After a couple of days split between driving on public roads and the track, the HSV improvements couldn't have been more obvious.
In the "real world", bound by the enthusiastically policed Victorian traffic laws, the limits weren't pushed particularly hard.
While the suspension - standard and MRC set-ups - was quite tractable and compliant, it was settled in touring mode and firm in sport, but maintained composure over surface changes. Performance was a bit too sharp - although on the right bit of quiet country road it could have been entertaining. The Gen-Fs should cope well with New Zealand's mix of surface quality and type.
At the track, V8 Supercars stars Cam McConville, James Courtney, Garth Tander and Greg Murphy used slalom-style exercises to show how the handling had changed with the DPD system. The tighter and tougher of the two went into a cone slalom down to the hairpin, and through more cones, combining both wide radius turns through offset "gates" and more slalom, before spinning round and doing it all backwards.
Even the Maloo utes, which have their tail swinging safety controlled by the fickleness of physics, handled the transitions well, but not quite on par with the more neutral balance of the different Clubsport, Senator and Tourer flavours.
The manually shifted versions were definitely preferable, with a far lighter clutch feel than the last generation and a positive, solid feel on the changes. The automatics can also be manually shifted, but didn't quite give the same sense of control when being thrown through the slalom.
A similar exercise with a bit more speed, and thankfully a bit more room, again highlighted the increase in front-end grip and gave a clearer impression of how cleanly these big-torquing eights can get the power to the ground, without the frantic lock-to-lock of the previous task.
Full laps were the best test, with the SV-packing R8 manual Clubsport being the standout. On Philip Island's long stretches, using the full width of the track and the car's power, the quick throttle response kept the car loaded up just right and the sheer force of its acceleration hauled it out of the corners. Hard braking into tight turns still reminded that 1800kg is a lot, but the big picks didn't have any issues pulling up, lap after lap.
The Maloo R8 proved exciting again, with the rear end swinging around on fast turns tame-able with the right mix of throttle and steering input and the Senator's nimble performance seemed radically at odds with its luxury interior focus, showing the MRC dampers' strengths when teamed with a much sharper and more dynamic chassis.
The first of the new HSVs are on their way to New Zealand, with prices starting at $79,890 for the lesser of the Maloos, Clubsport kicks off at $83,890 and the R8 version is $93,890. Senator, Grange and the yet-to-launch GTS cost from $105,990, $110,990 and $122,990 respectively.
One thing's for certain, if you're looking at an R8, Maloo or Clubsport, be sure to tick that SV box.