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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Berlina 3.0 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Ideal ride and handling for tough Australian conditions, six-speed automatic
Room for improvement
Poor all-round vision, ergonomic quibbles, lack of split-fold rear seat, spare wheel costs extra

14 Jan 2011

DESPITE only the most minor of exterior facelifts, the 2011 VE Series II Berlina is significantly superior to the 2006 original.

The introduction of the direct injection six-cylinder engines in September 2009 was a major step forward and so was the standardisation of a six-speed automatic transmission across all Commodore sedans and Sportwagons.

There is a marked difference in refinement between a 2006 (175 kW) 3.6-litre four-speed and the 3.0-litre (190 kW) six-speed tested here.

For most buyers the smaller V6 makes more sense than the 3.6. Although the latter was upgraded with SIDI (spark ignition, direct injection) for a significant increase in power to 210kW, improved economy and higher levels of refinement, the 3.0 can be thought of as effectively a new engine.

It is notably smoother, more refined, and sporting in character than the 3.6, while giving away surprisingly little in performance. Another green credential is the ability (not yet shared with the 3.6) to run on E85 fuel.

Compared with the original 175kW 3.6, the 3.0 SIDI engine is a revelation. It has a keen, sporting note and loves to be revved. There is slight lack of urge at low revs, but the transmission’s six ratios disguise this most of the time.

Zero to 100 km/h takes about 9.5 seconds, and it is in those first few metres that the torque deficit is evident. This is easily the most refined Holden-engineered six-cylinder – ever. The 3.6 would be preferred only for towing (where the V8 would be far superior again).

Nevertheless and despite the hype of those SIDI initials (which could have been limited to just DI, for direct injection, as every other production petrol engine in captivity so far has spark ignition), the 3.0-litre Commodore is not as economical in real-world conditions as you might expect.

Neither is it perfectly matched to the automatic transmission, but only because of a shortfall in torque at modest rpm. Even quite modest ascents will have the gearbox hunting between sixth and fifth.

With light throttle openings over mostly flat terrain at a steady 110 km/h it is easy to see economy of around 6.7 litres per 100 km, but the weight of the car in combination with the engine’s modest torque output leads to only average economy in urban driving.

GoAuto noted that the figure of 7.0 achieved over 180km of mostly rural driving declined quickly to 10.0 with some stop-start driving and supermarket manoeuvring added to the mix.

Driving dynamics are the Berlina’s strongest feature. A supple, absorbent, albeit slightly firmish ride is ideally tailored for demanding Australian roads. The handling is poised with excellent steering feel and well-contained body roll.

It feels like a car developed specifically to handle local conditions. Huge post-flood potholes which would unsettle many European and Japanese cars are swallowed up by the rugged suspension. Little road noise makes its way into the cabin.

The 17-inch alloys with 225/55 series tyres are ideally suited to heavy duty work, which makes it all the less acceptable that you must pay extra for a full-size spare wheel and tyre. Standard is a tube of gunk that is no use whatsoever if you split the wall of one of a tyre somewhere out in the Never Never.

The Berlina is not exactly luxurious but is well specified and comfortable. It will accommodate five adults in not-so-squeezy fashion. The combination of cloth and ‘Sportec’ bolsters lifts the Berlina slightly above the fleet car market, and the seats are well shaped. The VE Series II’s interior design is less bold than the exterior, but the redesigned dash with the Holden-iQ infotainment centre is welcome.

Elements of the ergonomics grate, such as different shape controls on the steering wheel, a clumsy cruise control stalk and less-than-intuitive operation of the trip computer. Even re-setting the trip meter will catch the first-timer out.

Extensive improvements have been made to the VE since its launch, but fundamental design faults cannot be easily addressed. Vision is a big issue. The A-pillars are not only excessively thick but poorly placed and you really need to move your head about quite a bit to see around (and through) them. They have a significantly ‘fast’ rake.

It’s paradoxical that these pillars, optimised for crash safety, compromise primary safety. A reversing camera should be standard on all VE sedans, as a 1.8 metre driver will have trouble detecting a toddler standing 10 metres behind the car. A line on the road closer than 15 metres will be invisible.

The lack of a split-fold rear seat is a negative for prospective customers who wish to carry large or awkwardly shaped items. Holden engineers once argued against this on safety grounds but now concede it’s a question of cost while saying that customers don’t ask for it. (Maybe they buy a Falcon instead?)

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