We all know a bloke like this. He might be your boss, your uncle or even your old man.
This review was first published in MOTOR magazine's August 2008 issue.
Monday to Friday, he’s a pen-pushing city slicker. But after dark and on the weekends, he’s your average Aussie bloke (or chick) who loves football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars. Or maybe Fords.
Like many Baby Boomers, this white-collar worker is earning a handsome wage, but deep down, he’s still clinging to The Dream. The V8 sedan has long been admired for the status it holds in the Australian motoring landscape, but more importantly, it’s about a lust for the head-kicking energy and sound that only a bent-eight can produce.
Now that he has the dollars to throw around, or a fat novated lease cheque to spend, he can finally make The Purchase. But nothing too flash, mind. None of this in-your-face, stripes-and-wings aggro that some people love, and others cringe at.
Our friend’s matured taste might prefer one of the latest breed of relatively affordable, high-performance luxury V8 sedans that have been increasing in popularity here ever since Brocky’s superb VK HDT Director tore up the streets in 1984.
Europeans don’t own the fast luxury sedan market anymore, especially when the home-grown product delivers such polished bang for your buck. And don’t let anyone tell you that the V8’s dead, because judging by current sales figures, big bent-eights have never commanded so much interest.
The fresh face in the segment is Ford Performance Vehicle’s flagship GT-E, benefitting from the wealth of improvements that accompanied Ford’s all-new FG Falcon, backed by a re-tuned, 315kW-strong Boss 5.4-litre V8.
Essentially, the GT-E is the direct replacement for FPV’s first attempt at a performance-luxury sedan, the tough-looking, but relatively underwhelming Force 8. But life isn’t going to be easy on the GT-E, especially when its sticker reads 77 grand.
Falcon comparison: XY GT HO v FG XR6
HSV’s Senator has already proved itself formidable opposition, and it’s not hard to understand why, even before you turn the key.
Poised at the kerbside in Sting Red, the HSV’s loud hue is nicely offset against the dark lower bodywork and fat (optional) 20-inch wheels, accentuating the car’s muscular stance. And with HSV’s new 317kW 6.2-litre LS3 V8 under the bonnet, the Senator promises to be even more imposing out on the road.
Although the Senator looks tough, it still doesn’t have the show-stopping presence that our Seppo imposter has in spades, Chrysler’s 300C SRT8. Few cars do.The Yankee’s intimidating, lane-filling stance hints at what lies behind its enormous chrome grille: 6.1-litres of America’s finest Hemi V8, coincidentally delivering the same 317kW as the HSV.
The sound the SRT8 bellows on the open road, though, is without peer. A deep resonance pulsates through its cabin and is only enhanced by the gruff stutter from its exhaust as the five-speed auto blurts an upshift.
The Chrysler’s aural drama makes full throttle on any length of road a sobering, satisfying experience. If it was the slowest of the three, we’d grant it penance just for its acoustics, but the 300C SRT8 fired down the strip in 5.17 seconds to 100km/h and slammed home the quarter in just 13.26.
Is a 1920kg sedan meant to move this fast? If you’re talking intent, though, then the HSV wins hands-down.
It all stems from the heart, and that’s the new LS3, which, in contrast to the Hemi’s sweetness, is the loudest and angriest of our executive trio from the driver’s seat. There’s useable grunt everywhere in the rev range, but from about 4500rpm, the LS3 really takes off.
It bellows a bit more character and sounds more purposeful than the less well-endowed LS2, which now seems just a tad lazy in comparison. And that purpose carries over to the strip - the Senator recorded blistering acceleration times, clocking an easily repeatable 0-100km/h number of 5.08 seconds on just the second run.
The 400m mark arived in an equally rapid 13.17, which is signifcantly quicker than the 13.7sec MOTOR recorded in the old 6.0-litre Senator at Oran Park back in March ’07.
