Just like sitting on the toilet, I find air travel an ideal opportunity to relax and let my thoughts flow free. And during my most recent wing trip to Queensland, I had plenty of time to contemplate how good - or how bad - the current 5.7-litre HSV Clubsport R8 and SV300 might be. The driving of two of these cars was, after all, the whole purpose of this particular work trip. (Yes, it's a tough life etc etc...)
Just what would these cars be like to drive?
Squeezed up against the window alongside a bloke who - really - should've been allocated two seats, I pondered how any car company with a conscience could let loose what would surely be a very easily out of control 300kW RWD V8. And how could a car wearing 18-inch wheels and ultra-low profile rubber possibly give an acceptable ride in day-to-day usage?
Most of all, I wondered how come that kid in the row behind kept kicking my backrest...
Balancing my thoughts, I - like everyone else, it seems - love most of HSV's sexy body themes. The design crew at Holden Special Vehicles certainly know how to catch your eye. And let's not forget the attraction of the modified big LS1 Chev V8s - if their claimed power is correct, these HSVs must be absolute rocket ships. Machines capable of giving a real kick.
Dammit kid, do that again and I'll rip your bloody legs off!
A couple of hours later, I found myself buckled into the first HSV lined up for my visit - the 255kW Clubsport R8. Local Queenslander, Editor Julian Edgar, was chauffeuring me to my accommodation.
So what were my first impressions from the passenger seat of the Clubbie?
Hell, it's pretty refined. Cruising along at just over 100 kays, the exhaust noise was nothing more than a distant conversation between the twin outlets. The ride was also surprisingly supple; yes, it was firm-ish, but a l-o-n-g way from the unsorted boneshaker I'd expected.
Being late at night, I later clapped out in bed - pleasantly surprised by the Clubsport's apparent civility.
Rising bright and early(?) the next morning, it was my turn to head off and feel the Clubsport for myself. My unfamiliarity with the local roads meant I couldn't push quite as hard as otherwise possible (I wonder what's on the other side of this crest?), but the Clubsport was amazingly easy to get into and haul arse. There's no massive lift-off oversteer to keep tabs on, there's no rush of torque to send the rear tyres into a smokin' frenzy, the whole package was - dare I say it - very 'nice'. And those upgrade R8 brakes performed stupendously well - totally reassuring.
It sounds odd, but the Clubsport R8 is the sort of car you could hand over to a visiting relative for a day without fear of tragedy.
Any fool can drive it - I did...
And how were all those 255 kilowatts? To be honest, I was sceptical whether HSV had got their numbers right - two-fifty-five my arse, I thought. At low rpm there's a lack of torque uncharacteristic of a 5.7-litre V8, the mid-range is moderately grunty and, well, the top-end kinda tapers off.
Undoubtedly, the Clubsport is quick - it's claimed mid 6-second 0 - 100 km/h quick - but it never really feels it. There certainly isn't the blood rush you get in some other comparably paced vehicles.
Thankfully, though, I discovered there's a whole lot more to the Clubsport than straight-line excitement. Over the many kilometres travelled that day, its surefootedness blew me away; perhaps it's largely thanks to the sticky Bridgestones but, regardless, this thing points where you want and almost nothing bucks it.
Once I got over my totally incorrect mental images of mega-power HSVs oversteering out-of-control into oblivion, I came to appreciate how swiftly and capably the Clubsport could thread its way over any given stretch of road. It's not the V8 power that's the key - it's the tenacious never-gonna-let-go adhesion and chassis stability that does it. Just grit your teeth, hold the cornering line you want and GO - the last time I felt such a bond with the road was when I was running semi-slicks on my (long gone) all-wheel-drive Liberty RS turbo...
Taking time to smell the rubber, or roses, or whatever, the Clubsport is also very comfortable to pedal. Despite its low profile tyres, the ride quality from the 'Touring' spec suspension continued to impress - it's damn near perfect. Add to that cosy bolstered seats, a good driving position and a lack of items that stand out as jeez-isn't-that-stupid and you've got a very, very appealing all-round car.
And - yes - we are still talking about a car based on a Holden Commodore.
Certainly, the Clubsport R8 was a major surprise for me. This is a car I'd very willingly own - just add a few more kilowatts for a bit more of a driving thrill. Oh, and a top-notch anti-theft system as well...
The next day Julian and I arrived at the local HSV office to exchange one heavily brake dust'd Clubsport R8 for the granddaddy of all HSVs - the 300kW SV300 axe murderer.
First impression - "Eeek, what an ugly bastard!" Get a load of the weird roof spoiler-come-sunshade, the awkwardly styled rims and - oh-my-god - who's responsible for that vomit-in-a-bucket nose cone?
The Clubsport R8 must be the beauty of HSV's 4-door family - the SV300 is surely adopted...
Things weren't much better inside either - it looks like someone's been trying a bit too hard, y' know what I mean? The contrast stitching and 'highlights' certainly catch the eye but - urggh - where's the pimp... Forget all the leather and the fancy stitching; I much prefer the Clubsport's fabric interior. Oh, and what's the story with manually adjusted seats on a near-$100k Commodore?!
Enough of the SV300's questionable tastes - let's get down to smokin' rubber.
Julian fires the big Calloway-developed donk into life and drives us gently out of the HSV office block - brm-brm-brm. Out of sight - and earshot - of HSV, he then nails the throttle and....
Multiple-choice question time!
A - Did the SV300 leave two smouldering lines on the bitumen?
B - Did the SV300 nearly break our necks?
C - Did the SV300 feel a bit stronger than the Clubsport, but still fail to excite?
Of course, with 300kW on tap the answer must surely be A or B...
Here, again, was a mega-power V8 that was quick but - somehow - unexciting. The exhaust bellow was glorious, the shift light and buzzer worked a treat, but - hey - is that all she's got?
Maybe it's the flat torque curve messing with my head, maybe it's the fact that the Commodore body is so large that speed feels slow. Whatever it is, the SV300 must be the tamest 300kW car ever. Certainly, an Evo 6 Tommi Makinen (with only '206kW') could devastate the owner of a SV300.
Venturing onto the twisty stuff, I reckon the SV300 performed pretty much line-ball with the Clubsport R8. It was very impressive. Both shared the same tyres and the same size wheels - the only difference is the SV300's suspension tune. Noticeably firmer than the Clubsport, it's set up more to suit smooth roads, but it's still a long way from being the boneshaker I'd earlier imagined.
Like the Clubsport, the SV300 also potters around at low speed without any discomfort. The lumpier cam profile, however, does cause some shakin' at idle. Also, like the Clubsport, you've gotta keep your eye on the fuel level gauge - these hot LS1s devour premium unleaded at an incredible rate. How does up to 19 litres per 100km grab ya?!
Finally, after a few days of lairing around in HSVs, my time is up; it's time to head home. Julian drops me off at the Brisbane airport and - for the last time - I hear the big 5.7's beautiful exhaust note.
"Bye-bye, HSV," I think to myself, "maybe in a few years, when you've crashed in value, we'll meet again..."
It's a sad farewell.
A few minutes later Julian rings me from his mobile. "Hey, I've just stop-watch timed the SV300's nought to one hundred. It's easily into the low sixes with a really gentle launch - so maybe it will do the claimed high fives given a proper clutch dump..."
That sure provided some food for thought for my return flight (which, thankfully, was free of annoying children). Hmmm, maybe those mild-to-drive HSVs are quicker than they feel...
Stay tuned for our up-coming detailed reviews of each car!