FPV GS Road Test Review
IT'S A GOOD TIME to be living in Australia.
Good point one: we now have access to many of the same efficient new-age diesels as our European counterparts.
Good point two: we can also choose from an increasing number of alternative drive vehicles coming - or soon to arrive - from Japan.
But, best point: we've still got a healthy choice of home-grown V8s priced well within the reach of the average buyer. We're spoiled for choice, and it's little things like this that make this country great.
Aside from the SS and XR8 offered by Holden and Ford, there’s the factory-tuned GT and R8 from FPV and HSV – and now there’s another.
The GS is FPV’s newest entrant to the Aussie muscle car market. It’s aimed squarely at buyers wanting FPV performance without the GT’s premium pricing.
The GS nomenclature will be familiar to older muscle car fans who remember the Grand Sport package offered on 1970s-era Falcons. FPV has deliberately revived the name for its new limited-edition budget model.
The GS sits at the bottom of the FPV range, and at $54,950 is only $7960 more than the Ford XR8. Only 250 examples will be built. The question is, of course, is it worth the extra outlay?
Look familiar? It should. Underneath the stripe package and GS graphics lies the standard body of the XR8, albeit dressed up with new wheels (actually the same 19-inch design used by the rest of the FPV’s FG-series models).
The visual presence of the GT’s raccoon-eyed bodykit may be absent, but the GS is no shrinking violet.
Attention-grabbing stripes stretch along each flank, and the prominent bonnet hump is accentuated by two strips emblazoned with “Boss 302”. (Boss being FPV’s pet name for its much-loved V8, and 302 being the power output of the GS in kilowatts.)
The endplates of the rear wing also advertise the kilowattage of the GS’s 5.4 litre V8, and stylised “GS” stickers adorn the rear doors and bootlid.
While the bumper mouldings and bonnet stamping are the same as the XR8’s, there is one key point of difference. Two chrome tailpipes exit from under the rear bumper, rather than the XR8’s single outlet.
For those who take note of such things, it’s the same dual exhaust system as that fitted to the GT.
Our test car was painted in Ford’s ‘Ego’ metallic – a dark grey hue that works well with the FG’s curves and is offset nicely by the silver graphics applied by FPV. We’ve got a hunch it would look even better in white though.
The GS looks great, to say the least, and it’s amazing how much a graphics package can enhance the (already good-looking) XR8’s bodywork.
Some may be turned off by the XR8-sourced exterior, but the understated GS definitely makes a far better ‘sleeper’ than the GT.
Like the rest of FPV’s sedan range, the interior of the GS is typical FG fare. There’s lots of high-quality black plastic, a beige headliner and silver trim pieces, all packaged up in the FG’s excellent cabin layout.
Black cloth seats are standard, however our tester was equipped with the optional “Nudo Shadow” leather sports seats.
They’re supportive pews and comfortable for long cruises, but slimmer drivers will find them lacking in lateral ‘hold’ while carving up curvy roads.
The driver's seat features power adjustment for squab height only, with manual controls for slide and backrest tilt. The passenger’s seat is entirely manual.
The steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake, and most won’t have any trouble fitting into the driver’s seat of the GS. However, the excellent power-adjustable pedal box that’s standard on the F6 E isn’t offered in the budget-priced GS.
The rear seats are roomy and softly padded, but don’t count on them holding your passengers in place during any spirited cornering.
Still, with three people able to be carried across the rear bench in comfort, the task of justifying the purchase of a GS is made slightly easier for family-bound petrolheads.
A 60/40 split-fold rear seat allows long loads to be accommodated within the GS, and the boot is huge at 535 litres with the rear seats up. Like other FPV sedans, the GS is as practical as it is sporty.
Equipment and Features
Because of its budget positioning within FPV’s range, the spec list of the GS is a little thinner than the GT’s.
iPod integration, Bluetooth telephony and dual-zone climate control are standard, as is FPV’s push-button starter (which, annoyingly, still requires the key to be turned in the ignition).
Sound is provided by a premium stereo with six-disc CD stacker and MP3 compatibility, and sound reproduction is good.
A subwoofer mounted on the parcel shelf delivers punchy bass, but its sizable magnet eats into boot space.
Satellite navigation is a cost option, along with a reversing camera and reverse parking sensors (both of which were fitted to our loaner).
Safety equipment consists of the same 6-airbag (front, front-side and full-length curtain) suite employed by all other Falcon sedans, as well as three-point seatbelts for all five seats.
The FPV GS is also equipped with stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.
The stability control and traction control systems are programmed to complement the car’s performance, and allow a measured degree of wheel slip before intervening.
Motivation comes from a slightly detuned version of the GT’s 5.4 litre Boss V8, with power output peaking at 302kW and torque topping out at 551Nm. It may be the GT’s baby sister, but the GS is definitely not short of muscle.
The GS’s powerplant is mechanically identical to the GT’s engine, however a lower rev limit and different ECU mapping means 13 kilowatts have gone AWOL. Peak torque, happily, is still the same, and when it comes to getting the GS’s 1880kg frame moving, peak torque is the metric that matters.
A six-speed manual – the same Tremec TR6060 unit used in the SS Commodore – is the standard transmission, however the excellent ZF six-speed tiptronic auto is offered as a $2000 option and is specifically calibrated to make the most of the GS’s engine.
Fuel economy is officially claimed to be 14.0 l/100km, but we achieved 13.2 l/100km during the week that we had the car. A respectable result for an 1847kg performance sedan.
