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2004 HSV Coupe 4 performance review: classic MOTOR

By Jesse Taylor | Photos: Cristian Brunelli, 19 May 2018 Reviews

2004 HSV Coupe 4 review classic MOTOR feature

Two days, 1200 kays and every weather and road condition we could find. We put HSV’s Coupe 4 through its toughest-ever test

After a brief chat over coffee at its Melbourne HQ, HSV director of sales and marketing Chris Payne asked what we had planned for his Coupe 4.

This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s October 2004 issue

Shooter Brunelli and I exchanged furtive glances, shrugging shoulders. To be honest, we’d only cooked up a half-arsed plan to get us back to Sydney.

It ran, that we’d grab a map from Brunelli’s place (talk about preparation), then gun out of Melbourne and over to the snowfields of Mount Buller to check out the car’s all-wheel-drive grip on icy mid-winter roads.

From there, we’d head across country to overnight at Albury on the NSW-Victoria border. Then, tomorrow, we’d criss-cross the Murray before heading toward Tumut, where we might even find some more white stuff. Next, we figured to say g’day to the Dog on the Tuckerbox at Gundagai, and then jump on the Hume for the push back up to Sydney.

If our half-cooked plan worked out, we’d subject the HSV to a comprehensive test of its all-wheel-drive abilities over 1200 kays and across every road and weather condition. Intent outlined and keys in hand, it was time to load up the quad coop and head for the hills.

Finished in Sting Red – the lairiest of the three colours available (silver and black being the others), this is one interesting-looking car. Despite the tacked-on wheelarch flares, necessary to cover the 60mm track increase of its all-wheel-drive system, the Coupe 4 presents a more subtle styling approach for the brand.

With its chrome grille surround, and using sharper headlights from the Pontiac GTO (also due on the upcoming VZ Monaro), its front end’s flavour is more European than any previous HSV.

This is a deliberate approach, as HSV brass sees the Coupe 4 lining up with Senator and Grange as an exec-express, rather than with its ClubSport R8 and GTS as a boy-racer.

Classic MOTOR: 40 years of GTS

The Coupe 4’s flares dominate the profile of the car and, if anything, make its already enormous 19-inch wheels (a brand new and exclusive design) look even bigger.

Like all 19-inch-equipped HSVs, this one wears Pirelli rubber, but in a first for the company, the wheel and tyres are different widths front and rear. Its front flares hide 19x8.0-inch rims wrapped in 245/35 ZR19 Italian boots.

Under the rump, the wheels step out an inch in width and the rubber stretches the tape measure to 255/35 ZR19 – that’s the widest rubber to be seen on a standard Aussie performance car!

Throwing our gear in the boot, including the usual pile of photographic gear, reveals the enormous reduction in boot space brought about by relocating the fuel tank behind the Coupe 4’s rear seats. The move, first seen on the US-bound batch of GTOs, allows for the fitment of twin exhausts all the way through. It also shifts the fuel filler to higher on the driver-side rear guard.

Firing up the Coupe 4, there’s that familiar Gen III rumble, but its twin pipes give it more bass and an added dimension to its wall of noise as revs rise.

Read more: Australia's best HSV collection

With 270kW at 5700rpm and 470Nm at 4000 revs, however, the Coupe 4 drops 15kW and 35Nm on a ClubSport and doesn’t rev as high in the process. Clearing the extra doings of its all-wheel-drive system necessitates the narrower header pipes which bring about those smaller numbers.

Much has already been written about the Coupe 4’s lower power output, but it probably presents a bigger headache for HSV’s marketing team than its engineers. After all, why would you pay GTS money for a car with less outright grunt than the substantially cheaper ClubSport?

The Coupe 4 is also noticeably doughier off the line, but this has less to do with its engine’s performance than with its increased weight (1830kg to a ClubSport’s 1696kg). Once that initial inertia has been overcome, you’d be hard-pressed to spot any difference.

Still, the Coupe 4 uses it all-paw traction to lay down some decent, if not shattering, performance numbers. But never has it been easier to extract acceleration from an HSV. Simply hold the car on its brakes with your left clog while working the throttle with your right to load up the torque converter. With the revs built up just right, release the anchors and pin the throttle pedal to the firewall.