You can’t discount the bigger LS3’s broader shoulders and stronger core, but in 10-degree cold and blanket fog, all three cars recorded fast times. Including the FPV GT-E, which clocked a 5.46 to 100km/h and flashed down the quarter in 13.46 – making this GT-E auto the fastest Ford V8 MOTOR has ever tested.
Finally, the 315kW Boss V8 has the all-round muscle that the 290 version lacked, as evidenced by the fact it nailed the highest 400m terminal speed – 177.73km/h – at the end of Oran Park’s main straight. While still not the heaviest hitter down low, urge swells sufficiently as you approach the 6000rpm mark, before it gives one last kick towards the raised 6500rpm cut-out.
Thankfully, the GT-E has also picked up the baton dropped by the new XR8’s paltry soundtrack, roaring like a real V8. With several thousand more kays than when we drove it at launch, the test GT-E sounded nice and meaty, even from outside.
In what will quite possibly be its last iteration, the up-rated Boss V8 finally slingshots the FPV into the HSV and SRT8’s stratosphere. Indeed, with a mere 2kW between the trio, their power figures couldn’t be more even. And that’s illustrated on the strip, with the 0-180km/h times for all three separated by just 0.15sec. At 180km/h, this represents a distance of 7.5 metres, or fewer than two car lengths.
That’s close. But the flavour of their performance differs markedly.
The FPV’s newfound, hair-trigger throttle response is a double-edged sword in that it delivers the most immediate response for part-throttle overtaking and makes the car feel lively, but proves counter-productive when you’re hammering through corners.
Without acute throttle control, these sharp bursts of power cause the GT-E’s front-end to pitch up and down – a feeling exacerbated by the top-heavy mass of the Boss engine – and undermine the inherent composure of the FG FPV’s supple chassis.
This artificial sharpness in the first third of the pedal’s travel is further exposed when you plant your foot into the firewall, which results in a disproportionate increase in enthusiasm. But the GT-E’s dynamics offer big rewards elsewhere.
The connection the driver has with the front wheels through its steering is exemplary. Deliciously reactive off-centre without feeling nervous, the FG’s all-new steering set-up imbues the GT-E with an agility that makes it feel a lot smaller and lighter than it is. And the numbers only confirm how quick the FPV’s steering is – combining the fastest lock-to-lock (at 2.6 turns) with the tightest turning circle (at 11.0 metres).
The HSV has 2.8 twirls lock-to-lock and about-faces in 11.4m, while the Chrysler is the most cumbersome of the trio at 2.8 turns spanning 11.9m. But those less-than-flattering figures, along with the SRT8’s hefty weighbridge ticket, don’t have the slovenly effect on the Chrysler’s handling that you might expect.
In fact, while the stiffer suspension tune makes the car’s ride unsettled when you’re cruising over patchy surfaces, it actually keeps body motion tight. And despite the utterly remote steering feel through the truck-sized wheel, the big Yank actually hangs on surprisingly well. Thank the Chrysler’s wide stance and relatively low centre of gravity.
After only a few bends, the SRT8 gives you enough confidence to really carry some speed into both low- and high-speed corners. But miles of pedal travel means the brakes require some trust. Initial bite isn’t comforting when you’re charging into a tight elbow, but the skids pull up alright once your foot is well-buried.
On corner exit, and despite all that power, you can give the SRT8 virtually full stick and it won’t smack you over the head with any nasty surprises. Its Mercedes-derived multi-link rear-end does a great job keeping the Hemi’s ample shove in check.
The SRT8’s tall-geared five-speed auto might be a cog short compared to the FPV and HSV, but it makes a valiant effort in facilitating swift progress. Not that the task is difficult when you’re bolted to a Hemi V8 that wants to twist the car in half, but just don’t rely on the auto in manual mode, because it only responds to your inputs when it feels like it.
Contrastingly, manual mode is the only way to make sense of the HSV’s 6L80 six-speed auto.
