HSV LSE auto 2008 review
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That's despite sitting slap-bang in the middle of the nation's knife-edge economy, diminishing disposable income, plummeting large car sales and soaring petrol prices.
Last year it sold 5222 cars, up 42 per cent on the previous year — and a long way north of the 421 sales it made 20 years ago, in its first year of trading.
HSV managing director Scott Grant says his company was bucking the big-car sales spiral.
“Our customer order book is very strong,” he said. “There's a two-and-a-half month waiting list for some of our models.
“WA, for example, is extremely strong because of trades and mining booms. We could sell another 100 Maloos a month in WA.
“We can sustain a volume of 4000 to4500 units a year for the next three to five years. That's a great position to be in.”
The average age of an HSV buyer is 38. But within that figure is specific groupings. Grange owners average in the low 40s and Astra (yes, there's still the VXR) buyers are in the low 30s.
HSV's buyer profile is changing from buyers who primarily desired the big-bore engines to more professional customers getting out of European sports sedans: “About 20 per cent of our sales are `conquests' to buyers trading in Audis and BMWs.”
Grant makes HSV's position a clear distinction from Holden.
“We are a stand-alone unit. We are for customers who want a premium product and that's not discounting Holden, it's just to show that we have very different customers. The VE is an outstanding platform.”
And to appease its customers, there's a new model with a numerically bigger boot badge.
HSV last week launched a significant running change to its range, slotting in the Chevrolet Corvette's hot 317kW 6.2-litre LS3 V8 to justify the distinctive “317” boot badges.
The engine goes into the E-Series models — ClubSport R8, GTS, Senator Signature and Maloo R8 — and the stretched WM Grange. Technically, the LS3 gets a bigger 103.25mm bore — yet retains the outgoing engine's 92mm stroke — for 317kW at 6000rpm and 550Nm of torque at 4600rpm.
Valve lift is higher, exhaust ports are wider, and intake valves jump to 55mm diameter from the LS2's 50.8mm. There are new cylinder heads and, probably more significant, a stronger engine block that puts more meat around the bores.
Gearboxes have also been revised, with the six-speed Cadillac auto getting partial lock-up in the top three cogs and a quicker sequential change.
Play with the auto box and you'll discover neat features, such as subtle engine run-on when down-changing to keep it on the boil when cornering.
The auto gets a standard oil cooler that improves fuel economy by allowing the box to change up at lower revs.
HSV engineering manager Joel Stoddart says the LS3 changes up at lower revs than the LS2. “That improves economy and comfort when driving gently,” he says. “Overall the new engine offers better driveability thanks to improved torque and power.”
The MRC adjustable suspension remains on selected models without change, though there is a ride and visual enhancement in the form of new 20-inch Pentagon alloy wheels.
These are standard with the performance pack on the Maloo R8 and GTS, and a $2500 option on the rest of the fleet.
HSV adds new colours to the 2008 palette, including Sting (red), which teases buyers into making a statement and the more restrained Karma (grey).
Buyers wanting to turn their car up to “loud” can go red paint with 20-inch Pentagon alloys and red-painted brake calipers.
“These buyers want to show off their car,” says HSV sales and marketing manager Darren Bowler.
“To them, it's the number on the boot; a case of “mine is bigger than yours'. That's part of the reason why there's a bigger number each model.
“The VS was 195kW; now we have 317kW. Buyers want badges.”
However, not all get them. Grange and Senator owners will smugly make do with having all the numbers but no flagrant display. Even the brake calipers are silver.
On the road
At the top of the tacho, around 6500rpm, the latest LS3 engine sounds like a muted V8 Supercar. The exhaust note is a guttural roar yet it's delivered with a clean and fuss-free spin, like the engine has found its sweet spot.
HSV doesn't make a song and dance about the new sound on the street. But it makes delightful background music to what's happening under the right foot.
Where the LS2 could sometimes bog down at low speeds, the LS3 is confident. It's an easier engine to drive and that's helped by a smoother clutch action and slightly better shift changes on the six-speed manual. I say slightly because it still needs a firm hand, and demands you follow every angle of the shift pattern's bends.
But the package feels immensely strong. You can be an absolute bastard to the box and the engine and it'll just cop it without complaint.
The auto loses no points in acceleration — the same 100km/h sprint time of 4.96 seconds as the manual — but gains heaps in driver ease. The sequential change is crisp and quick and the availability of six cogs puts any four-speed light years behind.
Tickle the accelerator and there's that 550Nm of torque raising its head. It makes driving the manual an easier experience but its immediacy is more pronounced with the automatic transmission. Steering is firm yet nicely weighted — more appreciated at cruising speeds — and is razor-sharp for fast corners and impromptu lane changes.
The MPC adjustable suspension — standard on the GTS, Senator and Grange — is a two-stage affair giving a firm, sporty ride for fast corners and track work, and a surprisingly compliant and quiet ride for suburbia.
It makes a substantial difference to the turn-in for the big cars and doesn't hurt the kidneys unless the bitumen is especially irregular.
Seat comfort and cabin room are first class, naturally borrowing from its VE Commodore donor.
It makes the most of the grunt but, surprisingly, keeps its rear wheels incontact with the bitumen — most ofthe time — because of its weighty rear fibreglass deck cover and sticky big wheels.
The Maloo even feels perkier than the sedans, though that's more attributable to the mileage on the odo.
Range and Specs
|R8||6.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$15,900 – 22,110||2008 HSV Maloo 2008 R8 Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on 14 car listings in the last 6 months