HSV’s retune of the GTS’s suspension hardware and software has added a little bit of tautness, crispness and high-speed stability to the car’s handling and has certainly done enough to make this feel more like a really fast and purposeful track machine than any VXR8 to date.
But to have taken this car onto the side of the super-saloon spectrum marked ‘firm’ or ‘highly strung’ would have been a betrayal of the laid-back, grunt-over-grip, ‘she’ll be ’right, mate’ performance ethos of every HSV-prepared Holden to have made it to the UK. And, thankfully, that’s not a betrayal HSV is guilty of.
Even in its firmer ride modes, the GTS-R still feels like an Alcantara-upholstered La-Z-Boy compared with, say, a Mercedes-AMG E63 S.
Its suspension has the sort of longish-travel suppleness that has been engineered out of the likes of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, and combined with grip levels that are high – but deliberately not heroically so – the GTS-R deals with uneven B-roads particularly well.
There’s a delicacy and an interactivity involved with driving this car fast that the sheer competence of newer rivals doesn’t allow for.
Both axles grip dry tarmac quite hard, but neither so hard that there’s precious little progressive feel about the way that grip level drops away on the limit.
The VXR8’s front wheels bite with an incisive directness but they also feed back plenty of confidence through the steering. They’ve always got enough grip, though, to be leant on hard enough to allow you to pass your attention through to the tail end of the car at both low speeds and high, and to adjust your attitude as much or as little as you like with those 275-section driven rear tyres – and your right foot.
When it comes to offering habitable handling margins, and of really entertaining its driver with its supremely well-balanced and singularly benign cornering manners, there probably isn’t another performance four-door in the world this good.
On the road, there are more agile and immediate-feeling rivals and, at times, more composed ones, but the brilliance of this wonderful driver’s car is that it would make many of them seem soulless, flat and unexciting in a broader sense.
In an ambient 5deg C and with patches of dampness lingering on track, the GTS-R had to be managed up to temperature and cajoled a little to give up an indication of its true capabilities – all relationship-building stuff that only fuels your affection for the car.
With the tyres up to temperature, the chassis’s adhesiveness increased markedly, although the delicacy of its balance of grip was ever-present.
This is an old-school driver’s car that moves around under you and responds to being driven well; being slowed, turned, pivoted and manipulated with sensitivity.
The confidence and pace with which you can attack the track’s big braking areas is high, the apex speed you can carry likewise.
But corner exit remains the highlight of most bends, where you can choose from the discreet, unobtrusive safety net of the excellent traction control system or get as wild as you want by turning it all off.