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"Power without compromise, that's what we like to see".  

Fast Fours and Rotaries Magazine   

 
 
 

 
 
Hot Tuners

Is this the leading edge of the great Aussie tuning tradition, or just a bunch of mavericks? Whatever, meet the Aussie 200kW Club.

The 200 kilowatt club is an extreme form of expression. Normally, it's open only to those with serious wealth, those who can afford more than $100,000 (and sometimes double and triple that) for the best German, Italian or British machinery which has had teams of well paid boffins soiling their gloves in extracting the last skerrick of horse power from engines most of us will never sample.

There are guys out there who believe this is not right. Who reckon horse power should be available to all, or at least to those who know where to look. They're the hot tuners, the guys who take other people's product and turn it into what they see fit. Some, like CSV's Peter Dichiera, attach their own badge and compliance plate to the finished car. Others, like Peter Luxon, are content to deliver the right goods as a package on top of the manufacturer's own go-fast philosophy. 

What they have in common is a desire to build fast cars and get them out the door at the right price. The three cars you see here are a case in point. The Corsa Strada Extreme you know about: it's CSV's interpretation of a VT Commodore, except with a 5.7 litre V8, some 245kW and a wicked body. If you read Pettendy's yarn a couple of months ago, the SVO Falcon is no stranger either, in racing parlance by Ford's official (American) hot shop out of Queensland's Southside Ford.

The APS WRX has also featured in these pages before, but this one's different. Instead of a power boost to 206kW, this particular example has a stage two kit which, says Luxon, provides no less than 235kW.

Are all three affordable? Compared with an M3 or Benz E55, quite definitely. But in varying degrees. If you want a V8 the Corsa will set you back just over $78,000, the SVO just over $63,000. The caveat on the difference is that the Corsa has the stroker donk (and hence the Extreme name tag), while the Falcon has a 5.0 litre powerplant, albeit one with more mumbo.

Alongside these two the WRX looks, as always, a sensational performance bargain. The standard APS performance upgrade is cheap for the benefit; $2999 buys the WRX owner more boost, a three inch exhaust, cold air induction improvements, water injection and a Pro Chip computer to deliver ideal fuel and ignition mapping. Power balloons to 206kW at 5600 rpm, torque to 385Nm at 4500.

That's chapter one, now onto the second installment. For around $4000 the price is still in development. APS replaces the turbo with a larger unit, and fits a new, bigger intercooler with twin induction to better spread the cooling effect on the incoming charge.

Because the car we drove was not totally production ready, it also had a number of features with which APS is toying with as options. The suspension had massively stiff springs and Bilstein dampers, the front brakes were taken straight from the STi parts bin and the car sat on non-standard 17 inch wheels wearing Pirelli P Zero tyres.

The outcome for the Stage 2 WRX package is 235kW produced at 5900 rpm, and about 400Nm of torque at 4700 rpm. The price on - top of the original kit - gives a phenomenal sub-$50,000 performance package.

All this in a car weighing just 1255kg and with all wheel drive to keep the grunt earthbound. By comparison, the Corsa's big capacity V8 with its trick exhaust that exits dead centre of the rear apron is good for 245kW at 5100 rpm. But its effectiveness lies just as much in the monster torque figure of 565Nm at 3800 rpm· numbers which give proof (if any was needed) the V8 is the turbos antithesis. But at 1715kg the CSV needs all the grunt it can get.

Same story for the SVO Falcon, but with a different twist. The engine is the finest Ford's skunkworks bolts together while still remaining legal in the areas of emissions and drive by noise. SVO alloy big-valve heads, new injector hardware and a big bore exhaust liberate 215Kw at 4700 rpm and 430Nm of torque at just 3000 rpm which, compared to the Corsa, are figures indicative of the capacity difference. Take into account the SVO's slight, 35kg weight advantage and the XR8's lower 3.45 diff ratio (compared with the Corsa's 3.08 Holden unit) and there's a chance performance figures will be close. 

Close to each other maybe and more of that in a minute but nowhere near the WRX. We managed 13.44 sec for the standing 400 metres and five seconds dead for the "standard" APS Sube two months ago. This car was even better. After a 4500 rpm clutch-dumping start the WRX blew past 100 km/h in 4.87 sec on the way to a 13.26 sec quarter mile time, putting it ahead of - get this - the new Porsche 911 and Ferrari 355 F1 we tested earlier this year.

Neither V8 came close, especially the SVO which was - unsurprisingly - well shy of the Corsa's best times. The Strada sprinted to 100km/h in 6.52 sec on its way to a 14.7 sec quarter mile time.

The SVO's shorter overall gearing is its saviour · and also its downfall. It bolts out of the hole like a rabbit, but needs two shifts on the way to 100km/h, three to 400 metres. It doesn't feel as quick on the road, and isn't up there on the track either, delivering 0-100km/h in 7.53 sec and the standing 400 in 15.18. 

If you get the impression the WRX is a massively boosted turbo car which on the road translates into unworkable off-boost characteristics, then it is not the case. Granted, the APS car's top end is incredible. Under full throttle it's all the driver can do to grab second gear before the 7000 rpm redline is approaching in first. But bubbling along in fourth gear at city speeds leaves room for acceleration on light throttle openings, all accompanied by a unique, and rather loud, off-beat exhaust burble.

