FPV GT R-SPEC vs. HSV GTS 2013: Comparison

words - Matt Brogan
photos - Chris Benny
Australia's fastest four-doors go head-to-head in a battle set to shatter Ford's 43-year reign at the top

FPV GT R-SPEC vs. HSV GTS 2013: Comparison

What we liked:
>> Awesome supercharger howl
>> Impressive straight-line acceleration
>> Decisive ZF automatic transmission

Not so much:
>> Exterior adornments
>> Irregular brake pedal feel
>> Cheaper interior decor & equipment

What we liked:
>> Neck-stretching performance
>> Predictable handling
>> Incredible brakes

Not so much:
>> Needs more exhaust rumble
>> Needs paddle shifters
>> Needs to be in my driveway!

We’ve tested the HSV GTS and FPV GT R-SPEC separately, and given you the full nuts and bolts break-down previously. Now, it’s time for a direct comparison.

Automotive rivalries don’t come much bigger than this one.

Ford versus Holden.

FPV versus HSV.

GT versus GTS.

It’s a duel that stretches back 45 years, and one that is the subject of skirmish at the bar, the barbeque and, of course, the racetrack.

This year, the rules of engagement have changed. The formula might appear the same outwardly -- four doors, eight cylinders and five seats -- but under the bonnet these wheeled warriors now, for the first (and perhaps only) time, both pack a mighty supercharged punch.

FPV brings a force-fed 335kW/570Nm 5.0-litre ‘Miami’ V8 to the competition -- a collaborative effort between Ford USA and local skunk-works division, Prodrive.

HSV, on the other hand, uses a blown 430kW/740Nm 6.2-litre LSA sourced from GM’s Chevrolet stockpile, albeit with significant adaptation to fit beneath the hood of the new VF Commodore from which the all-new GTS is derived.

And it’s this machine that is perhaps the pièce de résistance of Australian muscle motoring.

Indeed, the new HSV GTS is the most powerful and fastest Australian four-door production sedan ever -- the ‘top dog’ expression of a breed which kicked off with the legendary XY-series Ford Falcon GT-HO Phase III which took to the streets in 1970. Interestingly both the 43 year old ‘HO and the new GTS share an identical 250km/h top speed, thanks to an electronic speed limiter fitted to the HSV, that’s about where the similarities end...

The mongrels from Melbourne
motoring.com.au spent two days with the ultimate from each camp’s automotive arsenal pitting Clayton’s new HSV GTS against Broadmeadows’ boofy blower, the limited-run FPV GT R-SPEC.

On paper, the specifications and performance figures appear to hand a swift victory to the HSV. The superior power, torque, speed and cubic capacity of General Motors’ Goliath virtually eliminating the FPV from the competition before we’d so much as turned the key.

But as it happens, the real-world isn’t as clinical as a specification sheet. Weather and road conditions, the interaction between man and machine and, indeed, the way in which power is put to the pavement all fuse in a flurry of feedback that seeks to write a different ‘final’ chapter in our two-make tug-of-war.

Speed limits and the vociferous policing of even back roads in the state of Victoria meant our performance testing was carried out on a closed circuit in the hills of the Otway State Forest. The ‘track testing’, on private roads, gave us a chance to fully explore the limits of our homegrown horsepower heroes. For balance, we also took a drive down the iconic Great Ocean Road, just to get a feel for the slower-paced manners of our Grand Touring duo.

Blame it on the rain
Taking to the track in the middle of winter was always going to cause some issues. Cold road surfaces, chilly air temps and relentless rain meant the extraction of the last drop of performance would be difficult. But press on we did!

Our first test was as much about familiarisation with the machinery, as it was with evaluation. We sampled a private sealed road with corners of tightening and opening radius that are flat, on- and off-camber. It was these that taught us that the GT and GTS have quite different personalities.

Steering feel was the biggest separator between the pair with communication to the driver being paramount in eliciting the maximum from any bend in the road. The feel of hydraulic systems, such as that found in the GT, has long been favoured by motoring journos, but on this test it paled against the crisp precision of the GTS’ new electrically-assisted system.

In cornering the GTS, we found there wasn’t as much mid-corner adjustment required and, although there was a little play at ‘top-dead centre’, the wheel did not feel as light and offered a clearer connection with the front-end.

The GT had a strong self-centring effect that opposed the weighting and resistance offered when turning in. It’s a small variation in the scheme of things, but one that is very much noticeable when driving the two vehicles back-to-back.

This paucity in progression meant our willingness to find the limits of the GT’s road holding was thwarted. Even in the trying conditions the GTS encouraged us on. The tiller felt more responsive in its reaction to input, and the definite delineation noticeable between the various performance modes offered, gave the GTS a very clear advantage.

