Race Sport RS300
Snapping into third gear, and gingerly opening the throttle on the damp, curving road, I expect the Nissan GT-R to disappear off into the distance, with nothing but a couple of very wide tyre tracks on the sodden road as
evidence of its passing.
But the hotted-up Holden VE Commodore SS V Ute is moving around with a level of poise and control not normally associated with such a thick-headed vehicle. It responds beautifully to subtle inputs and although the latest GT-R is pulling away, it's hasn't disappeared over the horizon.
In far-from-ideal conditions, this two-door brute is making me grin like an eight-year old on Christmas morning. V8-powered utes are rarely dull to drive, but this modified beast is maintaining an impressive amount of grip from its 245/40 R19 Bridgestone RE050A tyres, fitted to 19-inch alloy wheels.
In hindsight, I'm not convinced it's the tyres that are delivering the handling advantage, but the $2490 coil-over suspension package installed by the Patterson Cheney dealer group, in the latest iteration of its burgeoning Race Sport (RS) series.
Available from the Vermont-based Victorian Holden dealership, the RS300 Stealth package leaves the base ute looking almost completely stock standard from the outside. The only hint that something crafty is going on is a slightly lower ride height and a teeny tiny RS badge on the tailgate.
But with fully adjustable ride height front and rear, not to mention 24-stage firmness settings for the dampers, it's wouldn't be hard to make it look completely stock. And I reckon if you asked nicely the RS badges could probably be omitted...
Our test car is equipped with the basic 'RS300 Stealth Ute' kit, a $1990 package over the cost of an SS or SS V Ute. The kit adds an over the radiator (OTR) intake to increase power, a custom bonnet liner and infill panel, and an RS Dyno tune for 98RON fuel.
The end result is a claimed 300kW "minimum" crankshaft power output and 590Nm of torque (the stock 6.0-litre donk outputs 270kW/530Nm in standard tune).
Add to that another $2490 for the fitment of the coil-over suspension setup and $900 for a short throw shifter kit, and the end cost is roughly $5470 over the asking price of a $47,490 Series II Holden SS V Ute.
If it were my money on the line, I'd forget the rip shifter and stealth kit and opt for just the suspension package, because it makes the biggest single improvement to the car. According to Race Sport's Mark Cini, this particular suspension kit is one of the few systems that keeps wheel travel intact as the ride height changes, "so you won't hit bump stops all the time".
The coil-over suspension rig makes the car easier to control in almost every situation, whether driving to work or heading down to the beach to check the surf. The front end feels more responsive to driver input and generates more grip too.
Initial turn-in is sharper than the standard Holden SS V Ute, yet more progressive and in turn this gives you a better feel for what the car is doing underneath.
In the end, I was amazed by how quickly I could punt this tweaked ute along my favourite stretch of tight and twisting bitumen without breaking into a nervous sweat. You seldom feel as though you're fighting against the car's almost 1.8 tonne mass, which often occurs when you get to the grip limit of V8-powered Commodores and VE Utes in standard trim.
Somehow, the big ute feels easier to position on the road thanks to a properly dialled-in suspension setup.
Understeer is negligible, due in large part to the slightly negative (one degree) camber of the front wheels on our test car. The coil-over system allows up to three degrees of negative camber when using Holden-spec wheel rims.
However unlike the easy-to-adjust damping rates (via dials on top of the strut shafts in the engine bay), adjusting camber levels involves a car hoist. And unless you're Rick Kelly you probably don't have one in your garage, but you can ask the guys at Patterson Cheney to set up the car for you.
Perhaps the only weak link in the package are the brakes, which remain factory standard. They do an adequate job in most situations with good feel underfoot, but can be stretched at the limit, particularly when decelerating from triple digit speeds.
If you're not the sort of driver who likes to attend track days or head off into the hills for a Sunday arvo blast, it's probably not worth dropping $2.5k on a coil-over suspension package, and this is perhaps where the power tweaks and the OTR upgrade would be more cost-effective.
The power delivery from the Gen IV 16-valve V8 is a little crisper with the over-the-radiator air intake and dyno tune, which is claimed to add around 25kW or so. The Race Sport crew also reckon that fuel economy has been improved slightly, by between half and one litre per 100km on the combined cycle, although due to a heavy foot, our economy figures showed figures around 18.0L/100km!
On the road, there’s a little more volume thanks to the freer breathing OTR intake system, and you never tire of standing on the throttle; the lovely basso profundo begins as a burble and develops into a rich, attention-grabbing roar.
What the Patterson Cheney dealer group is doing with its Race Sport models is impressive. While it may not offer the most affordable upgrades, with lumpy cam profiles, three-inch exhausts, bodykits, and over-the-radiator intakes widely available, it’s one of few tuners to guarantee the balance of your new car warranty, with up to three years and 100,000km guarantee on all part and components fitted.
This is the most rewarding Aussie two-door I've driven, trumping even the HSV Maloo. It's a viable alternative to Holden's $49,990 SS V-Series Redline Ute (though a brake pad upgrade might be worth investigating) and the coil-over suspension upgrade transforms the ute into a truly formidable driver's car.