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DSCN4782I’m not a neur­os­cient­ist — this won’t come as a sur­prise to any­one who has read my columns I’m guess­ing — but I won­der if a chem­ic­al reac­tion occurs in the brain when you com­bine an enthu­si­ast­ic driver with both a fast car and a beguil­ing (read empty) stretch of tarmac?

On the basis of a sample of one, sans a con­trol group, the answer is an emphat­ic yes.

My sci­ence exper­i­ment began with a strong degree of self-interest. Giv­en the oppor­tun­ity to get behind the wheel of Holden’s SSV Red­line sedan ahead of a glor­i­ously sunny week­end, I felt the need to do justice to the car’s per­form­ance cre­den­tials by find­ing a road worthy of its capability.

Long on my list of ‘must drives’ is the innoc­u­ously named Taihape Road, oth­er­wise known as ‘Gentle Annie’. It’s a route that stretches some 152km across a range of ter­rain, from Hast­ings through to Taihape (trav­el­ling east to west), and has only recently been com­pletely sealed. Its steep inclines and over­all ter­rain mean it’s no ordin­ary road.

And the SS‑V Red­line is no ordin­ary car, sit­ting at the top of the Hold­en pas­sen­ger vehicle line-up (just below the bespoke HSV range). Reg­u­lar read­ers will recall that I have pre­vi­ously driv­en Holden’s 2014 mod­el Cal­ais. [Just last month, in fact — Ed.] The Red­line is its part­ner in crime, but where the Cal­ais oozed com­fort, this car is all about pace and per­form­ance — though it doesn’t lack for creature comforts.

Under the hood resides a staunch 6‑litre V8 that pumps out a com­pel­ling 260kW and 517Nm of torque. It’s delight­fully old school, although Hold­en have added some up-to-date tech­no­lo­gies — like act­ive cyl­in­der man­age­ment — to ensure the engine is as effi­cient as, well, a V8 can be. Max­im­um power is avail­able from a throaty 4400rpm, while accel­er­a­tion is suit­ably purposeful.

Power­ful it may be, but the Red­line is no light­weight car­bon-tube super­car. On the con­trary, it’s nearly 5m in length and weighs 1,780kg. I’m con­scious of its com­par­at­ive size as we gently ease our way onto the route. It’s late after­noon, the sun is stream­ing through the wind­screen, and most import­antly, there is barely a soul to be seen. The Gentle Annie starts inno­cently enough. An easy climb through gen­er­ic farm­land and pine plant­a­tions doesn’t hint at the dra­mat­ic beauty that is about to come.

The Red­line settles in quickly. Des­pite the firm­ish sus­pen­sion set-up, it copes well with the road imper­fec­tions, and even allow­ing for the nar­row­ness, it feels eas­ily man­age­able. Mean­while, before us is an undu­lat­ing rib­bon of tar­mac, stretch­ing delight­fully across a wide-open prair­ie, before drop­ping majestic­ally into val­leys lined by trees and cliff faces. We soar up and down as if on a roller coast­er, encoun­ter­ing everything from single-lane bridges in the deep­est rav­ines, to majest­ic out­looks across to the Vol­can­ic Plat­eau. Incred­ibly, we meet only one oth­er car. The driver seems in no mind to pull over, which presents a per­fect excuse to stop for our first photo shoot.

Before long, I am itch­ing to get back behind the wheel. And as the miles click by, I become more enam­oured with the Red­line. At times I wish for great­er throttle response (or steer­ing wheel-moun­ted paddles) and the steer­ing could be more dir­ect, but oth­er­wise, it’s really very good. The brakes are a stand-out. I become one with the car and the road — there’s no ‘red mist’ as such, but I feel like I have had a phys­ic­al reac­tion or reached a high­er state. It’s impossible not to be sin­gu­larly focused.

And just like that, we’re turn­ing onto SH1, a sign­post to Waiouru guid­ing us to a bed for the night. How did 150km pass so quickly?

I’ve been priv­ileged to drive many great roads — both in New Zea­l­and and over­seas. This one rates as eas­ily one of my top five drives of all time. Who needs an auto­bahn or the Nür­bur­gring when such incred­ible driv­ing roads exist in your own back yard? Get out and make the most of it while you still can… Next time, I plan to be a pas­sen­ger so I can check out the view.

Con­clu­sion: An old-fash­ioned bruis­er with mod­ern-day attrib­utes. Not for every­one, but its soph­ist­ic­a­tion might sur­prise European driv­ing naysay­ers if only they would give it a chance.


Tech specs

Mod­el reviewed: Hold­en SS‑V Redline

Price: $74,490[/warning]


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