Left to its own devices, this particular ’box proved itself to be a dunce. It wouldn’t kick down quick enough when you floored it in Drive, yet when you nudged the lever left into sport mode, it refused to use the torque of the engine and insisted on revving the LS3 hard, sometimes even slamming into first.
In manual mode, the 6L80 transforms into the most focussed transmission of the lot, apart from its slightly uncouth upchanges. It’ll blip revs beautifully as you downchange on the way into a corner and responds promptly to each and every command.
You couldn’t ask for more, apart from wheel paddles. And most of the same is true of the FPV’s ZF six-speed. Except it doesn’t attempt to match revs when you’re changing down, which is hard to fathom when in the Jaguar XF, the very same gearbox manages it beautifully every time.
The FPV’s auto admirably still heeds your command, but sometimes if you select a low gear at big revs, you actually get a sensation like compression lock, which isn’t ideal when you’re barrelling into a second-gear hairpin with the GT-E fully loaded up. But its monotube-damped suspension is excellent.
The first thing you notice is that the damping is only firm on rebound. That makes for a comfortable ride as the softer compression damping takes the hit from any divots in the road, but the firmer rebound damping settles the car’s weight swiftly and effortlessly. The end result is a supremely comfortable ride, especially in comparison with the other two here.
But whether you’re hauling through tight terrain or carving through fast sweepers, the HSV Senator is far and away the most composed at speed.
The more you ask of the Senator, the more its chassis elevates itself above its rivals. The Senator’s steering hustles the nose around well, but isn’t as fast and doesn’t quite have the communication that the FPV’s does. But no matter what you demand of the HSV, it’ll still be working with you when the FPV and Chrysler have run out of talent.
The grip that’s available at both ends of the Senator is astonishing and makes the car’s handling balance a standout. Okay, general road refinement is a little crass – it’s the loudest car here in terms of tyre and road noise – but when you’re packing such immense and wonderfully poised grip as a platform from which to exploit the LS3’s huge power, these aspects pale into insignificance.
Refreshingly, the Senator’s knobbly ride at sensible speeds doesn’t worsen as you gather velocity and it skips lightly over road irregularities without major upset, even under hard cornering load. Switching the Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) to the stiffer performance mode arrests body roll noticeably when you’re peddling hard, but unless you’re threading up mountain passes, MRC is best left in normal mode.
Besides, what the Senator loses in open-road composure, it makes up for in cabin comfort. Offering the most cohesive interior of the trio, the Senator feels a class above the others.
The black-and-silver switchgear looks neat and the dash is integrated far more seamlessly into the rest of the cabin. The front seats give great support and look expensive, replete with Alcantara inserts and neatly exposed stitching. But the sculpted rear bench is a stand-out – offering almost as much support as it does up front and providing good visibility.
The Chrysler’s thick front seats are average, and you find yourself hanging off the wheel most of the time when you’re hurling the car through corners. Apart from awful, wax-paper-effect instruments, the dash looks the part, with splashings of bling and an equipment level that’s just ahead of the HSV.
Principally, that’s sat-nav, auto wipers, an auto-dimming rear vision mirror, electric front seat adjustment and a thumping Boston Acoustics stereo. Which can’t be said of the GT-E, sadly.
To be brutally honest, we can’t see where the $22K price difference has been spent between it and the $55K G6E Turbo. Ford-spec seats are disappointing when compared with the Senator’s offerings, and even FPV’s own GT-P, for that matter. The rear quarters suffer for forward vision and convey the impression of a leather-clad base model.
But our biggest gripe concerns the full-manual adjustment for the front passenger’s seat and the resultant lack of under-thigh support – in a $77K Falcon? We’ll let you be the judge on that one…
But we’re happy to make the call on this comparison, though. After all, Mr Baby Boomer has an important decision to make. If he wears a pin-striped suit, then he’ll roll in the good-value 300C SRT8.
Dynamically, it only just hangs onto its rivals by the skin of its teeth. Ultimately, though, it’s not trying to be the focussed sports sedan the others are. You could say that the Yankee SRT8 isn’t quite fair dinkum enough, likeable as it may be.
