2015 HSV Clubsport R8 LSA review

HSV ClubSport R8

HSV saves the best for last, shoehorning the 400kW supercharged LSA V8 into the Clubsport and delivering a performance bargain of staggering capability.

The 400kW Clubsport R8 LSA edges ever closer to HSV's 430kW flagship GTS sedan, and with a price tag of just over $80k, delivers a crushing value proposition. It's the end of days for the Clubbie and it's going out with a bang.

We'd reported the rumours and they turned out to be true, so we grabbed one of the first supercharged Clubbies to roll off the Clayton line, strapped on the timing gear and set out to see if it was as wild as we'd hoped.

Audi S6, BMW M5, Ford Falcon V8, Mercedes-AMG E63

The HSV Clubsport R8 is good old-fashioned fun and 80 grand very well spent. You might expect the Clubbie to be overwhelmed by this dominant engine, but there's genuine talent in the chassis tuning. HSV might have saved the best for last.

PLUS: Manic power delivery; benign handling; space; interior tech; value
MINUS: Lingering Bogan aroma; vast body; fuel thirst

STATS tell us that in the short term you'll remember up to seven facts from this review. Over the longer-term one, maybe two at best. So if there's just one thing you take away from the latest supercharged HSV Clubsport, brand this into your creaking brain: 4200rpm.

HSV-R8-side-When you dial in that many revs, the 6.2-litre LSA V8 performs a remarkable transformation. And you won't miss the transition because there's nothing subtle about it: The engine's timbre stiffens instantly from a breathy rush to a barrel-chested roar and the scenery just explodes through the windscreen.

The first time it happens it's genuinely shocking. When performance testing the car at a dragstrip, none of us could quite believe how violent the bang was, at first wondering whether the supercharger had shot itself in the head. But no, they all do that, sir.

Judging by the metronomic repeatability of the performance figures extracted, they will all do 0-100km/h in 4.7sec and a quarter mile in 12.9. This was on a day so hot that the end of the strip at times disappeared into a shimmering mirage, and HSV's claims of 4.6 to 100 and 12.6 over the quarter in more temperate conditions seem wholly credible.

At this juncture, it's probably worth putting some cards on the table. Despite my almost 20 years of road testing, this is the very first Commodore I've ever driven. Maloos and Monaros in the UK, yes, but this was something new.

New and huge. This Clubsport is bigger than a millennial BMW 7 Series. If you were going to build a credible sports car you really wouldn't start from here, but, like a 911, the Clubsport is a tribute to dogged development over commonsense. You've built a bloody wonderful car here, Australia, and soon it’s going to be history.

HSV-R8-front -straight -onPrior to shuffling off this mortal coil, HSV is sending the Clubbie off with a hell of a bang with the Gen-F2. With 400kW on tap at 6150rpm, it's only 30kW down on the flagship GTS. Can the seat of your pants detect a seven percent difference?

HSV will sell you a Clubsport R8 LSA with a six-speed manual and launch control software for $80,990, while $83,490 nets you the car on test here, with the six-speed GL90E auto.

It's surprisingly mannered at low speed. Yes, there's a flare of revs at start up, a kerbside marking of territory, but beyond that there's virtually no supercharger whine and very little of the characterful woofle you'd expect if you'd driven a few LS3-equipped cars. Put that down largely to the bi-modal exhaust. When tickling around at low revs you could be driving a four or a six.

The torque's there, but the aural response is severely muted, all of which makes the engine's switch from Jekyll to Hyde all the more dramatic. Ladle on the full 671Nm at 4200rpm and, even with the traction control set to maximum granny, the Clubbie will attempt to immolate its rear boots in the dry.

The drive mode selector will mute the soundtrack even further and over-assist the steering in Tour, and you'll probably drive everywhere with it in Sport. Turning it up to Performance merely loosens the traction and stability control that bit further.

HSV-R8-engineFor such a hefty lummox, the ride/handling compromise is unnaturally good and a testament to HSV's chassis tuning expertise. Try to provoke the front end into plough understeer and you'll need to resort to some boneheaded manoeuvres, once you've gone through the interminable button-hold of switching the stability control off.

The long wheelbase allows you to transition from mild understeer into a few degrees of oversteer without requiring the car control of Ken Block, thanks to the exemplary calibration of the electrically assisted helm.

The AP brakes inspire confidence, and stood up to repeated stops from over 200km/h without noticeable fade. 

Burlier spring and damper rates are claimed to improve body control and, while you'll have to manage without the flagship GTS's magnetic suspension and torque vectoring, chances are you won't mind.

The beefier rear suspension architecture improves rear stiffness and braking power, yet it's still resistant to the sort of mid-corner bumps that would send most big sports saloons into a harmonic porpoising near the limit.

The whole drivetrain's been overspecified, from the LSA lump with its higher-grade internals to the heavier duty gearbox, tailshaft, differential and axles, not forgetting industrial-strength cooling for the engine and transmission.

HSV-R8-interiorThe interior is the usual Holden magpie's nest of shiny bits, clashing materials and mismatched grains that shouldn't work but somehow do.

There's not a whole lot that's new indoors, but the exterior styling updates work well, with slashing Lambo-like trapezoidal front intakes and a black theme that incorporates bonnet vents, mirror caps, side skirts and a refreshingly subtle satin graphite low-pro rear wing. Somewhat surprisingly, all the trick gauges of the Enhanced Driver Information system are a $1095 option.

Any grousing feels churlish in the extreme, though. Here is a tidily finished, spacious and dynamically well-sorted car packing 400kW for around 80 grand. That's borderline unbelievable.

Quite honestly, I thought this car was going to be crude, crass and a case study in how the Australian car industry took its eye off the ball. Once in a while it's a joy to be proven utterly wrong.

The Clubsport R8 LSA is a bittersweet triumph, at once riotously enjoyable yet tinged with sadness. There's something almost poetically heroic about this spittle-flecked brawler of a swansong.

Model: HSV Clubsport R8 LSA
Engine: 6162cc V8 (90°), ohv, 16v, supercharger
Max power: 400kW @ 6150rpm
Max torque: 671Nm @ 4200rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 1907kg
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (tested)
Economy: 15.0L/100km
Price: $83,490
On sale: Now

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