HSV LSE 2008 review
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All eight cylinders are firing hard at Holden Special Vehicles and the punch will only get strong with the arrival of V-Series cars with an LS3 V8 under the bonnet.
Sales last year hit 5222 cars, up 42 per cent on 2006 and a long way north of the 421 in its first year, 1988.
“Our customer order book is very strong. There's a 2 1/2-month waiting list for some of our models,” HSV managing director Scott Grant says.
“We can sustain a volume of 4000-4500 units a year for the next three to five years. That's a great position to be in.”
The HSV buyer profile is changing from people wanting the big-bore engines to customers getting out of European sports sedans.
“About 20 per cent of our sales are conquests, with buyers trading in Audis and BMWs,” Grant says.
Even so, the chase for more capacity and power has led to the latest LS3, which is being fitted as a running change — not an all-new model or even a facelift — with only a 317 badge on the boot.
The badge reflects the 317kW from the Chevrolet Corvette's hot 6.2-litre LS3 V8, even though it is down slightly from the US car thanks to the Commodore installation package.
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 6000 revs and 550Nm at 4600 revs.
There are new cylinder heads and, probably more significantly, a stronger engine block that puts more meat around the bores.
Gearboxes have been revised with the six-speed Cadillac auto getting partial lock-up in the top three cogs and a quicker sequential change.
Neat features include the subtle engine run-on when changing down to keep the car on boil when cornering and an oil cooler improves fuel economy by allowing the 'box to change up at lower revs.
The Magnetic Ride Control adjustable suspension remains on selected models without change, though there is a ride and visual boost with 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) and Karma (grey).
Buyers wanting to turn their car up to “loud” can go red on the 20 Pentagon alloys and brake calipers.
“These buyers want to show off their car,” HSV sales and marketing manager Darren Bowler says.
“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.”
ON THE ROAD
Close your eyes and at 6500 revs the new LS3 sounds like a muted V8 Supercar.
The exhaust note is a guttural roar, yet it's delivered with a clean and fuss-free spin from the sweet spot. And it's the background music to the action under your foot.
HSV cars with the LS2 could sometimes bog down at low speeds, but the LS3 is always confident.
It is an easier engine to drive and that's helped by a smoother clutch action and slightly better shift changes on the six-speed manual — even if you still need a firm hand.
The package feels immensely strong. You can be an absolute bastard to the box and the engine and it will cop it without complaint.
The auto loses no points in acceleration — with the same 0-100km/h sprint 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 the 550Nm raises its head. It makes driving the manual easier 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.
In saying that, seat comfort and cabin room is first class, naturally borrowing all the space efficiencies from its VE Commodore donor.
The Maloo moves up a notch from the dog-and-ute brigade to its more natural position as a coupe with a big boot.
It makes the most of the LS3 grunt but keeps its rear wheels in contact with the bitumen — most of the time — because of its weighty rear fibreglass deck cover and sticky big wheels.
Range and Specs
|R8||6.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$25,990 – 37,990||2008 HSV Maloo 2008 R8 Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on 9 car listings in the last 6 months