2016 HSV Clubsport R8 LSA long term car review, part 1

2016 HSV Clubsport R8 LSA

A teenage fantasy becomes reality.

First published in the August 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia's best car mag since 1953.

IT’S 2001, I’ve just finished playing a game of high-school cricket, and one of the defining moments in my love affair with cars is about to happen.

As I slide my gear into my bag, a member of the opposite team is collected by his dad in a brand new HSV Clubsport. It’s a white VX, it’s immaculate, and as they cruise slowly past at a pace guaranteed to attract as many eyeballs as possible from the watching crowd, the kid rolls down the passenger window

and plants his elbow firmly on the sill. In that moment, it is the coolest car in the world.

I should point out here that I grew up in Bathurst, at the foot of Mount Panorama, and had such an affinity for fast Holdens that I painted my BMX bike red and plastered it with Mark Skaife stickers.

HSV-Clubsport -R8-LSA-enginAnyway, you can appreciate why collecting my new HSV Clubsport R8 LSA long-termer was so exciting. Mine’s a wagon, and first impressions of the home-grown steed that will fill my driveway for the next four months are brilliant.

HSV has given the Clubsport a visual overhaul for the Gen-F2 series, and the addition of matte-black inserts in the front bar, side skirts and bonnet, plus a new design for the machined 20-inch wheels (255/35R20 up front and 275/35R20 out back), has turned the aggression up to 11.

If there’s a visual disappointment, it’s at the rear, which remains unchanged in wagon spec – HSV says that Tourer volumes are so small it didn’t justify the investment – and it looks a little Plain Jane compared to the rest of the Clubsport’s pumped-up physique.

HSV-Clubsport -R8-LSA-rearStill, that letdown is quickly forgotten when you prod the start button. Under that vented bonnet lies the same 6.2-litre supercharged V8 as HSV’s flagship GTS, only in a lesser 400kW/671Nm tune. It barks into life, and with Sport mode engaged on the selector dial, settles into a loud and lumpy idle that rocks the car.

Normally I like to break in a new long-termer over a series of short trips (usually to and from work) where I learn the ins and outs of its character over a period of weeks, but this time is different. With a few days of annual leave approved and a beach cabin booked on the NSW coast, the wife and I throw the fishing rods in the 895-litre boot (the Clubsport sedan has 496L) and head north.

It takes less than an hour for the HSV to work its way under my skin. It’s roomy, sublimely comfortable, and in top gear on the Hume freeway, with the big blown eight ticking over at little more than 1200rpm, an effortless cruiser. It’s not even that thirsty for a car with this level of performance, with long stretches of flat freeway returning a fuel reading in the low 11s.

HSV-Clubsport -R8-LSA-hood -aeroThe one thing I can’t get on board with so far is the sound. Sure it’s mean on start-up, but the Clubby’s audible package is bit of a letdown low in the rev range, where it’s too quiet and lacks character. This changes drastically above 4200rpm, where flaps in the exhaust open with a loud metallic snap and the big bent-eight lets loose with a bellow, yet even here the note isn’t what I was expecting. A Holden VFII SS-V Redline, which costs $30K less, sounds better.

Still, it’s clear the rest of the Clubby’s package is living up to the memory I have of that white VX. Except mine’s even cooler because it’s supercharged. And it’s a wagon, and fast wagons are awesome.

Rarer than a Ferrari

Yep, you read that correctly. HSV only sells about 150 Clubsport wagons each year, fewer than the 167 cars Ferrari moved in 2015. Imagine my surprise, then, when I pulled up next to another R8 Tourer on a freeway on-ramp in Melbourne. His was black, which made it look even more sinister, and he’d optioned the ‘Red Hot’ leather trim that adds red accents into the top of the heavily bolstered seats. He seemed to appreciate the spec of my Clubby, too, and we gave each other a respectful nod as we accelerated away from the lights.

I see the light!

I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t always liked station wagons.

In fact, I kind of hated them. To my younger self, wagons seemed so uncool and so old-fashioned that I figured you only bought one if you valued practicality over everything else. Maybe I thought this way because my Pop drove one? In any case, I’ve since seen the light. Wagons, especially fast ones, offer such a convincing blend of performance, looks and, yes, practicality that I find myself wondering why anyone would ever buy an SUV instead.

Price as tested: $85,990
Part 1: 2555km @ 12.5L/100km
Overall: 2555km @ 12.5L/100km
Odometer: 8123km
Date acquired: March 2016

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