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First drive: HSV's E-Series is all class

Quick: HSV claims its new VE-based sedans join the "four-second club".

HSV launches its meaner, quicker, faster VE Commodore-based E-Series sedan range

25 Aug 2006

AUSTRALIA is just not big enough for HSV. Holden’s high-performance arm has just laid down the challenge to the rest of the world to try and keep up with its latest E-Series clan of stove-hot (VE) Commodore-based cars – the fastest production cars ever built in Australia.

HSV is confident that its new generation is on par with some of the world’s quickest cars for a fraction of the price, and claims it is no longer focused on creating cars that only stand up to Australian demands.

"We are changing the focus on the domestic high-performance market," HSV managing director Phil Harding said. "We are confident there are no alternatives under $200,000 with the same performance, and, similarly, there are no other cars under $120,000 with the feature list that ours have.

"We believe our existing customers will appreciate the advances we have made – and getting them in will be the easy part. But our challenge now is to build our customer base and go after the imports from Europe and Japan.

"We want to go after buyers that purchase their car just for the brand snobbery. We’re pretty confident it can be put to the test." To achieve this, HSV has dipped into its treasury and committed the largest ever-financial investment in its 19-year history to develop a trio of top-shelf tearaways that feature improved performance and power, unique styling and world-class safety and suspension technology.

It will not divulge the final investment figure, but Harding revealed "it was an unbelievably courageous number ... and it was as big for us as it was for Holden in relation to volume and turnover." The end result is a revised family that now starts with the ClubSport R8, and sees the full-time return of the iconic GTS nameplate and an evolution of the luxury Senator Signature model.

HSV claims to have "rested" the base-level ClubSport name in favour of the R8 and re-introduce the GTS as both models now climb into the territory occupied by their predecessors in terms of features and performance.

All three are powered by a revised version of the exclusive-to-HSV LS2 6.0-litre all-alloy pushrod-driven V8 that now produces peak power of 307kW at 6000rpm (up from 297kW) and maximum torque of 550Nm at 4400rpm (up from 530Nm).

The improved outputs are a result of a two-year program to re-calibrate the engine control module (ECM) and develop a locally designed tubular extractor system that feeds into a twin-exhaust system with four outlet pipes.

The ECM also now features a "Camel" model that allows drivers to limp home for up to 80km at normal cruising speeds in the event that the engine loses its radiator coolant.

20 center imageBoth the ClubSport R8 and GTS come standard with an updated M10 version of the Tremec T56 six-speed manual gearbox, and adjustments have been made to the clutch system for improved shift feel and performance.

Available as an option on both sports models, and fitted only on the Senator Signature, is the GM-developed 6L80E six-speed automatic transmission with a tailored calibration by HSV for a sportier experience.

HSV has also developed unique final drive ratios to improve launch feel and in-gear acceleration, with a 3.27:1 for the auto (compared to 2.8:1 in Holden models) and a 3.70:1 in the manual (compared to 3.43:1 in the SS).

The end results are powertrain combinations that HSV claims will propel the cars from 0-100km/h in 4.96 seconds with the manual gearbox and 5.04 seconds when fitted with the auto transmission.

All three ride on asymmetrical tyre sizes with whopping 9.5-inch rear rims and more conventional 8.0-inch front rims, with both the ClubSport R8 and Senator Signature on 19-inch diameter and the GTS on 20-inch.

HSV’s engineering division worked closely with tyre supplier Bridgestone to develop the REO5 tyres with 245/40 R19 front and 275/35 R19 rears for ClubSport and Senator and 245/35 R20 front and 275/30 R20 rears on the GTS.

The bigger rubber works in conjunction with improved suspension and braking systems and the standard fitment of electronic stability control on all models.

The ClubSport R8 has a conventional suspension set up with MacPherson front struts fitted with stiffer springs and retuned damper valving over the SS, while the GTS and Senator are the first Australian-made vehicles to adopt Delphi’s groundbreaking "magnetic ride control" (MRC) system.

This system effectively offers two-mode suspension settings using a magneto- rheological fluid inside the dampers that, when activated by an electric current, constantly changes the viscosity of the fluid for infinitely variable damping rates.

