HSV Senator a wolf in very refined clothing

By Matt Greenop

Huge V8 offers bad-boy grunt when necessary

The Senator looks refined and dignified -- until you floor it. Pictures / Ted Baghurst
The Senator looks refined and dignified -- until you floor it. Pictures / Ted Baghurst

Senator is quite an apt name for what is possibly the most refined and polite of the HSV range -- when it's behaving in an acceptable manner it's well turned out, it won't really offend anyone and it gets its job done with a bare minimum of fuss and bother.

If it goes the other way -- which it really shouldn't but is more than capable of -- it's an utter reprobate that will piss off anyone with a shred of decency, get a hearty pat on the back from the mates and go wildly, wickedly over the edge. Then it'll re-knot its tie, straighten the jacket and pretend that nothing untoward ever happened.

The Senator is based on the Calais -- Holden's swept-up exec model that will go the same way as the Commodore within the next few years. It's a pity, when you think about it, the Aussie battler finally finds a decent suit to wear and gets laid off.

But that doesn't change the fact that the Gen-F version from HSV takes it up a notch from the previous E3 model, cleans up its act a bit while learning some even nastier tricks for when nobody's looking.

Motivated by the SV-spec version of the 6.2-litre V8 -- meaning a bump to a very un-PC 340kW from the "usual" 325kW and 570Nm to boot -- it's certainly not lacking in power.

With quite elegant lines that don't scream "look at me, I'm a bloody great V8, mate", HSV has managed to follow Holden's lead and, like Ron Burgundy, stay classy. The stunning paint on the Senator tested, which flicked from black to green when the sun hit it, was a perfect example.

The interior keeps the theme, with nicely turned out heated and electrically-controlled onyx leather seats -- impressively supportive and comfortable over distance. Most of the dash is pure GM -- not necessarily a bad thing with the considerable improvements made from the VE to VF Commodores. One piece of pure tack is the dual gauges fitted just forward of the trans shifter -- utterly pointless, housed in a squeaky gloss plastic surround and a smear on the Senator's good name.

The EDI -- Enhanced Driver Interface -- is an HSV special, giving everything from G-Force readouts, gauges, lap counters with almost every Kiwi track pre-loaded, and allowing adjustment to the induction and bi-modal exhaust. Drivers can also turn a toggle wheel forward of the central elbow rest to flick between Tour, Sport and Performance mode.

The Senator's big trick is magnetic suspension -- in Tour mode, it becomes as compliant and well-behaved as an ambitious back bencher, soaking up the holes and hits of New Zealand's rural runs without breaking a sweat. A step to the right, into the Sport default setting and things get a bit more raucous, and Performance lets it behave like the last night of party conference, when the cameras are gone and only the truly faithful remain.

Poised and purposeful on a smooth road, Performance isn't the right setting for everyone -- but it's well-set for the odd bit of bad boy, sharper than you'd expect from an "execmobile". Most Senator buyers will be more Tour, more often. It's a comfortable car to cart clients and colleagues in, and still makes those burbly V8 noises that are increasingly hard to resist in this tiny turbo four era. As a result, it's not exactly frugal around town, heading up over 18.5L/100km when putting up with stop/start traffic, but cruising on open road saw it drop markedly, making the factory claimed 14.8L/100km combined consumption quite obtainable. But resisting that sound and the surge of torque sitting the back end down and catapulting the big sedan down the road is where that figure might just go out the four fat tailpipes.

It does tip the scales around the 1800kg mark, so like many in the political arena, there's no shortage of podge. But it still gets the grunt to the ground, lighting up those 275/35/20 rear tyres enough to feel a bit naughty, but not enough to chew them to bits.

The six-speed transmission is quite easy to get the best of, whether shifting manually or letting it do the work for you. Paddle shifters would have made for a slightly more involving experience.

HSV -- thanks in part to GM's development of the VF -- has lifted the $105,990 Senator's game brilliantly, and probably more than the others in the range. There's enough respectability to fade away unnoticed when need be; ample refinement to play the smiling nice guy; or the serious and sensible. But get that 340kW monster working hard, the cufflinks go in the ashtray, sleeves get rolled up and there's that flash of mongrel -- this Senator is still very much the political animal.

- NZ Herald

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