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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Acclaim wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Spacious cargo area, smooth and comfortable, responsive engine
Room for improvement
V6 less than smooth at higher rpm

19 Dec 2001

IS there a more worthy family car icon than the Holden station wagon?

Since its ancient predecessor rolled onto the roads in the 1950s, the Holden station wagon has become an integral part of Australian culture. The special combination of comfort and style, coupled with much more versatility than regular sedans has, over the years, made the station wagon an obvious automotive choice for uncountable Australian families.

Surprising maybe is that the basic essence of the family station wagon has not really changed since those slick-looking FEs from the 1950s.

Basically, the station wagon is little more than a regular sedan (whether it's a Holden or a Ford - or a Toyota or a Mitsubishi for that matter) with an extra section tacked on behind the C-pillar. The biggest change made by Holden and Ford in recent times is the adoption of the longer wheelbases of the limo-style luxury models to grab even more cubic metres of load space.

With growing lists of model variants, station wagons today are catering to a wider cross-section of market segments. Holden, for example, offers its Commodore wagons from base Executive to the more sumptuous Berlina level.

But perhaps the entry level Commodore should be the Acclaim series. This model has traditionally occupied the high ground on safety by taking all the passive and active features available in the Holden range and adding them to a basic Executive.

When the Acclaim first appeared with the VR series in 1993, it added a driver's airbag, anti-lock braking, independent rear suspension, air-conditioning and cruise control as part of the standard package at a very reasonable increase over Executive prices.

Today the Acclaim also includes dual front airbags, side front airbags, traction control, power windows and a few little touches such as lumbar adjustment for both front seats and height-adjustable front seatbelt mountings, to maintain a lead over the now better-equipped Executive which has a driver's airbag, anti-lock brakes and an independent rear end as standard.

If it were not for the badges, it would be difficult to spot an Acclaim over a regular Executive. Although the safety issues are well attended to, equipment levels are otherwise pretty much the same as the entry level car, meaning that the sound system is a basic single CD, four-speaker, 30-watt affair and trim levels are similar.

All this means that a Commodore Acclaim wagon - which is available only as a V6 automatic - is a pretty expensive vehicle, edging close to $40,000 by the time on-road costs are factored in.

But it's a worthy inheritor of the family wagon title with generous amounts of passenger space and a massive rear cargo deck measuring around 1.2 useable metres in depth and a maximum of about 1.4 metres wide, even before the split-fold rear seat backrest comes into play.

Drop this partly down and the possibilities are enormous. Hefting in a few mountain bikes, diving gear or other similarly space-greedy recreational equipment becomes quite easy, both because of the space available and the wide-opening tailgate. Just remember to protect the carpet if the gear is at all grubby.

The space itself is quite uniform in shape with minimal intrusion from the (carpeted) wheel arches and the raised roofline means there is plenty of height - just under one metre on average. A handy little lidded compartment on the right is good for storing smallish items but a roll-out blind would have been nice (there's provision for one).

On the road, the wagon uses its supple independent rear suspension to advantage, riding as smoothly as a sedan (more than Commodore sedans, which use a shorter wheelbase) and quite surprisingly quiet. You need to listen very closely to hear any of the familiar station wagon resonance - in fact, the wagon does not seem to be all that far behind a Statesman in terms of interior noise levels.

The seats are large and supportive, great for long spells on the road, and the general leg and shoulder room is about as good as you are going to get in this price range.

Headroom is superior to Commodore sedans, in both front and rear, and the driver will have little to complain about with power adjustment for seat height and cushion tilt, as well as the all-way adjustable steering column.

So the Acclaim wagon is as comfortable as it is practical, feeling as plush as a sedan in practically all circumstances and driving with similar steering precision. Maybe at times - for example when driving on a tight, winding road - there is an awareness of the extra weight extending to the rear but generally the wagon is an agreeable driver's car.

The Acclaim uses the standard rack and pinion steering system that, to many, feels more linear and predictable than the Variatronic road speed sensitive system seen in Calais, Statesman and Caprice. The reworked rear suspension, plus new tyre design aimed at assisting straight-line stability, allows incremental gains in the way the Commodore wagon steers, but it still does not feel as communicative as the Falcon. The Commodore still feels slightly "woolly" at the wheel.

The V6 engine, pumping out an extra kilowatt in VX Series II form, remains an always eager powerplant, responsive from low rpm and generous in terms of torque across the rpm range. It copes quite satisfactorily with the extra 58kg of the wagon, even if it does begin to feel the effects of a full load. And it does get rough and slightly rowdy when pushed towards its upper reaches.

The four-speed auto does a good enough job but is coming under mild criticism in this era of super-smooth, intelligent automatics for its tendency to change roughly at times and its inability to read the driving conditions so that it does not hunt around for gears.

Fortunately the mid-range abilities of the V6 compensate for much of this because it does not require regular gearshifts to maintain pace, allowing the transmission to hang onto the higher ratios for longer than a less torque-endowed engine.

The standard four-channel anti-lock brakes and traction control contribute to feelings of security and the reworked rear suspension seems to add a little extra suppleness to the already very agreeable ride.

So the Commodore wagon remains the sensible choice for the majority of Australian families.

It does not really ask for any compromises in terms of comfort or on-road abilities and is an easy swallower of mountains of luggage. And, in Acclaim form, it represents the best Holden can offer in terms of safety.

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