You know a good car when, within the first 100m of driving it, you smile and let out a chuckle. Then I chuckled at myself chuckling and suddenly I was in an infinity loop of chuckling that could only be stopped by opening a rift in the space-time continuum. Fortunately the HSV GTS has all the power you need to do that!
So, before I start chuckling again I thought I’d begin this review with what I don’t like about the GTS, because once that’s out of the way with I can explain why it’s made it onto my favourite drives list. And it’s easy to do: I very much dislike the handbrake lever (I had the same issue with the SV6), and I slightly dislike the steering wheel (it’s nowhere near as nice as FPV’s offering) and the gear change action (which is not as sharp as it should be).
Minor things really, because just about everything else about the GTS is fabulous. Take a look around the outside: I love the slotted brake rotors that are the size of helicopter landing pads. Not only do they look the part behind the 20-inch deep dish alloys, they are fade-resistant and feel like you’re suddenly driving through a patch of glue.
I also like the styling — flared arches, spotlights, E-shaped cooling vents behind the front wheels, a tasteful spoiler blocking the view of the lethargic vehicle you’ve just overtaken, and the tomato soup-colour of our test car. Comforting.
On the inside it’s as good. I tested it out on some people with strong environmental leanings (my partner [Jen] and a friend I mentioned in my review of the Maxima Spec R). According to Jen it’s the nicest car I’ve had (and she likes the colour), and if we had 90 grand to spend she’d be happy to own one. According to our friend, she can ‘see the difference between her car and this one.’ Her car being a 1990 Toyota Corona.
So, a big yes from the petrolhead faction (me), and a slightly less enthusiastic but still significant yes from the tree-lovers. But that’s not reason enough (yet) for you to buy it, so let me explain more.
Press the clutch, turn the key and the engine explodes into life like a tiger on P. Slot it into first, give it some revs, feed in the clutch, then bury the throttle. There’s a physical bombardment of your senses. Acceleration from the six-litre LS2 Generation 4 V8 is brutal as I wrap the rev counter around to 6500 before snatching second, and it’s repeated again, sounding like a WWF wrestler gargling a pint of lava. If you could take it to the Autobahn, you could do this another four times and you’d hit 260+kph. 550Nm and 307kW surge through limited slip differential to the 275/30R20 rear wheels, being reined in by traction control which beeps in alarm as it fights against the laws of physics. I could do this all day, and I’d have extremely strong neck muscles. HSV claim a 4.96-second 0-100 time, but I (and it seems other reviewers) have not been able to get anywhere close to this, all of us posting mid 5 second times (we tried twice and recorded 5.57s on cold tyres, with the rear end squirming all over the place into third gear — it would have been a good 0.2-0.3 quicker had the road had more grip or we had reduced the pressure in the tyres).
Turn the traction control off and the GTS has enough wheelspinning power to set off every smoke detector in the street. This surfeit of grunt over grip would be useless if the GTS didn’t handle, but it does and it’s so controllable. A button on the dash marked ‘Track’ firms up the suspension using Magnetic Ride Control (MRC). MRC activates continuously variable damping using front and rear sensors that monitor each damper piston 100 times a second, reducing body roll.
Naturally, it would be ridiculous of HSV to give you all this power and not have the safety to match. There are dual stage airbags, side airbags and curtain airbags, plus the usual safety acronyms: Electronic Stability Control, Anti-lock Braking System, Traction Control System, Electronic Brake Assist, Electronic Brake force Distribution, and Active Head Restraints. The GTS monitors the car 30 times a second to detect situations where the car’s prodigious capability might be exceeded by a total nutcase.
On the interior a large screen functions as a reversing display showing whether there’s anything being picked up by the sensors, with areas around the edge of the screen displaying dual climate control settings and stereo presets. The trip computer displays as part of the dials. No rev limit is visible on the rev counter, but it stops at 6500.
If you’ve got $91,990 to spend there is a plethora of options from other manufacturers. But you’re going to buy the GTS because a little bit of you wants to know what it feels like to be a V8 Supercar driver. It’s HSV’s 301 modifications that turn a standard V8 Commodore into the closest you’ll get to Skaife’s office. It’s a travelling neck muscle exerciser. It makes me smile, and that’s the important thing.
Price: from $91,990 (manual), $92,990 (auto)
What we like:
- ‘Chuckle factor’
What we don’t like:
- Handbrake lever
- Spongy gearshift
- Steering wheel could be nicer
- Buy shares in a petrol company
Words Darren Cottingham, photos Quinn Hamill