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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Calais V Sportwagon

Launch Story

24 Mar 2010

A SMALLER and less powerful engine does not often upstage its larger sibling, but that is precisely what happened at the launch of the MY10 VE Commodore V6s near Melbourne.

Of course, it is true that the all-new 190kW/290Nm, 3.0-litre SIDI direct-injection V6 was the really big news of the day, especially after we learned that it is half a generation newer than the latest 210kW/350Nm 3.6L SIDI V6 that motivates the SV6, Calais, and Statesman/Caprice models.

Frankly, the previous 3.6L Alloytec V6 seemed like an underachiever, even in more-powerful 195kW mode, lacking spark down low and sounding a tad too breathless up top. For a relatively recent engine development (2004), we felt that GM could have devised something with more flavour and fizz.

Enter the 2010 version, codenamed LLT and boasting 15kW and 10Nm more.

We drove several versions – in Calais and SV6 sedan and Sportwagon guises – and each model felt palpably smoother and stronger than any previous V6 VE model.

Sure, while acceleration is lively throughout the rev range, even the latest 3.6 Commodore is not quite as responsive as some rivals. Perhaps the economy-focussed tuning has smoothed out any potential power peaks, or maybe more kilometres under the belt will loosen the engine.

But the way the MY10 3.6-litre VE delivers its performance is real progress anyway.

Gone is the drivetrain shunt that once occasionally accompanied a sudden pedal prod in previous model Commodores. At last, the car always seems to be in the right gear, rather than somewhere in between, and the ratio changes themselves are slick and responsive.

Carving up and down some damp hilly roads, the addition of a new cross axis ball joint – that promises tauter overall body control – seems to have tightened up the handling and roadholding a little, despite the latest VEs running on lower resistance eco tyres. Maybe the fact that collectively the wheels are now 8kg lighter helps here.

Previous model noise, vibration and harshness issues such as wind roar seem to have been reduced with the latest acoustic package that sees sound deadening material fitted to the dashboard, while we struggled to pick up on any rattles or loose trim.

Yet it was the economy potential of the 3.6L DISI V6 automatic that really surprised us.

Driving at close to the posted speed limits on smooth rural roads, feathering the throttle and making sure that the engine’s revs never exceeded 2500rpm, we nursed a six-speed automatic sedan to a remarkable figure of 7.2L/100km, breaking a fuel consumption target of 7.6L.

Less focussed driving brought similar 3.6L SIDI sedans piloted by colleagues to around the 8.0L/100km mark, but the point is that a carefully handled Calais V6 auto sedan has the abilities to sip rather than slurp fuel. It was a revealing and commendable test procedure.

Our only real complaints with the 3.6L DISI V6 is that is still does not sound as exciting as some other similar engines.

The VE has aged well over its 38 months, but we think a facelift is probably needed sooner rather than later, and a cabin refresh would most certainly be appreciated. Holden’s own Cruze seems to have more interior pizzazz than the Calais we sampled.

So the larger of the new V6 engined Commodores is a significant improvement in all areas of importance.

It may not feel, sound or drive as evocatively as some other three-and-a-half litre-plus six-cylinder rivals, but the extremely effective SIDI direct-injection technology means that the locally made Holden certainly scores vital economy and emissions runs on the board.

Strangely, though, it was the smoother, revvier and cheaper 3.0-litre SIDI V6 that stole the show anyway, despite its performance deficit.

Whichever way you look at it, Holden’s engine upgrades have at last given the Commodore the heart that it has always deserved.

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