The GT-E is a significant step forward from FPV’s last foray into the luxury-performance market, and if our maturing friend is as loyal to the blue oval as he is to his one and only blazer, then he’ll be proud to call this muscle car his own.
Key conflicts let it down in our eyes, though. The equipment oversights are disappointing, and detail flaws like the over-sensitive throttle leave the car somewhat unresolved. It doesn’t look classy enough to be proper luxury car, but it isn’t quite cohesive enough as a performance package, either, despite its great brakes, sweet steering and strong engine.
The Senator is the perfect answer to any ambiguity. It looks superb, sounds tough, handles brilliantly and sits beautifully. For our executive, who wears T-shirts under his Hugo Boss suit, luxury and performance has rarely found a happier medium.
The HSV Senator might just represent The Dream.
Old is always gold at classic MOTOR
|2008 FPV GT-E||2008 Chrysler 300C SRT8||2008 HSV Senator|
|BODY||4-door, 5-seat sedan||4-door, 5-seat sedan||4-door, 5-seat sedan|
|ENGINE||5408cc 90-degree V8, DOHC, 32v||6063cc 90-degree V8, OHV, 16v||6162cc 90-degree V8, OHV, 16v|
|BORE/STROKE||90.2 x 105.8mm||103.0 x 90.9mm||103.25 x 92.0mm|
|POWER||315kW @ 6500rpm||317kW @ 6000rpm||317kW @ 6000rpm|
|TORQUE||551Nm @ 4750rpm||569Nm @ 4600rpm||550Nm @ 4600rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed automatic||5-speed automatic||6-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION (front)||Double A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Double A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, A-arms, magnetic dampers, anti-roll bar|
|SUSPENSION (rear)||Multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Multi-links, coil springs, magnetic dampers, anti-roll bar|
|TRACKS||1583/1598mm (f/r)||1600/1605mm (f/r)||1592/1590mm (f/r)|
|STEERING||power rack-and-pinion||power rack-and-pinion||power rack-and-pinion|
|BRAKES (front)||355mm ventilated/drilled discs, six-piston calipers||360mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers||365mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers|
|BRAKES (rear)||330mm ventilated/drilled discs, four-piston calipers||350mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers||350mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers|
|DRIVER AID||ABS, EBD, BA, DSC||ABS, EBD, BA, DSC||ABS, EBD, BA, ESP|
|WHEELS||19 x 8.0-inch, alloy (f/r)||20 x 8.0-inch, alloy (f/r)||20 x 8.0-inch (f), 20 x 9.5-inch (r), alloy|
|TYRE SIZES||245/35ZR19 93Y (f/r)||245/45ZR20 99Y (f), 255/45ZR20 101Y (r)||245/35R20 95Y (f), 275/30R20 97Y (r)|
|TYRE||Dunlop SP Sport Maxx||Goodyear Eagle F1||Bridgestone Potenza RE050A|
|FUEL/TANK||95 octane/68 litres||98 octane/72 litres||98 octane/64 litres|
|PRICE (in 2008)||$78,990 (incl. sat-nav)||$74,290 (incl. metallic paint)||$81,690 (incl. 20’s)|
|PROS||Excellent steering; superb auto; plush ride; impressive brakes||Street-stopping presence; rich Hemi soundtrack; good value||Athletic V8; awesome grip; superb seats; subtly tough style|
|CONS||Bulky V8; touchy throttle; ho-hum styling; detail omissions||Numb steering feel; average packaging; lumpy ride quality||Test car’s indecisive auto; more road noise than rivals|
|RATING||7 out of 10 stars||6.5 out of 10 stars||8 out of 10 stars|
|FPV GT-E||Chrysler 300C SRT8||HSV Senator|
|0-400m||13.46 @ 177.73km/h||13.26 @ 177.42km/h||13.17 @ 176.74km/h|