Track-testing HSV's new GTS rocket

TOBY HAGON
Last updated 10:04 02/08/2013
Fairfax Australia

Toby Hagon gets behind the wheel of Australia's fastest car, the new supercharged V8 flagship in HSV's Gen F range.

New HSV Gen-F GTS.
New HSV Gen-F GTS.
HSV Gen-F ClubSport.
HSV Gen-F ClubSport.

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Squeezing the throttle from a standstill in HSV's new GTS instantly puts the stability control in a high tech battle to keep the 20-inch rear tyres from igniting into smoke. The stickier 20-inch Continental tyres begin squealing and threatening more than a whiff of political incorrectness, such is the surge from the supercharged V8 engine lurking beneath the bonnet of what is comfortably the fastest, most powerful car ever produced in Australia.

Fortunately I'm at the Phillip Island race track south of Melbourne, so the occasional spinning of wheels and loutish behaviour is tolerated, within reason; as I quickly establish public roads are not the place to exploit the potential of the new hero in HSV's lineup, the GTS.

The GTS may look, feel and smell similar to others from the hot rod Holden stables, but its persistence in struggling for traction through its first two gears (our first encounter with the GTS was with the six-speed auto) is something that brand has until now not had to deal with. Yes, HSVs have always been quick, but the Holden performance partner is re setting the goalposts.

While it shares the name with previous HSV flagships, the new Gen F version of the GTS has taken a leap into the four-wheeled unknown for Australian-made cars. It's the biggest project HSV has undertaken, eclipsing the W427 that saluted the brand's founder, Tom Walkinshaw, and utilised a 7.0-litre V8.

With 430kW the new GTS is 15 per cent more powerful than anything before it. The peak output - helped by the giant air pump that is a supercharger, forcing air into the engine under 9 pounds of pressure - also pits the HSV more directly against highly fancied European rivals.

Whereas previously HSV has had to talk up its price advantage and hairy-chested V8 manners when comparing its wares to anything from Europe, the new GTS puts it on the performance scoreboard with the likes of the BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and just released Audi RS6 Avant. On paper, at least, it's not far from the bullseye.

Only the Merc matches it on power but the beast from the three-pointed star out muscles it with torque (800Nm), which is the stuff that gives it that effortless shove and ability to leave big black lines on the bitumen.

Audi's RS6 is down on outright power - with a mere 412kW, or roughly quadruple the output of an average small car - but its four-wheel-drive system means no wheel spin and a category-best 0-100kmh time of 3.9 seconds.

BMW's M5 is soon to receive an upgrade that promises a 0-100kmh time of 4.2 seconds from its 423kW twin turbo V8.

For HSV the magic 0-100kmh number is 4.4 seconds, although it's for now a claim – and one we'll put to the test in coming weeks. And while the Holden performance brand has in the past wielded some optimistic figures there's little reason to doubt it will get darn close to those claims. On a dry track, at least.

Again, it puts the GTS on the same bragging rights table as the buyers of some of the world's fastest four-doors.

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The clincher for HSV is the price. In New Zealand they will go for NZ$122,990 (or NZ$125,290 for the auto) and you could own a matching pair (plus change) for the same money as one of any of the German rivals. When it comes to bang for your buck, few cars boast as big a sledgehammer.

There's also a new look with plenty of HSV look-at-me bits. The quartet of exhausts look like they could each house a cola can, and there are bold wheels that adequately fill the bulging wheel arches.

But the GTS also brings a modicum of subtlety, something at odds with the heritage of a brand that's built its reputation on race cars for the road.

The surfboard-like rear wing once commonplace is replaced with a more modest aerodynamic aid. And the engine, while throaty and burbly is never lumpy or testing. It's clear there was a lot more to the engineering equation than making it go fast, something it does with intent.

The supercharger is barely audible and the exhaust equally restrained while still emitting the sort of full-throttle bellow owners will appreciate.

In maximum attack around the track, too, it's no slouch. The supercharged V8 steams out of corners and never feeling like it's running out of puff. It's a fantastic powerplant.

A torque vectoring diff diverts more drive to the outside rear wheel, helping improve traction, although it only works when you're on the throttle, aiding traction – and lap times. Ultimately the engine has more than enough wallop to overcome the grip of the Continental hoops.

Out of the slower corners, in particular, the GTS wags its tail like a Labrador, leaving healthy black lines as it powers effortlessly out of the Island's two hairpins. It's easy enough to predict and the rest of the car copes well with the commotion, such is the nature of the rear-drive Commodore sedan that has always been blessed with dynamic nous.

The GTS never feels particularly agile, though, which is perhaps unsurprising given it now weighs more than 1.8 tonnes. While the Commodore has been on a diet, the GTS has put on weight, a result of additional cooling systems and mechanicals beefed up to cope with all that grunt (there's a unique transmission and differential, for example).

Through corners the car leans on its front tyres, which try desperately to point the car where you're steering. Feed on some throttle, though, and the balance quickly returns to the rear. The grip levels are impressive for a car that can also comfortably carry five.

And the adjustable suspension does its best to resist leaning through bends. While we haven't yet had a chance to test it on the road – where bumps will test its ability to provide a smooth ride – on the track it's well calibrated.

One area the GTS really impresses is under brakes. While it doesn't have the more fancied - and expensive - carbon-ceramic stoppers of some rivals, the six-piston calipers are powerful and potent in their ability to wash off speed.

Yet while there's all that grunt the GTS still has Holden heritage. It shares its basic interior layout and exterior panels with the humble Commodore, albeit with impressive HSV touches to the centre touchscreen as well as unique trims and leather.

FAST GTS FACTS

HSV considered a lower output version of the supercharged V8 but there would have been more engineering work involved to detune it from the outputs already achieved in the donor car, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Because the engine was already certified by General Motors at that output any changes would have required an expensive full engineering program.

The GTS may have more grunt but it's also heavier thanks to 90kg of extra hardware (much of it cooling equipment to keep the engine and differential temperatures down).

In D for drive the auto GTS will never use first gear, instead taking off in second for better fuel economy and to rely on the 740Nm of torque. If you want maximum acceleration – and first gear - you need to shift into Sport mode.

The GTS doesn't come with a spare tyre because it can't fit under the boot floor thanks to the unique differential. Those wanting a proper spare tyre – rather than a repair kit – will have to forgo luggage space and have it mounted within the boot.

As well as Holden's proving ground at Lang Lang, south east of Melbourne, the GTS was hot weather tested at Winton race track, Kunnanurra and in the top end of the Northern Territory.

If you're considering a GTS join the queue. While dealers only begin getting the GTS in a few weeks they have been taking orders for months. In Auckland, for example, Moyes HSV have the "sold out" sign up already and the cars aren't due here until towards the end of the year. Moyes said it would be March next year before another NZ shipment would be available.

HSV considered Continental, Yokohama and its traditional Bridgestone tyres for the GTS (and the rest of the HSV range). In the end the Continentals won (similar to those used on some Mercedes-Benzes) due to better grip in wet and dry and a better ride comfort.

HSV GTS

Engine: 6.2-litre supercharged V8

Power: 430kW at 5900rpm

Torque: 740Nm at 4200rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto

Weight: 1830kg (approx)

Fuel use: 14.8L/100km (manual), 13.9L/100km (auto)

Wheels: 20-inch alloys

Tyres: Continental ContiSport Contact 5P 255/35 (front), 275/35 (rear)

0-100kmh: 4.4 seconds (claimed)

Top speed: 250kmh (electronically limited).

-Fairfax News Australia

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