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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Evoke

Our Opinion

We like
Cabin design and execution, steering and dynamic upgrade, sumptuous ride, brilliant body control, spacious cabin, improved safety and security
Room for improvement
Grip levels on standard Bridgestone Ecopia tyres, V6 needs more sparkle, same-ish styling


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28 May 2013

IS THIS the final Commodore as we know it? It could be.

Yes, Holden will produce another Commodore from 2017, but it will be based on a new global platform, and could therefore be cut from a rather different cloth.

Irrespective, the new base VF Evoke 3.0L SIDI V6 auto tested here is simply and unequivocally one of the greatest sedans Australia has ever produced – and certainly the best value at just $34,990 plus on-road costs.

Holden’s hard work in making its rear-drive large car smoother, quieter, more comfortable, and far nicer to be inside has sure paid off.

But, before the bouquets are foisted upon its revised flanks – and we will touch on this in detail further down – there is one thing serious bugbear holding us back from completely recommending the entry car in its current guise.

The problem, in short, is the tyres. Grip from the new, low-rolling resistance Bridgestone Ecopia 225/60 R16 hoops are marginal at best.

Even mild pedal pressure in certain damp-to-wet conditions will have the rear-end letting go mid-corner, accompanied by traction control light-flashing almost as fast as your beating heart, as you scramble to straighten the car.

If you only intend to drive on dry roads, it’s fine. Otherwise, please demand better tyres or upgrade to the bigger 18-inch wheel set-up.

Anyway, the latter will better fill the VF’s oversized wheel wells, although the beautifully supple and isolated ride quality that is an Evoke standout on the regular rubber will be slightly undermined.

Actually, we’d just ask for stickier 16s and savour the smoothness that really defines this latest base Commodore.

Evident from the moment you first lay eyes on it, the facelift is perhaps a tad too modern-day GM generic compared to the timeless VE, and so not very distinctive.

We doubt it will age as well, too. During our three-day adventure in the Evoke through rural roads and into country towns as well as into big-city streets, we were disheartened by the lack of attention it garnered.

If only potential buyers could sit inside the new VF, for in here almost everything has changed for the better.

Holden purists may lament the loss of ‘character’ now that the power window switches are no longer in the lower-middle console where you expect cupholders to be. They may also miss side air vents that don’t open with the front doors, the electric button that replaces the handbrake, and the wheel-sited cruise control switchgear that replaces a stalk.

But in reality, it’s miles better than ever. Even diehards – perhaps especially diehards – will be happier with what’s been achieved. The outside of the car hasn’t changed much, but the inside is almost completely new.

A harmonious, stylish, and logically presented dashboard awaits in a modern and appealing interior that still feels as Australian as any Holden has.

It’s as if the local team raided the best of GM global parts bin, with lots of Opel Insignia switches and controls for some Euro chic and a bit of Infiniti style thrown in.

Besides the spacious and quality ambience underlined by the nicely matching metallic and rubberised plastic trim, we can’t believe a vehicle as inexpensive as the Evoke features such an extensive touchscreen interface, up-spec climate control set-up, or comprehensive high-series instrumentation.

The driving position first class, the back bench sumptuous in its accommodation, the ventilation front and rear totally effective, and the media inter-connectivity and usability easy and enjoyable.

On the negative side of the ledger, Holden says the pillar trim has been “re-profiled” so as not to impede vision as badly, but they’re still as thick as trunks.

The lower plastic trim betrays the bargain-basement pricing, and we’re not sure about the cloth-like dashboard material dressing directly ahead of the front passenger – it looks a bit high-school arts and craft.

Overall, however, this is the best base-model Commodore interior by a massive amount, ranking up with the Ford Territory’s as the most impressive Aussie cabin effort ever.

And other than the slip-sliding rubber on slick surfaces, the driving experience, too, sees a quantum leap forward.

Well, dynamically, anyway, for the 3.0 SIDI V6 – though undoubtedly more hushed – isn’t a stirring or memorable engine, being somewhat bereft of fizz and sparkle... as it always has been.

But as a simple tool for trade, it’s harder to reproach, with sufficient acceleration, a slick-shifting six-speed auto of agreeable response, and quite punchy mid-range oomph once the needle starts to rise into the upper rev reaches.

When overtaking, the V6 can feel a bit sluggish with a load on board, but slotting the lever into manual mode makes the most of the available power and torque, with surprisingly spirited responses on offer.

Better still, the electric steering is amongst the best we’ve encountered, with excellent linearity and – more interestingly – feel, giving crisp turn-in and composure that truly belies the size of the car.

Racing up a (mostly dry) mountain road, with the transmission in manual mode, the Evoke’s balance and control truly amazed us, pushing tightly through turns without losing traction or poise at all despite quite a lot of bumpy corners along the way.

Backed up by a trusty set of stoppers, the chassis feels like it could – and indeed, it already does – handle more power than the hard-working V6 could muster.

Conversely, on long stretches of open blacktop, in top gear, the Evoke’s relaxed and cruisy nature further endeared, with little road noise and a rock-steady feel, further underscoring how suitable this car is for driving along on Australian highways.

But, boy, those tyres in the wet really spoil the serenity and security of what is an otherwise hugely accomplished and amazing value-for-money family car.

Plus, we are aghast to learn that Holden still won’t fit a folding rear seat of any description in its big sedan and we worry that the styling – lacking the handsome clarity of the VE – isn’t different enough to lure buyers back.

However we applaud Holden’s efforts for what it has created under very extreme financial hardship, especially when the original plan called for a complete Commodore reskin.

Just 10 years ago the Large Car segment commanded 35 per cent of total new-vehicle sales, compared to only four per cent so far this year. Could the writing be on the wall for the Commodore as we know it?

Be assured, though, that this Evoke is a bit of a masterpiece for the price, and a compelling reason to reconsider buying that Corolla/CX-5/Captiva import as your next family car.

This is the best Commodore ever. Relish the VF, and for that matter the Falcon and the Territory, while you can, folks.

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