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First drive: HSV E3

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First drive: HSV E3

Toby Hagon

September 22, 2010 - 9:20AM

From the GTS to the Maloo and ClubSport, we drive the latest range of HSV V8-powered performance cars.

It's all about the detail with HSV's new E3 range, which includes the new ClubSport R8, Maloo R8, Tourer wagon, GTS performance hero, Senator Signature and Grange.

Anyone expecting the latest HSV E3 range to be radically different to drive to the one it replaces may be disappointed.

But they will have a more upmarket driving experience.

The 6.2-litre V8 is unchanged, as are the tyres, suspension and other components that determine how the V8-powered, Melbourne-born muscle car will behave on the road - and track.

Not that any of that is a bad thing.

The HSV E3 still has the raucous roar expected of its flexible and willing V8. At higher revs an exhaust flap opens and allows the exhaust to emit more of a rumble, which burbles when you lift off the accelerator.

Instead, the HSV E3 is more about making the most of what is a strong performing machine.

Additional technology and some smoothing of rough edges have refined what was already a compelling large performance car.

Key to the new go fast gear is the EDI, or Enhanced Driver Interface, which houses all manner of controls and race car-like data logging.

In everyday driving it's a novelty to monitor how much power or torque the engine is producing at any time (it's not actually measured but is calculated from the throttle opening and revs to give a theoretical figure).

Watching the G-force meter roll around depending on whether you're cornering or braking is also a bit of fun, although could act as a distraction if used irresponsibly.

Other readouts are more useful for regular driving. The history of fuel use over recent kilometres is interesting, while LPI cars (running on petrol and LPG) can predict the remaining range on each fuel before refueling.

The stopwatch could be handy to time your run to work to see if a different route or shortcut can get you there quicker.

More useful functions include the gear change lights, although having them tucked down on the central screen takes them away from the driver's line of sight; a chime and additional logo in the instrument cluster partially solve that issue.

But it's the data logging that's of most interest to enthusiasts. Hit the "record" button and it starts monitoring all manner of information, from wheelspin and slide angles, to throttle inputs, G-forces and speeds at various points around a track. Again, while the data logging is a product of the race track, those keen to analyse their trip to work could have also sorts of fun dissecting the data from different days of the week.

The EDI screen is easy to use and incorporates specific HSV designs and layouts, including the build number of your car that flashes up on start-up.

The cabin, too, looks more upmarket with the addition of glossy black paneling in the centre console and dash and a cleaner design that places the new touchscreen EDI higher on the dash. Different models also get unique trim treatments, including faux carbon fibre strips on the GTS and metallic-look on the Senator Signature.

The model name of the car on a silver strip is also a welcome touch to the interior.

LPI - LPG-powered dual fuel set-up

This is my first taste of HSV's new LPI system. It's a clever marketing ploy to give it a name that's distinct from LPG, which still has ugly connotations of a taxi fuel. LPI also refers to liquid propane injection, indicating the new technology that injects the fuel as a liquid, rather than a gas, for better efficiency.

The story with HSV's LPI system - which is a $5990 option ($6390 on Maloo R8 ute to account for unique fitment in the ute) on all but the Tourer (where it's not available) - is one of running cost savings.

That's because you can't distinguish when the car is running on LPG gas. A neat button housed in the near the gear selector and handbrake has a fan of blue LEDs alerting as to how much gas is left in the tank, while the button allows you to disable it if you want to force the car to run only on petrol.

The new HSV LPI system can run only on petrol, but it can't rely purely on LPG. That's because the LPI engine initially starts on petrol before switching to LPG once it's warmed up.

The LPI version of the 6.2-litre V8 also reverts to petrol above 4000rpm, purely for engine durability.

The switch to LPG is imperceptible when accelerating and there's no discernible difference in the way the car performs on either fuel.

Even below 4000rpm when the GTS LPI car is running on LPG it pulls strongly and makes all the right V8 sounds.

There's still a full 325kW of power to play with and it's backed up by 550Nm of torque, or mid-range pulling power.

Steering still feels less than ideal with a bulkiness to its response and feedback. But it turns the car faithfully and doesn't have any unwanted kickback over bumps.

There's also loads of grip from the GTS's 20-inch tyres, while the stability and traction control systems add reassurance on a wet, greasy road.

The main difference with the LPI system is what it does to the boot. The circular tank sits behind the rear seats, meaning the split fold functionality is gone. It also eats up 165 litres of the Commodore-based GTS's 496-litre boot. That may not sound like much (there's still 331 litres to play with), but the functionality of the boot is impacted substantially, meaning even a large suitcase or two could prove challenging to fit in. At least HSV has fitted a carpet-like flap to cover the uglier, industrial-looking cylinder that sits in the boot.

About 100kg of extra weight will no doubt slow the GTS against a stopwatch, although it does little to dilute the brutal V8 response that characterises the car.

HSV has also raised the rear springs of the car to account for the extra weight in the rear.

HSV E3 on the track

Part of our taste test of the new HSV E3 range involved a blast around the Broadford race track, where Drive also conducts part of its annual Car of the Year testing.

The sometimes tight and always challenging track was a great place to put the new HSV range through its paces.

The 6.2-litre V8 pulls strongly from down low but is also happy to rev to 6500rpm shortly before the gear change chime kicks in to prompt you to change up.

The big 20-inch wheels of the HSV GTS also grip well, pointing the large car into the corner. With all that power, though, it doesn't take much aggression with the accelerator to prompt the tail to start sliding, something the well tuned stability control system (if it hasn't been switched off) will catch and correct.

Brakes don't have the meaty feel of more focused sports cars, but they pull up solidly and with assurance. Only after a couple of hard laps does the pedal start to go spongy and, when you're stopped, you get that distinctive burning brake smell. That's one of the downsides with trying to stop a large, relatively heavy (1.7-tonne plus) sedan on a race track.

I largely ignored the EDI screen on the track, instead focusing on what was going on outside the car. And with the data logging functionality, it allows you to look back over your laps later.

The data logging capability is a great way to review your performance after a few laps. Granted, it's not for everyone but it's at least a novelty and a handy addition for anyone looking to take their car to a track regularly.

It also gives you a touch of the race car feel and the ability to compare your performance with others or yourself.

The new HSV Maloo R8 20th anniversary edition was also on hand for testing. It gets slightly wider front tyres, which help it bite more when turning into corners.

The Maloo has also the go fast feeling of the GTS but the lack of weight in the rear (and the additional width to the front tyres) means you'll have the stability control intervening more (or the tail sliding) when pushing it on a track.



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