Road test: Australian Holden VF Commodore goes upmarket
DON'T consider the new Commodore because it's Australian. Don't consider the new Commodore because the Falcon is about to die. Consider the new Commodore because it's bloody good.
This car is the best yet built in Australia.
And it has to be. The VF is charged with taking on the finest from Europe and Asia, and wooing an Australian public with a sports utility vehicle obsession.
If unsuccessful, this could be the last of its kind. Holden has committed to build another Commodore in Australia from 2016, but the size, engine and whether it's a rear-wheel drive configuration could largely be decided by sales within the next two years.
Interior improvements are leaps and bounds ahead of anything we've seen before from Holden.
One of the most impressive things is the noise…hardly any enters the cabin. Tyre rumble is more audible mainly because little comes from the engine.
But the headline act is the interior fit and finish. It's almost European, even from base model Evoke.
The instrument cluster is leather-clad, with a more concise speedometer and tacho gauges. A digital trip computer, which provides average and real-time fuel consumption along with a digital speedo, sits in the middle of the gauges.
Thankfully, the power window controls are back on the doors instead of the centre console, while the hand-pinching embedded park brake is replaced by a switch.
As you step up the range the finishes become more lavish, with the SS and Calais featuring some nice carbon-fibre-look inserts across the dash and doors.
There are black and ivory colour combinations depending on model. All look upmarket and the hard plastics are restricted to the centre console. From the fabric trim in the Evoke through to the suede and leather trim on sports and Calais variants, the seats offer excellent support at the base and laterally. The chunky steering wheel with telescopic flexibility feels great in your hands while it also features better functionality with cruise control now at your thumb tips rather than on a stalk.
What do you get?
Forget the plain-Jane Omega, the new Evoke and the entire range is packed with good gear.
On the standard list are an automatic parking function, rear view camera with front and back parking sensors, trailer sway control, hill-start assist, cruise control, dual zone climate controlled air con, and even an ability to start the car remotely (automatic models) to heat it up or cool it down before getting inside.
One of the best features is the MyLink system with a 20cm touch-screen. With your smartphone paired, you can stream a virtually unlimited archive of music through the Pandora app, or podcasts from Stitcher.
There is also a voice recognition system, which works well once you know the commands and enables the driver to control everything from the radio through to sat nav by just talking - and it even has an Australian accent.
Safety is five-star, and includes an awesome reverse traffic alert feature which can peer around corners - perfect for when backing from a park when your vision is impaired by a SUV, van or ute. Warning systems for your blind spot, imminent forward collision and lane departure are standard on top-spec models, and are options on base variants.
On the road
Poised and confident, the VF retains the rear-wheel drive virtues but with a flatter cornering ability and better steering feel.
The Commodore has lost about 43kg over the VE, and while the underpinnings have been shared, engineers have made advances in the areas that matter most.
Major fuel efficiencies have been gained, primarily through the use of aerodynamics, more aluminium components and electric power steering. It took five years to get the steering right and the end result is outstanding.
The steering is responsive and maintains an excellent feel and the Commodore's new suspension set-up delivers greater car control.
Despite losing 5kW in power, the Evoke is a surprise package. Its fuel consumption is down to 8.3 litres/100km while the CO2 emissions are below 200g/km, bringing it back into the fleet-car realm.
Most drivers would be more than happy with the 3.0-litre V6 Evoke's performance. It's strong and linear with its power delivery and happy to work up into the rev range for overtaking.
Those seeking more punch can go for the 3.6-litre bent six, while the rev heads will still appreciate the burly V8.
The six-speed automatic would be our pick, the manual option still feels somewhat clunky with long throws between cogs.
All models are more efficient, but the Evoke is the leader at 8.3-litres /100km (our test climbed to 9.5L/100km with heavy use of the right foot). Servicing is among the cheapest you will find, insurance should be at the lower end of the scale and the national dealership spread is excellent.
Five adults can appreciate the space. Head, leg and knee room is excellent.
The seats don't fold in the sedan, and the boot load area is narrow, so those who regularly want to carry bikes, golf clubs and other equipment should go for the Sportwagon.
ISOFIX car restraint fixtures (soon to be given the Standards Australia stamp of approval) are now in all Commodores, which enables three seats to be fitted across the back seat.
Space savers are standard, but for $350 you can get a full-size alloy spare.
Is it too late for the best Commodore ever produced?
This is a car which offers outstanding features, space and drivability at an impressive price point. But the challenge remains for Holden to get this message across to Australians shunning large cars.
It's time for Holden to roll the dice and try new things to get the message out.
Take it for a spin and your perspective on the Commodore will change.
What matters most
The good stuff: Improved cabin ambience, great interior finishes are European-like, new colours on sports models, brilliant technology, even in Evoke specification.
What we'd like to see: Split-fold rear seats in the sedan, better feel with the manual transmission.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year, 100,000km warranty. Servicing is capped at $185 for the first four services over three years or 60,000km. Servicing is every 15,000km or nine months.
Model: Holden VF Commodore.
Details: Four-door large rear-wheel drive sedan, five-door Sportwagon or two-door ute.
Engines: 3.6-litre LPG V6 generating maximum power of 180kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 320Nm @ 2000rpm; 3.0-litre V6 petrol 185kW @ 6700rpm and 290Nm @ 2600rpm; 3.6-litre V6 petrol 210kW @ 6700rpm; 6.0-litre V8 petrol 260kW @ 5600rpm (270kW @ 5600rpm manual) and 517Nm @ 4400rpm (530Nm @ 4400rpm manual).
Transmission: Six-speed automatic or six-speed manual.
Consumption: LPG - 11.5 litres/100km; 3.0-litre - 8.3 litres100km; 3.6L 9.0L100km; 6.0L 11.5L100km (figures vary depending on body choice).
WHAT THEY COST
Holden Commodore VF
Evoke (auto only) $34,990
SV6 (manual) $35,990
SS (manual) $41,990
SS-V (manual) $45,490
SS-V Redline (manual) $51,490
Calais (auto only) $39,990
Calais V V6 (auto only) $46,990
Calais V V8 (auto only) $52,990
Sportwagon body style adds $2000 (auto transmission only), automatic adds $2200, prestige paint adds $550.
Ute (auto only) $32,990
SV6 (manual) $32,990
SS (manual) $38,990
SS-V (manual) $42,490
SS-V Redline (manual) $48,490
Automatic adds $2200, prestige paint adds $550.