HSV Senator Signature 2003 Review
A SMALL group of cars are Aussie icons. They set the heartbeat for local motoring.
The born-again Falcon GT clears the bar with a handy margin and so does the HSV Senator. Both pump up the local action and raise the pulse for people who want the best of the best with a local badge.
The fast new Ford scored a perfect five-star rating when we tested it earlier this year, so now we've balanced the scales with a long, hard look at the Senator Signature.
It's a late look because Holden has just updated the VY Commodore with Series II models, but it will be a while before the HSV cars get their new tweaks, so we decided it was time for some hot Holden action.
The Signature got the nod because of its icon status, confirmed by its mechanical package and luxury gear that lifts its price above $80,000.
It's also the car of choice for Holden motorsport hero Mark "The Boss" Skaife.
The Senator Signature costs a lot for a home-grown car, even a muscle car from HSV, and we wanted to know if it did the job. The short answer: yes.
It has a 260kW engine that grunts and goes, specially set suspension that combines grip with comfort, and the sort of luxury and little surprises you'd expect more in the Audi-BMW-Benz price range.
Even the people at HSV have a bit of trouble citing the differences between the $74,650 Senator and the $80,140 Senator Signature.
But they confirm the dearer car with the extra name has better seats, premium brakes and 19-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli P-Zero tyres.
The ventilated and cross-drilled brakes alone should be worth the extra to serious drivers.
But it's the Signature badge that will do just as much convincing for people who want to go all the way.
The Signature isn't the quickest or the costliest car in the HSV range, but it is the sort of car that a lot of locals would rate against the mid-level European luxury contenders.
It has size as well as a proven brand name, but it's the depth of the action that makes the real case.
The Senator comes with an engine that got a 5kW kick in the change to the VY and could easily get another tickle for VYII.
It has everything from electric leather seats and monster alloy wheels to cruise control, automatic airconditioning and an eight-speaker sound system with a six-stack CD.
But we were most impressed by the little things. The Senator has a pair of extra instruments stacked on top of the dash in a neat little housing, the steering wheel is a bit different from other hot Holdens, the dashboard dials have been given a special HSV look with white faces and different graphics, and the pedals have drilled alloy plates.
The Senator has to get by with the same four-speed auto that holds back the whole Holden range. Most premium performance cars are moving to five-speed autos and Mercedes has just developed a seven-speeder for its S-Class. But otherwise you get all the fruit.
On the road:
IF YOU want to cut to the star rating, the Senator Signature gets four.
It's very, very good and terrific value, even with an $80K bottom line, though it's not as balanced or complete as the GT.
The fast Falcon gets a bull's-eye for every one of Ford's targets while the Senator just misses the mark in several areas.
It's not by much, but a car has to be best-in-show to get the five stars we've given to the GT and Honda's latest Euro Accord this year.
But there are lot of good things to say about the Signature star. We really like the way it drives and the comfort.
The dials in the centre of the dash are a great touch, even for people who don't need to know about volts and oil pressure.
The seats, too, are great. It took a while to get them set right, with sliding upper-body support similar to a Qantas business-class chair, but they are terrifically supportive.
The sound system is fantastic, the final finishing work is very good, and we liked everything from the airconditioning to the alloy wheels.
The body bits on the Signature are also matched well to its price, pushing the point without shouting. It's muscular, but not boy-racer silly.
Turn the key and you remember what HSV is all about. The Senator has a meaty exhaust note and takes only a tickle to get hot and heavy.
Our test car was an automatic and was great for city running. It really cracked away from the lights and the kick-down response was instant and brutal, though it needs an extra gear to provide the sort of driving enjoyment possible with a Euro car.
The suspension is set surprisingly soft, but the brakes are brilliant. They easily match the power and make the car reassuring to push along quickly, despite its 1700kg.
We liked the Senator Signature a lot and can see plenty of reasons to put one in the garage.
It's a solid four-star performer that's another reflection of the classy work being down by local carmakers, especially at the muscle car end of the business.
Range and Specs
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data