, compared the 5.4-litre DOHC ‘Boss 290’, which produces 520Nm at 4500rpm.

But HSV hasn’t only given its greatest rival a new target, but also set itself the poser of just what to do with its own traditional flagship, the GTS, which will have to bunk up in power again from the standard models.

As a consequence of that the reappearance of GTS is no guarantee before the arrival of the all-new VE Commodore-based generation of HSVs in the first half of 2006.

That’s also when Holden is also expected to step up to its version of the LS2, trading in the Gen III version of GM’s legendary small block which has been available here since 1999, for the Gen IV.

It should be noted that LS1 hasn’t disappeared entirely, with the limited edition Coupe 4, the all-wheel drive Avalanche XUV crew-cab and Avalanche SUV sticking with the 270kW version until VE time. Confusingly, the VZ Monaro’s engine is now called "LS1 Plus" although it produces 260kW. Sheesh, marketing!HSV’s upgrade from the 285kW/510Nm 5.7-litre LS1 took two years, costs $5 million, involved 26 test cars and 22 engineers. It is unquestionably the company’s biggest ever development program.

As much as the 6.0-litre capacity and 297kW peak power figure are the headline grabbers, HSV insists the real improvement LS2’s increased bore, raised compression ratio larger throttle body diameter and myriad other detail changes delivers is a wider torque spread.

In fact, no less than 87 per cent of peak torque (463Nm) kicks in from 1600rpm and the output never drops below that figure until after 6000rpm.

The returns in terms of performance figures are stunning. The key 0-100km/h acceleration time in six-speed manual form drops from 5.4 to 5.2 seconds, while as a four-speed auto it’s actually quicker at 5.1 seconds, down from 5.6 seconds.

The 4L65E auto is also quicker across the standing 400 metres, dropping from 13.7 seconds to 13.3 seconds, while the manual stays at 13.5 seconds.

Top speed for the auto sedan jumps from 258km/h to 274km/h, while the manual goes from 260km/h to 270km/h. The Maloo is also now rated at 270km/h, but the GTO Coupe tops all of them with a 284km/h top speed.

Why have there been more appreciable gains for the LS2 in auto form?Fundamentally, HSV says, it comes down to the torque improvements, a 10 per cent higher stall torque converter and a lower differential ratio.

Understandably, that performance level means the ‘power’ button has been deleted from the self-shifter.

There’s some other impressive figures that are claimed for the engine, like a seven per cent fuel economy improvement, a four per cent weight reduction and Euro III emissions certification, which is enforced in Australia from January 1 2006.

While the core LS2 engine is fundamentally that used in the C6 and GTO, albeit with some ECU recalibration, its installation in right-hand drive required the design of a new wiring loom – no easy task in this era of CAN-BUS technology - and the adaptation of various ancillaries from one side of the engine to the other.

Of course, in V8 mad Australia the engine story is King, but that wouldn’t be doing justice to the rest of the program, which meant significant changes right through the drivetrain and mechanical package.

There’s an updated Tremec T56 manual gearbox called the M12 with shorter ratios that’s used not only in US models but in the VZ Monaro as well. Mated to a taller final drive (the auto and manual are now matched on 3.46:1), the overall effect is slightly shorter gearing, aiding acceleration. A heavier duty clutch borrowed from the C6 goes with the gearbox.

The Maloo has also had some specific work, the upgrade in power and torque prompting HSV to engineer the installation of the full blown control link independent rear suspension, that in turn allows the fitment of traction control for the first time. It is unique among Holden utes, the standard car making do with the dual trailing arm (non-Control Link) set-up.

There are some roll-ons from the VZ Commodore program, like and a new power steering pump and electronic throttle control, which allows the use of the far more sophisticated Bosch 8.0 ABS and traction control system. No sign of stability control as yet though, which is the same story as the VZ Commodore V8s.

There isn’t so much to tell about suspension and brakes, the highlight being the update of the Performance braking system with more rigid C6-type twin-piston front callipers for a higher clamping force and increased brake pedal feel. There is also an impressive new AP Racing Six-Piston Brake system available as an option on the R8 models.

Suspension settings vary slightly from model-to-model and between the Performance and Luxury streams.

As forecast previously, HSV’s design director Julian Quincey has used the Z Series update as an opportunity to commence splitting the line-up into two streams – Sports Performance and Luxury Performance.

Vehicles in the performance category include Maloo, Maloo R8, Clubsport, Clubsport R8 and GTO Coupe. Luxury models are the Senator, Coupe 4 and Grange.

The two Avalanches hover outside the grouping, remaining fundamentally unchanged.

Both sports and luxury streams get new design 19-inch alloy wheels and Pirelli P-Zero 245/35 ZR19 tyres as standard, as well as HSV’s version of the fender vents that are also seen on the mainstream Commodore SS model.

20 center imageThe HSV performance variants get an aggressive twin-nostril fascia that is an evolution from Y Series, more overt spoilers and intakes than the luxury models, and more open alloy wheels designs to expose the brake callipers and discs.

The GTO Coupe picks up the bonnet scoops from the Holden Monaro, but misses out on the new performance fascia for cost reasons.

