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HSV GTS-R W1: 2018 Car of the Year review

By Nathan Ponchard, 06 Feb 2018 COTY

HSV GTS-R W1 2018 Car of the Year contender

Wildcard entry that put the emphasis on ‘wild’

IN PURE Car of the Year criteria terms, the HSV GTS-R W1 almost certainly shouldn’t be here.

But extraordinary times – such as the recent demise of Australia’s century-old car manufacturing industry – often call for extraordinary measures. And in many ways, the W1 is an extraordinary car.

Let’s remove the elephant from the room first. This is a heavily modified version of a four-year-old sedan (remember the VF’s Round Three appearance at COTY 2013?), based on an all-Australian design that claimed a COTY trophy on its debut in 2006.

So while the GTSR W1 gets its own dry-sumped engine and close-ratio gear set (from the Corvette ZR1), a unique input shaft (rated at 850Nm), a twin-plate clutch, solid flywheel, new suspension hardware and toughened components, it fails to tick the ‘significantly modified’ box for body alterations.

Different bumpers, styling details and badgework simply aren’t enough. Same goes for its microfibre-clad steering wheel. You can option that on a regular GTS-R.

But this is the last time we’ll ever feature a ‘new’ Aussie-made V8 of any kind in this magazine. And given we find ourselves at this poignant juncture in Australian motoring history, we were prepared to look the other way while the W1 joined the grid.

In terms of fuel economy, its 16.5L/100km official number is nowhere near as heinous as its real-world consumption can be. That MH3 gear set is all about racetrack prowess, meaning the W1’s stupendous LS9 bent-eight is turning at 1950rpm at 100km/h, copious emissions and thunder erupting from its exhaust ... all of which is about as relevant to most owners as a Toyota Prius’s 0-100km/h figure.

Potentially the same applies to the W1’s Supashock suspension. It ditches HSV’s sophisticated magnetised adaptive dampers for fixed-rate units derived from Supercars race cars, and on the handling course at Lang Lang there’s tangible evidence that they hunker this 1.9-tonne lump down to the task at hand.

Vast Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres – measuring 295/30R20 at the business end – help, of course, yet the W1’s stunning poise, power-down and performance, even carrying four passengers, will remain branded in everyone’s memory as arguably the quickest thing we’ve ever driven around Holden’s proving ground.

Terrific human/machine interface too. “Manual gearbox works brilliantly on this car” commented Andy Enright, alluding to the surprising ease and precision of its shift and clutch relationship, even in a pilot-build car like this that’s been absolutely flogged by the press. And we’re going to miss the W1’s vast interior with its generous seating and honest-to-goodness aura.

Not surprisingly, though, the W1 demands many compromises in the real world. Its suspension doesn’t like bumps and jostles constantly, at times quite vigorously.

Besides forward-collision warning, it offers no real active-safety smarts, and if you’re wondering where its 70 percent price premium over a similar GTS-R sedan went, then you wouldn’t be alone.

This is a purpose-built performance machine whose razor-sharp focus necessitates that it can’t possibly please everyone.

But if value can be measured in the prices now being asked for this sold-out $170K swansong sedan, then maybe its position as Australia’s greatest-ever V8 could even be financially justified.

What’s harder to swallow, though, is the void this car is going to leave.

As Noelle Faulkner so eloquently pointed out, it’s “a bittersweet drive, not to mention a cultural loss. It’s hard to be critical of something that will never exist again.”

Angle of attack

We bent the rules to include the W1, but the teenagers swarming in our motel carpark certainly appreciated it, as did each judge as they extended the old-school, bad-to-the-bone LS9 V8 to its 6600rpm limit.

“I’ve just realised it’s the last time I’ll drive a real Holden round here”, mused John Carey at Lang Lang. And what a display. Superb change-of-direction in the lane change, eye-popping braking on the handling course and an ear-splitting soundtrack more than made up for any lack of finesse.