On damp tarmac, the big HSV fires off the line with barely a slither of wheelspin from those huge rear Pirellis. No need to feather in the power or apply any steering lock, just keep pouring it in and let the all-wheel drive sort it out. Zero to 100km/h flashes up on the Correvit display after 6.7 seconds – a long way outside HSV’s 6.1 second claim for dry tarmac – and even falls behind the 6.6 boast on dirt.

But, before you start howling like buggery and firing off your emails, the rain-slicked surface actually helped prevent its engine bogging down off the line.

Over the rest of the quarter mile, the HSV made up a little, but a 14.74-second time is still the best part of half a second outside the claim. In the pantheon of performance cars built locally, these times rank the Coupe 4 dead last! That’s right, it’s slower than every HSV, save the high-riding Avalanche and XUV; it gets outgunned by Commodores and Monaros, and it gets dusted by all fast Fords, including the less powerful XR6 Turbo.

The drag strip also highlights the Coupe 4’s only other major problem. After a few runs, and the subsequent big stops from a dollar sixty, its brakes quickly go south.

Hall of shame: Five forgettable HSVs

By the third stop, the pedal has gone hard, dropped an inch or two, and all feel has gone out of the window. This is not something you expect from HSV, whose range usually feature tireless brakes. But the Coupe 4 (plus Avalanche and XUV) makes do with the smallest anchors offered on any HSV. Its slotted rotors are a still-chunky 336mm front and 315mm at the rear.

But, thanks to the limited clearance available with the new front hub, its front discs are squeezed by two-piston calipers and its rears by single-piston clamps. On paper, that still sounds ok, but with over 1800kg to haul down, the brakes soon protest. 

For all this negativity, however, if ever a car can prove that straight-line performance is only one dimension to a car’s overall score, it’s the Coupe 4. On the country road run toward Mansfield at the base of Mount Buller, the rain started to bucket down, but there was never a fear of unprovoked oversteer through the tight, second-gear corners.

Those big-foot Pirellis cut through the standing water, and deliver plenty of grip at either end. The push understeer you usually find in all-wheel-drive cars, especially heavy ones like the Coupe 4, is all but absent. And with a 38:62 torque split there’s enough rear-drive bias to pedal around the understeer if and when it arrives.

Up the wet, but not icy, slopes to the top of Mount Buller, the Coupe 4 simply carved its chosen line. Admittedly, the two-wheel drives were still getting through without chains, but their drivers lacked the confidence to use more than a sniff of throttle.

The Coupe 4, however, could use full power into and out of corners. With chunky linear ratio steering (also shared with the 2004 GTS) still feeding plenty of info, despite the often dulling effect of AWD, the HSV gives you so many options.

You can drive it slow-in, fast out, and even have a sniff of oversteer on exit – and if you’re having a real go on low-grip surfaces, you can even bring traction control into play. Or you can tip it in quick while still on the brakes and getting its tail involved a bit earlier. Or you can just be smooth and pick up the throttle nice and early.

Whichever option you choose, the HSV Coupe 4 is a devastatingly quick way to cover ground, especially in the wet. Only the constant hunting of its four-speed auto dampens the fun on the quick twisties. Best to take manual control and shift between second and third yourself.

On day two, after our little ‘incident’ (see bottom), we joined the Hume after some more cross-country running.

Gone but never forgotten on classic MOTOR

Despite feeling stiffer in the rear than a Clubbie or GTS, the Coupe 4’s ride quality over typical Aussie roads is superb. There’s an initial compliance that you don’t expect with a car running 19-inch rubber, and vertical travel is well-controlled, so the big girl never gets floaty. And that extra weight also keeps it settled over bumps.

Once on the Hume, the Coupe 4 maintained an effortless pace all the way to Sydney.

Just like the HSV GTS sedan and Coupe, the Coupe 4 will not be an off-the-peg buy. Only 100 examples will be built for 2004, all autos, as that’s the only ’box engineered for the AWD set-up. HSV claims a strong order bank and keen interest in the quad-drive Coupe, but this year’s market response will determine how many get built next year.

