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HSV Senator Signature goes out in style

AAP logoAAP 4/12/2016 Peter Atkinson

A strangely sad feeling has come over me these past few days. It's all to do with the car I've been driving.

Nothing wrong with the car, mind you. Quite the contrary. But it's occurred to me that I may well have test-driven an Australian-made vehicle for the final time.

Ford has already racked the cue on its local manufacturing, and with Holden to follow suit in the year ahead, it's unlikely we'll see any new local models or updates before the curtain comes down.

So this car - the Holden Special Vehicles Senator Signature - will probably be our last chance to enjoy the unique character of a big Aussie sedan.

Well, what a way to go out!

The Senator Signature is based upon probably the best Holden production model ever built - the VF Series 2 Calais V - flagship of Holden's latest, greatest and, sadly, final Commodore release.

So it stands to reason that a performance-enhanced version of that car must, by extension, be the best Aussie car ever made. It assumes all the comfort and technology that underpinned the high-end Calais but adds to the mix a rather impressive 400 kilowatts of hairy-armed, bitumen-burning performance, courtesy of HSV's latest supercharged LSA Generation IV alloy V8 power plant.

The engine represents a quantum leap forward in the ever-upward performance trajectory of these uber-Holdens. Having pushed past the 300kW barrier only a couple of years back, HSV took the bold step of bolting a supercharger onto their already potent 6.2-litre V8 - thrusting its outputs into the stratosphere.

It was first seen in the performance hero GTS model - but now for the first time this engine has been offered in one of HSV's "executive express" luxury models.

Make no mistake, 400kW is a lot of power. To put this in context, I can still recall when early HSV models proudly boasted, via big numbers on the boot lid, that they packed 185 kilowatts beneath the bonnet. One-eighty-five??

I guess it only goes to illustrate how long the HSV brand - and me, for that matter - have been around. And to highlight how far things have advanced in that time (HSV, not me).

But as thunderous as its performance potential might be, the Senator remains an impressively civilised and refined conveyance.

Yes, the HSV engineers might have stiffened up the suspension and beefed up the brakes to handle all that extra urge, but they've still delivered a car whose ride and quietness is unquestionably high end.

And yes, that gargantuan well of torque and acceleration might rocket it to the speed limit in less time than it takes to say "HSV Senator Signature", but it's still remarkably sedate and linear to drive in everyday guise (although you'll rarely get dusted at the traffic lights).

Unquestionably this refinement owes much to the progress the Holden engineers made with recent models - particularly the VFII Commodore which will be remembered as not only the last car Holden ever produced, but the best by a fairly wide margin.

In just about every way it delivers the kind of class, technology and finish we've traditionally come to expect primarily from high-end European brands.

Standard features run to full leather-clad interior including dash and door trim features, head-up display, automatic parking assist, blind spot alert, lane-departure warning and a sophisticated multimedia display featuring satellite navigation, high-end infotainment system and a track-focused performance monitor.

The Senator is thus handsome, refined and impressively equipped by any measure. Pity some of our Senators in Canberra can't say that.

Dynamically, the Senator can be dialled up from comfort-focused mode to a racetrack-ready configuration - including launch control and lap timer.

A knob on the centre console delivers driver-selectable modes for throttle and exhaust settings, suspension and transmission response plus HSV's Magnetic Ride Control. And, of course, the bi-modal exhaust which goes from quiet to riot in the flick of a switch.

All of that, plus supercar performance, in a package that still sets you back less than $100-grand, on the road. Pretty remarkable.

Let's be honest, if money were no object I'd probably still prefer one of those European express models - Benz's E63 AMG, BMW's M5 or Audi's ballistic RS6 ahead of the HSV.

But for most of us money IS an object - and at less than half the price of those Euro options, the Senator makes a compelling case.

It's also a car that allows a high-flying exec to treat him or herself to a bit of luxury and performance without completely alienating themselves from others in the company car park.

The boys on the factory floor or in the sales team will no doubt look jealously at the boss's HSV - but they'll do so without the sneers that a high-end Euro ride might attract. Call it car park cred.

And the Senator delivers that in a reasonably unobtrusive way. Its styling is edgy without being overt. Gorgeous 20-inch alloys, a tasteful but flattering body kit and just the hint of a rear spoiler on the boot lid gives it a menacing but not overstated appearance. A bit like Superman with his Clark Kent glasses on.

It's not perfect. The six-speed auto, with paddle shifters, is probably short of best-in-class - but it's smooth and decisive and gets the power efficiently to those big, fat tyres.

And fuel economy, as you might imagine, is not a strong point.

Beyond that, though, the Senator is a very enjoyable toy - albeit it one strictly for grown-ups.

It's the last of a legendary breed - but hopefully not the last of its lineage.

Just as the Commodore nameplate will extend beyond the end of the car's Australian manufacture, Holden Special Vehicles will no doubt continue as well.

But the great Aussie sedan is definitely going out with a bang.

HSV SENATOR SIGNATURE

HOW BIG? It brings all the space and practicality of a full-sized Aussie sedan - sadly a dying breed.

HOW FAST? With 400kW and 671Nm it delivers sledgehammer performance. Whether snarling away from the traffic lights or overtaking on the highway, its acceleration is formidable. 0-100km/h in less than 5 seconds.

HOW THIRSTY? HSV doesn't publish its official consumption figures - but with 6.2 litres of V8 muscle, and a supercharger adding to the mix, frugal driving is not the Senator's strong point. But hey, that's not really the point.

HOW MUCH? At $92,990 plus onroad costs, very few cars can deliver as much bang for your buck. With a German badge this car would cost at least twice as much.

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