HSV W427 - first drive of Australia's most powerful car

Last updated 13:07 24/07/2008
Fairfax
MOTORVATED: Holden's 7-litre W427 is put through its paces.

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It’s been a long time coming, but at last we’ve jumped behind the wheel of the HSV W427, the most eagerly anticipated Australian-made car in years.

The W427’s 7.0-litre V8 engine is the standout for the Commodore-based performance vehicle.

With 375kW of power and 640Nm of torque, the HSV W427 is the most powerful Australian-made car ever.

Our initial taste test took place at Calder raceway on the outskirts of Melbourne. With a car capable of reaching 100km/h in 4.7 seconds it makes sense to put the W427 through its paces in a controlled environment.

From the minute you turn the key of the HSV W427 there’s a more notable rumble from the four exhausts, now tuned with a bi-modal muffler system that makes the exhaust more vocal during hard driving. It’s a not-so-subtle indication the W427 is a step up from the regular HSV brethren.

From a standstill the larger capacity of the W427’s engine – its 7.0 litres is more than 10 per cent larger than the 6.2 litres used on the rest of the HSV line-up – endows the large sedan with more effortless acceleration.

Even moderate throttle applications deliver a generous shove back into the bright red leather seats (not much has changed inside the W427 compared with the more affordable HSV GTS, so HSV has splashed red leather everywhere in an effort to differentiate).

Flatten the accelerator and the HSV W427 starts coming to life.

As engine revs rise, it only gets better. Approaching 3000rpm unleashes that lusty burst of energy that V8s are renowned for, and by 4000rpm the 7.0-litre is singing.

But the peak torque output of 640Nm isn’t realised until quite high in the rev range, at 5000rpm, something that is clear as you approach that mark.

Up until 3000rpm or even 4000rpm the HSV W427 doesn’t feel remarkably quicker than other HSVs. Beyond that, though, there’s a ferocity to its power delivery that owners will grow to love.

The HSV W427 storms forward with an alacrity belying the near-1.9-tonne, four-door-sedan body.

More impressive is how the W427 doesn’t even feel like running out of puff. Instead the power just keeps feeding on, faithfully thrusting the big HSV forward.

The Corvette-sourced V8 will happily spin all the way to 7000rpm, although you can still achieve seriously impressive acceleration by changing gears at 6000rpm, or a bit over. It’s an addictive experience, but one that will really only be experienced safely on a race track.

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Something else that’s addictive is the engine sound from outside the W427. Listening to its sonorous howl as the performance is unleashed takes the whole V8 experience to the next level.

The new six-speed manual gearbox – unique to the W427 and the only transmission available – has a more precise feel. There’s still some play, or movement, in the way it shifts, but it will reward quicker actions by better slotting into the right gate.

At the same time, the W427’s gearbox requires more precision from the driver; during the shift from second to third, for example, the gear lever can get caught on the gate opening on the way through if you’re not careful.

One issue with the W427 is getting all its grunt to the ground.

The massive 20-inch wheels and Bridgestone tyres (245mm wide at the front and 275mm wide at the rear) do a good job of getting the rear to hunker down and ensuring impressive acceleration.

But it’s not hard to get the engine’s somewhat generous output to overcome the tyres’ limits. Out of second-gear corners – there are many at Calder – the W427 is more than eager to wheelspin, eventually triggering the electronic stability control system into action. Even at 100km/h over a slight hump the W427 wants to wheelspin as the car gets light.

In the latter half of the day, rain demonstrated how much respect is required with throttle inputs.

Using first and second gears in the wet conditions has the traction control system working overtime as it tries to contain the feverish wheelspin. In third gear, too, the W427 is still struggling to maintain traction – even at 150km/h.

We even tried fourth gear at low speeds, which still provoked wheelspin out of the slow corners. Needless to say, it’s difficult to really enjoy the W427 on a wet road – or track.

HSV has calibrated the stability control system specifically for the W427, allowing for more spirited driving before it steps in. It can still be switched off for those who want, but even when engaged the system will allow for brisk lapping, albeit without the power slides the W427 is itching to do.

To go with the W427’s extra performance, HSV has also upgraded the independent suspension. Springs are 30 percent stiffer than those used on the HSV GTS and the W427 sits 20mm closer to the ground to reduce leaning through corners for improved stability.

The result is added agility, particularly with the way the W427 remains composed into and through corners. There’s loads of cornering grip, giving the driver the sort of confidence required to slowly feed more power to the rear wheels.

The HSV W427 does lean when driven hard into corners, but it’s well controlled, particularly by the standards of a road car.

Brakes, too, are the best HSV has ever fitted to one of its road cars. The 20-inch wheels were even specially chosen to fit over the larger, six-piston brake calipers.

And the brakes work superbly, ably and briskly slowing the W427 from even above 200km/h. The brake pedal remains firm and progressive, better allowing the car’s performance to be experienced.

Of course there are negatives with the HSV W427, although most are unlikely to faze most buyers.

With all that power – and performance – the W427 is one of the thirstiest vehicles on the market, slurping an average of 17.2 litres of premium unleaded every 100 kilometres travelled; a lot more if you drive it enthusiastically, as we did. That’s around 20 per cent more than other V8 sedans and double an average mid-sized car.

Inside, too, the W427 will be too similar to a regular Commodore’s cabin for some buyers, especially those HSV is aiming to tempt from more expensive, European-sourced luxury cars offering similar performance.

The basic dash layout and materials are identical to the rest of the HSV range, which itself shares plenty with more basic Commodores.

The red leather spruces things up visually, but a new colour can’t hide the basics.

Outside, there are more visual changes to the HSV W427, but non-enthusiasts could easily dismiss it as any other HSV.

Finally, there’s the question many people will no doubt ask about: whether the extra 58kW of power really justifies the A$155,500 (NZ$200,000) price tag? That's almost double the price of an HSV GTS.

In some ways the HSV W427 is a great demonstration of the law of diminishing returns. Just like an elite athlete, achieving fractions of a second more performance can be expensive, or take years of training.

Like so many performance vehicles, the HSV W427 is not a rational decision. It’s an emotional one that only a few hundred people will experience. Buyers can even watch their car being built.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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