The Corsa, on the other hand, has pulling power aplenty at any point above its 800 rpm idle, seemingly in any ratio. Better than that, there's no sacrifice to top-end power because this engine breathes well enough to rev cleanly out to its 5600 rpm redline, producing power all the way. The standard Getrag's gearchange is, as in any other Commodore, atrociously long and vague with the second-to-third upshift contributing to a pause in acceleration through the gears. The SVO's BTR five-speed is also slow, but far more precise.

Which brings us back to the WRX, to which APS has also fitted a linkage kit that has shortened shifts to something more akin to a Mazda MX-5. It's brilliant to use, but needs slightly more concentration because the gate feels as if the ratio slots are closer together. Nevertheless, not once did we fluff a gearchange, but instead revelled in the extra dimension added to the small Subaru's performance portfolio. 

The SVO engine is less willing to rev than the bigger Corsa, but there's nothing much else to complain about. It doesn't have that massive featherbed of torque to rely on, but there's a deceptive amount of power available all the same. It is delivered quietly, with less noise from either engine or exhaust, which perhaps accounts for the car's subdued nature.

The same goes for the SVO's ride quality. Of the three, it is the only one which could be deemed comfortable, despite an upgrade towards slightly stiffer springs and bushes. The Corsa handles rough territory with far less aplomb, crashing heavily through potholes and overall bouncing its occupants about on all but the very smoothest of tarmac. The upside is remarkable straightline stability achieved largely thanks to Corsa's individual wheel alignment for each car it produces and an almost flat cornering stance.

The Corsa's rubber is huge: 275/35ZR18 on the rear and 235/40 on the front, but even so it doesn't take much to get the inside rear wheel spinning on tighter corners. Otherwise, it's got a well balanced chassis tending toward a rearward bias which allows the driver almost as much steering via the throttle as the steering wheel.

The SVO is far more underdone by comparison, with a typical Falcon uneasiness on its suspension which translates to a tendency towards wandering on the road. Cornering speeds are high - it too has Dunlop W10's, although both ends are 235/45ZR17 - but the small lurch before the car hunkers down into a turn can be disconcerting.

There's no doubting the STi stoppers on this WRX work brilliantly, hauling the car down time and again from just under 170km/h at the end of the drag strip. If you're thinking about paying for the performance upgrade, for your own sake don't go half way. Ask for the brakes as well.

The bigger, heavier CSV and SVO cars have also come in for braking upgrades. The Corsa gets the finest Harrop can offer and they work well on the big Holden, resisting fade better than any we've come across. The Falcon has 329mm front discs and other Tickford hardware which, while obviously better than the standard fare, still started to fade after a couple of big stops.

The particular WRX's suspension is not the best. The car was set up for the odd weekend hillclimb competition and simply wasn't suited to the road, as any bump or the slightest hole had the car bouncing and bucking. Given a smooth road, however, and the grip is phenomenal, with far less body movement than a standard WRX and the drivetrain's uncanny ability to direct power to the wheel(s) that could handle it most, makes it a deadly fast car.

Like any WRX, you don't get much in the way of luxury, apart from perhaps the provision of power for all four windows. But the no-nonsense rally seats hold you like a long lost lover, the Nardi steering wheel feels totally right and the white gauges are more a practicality than an affectation.

The Corsa, on the other hand, comes across more as a limousine with attitude. Its leather interior is beautifully presented, but the reprofiled seats give great grip around the lower back to match the car's cornering prowess. Add niceties such as a CD player, trip computer, cruise control and power windows and it adds up to a car which pampers as well as excites - apart, as mentioned, from the ride quality.

The SVO Falcon falls somewhere in between. It's based on an XR8, so equipment levels are high enough, although a CD player, leather and power adjustment for the rear windows would be nice in a car costing more than 60 grand. The SVO options list is extensive, however, so if it's luxury you're after perhaps a Fairmont Ghia based vehicle makes more sense, although a manual transmission is ruled out in that case.

The main thing which comes out of this exercise is not what these cars haven't got, but how thoroughly acceptable they are as normal road cars. We're not saying the days have gone where a backyarder bodgied-up a quarter-mile screamer that fell apart after the first 5000km, but these cars are definitely not among them. They work well in all their parts, and any faults such as rock hard rides are either part and parcel of the performance experience or something which can be worked on.

If you want a winner, there's no going past the APS WRX because its speed clearly demolishes the other two cars - and harsh ride aside - it is just as useable on the road as on the race track. That it comes in under $50,000 makes it all the better.

Of the other two, the Corsa is the more convincing interpretation of the V8 performance car partly because of its mighty engine - and that's where ultimately the muscle comes from - and also because it is a totally integrated package in the way it looks, stops and handles.

That's not to belittle the SVO Falcon, because after all it will save its buyer some $15,000 and deliver similar outright performance even if it takes more work to find it. It handles rough roads better than the Corsa, but at the expense of handling exactitude, and if its road presence you're after then it falls some way short of being distinguishable from an XR8.

But if you're a power junky in need of a fix, and especially if you've already got or are thinking about buying a WRX, then the APS car is the big fish in a small pond. Take it from us, it works. It really, really works.