After having the keys to the latest HSV GTS for a week, we were reluctant to give them back… Yes, it is that good.
It doesn’t lumber like you expect a car of its size should. Instead it feels nimble, refined and smooth. It’s an unexpected combination but a pleasant surprise. And that is merely the first thing that strikes you when driving the HSV E-Series 2 GTS.
It’s a big car and, with 325kW on tap, it’s certainly no slouch. But we knew that before we were handed the keys.
What’s surprising is how smooth the car is on the road, even with the massive 20-inch wheels.
It’s easy to see that millions of dollars have gone into the development of this vehicle, and we suspect many European cars were scrutinised for ideas before it went into production. There’s a level of sophistication and refinement you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a big Aussie muscle car.
The Magnetic Ride Control (MRC to the PR people) that makes the car so plush, yet somehow firm at the same time, plays a huge part in the handling characteristics. It’s not a new invention (GM used it on Cadillacs in 2002), but the system leaves other suspension setups for dead. The easy way to explain it is that the shocks are filled with a synthetic oil that is made up of 40 per cent iron particles.
When the particles are magnetised, they bond together. The strength of the bond is in proportion to the strength of the magnetic field flowing through them. Thus the shocks’ internals can go from an oily consistency to rock solid in a split-second.
Various sensors working more than 1000 times a second tell the shocks what to do, and the car adapts to how and where it is being driven.
Besides improved handling, another advantage is how the rear end will purposely squat under hard acceleration and the front will stiffen during hard braking; not to mention the benefits in reducing body roll during hard cornering.
With two settings (‘Performance’ and ‘Track’) the GTS is the perfect track day weapon for those who want an all-in-one package.
On the street, the Track mode will be a bit too much for most people, as it doesn’t seem to take the edge off bumps as well as the Performance setting does.
Looking The Part
This is a car that gets looks — from the people in the car next to you at the lights, to the kids on the footpath, to the neighbours as you pull into your driveway. The Poison Ivy green (one of 10 available colours) coupled with the aggressively vented bonnet and bright LED lights up front contribute, as does the down-low growl of the 6.2-litre V8 rumbling under the hood.
The sound as you sit at idle is beautiful; you know there’s something ready to go when you are but, thanks to the bi-modal muffler system, as soon as you’re on your way the exhaust quietens and it’s a pleasantly and surprisingly quiet cabin. Easy to talk in, and easy to hear the great audio system regardless of where you’re seated.
Stand on the gas, and a split-second later the exhaust note returns. Keep your foot planted and it begins to sound even better. While the bi-modal exhaust is stock on the GTS, it’s optional on all HSV Clubsports and has a huge take-up rate. It’s easy to see why.
Steering is responsive, not heavy or floaty like you’d find in many similarly sized vehicles. The nimble driving response suggests it would be easy to forget that the HSV is a big family sedan.
With dark grey and black the only colours inside the car, the cabin is much darker than you’d expect, but it works well together and is useful at dulling outside light, especially on those bright sunny days. The seats are as supportive as you’d ever need in a road car, yet don’t give you that numb feeling you find in a race seat. Better still, both driver and passenger front seats are electronically adjustable (bar the lumbar support, which is manually tweaked).
The quality of workmanship is high, as you’d expect for a car that retails for just shy of $100,000. The only complaint is the difficult-to-use handbrake, but that’s more of a Holden issue than an HSV one, and a minor one at that.
While the front passenger may be excited about the auto-up on the passenger electric window, the less common, more impressive feature is the tyre pressure level display on the in-dash trip computer.
With low profile tyres it’s often hard to know when they’re flat, so the gauge is the perfect way to stop you having to use the tyre pando that comes in place of a spare (an upgrade to a full-size spare is available). Economy wise, the car’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s less thirsty on the gas than any previous HSV V8 yet with a bunch more power on tap.
If you were to use one word to describe the brakes, it would have to be brutal. Our test car was equipped with the optional six-piston brake upgrade that sees the rotors become larger than V8 Supercar items, and they’re simply vicious. After stepping out of any other vehicle into the driving seat of the GTS, it’s easy to forget how effective the brakes are. After the first jerky, unexpectedly fast stop though, coming to a halt is as seamless as in any other vehicle. The difference is that the stoppers will happily pull the near two-tonne car up from huge speeds, even after several laps of a race track.
With the brake upgrade (which, at $4699, isn’t cheap) you’ll get bright yellow callipers to draw attention to your investment, along with yellow badges around the vehicle to match.
With 325kW from the 6.2-litre LS3, there’s plenty of power, yet the transmission is so smooth you’ll hear the gear changes rather than feel them. Manual variants are offered with launch control, while our automatic test car made do without. If you feel like being in control, simply push the shifter to the side and take over. We found the auto so good that changing into manual mode didn’t really achieve anything. Perhaps if used for club track days and the like it’d be useful, but on the busy roads of Auckland, say, an auto is your best friend.
Also useful for those track days is the GTS’s Advanced Traction Control (ATC), which has an option that allows the car to slide a bit yet maintain control, rather than standard traction control setups that don’t allow any slide at all.
When you put your foot down, the MRC allows the car to squat and the ATC (in standard mode) keeps the wheels firmly stuck to the ground, providing a great feeling of control, even if you think you probably shouldn’t be.
The steering wheel fits perfectly in your hands. The leather is soft and lush to touch and, being wide-rimmed, it’s comfortable on long journeys.
Speaking of which, with its perfect combination of performance, comfort and safety, this car is ideal for long trips. The price tag, though touching six figures, represents value for money. Consider that for a ‘family car’ with this sort of performance, you’re looking at European vehicles at around twice the price. And the GTS is two cars in one: with its smoothness and safety, it could be the car about town; when the pedal’s to the metal, the thrillseeker of the household will want to try and rein this beast in. That’s good value.
With so much power, such refined handling, brakes that are brutally impressive and all of the everyday luxuries you could ever want, there’s nothing with the same price tag that gets close to beating the GTS. If you’re in the market for a car of that value, look no further. Hell, if you’re in the market for something more expensive, still buy a GTS and get yourself a weekend toy too. Not that you’ll need it. You’ll be having so much fun in the GTS you’ll never want to get out.
Words: NZV8 Photos: Adam Croy
This article is from NZV8 Magazine issue 64. Click here to check it out.