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Loads of grunt

Holden has re-engineered and re-aligned its entire performance car range with the introduction of the VE Commodore, introducing a new model – the SS V – as the performance flagship.

In response, Ford has upped the ante on the BF Falcon and its highperformance Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) derivatives.

And if that's not enough, 2006 saw Chrysler introduce the stove-hot 6.1-litre V8 powered 300C SRT8, which represents the biggest and most powerful V8 engine you can buy in a muscle car today.

Holden's flagship muscle car gets a new designation with VE – it's called the SS V. Below that is the SS, which roughly equates to the outgoing VZ Commodore's SV8 model. And, at the entry level is the SV6, which gets the high-output version of the 3.6-litre V6.

There's no mistaking the performance intent of SS V, with its huge wheel arches, in-your-face front air dam and purposeful rear wing. Inside is a new touch – a racestyle flat-bottomed steering wheel and jet fighter-style instrumentation.

It's powered by the L98 6.0-litre V8 producing peak outputs of 270kW (5700rpm) and 530Nm (4400rpm).

(VE's engine is very closely related to the VZ's L76 6.0-litre, which produced 260kW and 510Nm.) The L98 is standard on SS and SSV (it's a $4700 option elsewhere in the range). What's changed dramatically is chassis refinement. The VE performance models offer levels of turn-in, steering feedback, grip and driver involvement that's up there with some very capable Euro cars – most of which can't hold a candle to 270kW either.

SS V rides on 19-inch five-spoke alloys shod with 245/40 Bridgestone Potenzas, while SS and SV6 share 18-inch slotted five-spoke alloys and 245/45 Potenzas.

SS and SS V are available with six-speed transmissions – both the manual and auto are six-speeders – and the auto is a slick-shifting masterpiece. SV6 gets either a sixspeed manual or five-speed auto.

You want performance? Both V8 models will shatter six seconds to 100km/h and go on to annihilate 14secs for the standing 400m.

Comparable times for the SV6 are 7.5 and 15.5sec respectively. Quite simply, the new VE doesn't hang around.

HSV has an over-riding desire: To stand alongside elite luxury brands like BMW and Audi with its head held high. And now, with its VE Commodorederived vehicles, it can. The brand wants – needs – customers to see it as a stand-alone marque, separate to Holden.

The new E-Series GTS and Senator are exactly the right vehicles for those buyers. GTS is boldly a performance car, rolling on massive 20-inch alloys (the biggest ever fitted to an Australian production car) and equally huge tyres.

Rears are massive 275/30 section Bridgestones, while fronts are 245/35. The slightly more subtle and rounded Senator has Europe even more directly in its sights – and cars like the BMW 5-Series need to be worried.

Visually stunning without being gaudy, both are instantly differentiated visually from Holden's lineup. Power and torque are up, albeit modestly, to 307kW (from Holden's 270) and 550Nm (Holden: 530).

But the biggest news with these cars is at each corner, beneath theskin. They share something with the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano and new Audi TT – HSV's elite entrants boast Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension.

This allows them to change from ultra-taut supreme handling machines to super-smooth cruisers at the flick of a microchip.

HSV's entry-level E-Series offering – Clubsport – lacks the miracle of MRC, but it packs exactly the same underbonnet punch as GTS and Senator.

Priced in the early-$60,000s, it's around $12,000 easier to slip into – about midway between Holden's SS V and HSV's GTS.

Nothing Holden can offer in the sixcylinder department can hold a candle to Ford's prowess with tweaking big kilowatts from its in-line 4.0-litre six.

Producing an amazing 245kW in standard trim inside Falcon XR6 Turbo, thanks to a turbocharger with intercooler, Ford Performance Vehicles ups that to 270kW in its hi-tech F6 Tornado ute and Typhoon sedan.

That's more power than the straight six-powered BMW M3, and although the Beamer lacks a hairdryer, there is the not-so small matter of the $80,000 extra, above the price of the Typhoon, you must spend to acquire one.

FPV's Force 8 is powered by the quad cam 5.4-litre Boss 290 V8, which manages near-HSV outputs despite having 600cc less engine capacity.

FPV's 'Force' models, like HSV's offerings, are aimed squarely at corporate executives who want an Australian-built alternative to European luxury marques, according to Ford boss Tom Gorman.

Both FPV models are available exclusively with the world-renowned, slick-shifting ZF 6HP26 high-torque six-speed automatic transmission, which manages to snatch sophisticated shifts in the face of awesome grunt from both engines. Both models also boast supreme stopping power thanks to Brembo brakes – four-piston callipers at the front and single-piston callipers at the rear. An even more powerful Brembo brake system with six-piston front callipers and four-piston rears is optional.

If you really, really want to stand out in a performance car, plant your rear end in one of these babies. The Chrysler Street and Racing Technology (SRT) version the 300C knows no equals, and boasts exclusivity-factor up to here.

With a class-leading 317kW and a 0-100km/h time in the mid-five-second range, plus a competitive $71,990 pricetag, the Chrysler 300C SRT8 is the first SRT vehicle to be powered by a 6.1-litre Hemi V8, which offers not only Australia's biggest muscle car engine, but 25 per cent more power than the 5.7-litre standard engine.

With 20-inch alloy wheels, performance-tuned suspension and Brembo brakes, the 300C SRT8 is engineered with stopping power to match its incredible capacity to accelerate.

Since going on sale in its 5.7-litre V8 and 3.5-litre V6 guise the 300C has carved an unprecedented 30 per cent share in the sub-$100,000 large segment. The 300C SRT8 is the second SRT branded vehicle to be sold in Australia, joining the high performance Crossfire SRT6.

The 2006 Chrysler 300C SRT8 connects with the road via a new wheel and tyre assembly consisting of 20-inch forged alloy wheels shod with high-performance Goodyear F1 245/45 (front) and 255/45 (rear) threeseason asymmetrical tyres.

Power-adjustable sport seats with suede inserts are standard up front – they're heated, naturally, and come with memory functions.

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