The Senator’s default setting is a luxurious ride with the option of performance handling when activated, while the GTS has the performance setting as standard and a more aggressive track-biased setting with the push of a button.

The addition of stability control as standard equipment means that HSV has developed a single brake package across all models with ventilated and grooved rotors measuring 365mm at the front and 350mm at the rear, all of which are clamped by four-piston AP Racing callipers that HSV has designed and claims are 15 per cent stiffer and offer the same swept area of the brake pad as the previous range-topping six-piston set-up.

HSV claims braking performance is better than some of the world’s leading exotic cars, including the BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz AMG CLS55 and Lamborghini Gallardo. It claims the GTS can come to a full stop from 100km/h in 36 metres – just 0.3 metres shy of a benchmark Porsche 911.

On the outside, the ClubSport R8 and GTS share the same body styling with a V8 Supercar-inspired front bumper that features a wide air intake with "faux" brake cooling ducts, a four-lamp driving light set-up and the trademark twin-nostril grille. At the back, they also have a raked-back rear wing and extended rear bumper with a moulded venturi design that wraps around the exhaust outlets.

All three vehicles have exclusive LED tail-lights that require a unique mounting system and wiring harness and vertical front fender gills.

The Senator has a more discreet face with chrome highlights on the air intake, upper grille, window surround and fender gill and a low-line boot-mounted lip spoiler.

Apart from the different wheel designs and size, the GTS is separated from the ClubSport R8 with matt black highlights in the header bar on the bonnet, gills and rear wing supports. Matt black is also used on the lower rim of the Senator’s body to provide an optical illusion of leaner, longer proportions.

Inside the cabin, all three vehicles have a unique seat design, a flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel, white dials on the instrument cluster and a three-gauge auxiliary pod mounted on the top of the dash that displays voltage, oil pressure and oil temperature.

They also get a top-of-the-range 230-watt stereo system with a 6.5-inch colour display screen, a full complement of airbags – including curtain bags for the first time – and active head restraints.

Cloth trim is standard on the ClubSport R8 with leather available as an option. Black leather is featured on the GTS and Senator however, red leather inserts with matching door trim and lower dash sections are available on the GTS while "light urban" trim is an option on the Senator.

In the end, HSV claims it has 301 unique parts and pieces fitted to its trio of tarmac-tearing machines – a new benchmark for the company – that certainly sets them apart from the Commodores on which they are based.

HSV E-Series at a glance
• GTS nameplate returns
• ClubSport R8 becomes entry-level HSV sedan
• Uprated 307kW LS2 6.0-litre V8
• Six-speed auto with unique calibration
• Magnetic Ride Control on GTS and Senator Signature
• Electronic Stability Control as standard equipment
• Exclusive styling with LED tail-lights
• Asymmetrical wheel sizes with 20-inch rims on GTS
• Curtain airbags fitted across the range smoothes out
HSV E-Series pricing:
ClubSport R8 $62,890
ClubSport R8 (a) $64,890
GTS $74,990
GTS (a) $76,990
Senator Signature (a) $76,990
Magnetic ride control
THE balance between kidney-crunching handling and a comfortable ride has always been an issue for high-performance cars. Traditionally, one compromised the other: you could have a track-biased blaster or a boulevard cruiser, but not both.

HSV’s introduction of "magnetic ride control" (MRC) on its GTS and Senator Signature comes a step closer to undulation utopia without the exorbitant costs of Formula One-style fully-active suspension.

It works on a relatively conventional set-up, with an upside-down monotube damper filled with magneto-rheological fluid that contains millions of tiny metal particles. The piston inside the damper has an electric coil inside it, that, when provided with an electric current, reacts with the metal particles to constantly change the viscosity of the fluid and therefore provide infinitely variable damping rates.

The entire system is driven by its own computer that feeds off three main inputs: linear potentiometers on all four dampers, a G-force meter and steering-angle and speed sensors. When activated, the inputs determine the necessary current required to adapt to the conditions. HSV says the algorithm tables required to calibrate the MRC system were just as extensive as those required to run the engine management system.

The MRC system alone took three years to develop specifically for HSV and cost more than $4.5 million.

The GTS and Senator Signature are the first Australian cars to feature the technology and join an exclusive club that so far only includes the Chevrolet Corvette, Audi TT and Ferrari 599 GTB.

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