The virtues of the Clubsport stand out sharply after a steer in a Camry.
I’M IN Port Melbourne picking up a test car. Bertie Street, to be exact, a Mecca for Holden fans and Australian performance cars in the 1980s because this is where Peter Brock’s HDT Special Vehicles was based.
I’m well aware this is a road where countless hot Holden Commodores once laid rubber in the fight against everyday mundanity as Dire Straits pumped out of their Eurovox cassette decks. Yet now, two decades on, at the end of this street, sits the HQ for the most boring car company in the world: Toyota.
I’m picking up the last Aussie-built version of Toyota’s cardigan on wheels as another significant chapter of our car industry approaches its end. Yet, unlike anything from HDT, the Camry is a car I loathe: unexciting, underdone and usually bought by people who don’t like cars. The complete opposite of a mulleted Aussie car lover decades ago, or an HSV buyer today. The Camry is a pragmatic Ned Flanders on wheels, and its buyers don’t want to become race drivers.
The Clubbie is anything but mundane. Like it, loathe it, the R8 is pure entertainment on a daily basis. Yet there’s one part of its skill set that’s not such fun: the inner-city parking game. If the Camry is Flanders from The Simpsons, the white Clubsport is Nelson Muntz. Like Nelson, it has presence and people notice its arrival.
The Clubsport R8’s head-up display is brilliant because it lets you use the centre display
for something other than speed.
Surprisingly, it swaps lanes swiftly and easily, and the steering is light enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re at the controls of a disobedient bullock. It is responsive, sharp and precise, but no amount of engineering can hide the fact it’s five metres of steel. So while it can dice with Melbourne trams, cyclists and pedestrians who fail to check the road before stepping off the pavement, I can’t count the number of times I’ve missed a parking spot left teasingly by a smaller car.
I fume over the fuel it’s soaked up hunting for the next spot, with the trip computer telling me we’ve used more than 20L/100km. Then, down one of Melbourne’s eclectic laneways, with cars parked on both sides and the HSV taking up the entire space between, it felt like threading a needle to get slotted into the only spot left by the mid-morning brunch set feasting on quinoa with a clear conscience. Thank God for that reversing camera, though not that stupid rear wing…
Yet I can live with this. I only occasionally need to park in the CBD, and it just requires a little more patience (and fuel). But I was reminded of why cars like the Clubsport exist while steering that Camry back to Bertie St. On a white VF Clubsport R8 Tourer (I’m not making this up) was a sticker: “Life’s too short to drive boring cars.” Right on.
THE Commodore SS is one car that may stop me paying more for a Clubsport. The chance to steer a Sandman Ute – a stickered-up SS with gaudy-yet-sensuous orange wool seat inserts – was a moment of truth for GENF. And you know what? The Sandy felt that bit more light on its feet in terms of handling, but was slower, didn’t sound anywhere near as good and didn’t give the kick in the back the Clubbie does. Perhaps this HSV stuff is worth it after all.
Read part 2 of our HSV Clubsport long-term car review.
HSV CLUBSPORT R8
Price as tested: $79,365
Part 3: 761km @ 17.8L/100km
Overall: 3890km @ 13.7L/100km
Date acquired: March 2015