Alex reflects on life after the HSV Clubsport R8 LSA Tourer and discovers his bond with the big blue wagon runs deep.
MAN, I must have cut a forlorn-looking figure. Shoulders hunched, head bowed, eyes staring wistfully through hooded lids at the sign hanging over the front door of HSV’s Clayton HQ. It was all rather pathetic.
I’d just returned my HSV Clubsport and the reality of suddenly having a huge blue hole in my life was beginning to set in. The lady at the front desk didn’t help, either. Far from offering counselling, or even a small smile that I could interpret as a “there, there, you’ll be okay”, she’d snatched the keys from the counter with barely a glance, leaving me to wander aimlessly back into the carpark.
Returning a long-termer is rarely easy. After all, unlike most of the cars that pass fleetingly through the Wheels office, these are the ones we spend the most time with. They’re opportunities to dig into a car’s character, to look beyond the equipment levels and obvious handling traits to discover the foibles and triumphs that real owners unearth over a period of months.
Some cars are easier to return than others, but even a week later the Clubbie’s departure still stings. It’s not quite phantom-limb levels of loss, but it’s close. We’d bonded, the Clubsport and me.
Over four months and 8300km, I’d used it on two interstate slogs, loaded it to the gills to move house, and thrown it into the thick of Melbourne traffic as a daily commuter. In every instance, the big wagon excelled.
I’d grown used to the power and the sheer brute force that flexing my right foot would deliver, but the Clubsport is much more than a big, shouty, supercharged V8. It’s a comfortable, long-legged GT, a commodious family hauler and, surprisingly, an effortless – albeit very thirsty – daily commuter thanks to a nicely judged ride, excellent vision and smooth-shifting six-speed auto.
What I hadn’t explored in much detail until this final month was its on-the-limit handling. Happily, a quick blast up Arthurs Seat on the Mornington Peninsula showed that HSV’s engineers haven’t dropped the ball. The Clubsport isn’t what you’d call nimble; push hard into a bend and you feel the weight of that big V8 up front, but wash off speed before the apex and its lovely rear-drive balance and expertly calibrated ESC system in Race mode reward you on corner exit.
What I didn’t gel with is the LSA V8. There’s no faulting its effectiveness, but it’s not what I’d call a sexy V8. It’s more about sheer force and enormous reserves of torque than delivering a spine-tingling top-end or operatic exhaust note.
There were other foibles, too. Some of the cabin materials, such as the piano-black plastic surrounding the shifter and the rubber inserts in the central cupholders and storage bins, feel sub-par and mark easily.
I also endured an ongoing battle with the voice recognition system; depending on its mood, it either worked seamlessly or would suddenly develop a speaking disorder. Conversations would often run like this:
“Call Mum”; “Did you say 1567902342?”;
“No, call M-U-M”; “Calling Peter O’Malley”.
It was maddening.
And did I mention the thirst? Complaining that a large-capacity V8 is inefficient sounds churlish, but even so, the Clubsport’s appetite for premium unleaded during daily use, which averaged in the high-teens, is the biggest hurdle I would face in actually buying one.
Still, there’s no escaping that, of all the long-termers I’ve had in my time at Wheels, the HSV is the one that has suited my lifestyle, and my character, best. I loved its brutish personality, its over-the-top design, its breadth of talents and the way it vaporised its rear tyres every time I flexed my right ankle. I still miss it.
Aside from my difficult relationship with the voice recognition, I liked the Clubsport’s cabin design and infotainment system. Sure, some of the materials could be better (I’m looking at you, shiny chrome trim), but the ergonomics are bang on, the buttons easy to use and the sat-nav simple and effective. The build quality is top notch, too – I didn’t encounter a single squeak or rattle during the Clubbie’s four-month stay.
The driving position is perfect for my tall frame. And I mean perfect. It’s like the engineers had a picture of me on their desk while deciding the hip point, the seat position and steering wheel height. The big wing-backed seat is low and supremely comfortable, and there’s ample reach and tilt adjustment on the steering wheel. My only complaint is with the seat itself, which is too wide for my slight build so I find myself sliding about during hard cornering.
Read part three of our HSV Clubsport R8 LSA long-term car review.
HSV CLUBSPORT R8 LSA TOURER
Price as tested: $85,990
Part 4: 1821km @ 18.6L/100km
Overall: 8303km @ 14.8L/100km
Date acquired: March 2016