This is the car we should’ve been given for PCOTY.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s April 2007 issue
It’s fair to say that HSV’s new fire-breathing 307kW E-Series GTS, complete with cutting-edge Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension technology and an all-new six-speed automatic, didn’t quite send pulses racing at last year’s big event, ranking 18th out of the 20 finalists.
Expectations were high (partly because the previous model, the VZ Clubsport R8, finished a commendable fifth in PCOTY 2005), and the new GTS wasted no time in firing a warning shot, claiming the all-time HSV PCOTY lap record at Winton, with a time of 1:42.00 (eclipsing the 2002 GTS Coupe’s 1:42.78). But the new six-speed slusher proved frustratingly obstinate, and the MRC suspension, while delivering commendable ride quality for such a car on 20-inch rims, muted crucial driving feel.
And this is where the Clubsport R8 makes ground. On many fronts, the Clubbie shares much of its specification with the GTS; using the same 6.0-litre LS2 V8 that delivers 307kW and 550Nm, pulling harder down low than recent Commodore V8s, yet still surging higher up in the rev range.
The AP Racing-developed four-piston brakes, boasting huge 365mm front and 350mm rear rotors are common across the E-Series range, along with the HSV-spec Bosch ABS system. These offer good feel and performance, fading little on the road.
But the biggest difference between the GTS and R8 is their suspension and transmissions. And this is where the latter’s spec really shines through.
Classic MOTOR: 2006 HSV GTS v FPV GT
The Clubsport is devoid of the MRC electronically controlled damper system, favouring the cheaper conventional method. But while it falls some way short of the GTS in the way of ride compliance (even though it rides on smaller 19-inch rims), it encourages driver involvement. And while the Clubbie tends to crash over bumps and is more unsettled over corrugations than the GTS, the R8’s ‘sports touring’ steel-sprung suspension tenders more steering feel and still points the car sharply into the apex.
In short, the R8 feels lighter on its feet; and the fact that it moves around a lot more makes for better communication with the driver. And while it might be at a minute cost to outright grip when compared with the GTS, the driving reward is far more enjoyable.
And part of this is indulging in the enormous amount of rear-end grip the R8 offers, especially when firing out of tight corners. It’s astounding, when compared to previous HSVs, how early you can nail the throttle and yet still have the rear stay stuck. And it’s partly due to the E-Series’s 127mm longer wheelbase than the VZ and wider 9.5-inch rear wheels. It takes real provocation – and substantial steering
lock – to make the tail step out. And it ain’t for lack of grunt.
Besides the suspension, the manual gearbox also offers a much better connection than the auto option from a purist driving point of view. The upgraded M10 Tremec T56 is better than ever, slotting into each gear more accurately and with greater satisfaction. But in real terms, it still feels heavy when compared to the best German and Japanese gearboxes. The clutch is better than previous HSVs, too, with a more progressive engagement.
Classic MOTOR: Walkinshaw Clubsport R8
Inside, you’re instantly more comfortable in the R8’s seats, which are snug and supportive in comparison to the GTS’s luxury pews. To some, the cloth trim might look cheap for a $60k car, but its textured finish definitely holds the keen driver in place.
And there’s been plenty of keen HSV drivers since the E-Series was launched; the new range led HSV to successive monthly sales records in its first three months on the market (436, 515 and 519 units for October, November and December respectively). So they’re a hit with the punters.
But our pick is the Clubsport R8 manual package, because it’s the most involving of the range, yet would probably still be every bit as quick as the flagship GTS around a racetrack. The fact that it’s $12k cheaper, at $62,890, means it’s not only fast and fun, but also affordable.
Bodes well as a BFYB contender, then.
Gone but not forgotten on classic MOTOR
2007 HSV Clubsport R8
Engine: 5967cc V8, OHV, 16v
Power: 309kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 550Nm @ 4400rpm
0-100km/h: 5.0sec (claimed)
Likes: Involving drive, strong brakes, steering feel and the $12k you’ve just saved over the GTS
Dislikes: Choppy ride, gearshift still a little clunky, cheap seat trim
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars