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Wed 27 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Trust me, this is no big deal

The CSV CR8 is average, says Shahzad Sheikh. Is he hiding something?

The CSV CR8 is average, says Shahzad Sheikh. Is he hiding something?

All you need to know about this Chevrolet is that it's a practical family saloon. It has a huge amount of cabin space.

There is generous accommodation for not only the driver and passenger, but there is also limo-like room and cosseting comfort for the rear occupants - there's even an optional roof-mounted DVD player.

Plus there's a massive boot, that'll swallow just about any amount of stuff you want to throw in there. And all of this, of course, is inherently true of any model in the Chevrolet Lumina range, upon which this is based.

What is also true is that these Chevys are all great value for money, so the downsides are possibly forgivable, despite being many - relatively speaking. Where to start? For one the trim materials used inside are not the most inspiring.

The build quality appears decent enough, but is brought into a question when you experience a glovebox that occasionally flies open under acceleration, a rear ashtray compartment that went into a brief fit of refusing to close and the way open windows rattle in door frames on slamming them shut.

Australian construction isn't quite up to Japanese and German standards just yet, then.

So what else? Well the mirrors are too small and the manual gear lever can be a reach for taller drivers. Sound quality from the 11-speaker 230W Blaupunkt is surprisingly average and as for the disappointing orange-peel paint finish.

By this point in the review one of three things have happened. You've either lost interest and clicked another link, or made a mental note to recommend a Lumina to that friendly but rather thrifty and dull neighbour that was asking you about what new four-door he should replace his Camry with. And then flipped the page.

Or you're still reading. And that's because you have an inkling of the secret I've been trying to keep from you, for rather desperate and selfish reasons.

You've noted the pictures above, clocked the deep front bib, the huge rear spoiler and bullish stance. This particular incarnation of the Lumina sits above our current Sports Saloon of 2007, the SS, wearing an intriguing new sub-brand - CSV CR8.

There is clearly more to this car than the average Ali might suspect. And I was rather banking on that.

If people dismiss this as a simple Chevy, GM will have unsold stock sitting around the back of its dealers, and then perhaps they'll let me have one for next to nothing! So much for that ploy.

Whatever its foibles, I want one. And badly. Why? Does HSV Clubsport R8/GTS mean anything to you? How about the Vauxhall VXR8. That's what you are looking at here.

Still nothing? How about these facts: six-speed manual, rear-drive and traction control that you really can turn off. Open the bonnet and gasp. A bulging engine cover with red highlights announces that this V8 LS2 alloy unit serves up 6.0-litres.

Extraordinarily, there is even a little graph stamped to the cover depicting power and torque curves: 400bhp and 406lb ft of torque. In fact the torque curve is fairly flat with around 300lb ft available from 1000rpm.

Through those quad rear exhausts you get a menacing deep-throated burble at idle, and a staccato metallic drum roll on throttle that'll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, as you catapult towards your next speeding ticket, having lit up your rear tyres and left enough smoke for the weather bureau to issue a poor visibility alert.

This 'saloon-next-door' has some other neat party tricks up its tailpipes too. One is the ability to swing out its backside on demand - traction off of course, though even switched on it's delightfully unobtrusive and will let you go play up to point before the subtle 'hand of God' intervenes.
If looking out the side window is not your thing, but lazy straight line acceleration is, then try this. Stick it in fourth gear and move off from standstill - with a little judder it will go.

Then keep it planted. When the gear change warning bong sounds and the limiter finally kicks in you'll be doing 224kph! That's zero to faster than most cars will ever do, in just one gear.

Admittedly the meaty clutch can be a hamstring-aching chore in traffic, and whilst the gearchange is far better than you'd expect, it still demands respect. But the opportunity to stoke the torque with this magic stick more than makes up for the effort.

And there's self-evident toughness to the drivetrain that gives you the confidence to know that you could abuse this beast on a daily basis and it'll just keep coming back for more.

The brakes are strong, and the steering is weighty if not exactly precise. Handling is astonishingly benign and forgiving for what you might think is just a big dumb stupid brute.

Slow in, fast out has never been truer, and the 'out' bit needs progressive, measured application of power if you want to keep it tidy (where the fun in that?). But once the combined forces of torque and grip take hold, there's few cars that will keep up with it.

On the other hand, for big grins, whoops and hollers from passengers and bystanders, just boot it out of the corner and hold it in a spectacular powerslide thanks to the standard limited slip differential.

It feels remarkably easy and natural to do this in this chunky Chevy, and very few cars will give you that level of delinquent pleasure.

This characteristic alone could see you rushing to your nearest dealer - I almost did until the CAR team tied me to my chair and brought me to senses with a bucket of cold water. Still can't wipe the grin off my face though.

And yet there's more. Last year I also had the chance to grab a few laps on the short circuit of the Bahrain International GP track in one of these. It's just as entertaining in that environment as it is on the public highway (not necessarily quick you understand, but fun).

And that's not always true. A lot of good road cars can be hopeless on the track and vice versa.

Full-on and fantastic for when you let the bad boy-racer in you out to play, yet refined and respectable enough for work, shopping and school-drop tours of duty, the CR8 is a great two-in-one package for the driver who can't justify a Corvette sitting on his drive, but hasn't quite grown up.

NEED TO KNOWPrice: $44,400

Engine: 5967cc 16v V8, 400bhp @ 6000rpm, 406lb ft @ 4400rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Performance: 4.9sec 0-100kph, 270kph

Weight: 1831kg

On sale in ME: Now

Rating: 5/5

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