The Luxury models, while still intended to be aggressive, have been softened with a single-piece grille with HSV badge front and centre, chrome trim and more complex wheel designs. The look is familiar because it was previewed somewhat by the Coupe 4.

Inside, there has been some differentiation applied, with the availability of new and bespoke colour and trim treatments for the two streams, including soft Nappa leather for the Senator.

Z Series comprises ClubSport, ClubSport R8, Maloo, Maloo R8 and Senator. The GTO Coupe, Grange and all-wheel drive Coupe 4, Avalanche and Avalanche SUV complete the HSV line-up.

Gone for now are the Senator Signature and the GTS sedan and Coupe.

The dropping of the Signature and the introduction of HSV’s Luxury Performance stream is intended to focus potential buyer interest on the Senator, which as been bulked up in equipment and re-priced to make it a more obvious choice for Clubsport graduates who don’t want to go to the more focussed option of the R8, or take the stretch to the long wheelbase luxury of the Statesman-based Grange.

To achieve that, Senator is now priced at $71,990, just $1000 more than the R8, and down from $75,635. Significant additions to an already long equipment list (apart from the changes already detailed) include rear park assist and eight-way power front seats.

HSV is forecasting a sales rise from 250 Senators in 2004 to 500 in 2005 as a result.

The other updated models rise in price by a minimum $550 (R8) to a maximum $2500 (Grange) and get detail equipment additions like floor mats and seat back pockets.

Overall, HSV is forecasting sales to rise from an anticipated record 4020 in 2004 to 4300 in 2005. The aim is 5000 sales by 2005.

HSV Z Series pricing:

Maloo $54,250 (was $53,500)
Maloo R8 $61,450 (was $60,700)
ClubSport $61,850 (was $61,100)
ClubSport R8 $70,990 (was $70,440)
Senator $71,990 (was $75,635)
GTO $78,690 (was $77,690)
Grange $89,750 (was $87,250)
* All prices manual and automatic

Not too powerful, say HSV boss

DESPITE standard power outputs verging on 300kW (or already past that mark depending on your measure) and top speeds heading for 300km/h, HSV managing director John Crennan does not believe Z Series will trigger negative mass media or public response.

"Why should it emerge with us versus Porsche versus Ferrari, or anyone who is in that league?" he asked. "The package is a beautiful package and I think Australia should be proud rather than being intentionally cynical about this. It’s the business we are in."Mr Crennan said such a response could be understood if it related to base Holden or Ford product, but that couldn’t apply to HSV or its Blue Oval equivalent, FPV.

"Here are two companies that have formed specialty vehicle arms designed to – if you like – provide an alternative to the other big name performance companies and the more competitive we can be with them the more attractive it is for the Australian consumer."Looking back to 1988 when HSV launched gives an idea of the performance progression. Back then the star was a 180kW 5.0-litre locally-built V8. These days Holden’s baseline V6 Commodore comes within 5kW of that and the performance version is 10kW ahead.


OUR first sampling of Z Series was limited to a brief blat at Oran Park race circuit in Sydney because HSV did not want the cars going on the public road before the launch embargo lifted today.

While such tasters are a dangerous base on which to form an opinion, it was obvious from that brief sampling that Z Series not only raises the stakes on paper, it does it out in the real world as well.

From the moment you fire it up and hear that richer, deeper burble from the new exhausts, the 6.0 LS2 is a more imposing and impressive engine than its predecessor.

The torque advantage claims are credible. Motoring away from standstill in second gear, or negotiating entire laps of Oran Park’s tight figure eight north circuit in third gear proved that.

That’s a step forward from the LS1, which was more of a revver. The LS2 has a torque curve as flat as a desert plain.

A flat-out speed run down the front straight was more familiar territory. LS1 lacked nothing for top-end and LS2’s better launch ability improves on it marginally.

The cleaner shifting M12 manual gearbox with its shorter ratios and quick throw make it a significant leap over the T56, aided by better clutch feel. It plays a key role in improving the character of the Clubsport R8 and Maloo we sampled.

Speaking of the utility, the rear suspension is undoubtedly an improvement here. The old model hung on real well, but this was better again, and the traction control is a welcome aid.

Mind you, it is switchable and that means Maloo remains an oversteering delight for those of us who like sideways motoring. The Clubsport doesn’t mind firing the tail out either when provoked, although the standard 19-inch rubber adds surety.

Steering feel also seemed a step up from the old car courtesy of the new power steering pump, although we are talking degrees here.

Sampling the R8 gave us a chance to try the new AP Racing optional brakes, which remained strong and full of feel despite several laps of abuse.

A brief shift to the automatic-only Grange and Senator was a bit of trip back to earth, the old four-speed doing its best to hobble progress, taking the edge right off the fun with its uncanny ability to be in the wrong gear at the wrong time.

Roll on the VE when HSV and top-line Commodore models get a new GM-designed six-speed automatic.

Can’t say the rest of the experience left us desperately longing for VE though. What shapes as the final major HSV update before the all-new Zeta architecture arrives in 2006 to underpin the next generation of Commodore derivatives seems to be – on initial and brief tasting – a fine group of vehicles.

Just goes to show. You can always improve the breed.

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