HSV Clubsport R8 LSA

FIRST DRIVES

ANDY ENRIGHT

HSV saves the best for last with this 400kW supercharged Clubsport

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

STATS tell us that in the short term, you’ll remember up to seven facts from this review. Over the longer term, one, maybe two at best. So if there’s just one thing you take away from the latest supercharged HSV Clubsport R8 LSA, stamp this into your creaking brain: 4200rpm.

When you dial in that many revs, the 6.2-litre LSA V8 performs a remarkable transformation. And you won’t miss the transition because there’s nothing subtle about it: The engine’s timbre stiffens instantly from a breathy rush to a barrelchested roar and the scenery just explodes through the windscreen.

The first time it happens it’s genuinely shocking. When performance testing the car at a dragstrip, none of us could quite believe how violent the bang was, at first wondering whether the supercharger had shot itself in the head. But no, they all do that, sir.

Judging by the metronomic repeatability of the performance figures extracted, they will all do 0-100km/h in 4.7sec and the standing 400m in 12.9. This was on a day so hot that the end of the strip at times disappeared into a shimmering mirage, so HSV’s claims of 4.6 to 100km/h and 12.6 over 400m in more temperate conditions seem wholly credible.

At this juncture, it’s probably worth putting some cards on the table. Despite my almost 20 years of road testing, this is the very first Commodore I’ve ever driven.

Maloos and Monaros in the UK, yes, but this was something new.

New and huge. This Clubsport is bigger than a millennial BMW 7 Series. If you were going to build a credible sports car you really wouldn’t start from here, but, like a 911, the Clubsport is a tribute to dogged development over common sense. You’ve built a bloody wonderful sedan here, Australia, and soon it’s going to be history. Prior to shuffling off this mortal coil, HSV is sending the Clubbie off with a hell of a bang with the Gen-F2. With 400kW on tap at 6150rpm, it’s only 30kW down on the flagship GTS.

HSV will sell you a Clubsport R8 LSA with a six-speed manual and launch control software for $80,990, while $83,490 nets you the car on test here, with the heavy-duty 6L90E six-speed auto.

It’s surprisingly mannered at low speed. Yes, there’s a flare of revs at start up, a kerbside marking of territory, but beyond that there’s virtually no supercharger whine and very little of the characterful woofle you’d expect if you’d driven a few LS3-equipped cars. Put that down largely to the bi-modal exhaust.

The torque’s there, but the aural response is severely muted, all of which makes the engine’s switch from Jekyll to Hyde all the more dramatic. Ladle on the full 671Nm and even with the traction control set to maximum granny, the Clubbie will attempt to immolate its rear boots in the dry.

The Driver Mode selector will mute the soundtrack even further and over-assist the steering in Tour, which means you’ll probably drive it everywhere in Sport.

Turning it up to Performance merely loosens the traction and stability control that bit further.

For such a hefty lummox, the ride/handling compromise is unnaturally good and a testament to HSV’s chassis tuning expertise. Try to provoke the front end into plough understeer and you’ll need to resort to some boneheaded manoeuvres, once you’ve gone through the interminable buttonhold of switching the stability control off.

The VF’s generous wheelbase allows you to transition from mild understeer into a few degrees of oversteer without requiring the car control of Ken Block, thanks to the exemplary calibration of the electrically assisted helm.

The AP brakes inspire confidence, and stand up to repeated stops from over 200km/h without noticeable fade.

Burlier spring and damper rates are claimed to improve body control and, while you’ll have to manage without the flagship GTS’s magnetic dampers and torque vectoring, chances are you won’t mind.

The beefier rear suspension architecture improves rear stiffness and braking power, yet it’s still resistant to the sort of mid-corner bumps that would send most big sports sedans into a harmonic porpoising at the limit.

The whole drivetrain’s been overspecified, from the LSA lump with its higher-grade internals to the heavier duty gearbox, tailshaft, differential and axles, not forgetting industrial-strength cooling for the engine and transmission.

There’s not a whole lot that’s new indoors, but the exterior styling updates work well, with Lambo-like trapezoidal front intakes and a black theme that incorporates bonnet vents, mirror caps, side skirts and a subtle satin graphite low-pro rear wing.

Somewhat surprisingly, all the trick gauges of the Enhanced Driver Information system are a $1095 option.

Any complaints feels churlish in the extreme, though, thanks in no small part to that $80K/400kW combo. Quite honestly, I thought the Clubsport LSA was going to be a crass case study in how the Australian car industry took its eye off the ball. Once in a while it’s a joy to be proven utterly wrong. This spittle-flecked brawler is a bittersweet triumph.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale HSV Clubsport R8 LSA 6162cc V8 (90°), ohv, 16v, supercharger 400kW @ 6150rpm 671Nm @ 4200rpm 6-speed automatic 1907kg 4.7sec (tested) 15.0L/100km $83,490 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Lingering bogan image; vast size; fuel thirst; appetite for tyres Manic power delivery; handling; space; interior tech; value

01 SMILE ON YOUR DIAL

Switch the Driver Mode to Tour if you don’t want to wake the neighbours, or else leave it in Sport. In Performance mode, the ESC threshold is such that you’ll need to know what you’re doing.

02 SHINE ON

The interior remains the usual magpie’s nest of shiny bits, clashing grains and materials that shouldn’t work but somehow do. The centre console gauges from MY15 cars get the flick.

03 CALL OF THE WILD

Bi-modal exhaust is one of the keys to the Clubsport LSA’s split personality. Flaps stay closed below 4200rpm, and stealth mode is engaged. But rev the blown V8 harder and all hell breaks loose.

Market of one

THE Clubsport R8 LSA finds itself without direct rivals. There’s really nothing that offers this sort of pace and size for comparable cash. If you’re willing to step up to a BMW M5, you’ll need to be digging down the back of the couch for an additional $146K, while a Mercedes-AMG E63 will require an extra $167K.

Get in either and you might wonder where the premium’s been spent, meaning R8 LSA owners will be entitled to a sense of smug satisfaction.

OR TRY THESE...

Ford Falcon XR8 $55,690

IF SPENDING more than the asking price of this gutsy XR8 merely represents a diminishing return, welcome to the cheap seats. Still some way shy of the HSV’s polish but against the clock, the Ford’s supercharged Miami V8 has the juice to keep the Clubsport honest.

Mercedes-AMG CLA45 $88,400

HERE’S where the hot four-door market is moving to in this price bracket. CLA’s downsized 2.0-litre lump delivers 265kW (and soon, 280kW) and delivers identical pace off the line via AWD. But the ride can be jarring, and CLA’s coupelike form is cramped for space.