What will Holden Special Vehicles do when the rear-drive Commodore goes out of production? It’s easy to view the Gen F GTS as the last of a great breed – and, also, a model that epitomizes defiance in the face of surely eventual defeat.
Pros: Fierce performance, grip and brakes; some impressive technology; genuine five seat family supercar appeal; collectability.
Cons: Initial depreciation might be fierce; thirsty; little flexibility with drive settings.
Design and engineering:
HSV gets techy when journalists refer to this 430kW/740Nm monster sedan, Australia’s most powerful road car, as being a machine that relies on American-supplied ingredients. Such talk tends to threaten the stance that this Gen F GTS is a truly home-grown hero.
Well, yes it is. Yet let’s also be adults about this and agree that the folk in charge of deliveries to Holden Special Vehicles’ factory in Clayton, Melbourne, are presumably handling more international freight than ever, most of its marked ‘GTS only.’
The biggest import component is that monster LSA engine, but there’s more. The launch control, the magnetorheological adjustable dampers (magnetic ride control, in HSV-speak), a Driver Preference system that sets it up into four distinctive suspension tuning modes, a torque vectoring system that brakes a spinning rear inside wheel to reduce understeer and the big 390mm front/372mm rear brakes, with two-piece cross-drilled rotors mimicking the design used in V8 Supercars racers. These are mainly ex-Chevrolet, too.
Powertrain and performance:
HSV has used a larger engine – that 7.0-litre for their W427 - in the past but this latest mill is the more fiery. HSV doesn’t issue performance data, but independent testing has show it’ll snap out 0-100kmh in 4.4 seconds and a quarter mile in 12.3 seconds, which is PDQ not just in Kiwi and Strine but also American-accented English. And German.
Where the GTS still bows to the Euros is for absolute top speed: While the imports can top 300kmh, the HSV has been electronically speed-limited to 250kmh.
But let’s not quibble. V8s excel for mid-range torque yet this one amplifies that effect in delivering massive pull virtually from start-up right through to the 6200rpm fuel cut-out. Ironically, it’s this shove – and the well-weighted throttle – that makes it a competent 100kmh cruiser, almost a modicum of burbling docility.
Dig just a little deeper - half throttle will do it - and any semblance of civility is lost in a cataclysm of brutal urge. The rage in so hard that even the increasingly basso soundtrack takes a moment to catch up. At extremis the gearbox is also caught unawares, though overall this six-speed auto does a great job; altering its shift patterns to suit the driving mode you’ve selected. Still, with this much muscle you can understand why Corevette has moved up to an eight speed. Go into manual mode and the transmission will hold gears against the redline if needbe. It’s the best way to get to the drivetrain’s soul, but reminds why paddleshifters would be good.
Which mode to drive in? A circuit is the place for Track mode and also the forum for testing the brakes’ true potential - possibly the torque vectoring system, too. It surely won’t get much of a run in everyday driving, as it only operates in Sport or Track mode, and only when it’s accelerating with purpose. One-click-back Sport is the best setting for road driving; it’s still firm – but not as jittery as the ultimate setting – extracts snappiness from the gearbox opens the exhaust enough to allow a resolved note. Still, HSV could do well to discover how Jaguar makes it own supercharged V8 sound more feral (and yet still meet the drive-by regs that seem to dictate the GTS’s note).
Need you be told about the elephant in the room? Obviously it’s the fuel burn. While the claim for the auto is 13.9 litres per 100km, expect to chew through well over 20L/100km around town. Hoof it hard and it gets worse (admittedly, as the car gets better).
Remember when little could touch an HSV car in a straightline blast, but almost anything with any semblance of dynamics would have its measure in any kind of corner? I can.
The alarming behaviour of some early HSV cars through bends was unnerving; but fortunately, in the past 10 years HSV has learned a lot about chassis dynamics; undoubtedly benefitting from Holden continually raising the bar. The VF SS-V is their best work yet.
The GTS doesn’t have quite the delicious delicacy of that car, being heavier in the steering and less fluent in suspension response, yet the dexterity – on wet days as well as dry –was impressive. It is clearly a car that rewards confidence and talent and while obviously demanding respect, it also has the flexibility to present a more reassuring driving experience for the relatively unskilled. Given its size and 1882kg substance, that’s no mean feat.
Dominating all is the horsepower. It’s a lot for even the best driving aids to contain. The oomph is simply epic – yet it’s not as wholly bogan as you might imagine. True, burying the throttle from a standing start in 'Track mode' is a surefire way of smoking away in seconds perhaps several months’ wear out of those rear tyres, but sharp throttle response aside, the supercharger delivers a power feed that seems unending in its linearity.
Ride, refinement and quality:
Sledgehammer wallop isn’t the sole focus; the aim is to appeal as a luxury car with a true racer’s spirit. So while the unique look – highlights being a front bumper with larger intake openings, the 20-inch wheels and a massive rear wing – is hardly subdued, it is not as ‘shouty’ as some previous HSVs.
The lack of idle stop-start to quell fuel wastage is more obvious here than in any other Holden, but it goes new age with blindspot monitoring, collision avoidance, keyless entry/start, parking sensors, reversing camera, daytime running lights and semi-automated parking. GTS-specific is leather and EDI (enhanced driver interface), which provides detailed performance data and data logging on everything from power outputs and wheel slip to steering angles and lap times. It holds templates of NZ race circuits, though not the private one set up for just the kind of fun HSV has in mind: Highlands Park.
Practicality and packaging:
Commodore’s basic layout and main controls are all carried over. Not exactly what you want in a ‘prestige’ car, maybe, but at least the new VE provides quality plastics and a great fascia and there are more than a few distracting HSV extra touches, though pity about the faux carbon fibre inlays. Fake is fake. More pleasing is how the head-up flashes the HSV logo on start-up.
The muscle-building exercise doesn’t impact on the seating plan – it’s still a roomy car for five adults – and while the firm bolsters of the racetrack-ready front chairs can make egress a little awkward, but you’ll be grateful for the support during hard play. The boot’s big but that’s because there’s no spare tyre; it wouldn’t fit anyway because of differential impinges.
How it compares:
The odds are stacked against the GTS; another reason why it might be the last of its kind is cost. HSV has itself conceded that the power war is all but over, simply because it is getting too expensive to chase performance.
A dinosaur? I don’t subscribe. HSVs are far from PC, true, and, yes, the base formula is granddad’s axe old, but much of the (mainly Chevrolet-provided) technology it carries is anything but. In some respects it has everything but the pedigree of some equally potent, much richer Euro fare.