HSV Clubsport R8: Swinging the big Club

By Matt Greenop

2012 Holden HSV Clubsport R8 - sticky in the dry but a challenge in the wet. Photo / Ted Baghurst.
2012 Holden HSV Clubsport R8 - sticky in the dry but a challenge in the wet. Photo / Ted Baghurst.

Feeding a big, and I mean big, V8 these days is a commitment. With the automotive world downsizing at a rate that's terrifying a lot of the car-buying market into small haulers, there's still a passionate hard core of buyers who follow the mantra that there's no replacement for displacement.

This has been disproven as technology has improved, but it must be said, there's nothing quite like the feeling of three or four hundred ponies nestled in a deep vee under a big bonnet. So when the keys to the 2012 version of Holden Special Vehicles' $88,900 Clubsport R8 came across the desk, it was impossible to say no.

Not much has changed in this year's car - it's still essentially a tricked-up Commodore - but in comparison to Ford's current offering, the boffins at HSV have gone several steps further.

The biggest difference is the beefy and willing generation four LS3 V8, all 6.2 litres of it, naturally aspirated and pushing out maximum power of 317kW. The range-topping GTS gets a shade more shove, with 325.

Ford has gone the other way with its FPV range - binning the previous generation's 5.4 in favour of a supercharged five-litre, which puts out 335kW.

But natural aspiration leads to more revs - especially with 10.7:1 compression - and in manual form, the R8 Clubbie has a whole lot of usable power.

As our lengthy period of sunshine gives way to proper Kiwi winter though, this will give way to a strobing traction control light - you don't get 300kW-plus to a wet road easily.

Even with the sticky help of the 20-inch rims (new for 2012) wrapped in 275/30 Potenza rubber, and the well-developed traction-saving system, it is a handful on a wet road. Switch off the traction control and, while it will allow you to release your inner bogan, you'll be going nowhere fast.

On a dry road, though, the 550Nm of torque is extremely usable. The dash light will still flicker occasionally, especially on a tight and windy road, but the car feels very settled.

The suspension upgrades are not quite up to the high standard of the GTS's magnetic ride control system, but they make the Clubsport's 1800-odd kilogram weight far more usable than its standard-spec showroom counterpart - and get the welcome addition of chequered-flag SV upgrade badging on the back.

Four-pot brake calipers - finished in red, of course - are fitted all-round, clamping 365mm rotors at the front and 350mm at the rear. A specced-up version of the $101,990 GTS replaces the front four-piston items with six-pots, and does make a huge difference, but the R8 will out-stop the Holden SSV8 Redline Edition.

The biggest changes between the last generation and the E3 spec that appeared last year were on the inside.

There's the expected miles of leather-bound real estate, with extra options like side blind sensors helping to keep the blindspots that have progressively worsened on all cars as airbags have been fitted to every pillar.

The coolest addition in the E3 version is the "enhanced driver interface" system, which uses a button mounted on the giant HSV steering wheel to scroll through information screens on the main dash display.

Using some of the hundreds of sensors added to every modern car, rather than just throwing the data away, HSV's clever clots offer a great array of data. You can set a pair of digital dials - aside from the three-gauge cluster atop the dash - to give you everything from water temp to TextBox1power and torque output. Slip angles are shown on another screen (although if you're looking at how much oversteer the real-time readout is showing, you won't have your HSV for long).

The bi-modal exhaust (one of HSV's most popular options) can be refined to a nice and quiet around town mode, or left wide open for that deep and aggressive note that make larger V8s one of the nicer soundtracks to country road driving.

The extensive entertainment options were mainly unused during my week with the R8, for this very reason.

The EDI system even includes GPS mapping of every track in New Zealand, complete with split times and lap counters. Slipping a USB stick into a glovebox-mounted plug lets drivers download a sizeable amount of telemetry data and load it into free HSV-created software on a PC for analysis.

Such options underline where HSV's pitch lies - it takes the "enthusiast" package and gives drivers everything they need to fill their V8 Supercar fantasies, without the price-tag from a "customer car" from the likes of Triple Eight Racing, and completely road legal.

This approach hasn't been lost on New Zealanders, and we're aiming higher when it comes to HSVs than our friends across the ditch.

New Zealand's HSV boss, Andrew Lamb said the company sold an impressive 230 of the well-tweaked Commodores last year.

Our favourite was the GTS model -which starts off at $101,900 before the option list is even looked at - with around 50 per cent of all HSV sales.

In Australia, the most popular model is the Clubsport, followed by the stroppy Maloo, as recently purchased by new Lotto multimillionaire Trevor from Te Kauwhata.

Said Lamb: "The Maloo is almost the default sportscar over there - two seats with a really big boot. It's very popular with the young guys."

The average Kiwi buyer is in his 40s or 50s; the Aussie equivalent is a bit younger.

"It's the successful blue-collar guy here -he's worked really hard and wants to reward himself," said Lamb.

But it's the GTS that's the outright winner here, which Lamb puts down to the standard option set.

"It's a complete package, and represents value for money against our range and compared with the European cars - it's got the leather, the 20s, the bi-modal exhaust."

Clubsport buyers are keener to delve into the options list and personalise - with the big exhaust fitted to 95 per cent of R8s sold.

When shopping for a big car for around $100K that'll haul the family around, tow the boat and still be up for a spirited bash around Hampton Downs, the current E3 range makes it a bit of a no-brainer.

- NZ Herald

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