Power, pace, grace and...thirst...in Holden's "Jimmy Barnes in a dinner suit."
During the time I spent with the pinnacle of the Holden Special Vehicles’ range, the price of a litre of petrol rose by five cents, peaking at $1.81.
That hurt. The Grange clocked just 880km during its 21-day stay, yet the cost – including that of the first tank, covered by Holden – of consumed fuel came to a smidge under $300. More pain.
Addiction to hydrocarbons is a reality of HSV life, more so even than with a regular Holden V8. When you drive, HSV’s LS2 Chevrolet drinks. When you drive hard, it drinks more. It’s a performance engine going for gold - yours.
Just to rub it in, the Grange has one of those instant fuel return meters. So it’s always reminding that even thrift, by HSV standards, is thirsty by any other.
Around town, you’d see the electronic display fluctuate from just 6.3 litres per 100km to as much as 14.6, in no more time than it has taken to read this sentence.
It was better on the open road, where I managed to settle it down to an 8.7 litres/100kms return. For about five minutes. With a following wind, driving as if unstable explosives lay under the go pedal.
Seemed like a mere toe-wiggle would put it into the mid to high teens. Floor the thing and it doesn’t just eat the horizon. I momentarily struck a ludicrous 88 litres per 100km. Ouch.
Well that’s the price of the game, and let’s safely assume all who buy into the biggest, brawniest and most upmarket of V8 Holdens does so with full awareness of its shortcoming.
The buyer demographic suggests most will not only hold a company fuel account, but probably own the company. Only those of us with shallower pockets feel the burn.
HSV’s spin on Holden’s long-wheelbase Statesman and Caprice is always going to be a select choice, but the upgrade to the latest WM platform has brought it up to speed in some areas other than pure pace.
In addition to almost matching the straightline speed of the standard-wheelbase Clubsport and GTS sedans, with which it shares a 6.0-litre 307kW engine and six-speed transmission, it also now scores more highly than its WL predecessor managed in cornering prowess and ride quality.
Adoption of some pretty fancy hardware, notably the same wow-factor Delphi-developed Magnetic Ride Control system that redeemed the GTS, and some bigfoot AP brakes, does a lot to keep the big fella under tighter control.
Other attractions are the cohesive styling and the $97,900 price. Though that’s a lot for a hot Holden, on a metal-for-money basis no other XXL sedan comes close, especially if a good, old-fashioned, large capacity V8 is the requisite choice of motive power.
There’s still an air of Sir Les Patterson about it for those who shop exclusively at the houses of Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz. They’ll sneer at HSV’s assertion that the Grange is now good enough to make “European competitors blush.”
As good as it has become, the Grange still doesn’t have the same level of finish or level of design finesse you’ll get from Munich, Ingolstadt and Stuttgart.
Yet it has certainly smartened up in terms of styling and sophistication.
The WM body brings balance to the long wheelbase proportions; the silhouette brings a real impact that the old model, something of a Home Improvement project, simply lacked.
Moreover, it’s the one HSV car that doesn’t look like a V8 Supercar clone. It’s almost subtle. Think Jimmy Barnes in a suit.
At the same token, there's still a good deal that's different from the regular Caprice. The front fascia and rear bib are unique to the HSV car, there's much more chrome work around the glass areas, and a diffuser is fitted at the back with a discreet spoiler and four exhaust pipes. Nineteen-inch wheels come as standard.
The interior treatment also maintains a sense of decorum. The engine is more hushed in this environment and you cannot help but be impressed by the cabin’s sheer roominess, especially in the rear, where plutocrats in a hurry can really stretch out.
The special treatment runs to three extra binnacles perched in the centre, bespoke instrumentation graphics and illumination, and special Grange seats.
It doesn't skimp on other standard equipment. All the tricks from the Caprice base car – including Bluetooth connect and rear headrest-mounted DVD screens - are maintained.
Climate control, leather, power seats, Xenon lights and parking sensors also come standard at this price, but not sat nav.
That’s something HSV has still to come to grips with on our side of the Tasman. The sooner they do, the better. In-car guidance is now fast becoming a must-have feature.
Holden’s closer to the Euro standard on the safety side. Twin front, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and a well-sorted stability control system are integral to a package that earned the Holden-badged base car a four-star result in Australian crash-testing.
What really brings on the bash is that 307kW/550Nm engine, carried over from other HSV models and, despite revised management, well able to move this 1920kg model to indecent pace.
Go for blink-quick 0-100kmh dashes and the exhaust rumble matches the unrelenting thrust. In tone and talent, this thing probably punches harder than it needs to, but that’s simply the HSV way.
The six-speed automatic gearbox that copes with all this mumbo is a definite step up from the old car’s antique four-stager.
It rides the V8s swells like a wave ski though it’s not perfect, mainly due to issues of smoothness and sometimes tardy response - indicators that the driver-adaptive software is just a bit off the ball.
A stiff body structure does as much good for the WM as it has for VE Commodore, but the other talent that helps the big boy blow off bends is that MRC system, which has two ride settings (luxury and performance) at the touch of a button.
Performance mode reduces body roll and pitch during cornering, lending a sense of agility and composure in hold-on driving. It makes the Grange more fun than its commanding size suggests.
Strike poor surfaces and you’ll want to drop back into Luxury mode, because the ride’s too stiff otherwise. Shifting between one format and the other is all a matter of feel; the only in-car indicator is a small LED that can’t be distinguished in sunlight.
Whatever HSV’s hopes, the Grange is pretty simple to categorise. It’s a high-end hotrod. At best, MRC is still an 80 percent solution, because the car still hasn’t the full breadth of dynamic talent accorded some its much-dearer Euro rivals. It’s not as refined, either. There’s a lot of wind, tyre and mechanical noise coming through at times.
And, of course, it does like a drink.
Still, if you’re into HSVs and want to roll in spacious style, knowing that serious pace is always on tap, then it clearly scratches an itch.