They went down that path with a cosmetically enhanced Nissan Pulsar-based Holden Astra in the 1980s that bombed miserably. But today, fuel prices are skyrocketing — and increasingly becoming a critical part of the car-purchase equation.
HSV is returning to economy without deserting its traditional V8 heartland. Today you can fire up a HSV-tuned 177kW turbocharged Astra VXR and now the company is looking at bringing in the hot turbocharged 1.6-litre Corsa VXR.
Already a hit in the UK, where it went on sale in March, the three-door pocket rocket will mark a continuing evolution in the direction of HSV.
Former HSV chairman John Crennan, who retired last year but still wears the brand on his sleeve and remains a part of the company, explains HSV does not necessarily have to replicate a Holden product in its line-up, meaning an Epica HSV is highly unlikely. “The Corsa is one Euro brand we're looking at,” he says.
Crennan says there is no specific time frame for the arrival of the Corsa, but if the numbers stack up, it could be here within 18 months.
The car would be pitched into Mini Cooper S and Peugeot 207 GT territory with a price tag around $35,000. The Corsa VXR has 143kW on tap at 5850 revs and 230Nm from 1980 revs from a lightweight 1.6-litre four, giving the car sprint time of zero to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds and top speed of more than 220km/h. The VXR's four-pot is mated to a close-ratio six-speed manual. With its performance credentials and bold styling, the mini hatch fits perfectly into HSV's DNA.
The mirrors, foglight-surrounds and centre exhaust all have a triangular theme, while the chunky front and rear bumpers, side skirts and 18-inch alloys hint at the performance underneath.
Inside there are sculpted Recaro seats, racecar-style, flat-bottomed steering wheel, drilled alloy pedals and piano-black dash trim. Like the Mini Cooper S, it has an overboost facility that increases torque on demand to more than 260Nm under hard acceleration. The power is kept in check with a specially tuned ESP system, up-rated disc brakes, suspension and variably assisted power steering, which alters weight and feel of the wheel depending on the way the car is driven.
In Australia, Holden's previous-generation XC Barina was a highly respected Opel-sourced Corsa model. But when the new TK Barina went on sale late in 2005, the company chose to source it from GM-Daewoo in South Korea. While competitively priced, the newest Barina scored poorly in the Australian and European New-Car Assessment Programs. It only managed a two-star crash rating.
Meanwhile, the Brits are raving about our HSV Clubsport sedan. In a land beset by high petrol prices and appalling congestion, they can't get enough of the 6.0-litre — badged as a Vauxhall VXR8.
HSV's managing director, Scott Grant, is also eyeing other markets. “We're committed to 300 Clubsport R8s a year to the UK for the next three years,” he says, adding that the new long-wheelbase Grange is the next export candidate — possibly to the Middle East and China.