Jacqui Madelin takes the new VEII Holden GTS for a spin around the skid pad at Holden’s Lang Lang testing facility and can’t get the grin off her face.
We’re sideways at Lang Lang test track with Greg Murphy at the wheel. So far so usual ” except we’re sideways with the stability control (ESC) on, and it’s working as it’s meant to.
This sport-orientated HSV ESC package ” with its clever launch control ” is the most important part of an otherwise minor facelift. For as Murph himself says, it “gives you the potential to have a bit of fun on the track, yet still drive it home that night.”
He’s impressed, but he would be ” he’s paid to be positive to his white-knuckled passengers. But lap times confirm the benefits aren’t just media bullshit. Garth Tander was 1.1 seconds per lap quicker at Winton with ESC in competition mode than with it off, clocking 1.39.59, and 1.1g of lateral load under braking.
That was in the GTS, which benefits most from the upgrades and now sits firmly atop the HSV tree.
Like the rest of the line-up, its new look is less understated, with the Pontiac bonnet underscored by low-mounted LED running lights that automatically fire when the headlights go off.
They bracket the ‘shockwave’ detail of the front grille and alterations to the air intakes and front bumper that accentuate the car’s width.
Meanwhile, cruise control developments reduce speed over-run on downhills, further engine tuning has improved fuel economy, and all the cars are data-dotted to discourage theft.
The ClubSport R8 now has much stiffer performance suspension, with gruntier rear dampers and a new front damper tune that’s good for six-tenths of a second per lap of Winton. Add the 20-inch wheel option and there’s a further 1.1-second gain.
That 20×8.5-inch front wheel pack is standard for the GTS. The broader rim is offset off the side of the hub to widen front track by 25mm for reduced understeer and improved turn-in, with less tyre deflection under lateral load. HSV says testing showed a 0.4-second improved lap time at Winton over the outgoing car.
There’s more power ” now 325kW ” a new, lower suspension, and an optional six-piston brake upgrade that boosts pad area by 50 percent and includes higher-friction pad material.
The GTS also gets the active bi-modal exhaust as standard (it’s optional for the other variants. Buy it). The car sounds like a noise-controlled pussycat when idling or cruising. But under high rpm you get the full-throated roar of a testosterone-addled V8 on song.
It’s a potent call to hoonery, so perhaps it’s fortunate that all new HSVs have the competition mode ESC.
It allows more aggressive driving for faster lap times by delaying the stage at which stability control cuts in. You can slide the back round a fair way before the electronics call a halt. Even Murph says he wouldn’t turn ESC off in this car on public roads.
But you used to have to disable it for fast lap times.
Now the racers say they’d use it as it’s so effective. It lets you slide rear out, then put the power down knowing there’s less chance you’ll end up in the Armco.
The setup also includes ‘Intelligent Launch Control’ to moderate torque relative to rear wheel slip. But you have to be fully committed: when the throttle’s at less than 80 percent, lateral acceleration is more than 2m/s2, or the steering wheel angle exceeds 180 degrees it reverts to standard intervention.
We tried it in a manual GTS. At the end of the skid pan. Slap throttle to floor, keep it pinned. Tacho needle hard on 4500rpm. Flick foot sideways off clutch, rear tyres skip briefly then launch, tacho climbs to 6000 ” slap! Into second, then third.
Turns out I don’t need third. Try again. And again.
That’s the beauty of this system. Only a mechanical idiot ” or someone with a warehouse of clutch parts and a tame mechanic ” would treat a normal car like this. But with launch control, you can.
The fastest journo logged a 5.1 0-100kph sprint, with me in third at 5.2 flat ” an engineer came over, and I switched her off to hear him better. He told me to change at slightly higher rpm.
I refired the car, failed to notice she’d defaulted to standard mode, had another go ” and munted my time, the tyres, and almost fried the clutch. And my rep. Then Murphy took the keys.
He’s not a big guy, and I briefly contemplated a wrestle (hey, he’s cute) but when Murph says enough, he means it.
Mind you, I’d already blotted my copy-book by leaving the track… Steady morning rain meant Lang Lang’s tarmac was wet. You come off the skid pan, slow past the crossing then accelerate towards that first, 90-degree bend. It looks bloody narrow from the car. Murph’s round it sideways but warns us to take care. There’s 550Nm of torque thrusting you out of the corner, the track is slick and even stability control can only do so much. Yes, sir.
Out of the skid pan. Past the crossing. Carefully round the corner, then on the throttle hard. Too hard. Flicked sideways, pointing at the trees, the ESC already working, I’m correcting but the tarmac’s tight here ” oh sod it. Let’s go for dignified exit onto the grass and efficient re-entry, with a bit of luck the wheel marks won’t be visible.
Oh. They are, and I’ll have to ’fess up.
Next time round I was a tad more restrained. And the time after, I tried competition mode and felt the back come round, then stay there ” modulating with the throttle, yet knowing there was only so far she’d go. It’s very confidence inspiring, though I think I’ll start out more gradually next time.
I’m not sure about all the coloured badges to tell other folk exactly what goodies your car comes with. But I am convinced by the cruise control improvements on road and the ESC tune on track. Until now ESC was either on or off. There was no middle ground. Now there is, and any owner who’s fond of track days will appreciate it, and the launch control’s ability make even an occasional racer get consistent drive off the line.
Consistent as long as you remember to check it’s engaged, eh Murph. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Now, can I have the keys back?
Words and Photos: Jacqui Madelin