At $89,950, and cheaper than HSV’s foreshadowed $95k, it’s likely the Coupe 4 will be special-order only, just like the GTS pair.

At this trip’s beginning, I admit to being a bit cynical about the Coupe 4. For one, I didn’t understand the appeal of a car that’s slowest in the range, but second-most expensive. I also feared HSV was looking too far outside the square and away from what it does best.

Over 1200 traction-packed kays later, its breadth of ability has peeled away my cynicism. It may lack the raw punch of other models in the marque’s range, but the Coupe 4 is one hell of a mile-eater. It represents a small shift in thinking for HSV, without diluting the core appeal of its brand.

Five HSV Coupe 4 facts
- Only available in red, silver or black
- This pilot-build car was missing switch for foggies
- It’s 35kg heavier than LWB Grange…
- But beats Elise Sport 111 on weight-to-power
- Used 18.2l/100km over the 1200km trip

FAST FACTS
2004 HSV Coupe 4 

BODY: 2-door coupe
DRIVE: 
AWD 
ENGINE: 
front-mounted 5.7-litre, 16-valve pushrod V8
POWER: 
280kW @ 7400rpm
TORQUE
475Nm @ 4000rpm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 
10.1:1
BORE X STROKE: 
99.0mm x 92.0mm
WEIGHT: 
1830kg
POWER-to-WEIGHT: 
153kW/tonne
SPECIFIC POWER: 
47.4kW/litre
0-100KM/H: 
6.73sec (tested)
0-400M: 
14.74 @ 160.8km/h (tested)
TRANSMISSION: 
four-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: 
MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
L/W/H: 
4789/1840/1397mm 
WHEELBASE: 
2788mm 
TRACK: 
1618mm (f); 1623mm (r)
FUEL: 
70 litres, PULP
BRAKES: 
336mm ventilated & grooved discs, two-piston calipers (f); 315mm ventilated & grooved discs, single-piston calipers (r), ABS
WHEELS: 19 x 8.0-inch (f); 19 x 9.0-inch (r), alloy
TYRES: 
Pirelli P-Zero, 245/35 ZR19 (f); 255/35 ZR 19 (r)
PRICE: 
$89,950

Coupe 4 Rivals

Audi S4
Probably the closest in philosophy to the Coupe 4, S4 packs a 253kW V8 and drives all four wheels through a choice of auto or manual ’boxes. Priced from $130k

HSV GTS Coupe
The most likely competitor comes from within, in the form of GTO or GTS Coupes. At $89,950, Coupe 4 splits the $76k GTO and $98,500 GTS Coupe, but with less grunt 

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII
The current king of all-paw performance, but a bit lairy and not a direct rival for the Coupe 4. At $62,000, the EVO undercuts the HSV and is a more focused performer

Volvo S60R
HSV and Volvo mentioned in the same breath? The $98k S60R is just $10k pricier and packs a similar punch, thanks to lighter weight and a lively 220kW turbo five-potter

RSPCA Rescues big dumb animals 

We’d slithered our way to the very edge of the Murray River for what was going to be a killer static shot, and now we sat cocooned in the tan leather cockpit of the HSV Coupe 4 waiting for the teeming rain to ease long enough for snapper Brunelli to brave the elements and fire off a few frames.

With the rain easing to torrential, we got our shot and attempted to ease 270kW and 1800kg out of the quagmire.

With profanities a-plenty and a whole load of wheelspin, we were on our way, only for Brunelli to change the plan. Ever keen for the great shot, Cristian suggested I back it up and snap the Coupe 4 into “a rally drift.” Why not?

With no forward momentum and not much in the way of sideways action, the big coupe ground to a halt in the swamp and promptly sank to its sills. Successive half-arsed attempts to get the Coupe 4 out only succeeded in burying it further.

Admitting defeat, we staggered to the main road through the blinding rain and waited for help to drive by, only for the first car to swerve onto the wrong side of the road to avoid our abject pleas for assistance.

Thankfully, Lionel Smith from the local RSPCA stopped soon after and took pity on us. He’d already rescued an injured joey that morning, so saving two further bedraggled animals was all in day’s work for Lionel. Even so, his 4X4 HiLux struggled on the sticky mud.