The feel at the wheel
Getting settled at the wheel is obviously going to impact the way in which you react with the car. The high floor of the FG-series Falcon has always compromised the way in which you relate to its primary controls, in spite of the level of adjustment on offer.

It was an issue the VF-series Commodore just doesn’t seem to face. You sit lower in the car and are presented with a steering column and wheel that sits at a better angle -- a shame then the rim is too thick.

Both cars offered seat designs that provided a sweet mix of comfort and support, though we felt the GT R-SPEC could have offered full electronic adjustment a la GTS considering the price at which it competes ($76,990 for the GT vs. $92,990 for the GTS, both exclusive of on-road costs).

Indeed, the cabin of the GT R-SPEC now feels a generation behind that of the GTS. It’s a self-evident statement, really, as the cars’ development is separated by a number of years. But we felt the GT just didn’t offer that special feeling buyers at this end of the market deserve. The R-SPEC’s equipment levels drew much the same criticism.

Add to these the divisive adornments of the GT R-SPEC’s red-on-black exterior and we’re just not convinced the aesthetics are as cohesive as they are on the GTS. It’s a subjective assessment, sure, but one both judges felt could not go unmentioned.

On the rebound
The winding test road also gave us a chance to sample just how well each car cornered.

HSV uses an adaptive damping system in the GTS known as MRC, or Magnetic Ride Control, which gives it a clear advantage not only in taking the edge off hard bumps, but in better adapting the chassis to the circumstances -- and weather conditions -- in which it is driven.

That’s not to say the GT R-SPEC was baseborn. In fact, one of our road testers noted a significant improvement in the model when compared to its derivative (the standard GT). But the stiffer rear-end and heavy nose ultimately saw the GT R-SPEC’s solitary state of tune feel less adhesive than the GTS across a wider variety of changing surfaces and corner radii.

We felt that with a similar adaptive arrangement to that of the GTS, the GT may have been able to carry more corner speed with greater confidence. The GT also seemed to ‘fall’ into potholes and depressions in the surface and also lost cornering grip both when pushed, and over changing surfaces such as slick road repairs. There was no such cause for concern in the GTS.

In fact, on the tight twists of the Great Ocean Road, and again in wet conditions, the GTS felt nothing but sure-footed. The Continental ContiSportContact tyres required a little temperature to work effectively (something we didn’t feel to the same degree with the GT’s Dunlop Sport Maxx rubber), but once ready, provided a tenacious hold on the road.

The test track also proved how well each car’s stability control systems worked and in this respect, the GT lost nothing to the GTS. Where the GTS did fare better was in the addition of a Torque Vectoring System (available in the upper settings of HSV’s Driver Mode maps) that gripped the inside wheels on cornering to keep the nose pointed where it was directed.

The electronic aids in the GTS are very effective and really help the car ‘shrink’ around the driver. It’s a division that places the HSV a generation ahead of the FPV, a 21st versus 20th century approach to muscle car malleability.

A shift in time...
By far the biggest oversight in both the GT and the GTS is the lack of paddle shifts. With auto transmissions as good as those offered in these vehicles (and the speed at which they operate) the failure to fit paddles meant precious seconds were lost when taking a grab for the shifter.

Driven in isolation, the ZF-sourced six-speed auto in the Ford GT was an exceptionally capable transmission. The testers agreed that second gear was a little too tall, but otherwise praised the spread of ratios on offer and the way in which the shift pattern adapted to our driving styles -- especially in Performance mode.

The FPV’s transmission was also happy to be shifted manually, accepting downshifts when commanded and even breaking traction on upshifts at around 120km/h.

But with GM’s toughened-up 6L90E six-speeder acting as quickly to input (both from the throttle and when manually overruled) as the ZF -- and working harder to react to steering angle and G-force changes, especially under heavy braking -- the GTS, again, had an obvious advantage.

The heart of the matter
Clearly, the power-play in this comparison favours the GTS by a considerable margin. But is it too much of a good thing?

Some might say that’s impossible, and that whether its cubic capacity, kilowatts or Newton-metres, more definitely makes merrier. Try telling that to our frustrated testers after a handful of runs down an (admittedly) sodden drag strip.

It seems that despite its considerable electronic cleverness -- and some sizeable Continental rear hoops -- the GTS broke traction time and again around 10m from the start line, giving the GT an edge until just after one-third of the way down the quarter-mile strip.

Sure, racing from a standing start is only one small part of the equation, and we’re pleased to announce to the HSV fans among you that the GTS had no trouble reigning in the GT every single time, but it just shows you can, sometimes, have too much of a good thing.

