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HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition review

By Scott Newman | Photos Cristian Brunelli, 13 Nov 2016 Reviews

HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition review

A last hurrah for the LS3 V8, is the Clubsport Track Edition HSV's Usain Bolt?

Australians are good at naming things.

Oh, sure, we like to take the mickey now and then, which is why your friend's chihuahua is called Killer and old mate John with the flaming red hair is known as Bluey, but in general, Aussies take names very seriously.

For example, the vast area of sandy desert in the country's north-west is called the Great Sandy Desert; likewise, the huge band of coral reef that forms a barrier off Australia's east coast is the Great Barrier Reef. The bridge across Sydney harbour? The Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not everyone gets this common-sense naming convention, which is why Paul Edmund Strzelecki named our highest peak Mount Kosciuszko instead of Really Massive Hill.

HSV Clubsport R8-Track Edition rear drivingHSV gets it, though, so when it decided to create a special edition Clubsport for the track it's come up with, yep, you guessed it, the Clubsport Track Edition. Along with the R8 SV Clubsport and Maloo, the Track Edition forms part of HSV’s farewell to the LS3 engine that has powered the majority of its range since 2008.

Limited to 150 units plus another six for the Kiwis, at $68,900 for the manual – another $2500 for the automatic – the Track Edition is $3000 more than the R8 SV but $4300 less than the MY15 Clubsport R8.

It’s easy to be cynical about any end-of-the-line special edition, but while there is the obligatory ID plate and blacked-out styling tweaks, a glance at the spec sheet suggests that Engineering may have had just as much a hand in the Track Edition as Marketing.

HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition sideSitting pretty behind the 20-inch ‘Blade’ forged alloys are enormous AP Racing brakes, both nicked from the GTS. As well as the improved stopping power, these upgrades also have the neat side effect of making the Track Edition look almost identical to HSV’s $95K range-topper. 

Other visual tweaks include the ‘Hyperflow Performance’ rear spoiler as standard, various bits of blacked-out trim, cool shadow chrome exhaust tips and a suede steering wheel for track day respect points. Of more interest, however, is what can’t be seen.

HSV has re-engineered the suspension “to reduce body roll and improve corner-entry response”; more specifically, spring rates have been stiffened by more than 200 per cent to around 6kg/mm front and 9.5kg/mm rear for the tech heads out there. The dampers are re-valved to match and new rebound springs are fitted.

It doesn’t take too long for the changes to make themselves felt. HSV says there has been “minimal degradation to ride comfort” but it must have a different definition of “minimal” as the Track Edition is very firm, a step beyond even the LSA cars which are already right on the verge of what’s tolerable day-to-day.

HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition engineIt’s too well resolved to crash or skip over bumps, but the way every road imperfection is transmitted will quickly elicit complaints from passengers and make you question spending long distances behind the wheel. HSV’s response is that it’s a track-focused ride for a track-focused car, which is a valid point, but it has compromised the Clubsport’s comfort to the point it’s going to want to be pretty handy on a circuit.

The rest of the drive experience is, unsurprisingly, more or less identical to a regular Clubsport R8. The naturally-aspirated LS3 V8 doesn’t have the massive mid-range punch of the newer forced-induction V8s but is arguably better for it. Power builds progressively as the revs rise which gives you a good excuse, as if any was needed, to use more of the engine more of the time.

Your ears will thank you for doing so, as the combination of HSV’s bi-modal exhaust and ‘Mechanical Sound Enhancer’ produces a particularly sweet V8 song and with 340kW/570Nm this is still a very rapid four-door sedan. It feels a little odd to have an automatic gearbox in a car aimed at circuit work, but the 6L80E six-speed at least makes for undemanding low-speed progress and is relatively obedient to manual shift requests.

HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition frontOn the road, without a back-to-back comparison with a regular Clubsport, it’s difficult to make definitive judgements, but as cornering speeds increase the Track Edition displays a subtle change in character. On the same roads and in similar damp conditions, the Clubsport and Maloo R8 SV felt beautifully fluid and neutral, always happy to gently slide at the rear. 

In contrast, the Track Edition feels more locked down, not just over bumps but in terms of its grip levels, too. With 340kW on a wet road, oversteer is never far away, but the rear feels more reluctant to relinquish grip and when it does so the transition seems more sudden. This is clearly a result of the suspension modifications, as the Track Edition wears the same Continental ContiSportContact 5P rubber, measuring 255/35 front and 275/35 rear, as every other HSV.

