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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Evoke

Our Opinion

We like
Value for money, interior design, fuel economy, overall packaging, new tech features, it’s built in Australia
Room for improvement
Cheap feeling steering wheel, cloth touches on dash, massive A-pillars, MyLink isn’t flawless - yet

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Holden logo4 Jul 2013

By TIM NICHOLSON

Price and equipment

WITH buyers deserting large family sedans in favour of SUVs, Holden faces a massive challenge convincing people to even consider the VF Commodore.

Dropping the price of the entry-level Evoke (formally Omega) by $5000 to $34,990 plus on-road costs might just give the Aussie-made icon a fighting chance.

The Evoke slips into the VF line-up as a replacement for the Omega as well as the mid-spec Berlina.

To better appeal to tech-savvy buyers, Holden has added a number of gadgets including a park assist function (a development of the system found in the Opel Adam city car) that locates an appropriately sized space and manoeuvres the car into place using cameras and sensors.

Using park assist in a small car can be a nerve-wracking experience so we take out hats off to Holden for fitting the technology to a car as large as the Commodore.

Luckily our first (and only) attempt was a complete success, slotting the big sedan in a fairly tight spot without any cause for alarm.

An eight-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, GM’s global MyLink infotainment system that includes music and radio apps Stitcher and Pandora, connectivity with Apple’s ‘Siri’ voice command system, a USB and auxiliary port and Bluetooth all boost the tech credentials of the Commodore.

Did we mention that this is all standard on the base model Evoke?

The price may have dropped, but the list of standard comfort and safety features is enough to make a European car-maker nervous.

Dual-zone climate control, power adjustable driver’s seat, cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel with audio controls are all standard, while sat-nav and a DVD player are available in option packs.

For a touch under $35,000, the Evoke is cheaper than all of its major competitors.

Not that there are many of them left.

Ford’s well-regarded but aging Falcon XT kicks off from $37,235 and the Toyota Aurion AT-X retails for $36,490 plus-on roads, but neither of them can match the level of standard equipment that Holden offers.

Of course, times and tastes have changed and anyone in the market for a large family car is probably going to check out similarly priced SUVs as well.

The $2000 more expensive Evoke wagon (here we test the sedan, but they’re the same car in most ways) is more than competitive against some of the top-selling high-riding wagons, undercutting the base model two-wheel drive Ford Territory TX ($39,990), the petrol Hyundai Santa Fe Active ($36,990) and the 2WD Kia Sorento Si ($37,490).

Interior

The VE’s interior had some rough edges, but any memory of it is erased when you step into the VF.

The old integrated hand-brake that looked fantastic but had functionality issues such as being a bit pinchy at times is gone, replaced by a far more sensible electric unit.

The dash has been completely redesigned and appears modern and stylish but is a bit of a mash-up of features from other GM models including the Cruze small car and the Opel Insignia mid-sizer.

This is not necessarily a negative.

Smooth lines and contrasting materials in dark and light greys give the Evoke a European feel, while the cloth trim on the seats is attractive and comfortable.

In an unusual design decision, Holden has added a cloth panel on the passenger side of the dash, presumably to minimse the amount of hard plastic.

It looks a bit iffy to our eyes – we think a different tone of plastic would have been fine.

Something else that feels cheap is the plastic steering wheel. We know it is only the base variant, and the new three-spoke Opel-inspired wheel actually looks terrific, but it feels a bit second rate.

Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, found in different GM product across the world, is being promoted as one of the VF’s drawcards.

While the Bluetooth phone and audio was fairly simple and functioned well, we had problems connecting to Pandora, despite setting it up and installing it on our smartphone prior to use.

Some of the audio controls surrounding the touchscreen proved a little confusing at times, especially when moving between radio stations, but one suspects it wouldn’t take long for it to be second nature.

The VF’s massive A-pillars seem to have been carried over from the VE and create an annoying blind spot, and the rear-view mirrors are small, but aside from that, visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent.

There are lots of storage nooks in the console and doors for coins, phones or larger items and, unsurprisingly for a big Aussie sedan, the Commodore has acres of leg and head room in the front and rear.

Under the boot is a typically large cargo area with a 496-litre capacity, but it is not big enough to match the Falcon’s 535-litre boot or even the new Nissan Pulsar sedan which can carry 510 litres.

Engine and transmission

The Evoke has the smallest capacity out of all of the Commodore engines, with power coming from a 3.0-litre direct-injection V6 unit producing 185kW and 290Nm of torque, 25kW less than the larger 3.6-litre V6 from higher-spec models.

