The new HSV Gen-F.
The new HSV Gen-F.

Road test: The HSV Gen-F's power play

KEEPING a lid on things when you're blasting around a difficult track like Victoria's Phillip Island - which spaces out its tricky collection of corners with long fast stretches of wide track - when you've been told to keep the needle below 170kmh isn't particularly easy.

It's just that noise - the pedal makes it sound good, therefore it's good to push it. Childishly simple.

During a launch event that kicked off on Victoria's highways, before letting loose on the ocean-side circuit, we sampled each of the Holden Special Vehicles machines based on the new Commodore - from the cheapest Maloo through to an engineering prototype of the upcoming GTS, the most powerful Holden yet.

HSV may have put on a smarter suit when it took on the new design. It's tidied up a bit and put on a far less stroppy face than we're used to. but there's no denying DNA and the new Gen-F range is just as raucous as it should be.

Fuel consumption and vehicle weights have dropped, power output from the 6.2-litre LS3 V8 has gone up, and while it takes on a far smoother persona around town, twiddle a knob and it'll explode into life.

Although the Gen-F range has adopted the smooth and clean VF styling this refined persona hides more brawn than it ever has before.

And that's without getting to the big 'un. The new range-topping GTS gets the ZL-1 Camaro's LSA engine - and 430kW. But that monster aside, from entry level to high-spec savage, it's still a range of big, tough, rear-drive Aussie V8s but with a lick more style.

In name, the range still carries much the same selection as the outgoing E3 - GTS for the racers, the long wheelbase Grange and the Senator Signature for the suits, Maloo for the tradie done good and Clubsport or Tourer for the rest.

But they're significantly slicker - a more subtle take on the rear-drive saloon with rear spoilers replaced by sculpted lip spoilers. Wheel selections aren't over the top, despite being big 20s wrapped in 35-profile rubber, and the huge stoppers behind them make it clear that it's business time.

There's still a massive amount of room to spare inside, but with Holden's design successfully giving a comfortable sense of involvement, and HSV adding some neatly executed accents and leathery trim amongst the modern switchgear and bold displays.

The common thread is the LS3, at its 'least' powerful spec is 317kW and 550Nm in the Maloo and the Clubsport sedan and wagon, with their respective R8 versions getting 325kW courtesy of a bi-modal exhaust system. A new addition is the SV option for the R8s, using the intake and headers from the supercharged LSA, making 340kW and 570Nm, and becoming default powerplant for both Senator and Grange.

A bit of extra power is always nice, and while torque also gets a bit of boost, the SV-equipped versions are a welcome boost to a familiar formula, giving a much sharper response, which is particularly noticeable when exiting corners.

Handling across the range has also improved over the VE-based generation, with the VF's huge array of changes taking full advantage of weight-savers like the wider use of ultra-high strength steel, an aluminium bonnet and bootlid, as well as lower control arms.

The new electric steering system has been tuned by HSV to produce a heavier and sportier feel. Everything in the range has dropped a bit of pork, with the Clubsport shedding 68kg. These factors add up to fuel consumption figures that are surprisingly light considering the horsepower hammer nature of the engine in all of its specifications.

The factory claim is just 12.6L/100km from the six-speed manual and 12.9L from the six-speed auto.

All except the two base models get HSV's slick EDI interface, which enables everything from instant power readouts, lap timing with split sections and G-force. This had to be completely reworked to fit with the GM Global A architecture's electrical upgrade, which also allows for safety features like auto park assist and sensors, reversing camera and blindspot monitoring with forward collision alert, lane departure and a HUD at the upper end of the line-up.

But the Maloo and Clubsport do join in for one new trick, the Driver Performance Dial - that selector between the front seats - which chooses touring, sport or performance modes, and an additional track mode in the GTS.

DPD fiddles with stability control on the lower models, as well as tightening up steering and enabling launch control on manuals. The R8s get to adjust the bi-modal exhaust from perfectly social to unsociably perfect, and adjusting the bi-modal exhaust to take it from perfectly sociable to utterly not, and the upper models can tweak suspension and ESC settings.

While all bar the two luxury models and the GTS run on relatively normal suspension, it has been tuned to work with new aluminum lower arms, knuckles and other suspension components.

The Senator and Grange get the VF's chassis with the huge latest Magnetic Ride Control dampers, with a twist of the DPD taking the MRC suspension from relaxing and comfortable to fast and firm.

The GTS displays its bright yellow six-pot calipers and boasts torque vectoring, which adjusts drive to each of the rear wheels to defeat understeer, the rest of the line-up gets four-piston fronts gripping big 267mm vented rotors tucked behind 20-inch wheels.