I’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.[warning]
Model reviewed: Holden SS‑V Redline