Holden revised the engine for VF and in the process shaved 5kW of power off but this is unlikely to be noticed by too many punters. What is noticeable is how smooth the V6 is compared with the VE, especially when driving at low speeds in urban areas.

Holden’s engineers worked hard to refine the 3.0-litre V6 and it has paid off, as the Commodore is quiet and feels polished but is also capable of delivering punchy performance when you need it.

With a 0-100km/h sprint time of 9.4 seconds, the Evoke is certainly no V8, but it feels quicker than its sprint time would suggest and even has an appealing engine note when accelerating.

Holden's six-speed automatic is well matched to the V6, providing slick changes, while rarely having to search through the range to find the appropriate gear.

Unsurprisingly, the 3.0-litre Evoke is the most economical engine in the line-up with official combined fuel economy of 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres, a 6.7 per cent improvement on the equivalent VE model.

Our test drive of the Holden took in urban areas but also involved a decent trek up the Hume Highway to north-east Victoria and the Evoke recorded fairly impressive average fuel economy of 8.1L/100km.

This figure matches Ford's official combined fuel use for its 2.0-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost Falcon XT released last year, and is well below the numbers for the Toyota Aurion 3.5-litre V6 that uses 9.3L/100km.

Ride and handling

Holden has never had a problem convincing people that the Commodore is a driver's car. It has been hailed for its handling and performance since the first-generation Opel Omega-based VB from 1978.

The 2006 VE Commodore set a new benchmark for the local car-maker and now the VF takes it a step further with a wonderfully dynamic drive.

Being a large family car, you would expect the Commodore to feel heavy, but on the road it feels like you are behind the wheel of a lighter, smaller car – albeit a frisky, occasionally tail-happy one.

Note, on slippery surfaces the Evoke has a tendency to lose grip when fitted with the standard Bridgestone Ecopia tyres and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The shift from hydraulic to electric power steering brings about the expected loss of that final tenth fraction of feel, but the lighter tiller still gives solid feedback and, more importantly, saves fuel.

Cruising on urban streets highlights the efforts GM engineers have put in to reduce noise, vibration and harshness in the VF. The cabin is quiet and the ride is smooth, giving the impression of a more expensive car.

There was some wind noise on freeways and an unidentified vibration from somewhere on the dash that appeared at higher speeds but these were only minor distractions to a comfortable ride.

Safety and servicing

The entire VF range has a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating and features driver and passenger airbags, side impact, and side curtain airbags as standard.

It’s also available with blind-spot warning and a reverse traffic alert that warns the driver to vehicles travelling behind the VF that may not be visible.

Isofix child seat anchors are also standard as are front and rear parking sensors, hill start assist and ESC, ABS, electronic brake assist and traction control.

The Commodore is covered by the Holden Wise Service Price Guarantee that allows Holden dealers to match a comparable quote from a rival repairer for the first six scheduled services and beat it by 10 per cent.

Verdict

Holden has poured a lot of money and resources into a car that will be the last completely Australian Commodore, and we think it is money well spent.

Far more polished than the VE, the VF is such an impressive package that it will sell in the US as a luxury Chevrolet SS, proving that Australia has the know-how to build a truly global car.

Whether it will have an impact on the ailing Australian automotive manufacturing industry remains to be seen, but this Commodore is the best yet and deserves to be put on people’s shopping lists.

If you are in the market for a family car and are considering an SUV, we reckon you should forget any pre-conceived ideas about a large Australian-built car and take the Commodore Evoke for a spin.

You might be pleasantly surprised.

Rivals

Ford Falcon XT (from $37,235 plus on-road costs).
, The Falcon may not be long for this world, but the FG Falcon offers excellent driving dynamics, a lot of space and power and is the Commodore’s biggest rival.

Toyota Aurion AT-X (from $36,490 plus on-road costs).
, Sales of the Aurion have shrunk with the current generation that launched early last year, but the Toyota offers great packaging and is a worthy contender against the two other big Ausssie sedans.

Specs

Make and model: Holden Commodore Evoke
, Engine type: 3.0-litre V6
, Layout: Rear-wheel drive
, Power: 185kW @ 6700rpm
, Torque: 290Nm @ 2600rpm
, Transmission: Six-speed automatic
, 0-100km: 9.4-seconds
, Fuel consumption: 8.3L/100km
, CO2 rating: 198g/km
, Dimensions: 5062mm long 1898mm wide 1494mm high 3009mm wheelbase
, Weight: 1622kg
, Suspension: Front - MacPherson Strut Rear - Independent multi-link
, Steering: Electric assisted constant ratio rack and pinion steering
, Price: $34,990 plus on-road costs

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