What a difference 29 years makes. When HSV launched its first Commodore based performance car, the SS Group A in 1988, it produced a rather paltry (by today's standards) 180kW from a 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 that had only just picked-up electronic fuel injection for the first time.
Fast-forward to today and the least powerful Holden Commodore musters 185kW while HSV’s entry-point is a whopping 410kW 6.2-litre supercharged V8. Ain’t progress grand?
To celebrate a milestone, HSV has released the 30 Years edition, which doesn’t actually celebrate 30 years of building cars (since there won’t be any locally built cars to modify in 2018) but rather 30 Years since HSV formed as a company… Good enough then.
Vehicle Style: High performance large sedan
Price: $85,490 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 410kW/691Nm 6.2-litre 8cyl supercharged petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 15.0 l/100km | Tested: 17.0 l/100km
With naturally aspirated engines a thing of the past for HSV, the supercharged LSA range will see the current generation of fast Holdens out, as production comes to a close later this year. That’s certainly one way to go out with a bang.
It’s important too, seeing as HSV’s bread and butter has always been the Commodore, apart from a few dazed and confused attempts at slapping HSV badges on Nissan-built Astras, Isuzu-built Jackaroos, and again on the Astra, this time built by Opel.
The HSV Clubsport R8 LSA 30 Years - yes, that’s its official name - is now the cheapest way into a HSV four-door from $82,990, plus another $2500 for an auto (a Maloo R8 LSA 30 Years is $3000 less) and a further $3495 for the optional six-piston brakes as seen on this car, bringing the as-tested price up to $88,985 before on-road costs.
You’re probably not alone in thinking that’s a bit outlandish for a Commodore, after all that price would buy two of the aforementioned 185kW Evoke entry models, with change - but then again not even two Evokes combined can’t match the Clubby’s grunt.
And it’s not just a cobbled together hot-shop special, as this is a proper performance car with genuine muscle carcredentials (that sound you can hear in the background is probably a chorus of badge-snobs scoffing) that also happens to seat five in spacious comfort.
It’ll be the last of its kind too. Attainable, yet exclusive with a kind of purity that’s absent from ever more politically-correct performance cars.
- Standard Equipment: Leather trim, dual-zone climate control, powered front sports seats, cruise control, trip computer, keyless entry and ignition, auto headlights and wipers, colour head-up display.
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, AM/FM/CD player, Aux and USB input, nine-speaker Bose audio
- Options Fitted: AP Racing six-piston brake package $3495
- Cargo Volume: 496 litres
The Holden Commodore’s VF upgrades in 2013 helped step the big sedan’s interior up a notch from the at-times cheap looking and feeling VE that preceded it, with a nicely finished dash, and plenty of new tech for the whole car.
Seating space is generous, thanks to the Clubsport’s big footprint and long wheelbase and the front seats, though heavily bolstered, aren’t so grippy as to immobilise front seat occupants - something broad-shouldered Aussies can’t help but appreciate. And the same goes if you’re a little broader around the middle too.
The back seat is made for three, although the centre tunnel intrusion does require the centre passenger to straddle the rather intrusive bump.
As for HSV-specificity, apart from the front seats there’s not too much, though the eagle eyes will pick the performance mode dial in the centre console, and even blind man Freddy will clock the omnipresent HSV logos on the centre console tray, seats, gauges, and in the infotainment and trip computer start-up screens.
Of course, owing to HSV’s more humble underpinnings there’s a few small items that don’t look 90-grand’s worth, like some of the lower dash plastics, clacky-feeling column stalks lifted straight from a Cruze, and a steering wheel that looks like it was donated from a GM pickup truck rather than a sports car but overall there’s plenty to like.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: Supercharged 6.2-litre LSA V8, 410kW @6150rpm, 691Nm @4200rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic with shift paddles, torque-vectoring rear wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: Optional six-piston AP Racing calipers, ventilated discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering
- Towing Capacity: 1600kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Right then, let’s just stop for a moment and appreciate 410kW and 691Nm. If you want to get even close to that you could drop $155k on a Mercedes-AMG C 63 S and still only get 375kW (but a slightly healthier 700Nm) proving there’s some kind of value in the HSV still.