Power is taken from the gearbox to the rear wheels through a limited-slip differential, and sticky 245mm-wide Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres are tasked with harnessing the GS’s substantial output.
Suspension is the same double A-arm front and multi-link rear setup used by all FG sedans, with springs and dampers specifically tuned for the GS by FPV.
Standard braking hardware is the same ventilated disc/sliding caliper arrangement offered on the XR8 (albeit painted a sporty shade of red), however our car was equipped with the upgraded Brembo brake package.
The big brake package consists of four-piston Brembo front calipers, a single-piston sliding rear caliper and four cross-drilled and ventilated rotors (355mm on the front and 328mm on the rear). The red calipers contrast nicely against the graphite wheels, and they bite into those discs very hard indeed.
It may not be as powerful as the big-brother GT, but the GS’s 302kW output is more than respectable.
With its 551Nm of torque, the 5.4 litre V8 gets the GS moving very smartly. And, incidentally, its smooth linear delivery is much easier to manage than the manic power delivery of the turbocharged F6.
By virtue of its bigger capacity and natural aspiration, the Boss 302 engine is also more responsive to throttle inputs than FPV’s boosted six, making it a more driveable controllable car when pushing hard from corner to corner.
Low-down torque isn’t as abundant as it is in Holden’s V8 offerings, but the Boss 302 loves to rev and it prefers to deliver the bulk of its muscle from 3500rpm upwards. Torque peaks at 4750rpm, but there’s plenty of urge below that.
A smooth, free-spinning unit, the GS’s V8 also happens to sound brilliant.
Deep at idle, throaty in the mid-range and positively bellowing near the 6000rpm fuel cut, the 302’s exhaust note is music to anyone's ears and easily one of the better V8 noises around.
At cruise, there is not much to be heard from below the bonnet, but squeeze the throttle and the big V8 definitely makes its presence felt.
As much as we love a traditional three-pedal H-pattern manual gearbox, we have to sing the praises of the ZF-sourced six-speed automatic.
Its ratios and shift mapping complement the power delivery of the GS nicely, and tall gearing sees it consume around 9.5 l/100km during high-speed cruising.
The plus-minus plane of the tiptronic gate is the 'right' way around (pull to upshift, push to downshift), but having to tip the lever away from you to enable manual shifts seems to make less ergonomic sense.
Reaching for the shifter would surely be easier if it were closer to your left hand.
Left to its own devices in Sport Mode though, the six-speed auto does a good job of predicting driver demands and picking the appropriate cog for the situation. Drive the car hard and it engages gears later, also holding on to them during deceleration to increase the effect of engine braking.
It can’t quite downshift with the same throttle-blipped precision of the Lexus IS-F’s eight-speed auto, but then again, the GS is just over a third the cost of the much fancier Lexus.
Besides, if the ZF six-speed is good enough for Maserati (it now swaps gears in the Quattroporte), it’s more than adequate for FPV’s low-cost sports sedan.
While the V8 and six-speed transmission are great, the way the GS handles may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The substantial weight of the iron-blocked V8 hangs over the front axle, giving the nose considerable inertia – in other words, it sometimes feels like the proverbial 'lead-tipped arrow'.
But don't be misled, turn-in is sharp; the GS corners far better than its weight and dimensions would suggest it should and the grip from the Dunlops is reassuring. That said, the GS lacks the 'pointiness' of the SS - the handling is a touch vague in comparison.
These are classic muscle car traits though, and they do give the GS more personality than its Holden-badged competitor.
Importantly, you can still hustle it up a mountain road at a surprising rate of knots.
It’s perfect for highway cruising. While high-speed damping is a little on the firm side and small bumps and broken surfaces can transmit a bit of noise into the cabin, the GS just loves to eat up undulating country backroads.
The comfortable seats, the abundant torque and the weighty, communicative steering inspire confidence, and the GS is great for clocking up mile after mile in relative comfort.
In town, the low-speed civility of the V8 makes it a relaxed car to drive from stoplight to stoplight.
Opening the throttle a little wider than usual serves up more than enough speed to overtake slower traffic. In these conditions, it delivers its power without the licence-destroying suddenness of the F6 and is hence a more livable car in day-to-day driving.
There is some road noise from the wide Dunlop rubber over coarse-chip surfaces, but on the whole the cabin of the GS is a pleasant place to spend some time.
It may lack the opulence of the luxury-oriented GT E and F6 E, but the FG’s already well-sorted interior layout pays dividends for the GS in terms of comfort.
Less is more? In some ways, yes. The GS is less powerful, less flashy and not as well-equipped as its FPV stablemates, but the basic package still delivers an excellent drive.
The GS may be a limited-edition model for now, but we get the feeling FPV will be continuing the formula of cut-down spec and cut-down pricing in its next round of FG-based performance sedans.
Word on the street is that FPV will take over the whole performance portfolio from Ford Australia in the near future, meaning the GS may set the mould for an FPV XR8 replacement.
If the rumours turn out to be true then that’s a good thing. The GS offers a far more satisfying driving experience than the regular XR8 - and for just eight grand more.
For roughly $300 less than a Holden Commodore SS V sedan, you get a modern-looking sports sedan that can swallow a whole family and their luggage, carry them across the state in comfort and do double-duty as a track car on weekends.
It offers 90 percent of the capability of the FPV GT for around $13,000 less. On this reckoning alone the value of the GS is undeniable.
For some, $54,950 may seem a lot of money for what looks like a dressed-up XR8. But considering what the FPV GS offers in both practicality and performance, it’s a bargain.