To get a true reading on the Track Edition’s abilities, however, we need to venture to its intended habitat. Bryant Park hillclimb, better known as Haunted Hills, isn’t a traditional racetrack in the sense of Phillip Island or Sydney Motorsport Park, but its combination of constant, varying-radius corners and gnarly elevation changes can quickly expose any chassis shortcomings.

HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition interiorPerforming ‘action photography’ duties for Brunelli’s camera confirms the initial on-road findings. It feels as though the weight balance has shifted rearward, aiding traction but giving a little more push at the front. It takes a heavy right foot and well-timed provocation to make the Track Edition slide, though once it’s there the Clubsport’s poise makes it an easy car to lair about in, even within Haunted Hill’s narrow confines.

Driven somewhat more sensibly, the Clubsport Track Edition proves its moniker is more than just marketing waffle – this is a car that loves the track. It does feel a little less playful than a standard Clubsport, but is still highl adjustable in a high-horsepower, rear-drive way; simply wait for the nose to bite, give it a bootful and feel the tail wag on corner exit. Not necessarily the fastest way, but lots of fun.

HSV claims the suspension tweaks are worth two seconds a lap around Winton, and while we weren’t necessarily driving for a lap time at Haunted Hills, examining the video footage later gave a best lap of 1:04.5sec, similar to the M4 Competition and C63 AMG Coupe that were also present on the day. Not scientific or conclusive, but interesting that a $70K HSV can be in roughly the same ballpark.

HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition rear driving -2Its stamina is equally impressive. With a naturally-aspirated engine, there’s less heat to control and fuel use is also lower, though it’s still by no means frugal. Most impressive though, are the brakes. Clubsports stop pretty well as it is, but with the GTS’s monster 390mm discs and six-piston calipers up front, ably supported by 367mm discs and four-piston calipers at the rear, the Track Edition is probably the most over-braked car this side of a Porsche Cayman GT4. The chink in the armour is the tyres: Continentals perform extremely well, but the wear rate can be very high; we’d expect a day at the track to finish off a set. 

And this brings us to our reservations about the Track Edition. The level of engineering changes means it’s far more than a marketing run-out special, and it absolutely does what it says on the tin – it’s a Clubsport that is more than capable of sustained track work. But it could have been so much more.

HSV says a crucial goal for the last-of-the-line LS3 Clubsports was affordability, something it’s undoubtedly achieved with the sharp $68,990 sticker, but given the car’s limited-run status, we’d be prepared to bet enthusiasts would’ve been prepared to pay more for something truly special. HSV has form here. Remember the VZ Clubsport Dealer Team Spec from 2005?

HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition review -corneringLike the Track Edition, it scored bigger brakes and stiffer suspension, but unlike the Track Edition, it also gained lightweight wheels and sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa semi-slick rubber. Yes, it commanded a $10,000 premium, but it was 4.6 seconds faster than the stock Clubby around Oran Park’s short circuit. And that was only a 50-second lap.

We’re just not sold that the improvement in racetrack performance offsets the compromise in ride quality. Don’t get us wrong, the Track Edition is still a very enjoyable car, and good value, too, but with sticky tyres, lighter wheels and a shorter diff ratio it would be something spectacular, even at $75K or more.

If you’re a track day addict and like the idea of a Track Edition, buy a manual, fit a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s or similar and you’ll have a blast. But get in quick, because HSV estimates around 50 per cent have already been sold. For the majority of users, though, the Clubsport R8 SV is a better bet.

HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition rear4 OUT OF 5 STARS

LIKE: Benchmark brakes; chassis balance; value
Ride quality; unfulfilled potential

body 4-door, 5-seat sedan
drive rear-wheel
engine 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v
bore/stroke 103.1 x 91.9mm
compression 10.7:1
power 340kW @ 6100rpm
torque 570Nm @ 4650rpm
power/weight 196kW/tonne
transmission 6-speed automatic
weight 1739kg
FRONT suspension struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
REAR suspension multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar
L/W/h 4991/1899/1453mm
wheelbase 2915mm
tracks 1616/1590mm (f/r)
steering electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion
FRONT brakes 390mm ventilated/drilled discs, 6-piston calipers
REAR brakes 367mm ventilated/drilled discs, 4-piston calipers
wheels 20.0 x 8.5-inch (f); 20.0 x 9.5-inch (r)
tyres 255/35 ZR20 (f); 275/35 ZR20 (r)
Continental ContiSportContact 5P
price as tested $71,490