The result is acceleration that’ll make you laugh every time you mash the throttle like a lunatic. And you’ll need to be a little bit unhinged, as there’s mere seconds between standing still in the Clubsport R8 LSA and having lost your licence. In fact this paragraph will have probably taken you three times as long to read as the Clubby’s 0-100 km/h acceleration.
Astute fans will note that compared to the 2016 LSA cars, the 30 Years edition gains an extra 10kW and 20Nm. It didn’t need them, but who’s going to argue about their inclusion, right?
HSV has also added a version of torque vectoring, with by-brake modulation of the rear axle to send power where it can be more useful, and you can genuinely feel it when you stomp the throttle mid-corner as the Clubsport’s bum feels like it’s gripping the pavement even tighter, rather than just creating tyre smoke or bucking wildly like it probably ought to.
If all-day 0-100 km/h acceleration isn’t the only thing you’ll do with your Clubsport it’s also good to know that despite a fine-handling performance suspension setup, it rides with all the comfort of a big car built for Aussie conditions.
On rough-and-tumble back roads the Clubsport can ride out most of the worst of those roads neglected by rural councils. There’s a firm undertone to the ride, but only the biggest and most severe potholes caused any kind of disturbance.
Three driving modes - Sport, Performance, and Track - step through settings for the steering weight, traction and stability intervention, and bi-modal exhaust, and you’ll notice there’s no Comfort or Eco modes here.
Performance strikes the most useful compromise, giving the steering a more natural feel, allowing a little bit of rear end fun within safe parameters, and allowing more V8 bellow into the cabin more often - although bystanders get the best soundbites by far.
The weak spot in the whole package might be the six-speed automatic. You can, of course, choose a six-speed manual as well, which would be the suggested option for purists.
Unfortunately the years haven’t been kind to GM Powertrain’s six-speed unit, and although it sees work in other performance cars, its basics are also designed to work with pickup trucks and SUVs and at times it feels a little truck-like.
In an era with lightning-fast, ultra-smooth gear changes from multi-plate and dual-clutch autos from Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the slurred slow-paced changes of the Clubsport can leave the driver feeling underwhelmed.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - the VF Commodore the HSV range is based upon scored 35.06 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2013.
Safety Features: Six airbags, multi-stage stability control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and a reversing camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: HSV’s capped price servicing extends for five years or 105,000km (with 9 month/15,000km intervals) with the first four services priced at $329 each and the following three services priced at $399 each. Terms and conditions apply, your HSV dealer can provide more information on the program.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Real rivals for the HSV range are in short supply now that Ford’s Falcon and its performance models have bitten the dust, but if it's a low-priced, V8-powered hulking sedan you’re after the Chrysler 300 SRT offers plenty of muscle and plenty of metal for the money.
If yours simply has to be rear-wheel drive and buckets of fun, without the need to tote a family around, the BMW M2 sneaks in under $100k and is a whole barrel of laughs to drive. Yes it is smaller and less powerful but after your first track weekend in it you probably won’t give a damn, nor will you be able to wipe the grin off your mug.
If you’re a tinkerer and can’t leave a car standard, perhaps the Infiniti Q50 is the car for you? It looks utterly mundane in factory form, and doesn’t provide real driving thrills, but it is cheaper than the Clubsport, and it’s certainly quick so one of these and a little help from the aftermarket could see you driving something ridiculously fast and very, very unique - if you’re brave.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
HSV may have stolen the show with its bonkers 474kW farewell edition GTSR W1, but price and rarity sees it out of the reach of many buyuers. That’s a right shame, for sure, but after a week behind the wheel of the ‘base model’ HSV it’s hard to see how you could be upset with the basic package.
Better still, the Clubsport isn't a car for everyone. With brash styling and brutal horsepower it’s a bit like joining an exclusive society, where Euro-snobbery and brand caché need not apply.
It’s also the last of a line and celebrates 29 years of Aussie ingenuity, of stuffing outlandishly powerful engines into sedate sedans and creating something pretty wild every time, of making local cars work for local conditions.
It might also be where the HSV story as we know it ends, with the company still to clarify its future direction (though no matter what it builds next the underpinnings will be fully-imported) and a choice of either sedate transverse engined hatchbacks, or big heavy ladder-on-frame from Holden’s mainstream range, this HSV will be the last where the ‘H’ in the name really means something.
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