Stunning quarter-mile times aside (see breakout box), the GTS is infinitely useable and never without breath. A little prod of the throttle in any gear provides instant acceleration at just about any road speed.

Performance is effortless, and relentless, and on the track, we don’t mind telling you that we can vouch for every single click of HSV’s electronically-limited 250km/h.

The GTS is equally usable on-road, and even dawdling around at suburban speeds it is a placid beast just waiting to be provoked. The car is fast, even at 30 per cent throttle openings and offers more pace than you’re ever likely to use (or is that legally need?) on the street.

Not so overwhelming, but in many ways just as impressive, is the V2G (Ford’s label for the Miami V8) heart of the GT R-SPEC. The crackle and growl through the quad exhausts and the all-conquering howl of the Harrop-developed supercharger lets anyone within a cooee know that the GT is a force with which to be reckoned.

It’s not as linear in its delivery as the GTS, and in some respects this makes it more docile at low speeds. Hit 4500rpm, however, and the note through the induction chamber is enough to put a grin on the face of even the most hardened Holden fan. It really is that good.

The Miami engine is stronger than we thought when compared to the LSA and it’s easy to get the unit ‘interested’ near the top of the tacho. Given its tendency to surge forward at this point, and our soggy test track’s slick surface, we felt that you had to watch your right foot quite carefully.

Set the GTS to Touring mode, on the other hand, and you’d almost forget you had so much horsepower on board, which made wet-weather driving less worrisome.

More throttle-map modes for the Ford? We think that’d be a good thing.

Them’s the brakes
Pedal feel between the GT and GTS is just about as different as the remainder of the vehicle’s personality. The GTS certainly has more stopping power, with six-pot calipers all-round, but it’s the modulation of the pedal that’s impressive when entering a corner.

The ability to fine tune the GTS’ pedal means it’s more predictable than the GT. In contrast the Ford’s pedal felt quite wooden, suffering a soft initial ‘bite’ before becoming firm and lifeless under harder applications. It’s almost as if the GT’s pedal resists input where the GTS assists your foot into each and every stop.

Mind you, brakes aren’t the only point that’ll slow you down.

The thirst for fuel from this pair of force-fed foes -- especially that of the GTS -- is quite astounding in this world of frugal this and eco that.

On highway the GT managed 10.6L/100km during pure highway driving against 12.3L/100km for the GTS.

On track, that figure sky-rocketed to 16.9L/100km for the FPV and 22.4L/100km for the HSV.

Finally, we recorded a 15.5L/100km for the Falcon during a mixed highway/urban cycle with the Commodore managed a still higher 17.2L/100km.

And the winner is...
The FPV’s individual elements might be impressive, but they just don’t meld as well. Perhaps this is budget-driven in development, or perhaps it’s an indication of the vehicle’s design age, or simply its price when compared to its competitor.

Whatever the case may be, the result is a car that doesn’t feel stronger for the sum of its parts. It’s difficult to get truly comfortable in and feel like you can drive fast.

Alas, you never truly enjoy the feel at the wheel of the Ford, as if there’s a constant “better not” on your shoulder at every turn. In short, the muscle car world has moved on and the GT R-SPEC is just not where it needs to be in terms of control, compliance and confidence.

And that’s exposed when driven alongside the HSV.

The new GTS really is a multi-talented beast. The MRC suspension is terrific and the massive brakes and phenomenal horsepower elevate the GTS as a driver’s car -- and as a muscle car.

It wants for very little and doesn’t give up anything in terms of performance -- even to higher-priced Europeans.

If you didn’t “just want one” before, one drive of this will certainly change your mind.


Price: $92,900 (MRLP)
Engine: 6.2-litre eight-cylinder supercharged petrol
Output: 430kW / 740Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheels / Tyres: 20x9.5 / 275/35
Fuel / CO2: 15.7L/100km / 373g/km
Safety: Six airbags / Five-star (ANCAP)


Price: $76,990 (MRLP)
Engine: 5.0-litre eight-cylinder supercharged petrol
Output: 335kW / 570Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheels / Tyres: 19x9.0 / 275/35
Fuel / CO2: 13.7L/100km / 324g/km
Safety: Six airbags / Five-star (ANCAP)

PERFORMANCE FIGURES (as tested, wet conditions)
FPV: 4.9sec / HSV: 4.6sec
0-400m: FPV:13.4sec @ 179.0km/h / HSV: 12.7sec @ 184.5km/h
L/100km (avg.): FPV: 14.3 / HSV: 17.3

Find out more about the HSV GTS with our super sedan Infographic

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Published : Tuesday, 20 August 2013
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