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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - LPG range

Our Opinion

We like
Low running costs, easy starting, smooth running, clean emissions, mid-range torque, six-speed automatic, boot space
Room for improvement
Lack of spare wheel, behind-axle gas tank placement, lack of high-end power

22 Feb 2012

DRIVING the new mono-fuel Holden Commodore LPG this week, it crossed GoAuto’s mind that we might be driving a vehicle that could help to save this country in a crisis.

We had the same passing thought when driving the Ford LPG entrant, the Falcon EcoLPI, late last year.

Both these cars run on a fuel that is available in abundance in this country – not just from the petrol refining process as commonly believed, but naturally, from some gas fields too – and yet most of us insist on filling up on petrol and diesel that, increasingly, are imported as our own oil supplies dry up.

Not only is that bad for the personal and national bank balances, but also national security. You only have to look at some of the increasingly distant and unstable sources of this precious supply – West Africa, for example – and it is not difficult to imagine a break in the pipeline with disastrous consequences.

Another important consideration is that the technology that drives these two locally built large cars is also largely home grown and Aussie-made, employing hundreds of engineers and technicians in cutting edge programs.

Throw in the benefits of LPG to both the consumer and the environment, and we are scratching our heads as to why we are all not taking the gas highway to enlightenment, at least until something better comes along.

Actually, we do know: LPG stigma. “That’s taxi fuel”, “gas is dangerous”, “it is hard to fill up”, “you don’t get the performance” and so on.

Holden and Ford have set about trying to reverse that image, or as Holden large car marketing manager Kristian Aquilina puts it, “make gas sexy”.

The argument for sexy gas has never been stronger, with Holden dumping its compromised dual-fuel petrol-LPG Commodore powertrain in favour of a dedicated mono-fuel LPG system that is not only slightly more powerful than the previous iteration, but endows the large car with super-low fuel costs and super-clean emissions.

But how does it go? Like a petrol car, actually. Turn the key and the 3.6-litre V6 engine starts instantaneously on a lung full of LPG vapour and then idles smoothly.

We will just pause here to point out one of the biggest differences between the LPG Holden and its Ford counterpart, in both mechanical and operational terms.

The Falcon uses liquid injection – sprayed into the cylinder in a similar way to petrol – but the Holden version has sequential vapour port injection, with the liquid LPG turned into a gas before being squirted into the engine port.

The issue with LPG liquid injection is that, in our experience with the Falcon in mid summer, when the ignition key is turned, nothing happens for a couple of seconds as the fuel system builds pressure.

This caught us unawares, and for a split moment we were reaching for the phone to call Roadside Assist. After this happens a few times, the driver gets to expect it, although the impatient motorist might not entirely love it.

But as we mentioned, the LPG Commodore fires immediately, and that is the benefit of the Holden-developed electrically heated LPG vapouriser that makes sure the fuel is ready to go to work quickly, and without a lumpy idle.

So, score one for the Holden.

In normal driving, the LPG Commodore is indistinguishable from its petrol counterpart – it sounds, feels and reacts like any petrol large car from The General – except for the LPG badge on the back.

Only when the driver sticks the boot into it does the difference from the 3.6-litre petrol Commodore – and the LPG Falcon, for that matter – become apparent.

The LPG Commodore’s 180kW comes up short of the petrol Commodore’s 210kw, and Falcon EcoLPI’s liquid-injected 198kW, and you can feel it.

But, we ask, when was the last time the family fun bus or fleet wagon saw 6000rpm?

Mercifully, the LPG Commodore achieves its peak torque at just 2000rpm, which is right in the sweet spot for average driving, so the shortcomings at the top of the rev range are unlikely to stand out like a Kevin Rudd Christmas card to Julia.

Still, the Ford has a major performance advantage, so score one to the Blue Oval and liquid injection.

The Holden Commodore returns fire on the fuel economy score, with a claimed combined fuel test rating of 11.8 litres per 100km, versus the Ford’s 12.3L/100km.

Yes, that is more litres per 100km than their petrol equivalents, but with LPG sitting at half the price of petrol, who is complaining?

The Commodore also wins on carbon dioxide emissions, shooting out 189 grams of CO2 per kilometre – to the Falcon’s still-impressive 199g/km.

However, experience has taught us that fuel figure claims are one thing, and real-world driving is another. We will take rain check on making any assumptions on this until we can have an LPG Commodore on a longer test.

Holden chalks up another win with its range of LPG offerings – it not only comes in the Commodore sedan – in Omega, Berlina and SV6 – but also the Holden Ute, Sportwagon and luxury Caprice.

In the Falcon, LPG is offered across the sedan and ute ranges, but not in the Territory SUV.

The Commodore wins on boot space, with its twin underfloor tank arrangement, but both cars lose the spare wheel – replaced by the can of repair goo – unless you want to option a space saver (in both Commodore and Falcon) or boot-gobbling full-sized spare (Falcon only).

While Holden has been at pains to explain the high levels of safety of its tank arrangement – situated behind the rear axle – its proximity to the back bumper is not ideal.

Apart from that, the LPG Commodore – and Ute, Sportwagon and Caprice – are just like any other new VEII Holden, with comfortable ride, dynamics that belie the size of the vehicle and reasonable value.

With the current federal government $2000 rebate on new LPG cars, the $2500 impost for the LPG powertrain on both the Holden and Ford large cars seems tiny indeed, especially when it can be recouped at the fuel pump in a couple of years.

And when that dodgy oil pipeline breaks, you might be smiling all the way down the highway …

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