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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - range

Our Opinion

We like
Holden has saved the best for last, LS3 V8 is a monster
Room for improvement
Fuel economy is poorer, ride is harsh on bigger rims

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Holden logo8 Oct 2015

By TIM ROBSON

HOLDEN’S decision to poach GM’s LS3 V8 from the shelves of its home-grown rival HSV was being widely predicted some months back and has been, according to senior engineers, in the works for two years. (Oh, and don’t worry about HSV its base R8 uses a supercharged LSA V8 that makes 100kW more than the SS).

The change, while in itself not a big engineering feat according to the Holden people, is accompanied by an exhaust system that took two years to get right.

“Getting noise into the car, there was a bit of work in that,” said lead engineer Amelinda Watt. “When we began the project, we sat around in a room and said ‘what do we need to do to make this thing noisier and to get more noise into the cabin?&rsquo.”

While the team could have easily have pinched the system that is fitted to the US-spec Chevrolet SS – itself a raspy, rumbling thing – they chose to give the V8 its own unique send-off.

“We all love, we think it’s great. It’s a very exciting car, and we’re all very proud of it. And we love to see other people’s reactions to it.”

While the focus is on the eight-banger, the six-potter is the surprise package of the VF Series II range. Once considered coarse and uncivilised, the improved levels of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression in the VF range as a whole had quietened and calmed the locally made 3.6-litre engine, especially under cruise. It’ll still yowl grumpily under a heavy right foot, but it’s miles better under the bonnet of the VFII.

Commodores have always improved quite markedly between generations, and the VF is no exception. The six-cylinder Calais hits a particularly sweet spot, proving comfortable and composed on longer runs, its 18-inch wheel-and-tyre package offering a good blend of precision and ride comfort.

The new SS V, though, adds a dash of chilli to the sweetness. Right from start-up, the exhaust lets you know that something lurks within, with a deep, chesty baritone rumble spiking your neck hairs. Deep, comfortable buckets hold you snugly, while the six-speed manual shifter and pedals are well positioned.

The Commodore actually does a great job of shrinking around its occupants, seldom feeling unwieldy and wide. It also feels smaller under your right foot, with the shorter final drive ratio sharpening the throttle response notably.

The new dual-mode exhaust is switchable via the infotainment screen’s menu system, and while we toggled the system on and off at various throttle loads, the only sound that really disappeared was the throttle overrun pop and crackle.

Open it all up, though, and the LS3-equipped Commodore SS trio will give a Jaguar F-Type a run for its money in the loud and entertaining exhaust noise stakes.

It’s never boomy or unpleasant at part-throttle, though, and the Commodore will cruise for long stints in agreeable silence.

The Redline adds 20-inch rims and a different suspension tune – and it’s a blast when you’re pushing on a bit. The LS3 is linear and eager to rev, and makes its power and torque from low in the rev range.

The engine’s flexibility means you don’t need to change gears as often, but the exhaust note means that you do.

When you’ve buttoned off, and despite the slightly softer shock tune, the large 20-inch rims and narrow-section tyres on the Redline can feel fidgety over surfaces that are less than perfect, which takes the edge off the car’s cross country ability.

It’s only a minor criticism, though with the addition of the LS3 engine, Holden has delivered the quintessential four-door sports sedan that feels like it’s made for Australia. Nowhere else can you get the combination of raw muscle, interior size, terrific interior and all-round ability that the Commodore sports variants provide for the asking price.

For our money, the SS V is the sweet spot – and you won’t short-change yourself by selecting the manual. The shift action is solid and precise, while the clutch is easy and user-friendly in traffic. The auto is nice, too, especially with the addition of shift paddles.

GoAuto tried both the Ute and the Sportwagon variants briefly, with little to report. The Ute does feel more nimble and lively, given it’s the lightest of the cars fitted with the monster motor.

The wagon feels little different to the sedan, though its cargo area isn’t as spacious as that in even a mid-sized SUV, thanks to the sloping roof-line.

Is this the last Commodore? No Holden is committed to carrying the nameplate into the future. Is it the last Australian-made Commodore? Holden is non-committal about the future of further special editions, but given that the end of production is still two years hence, we’d wager that one or two more specials may escape the factory.

This one, though, is worth considering, even if it’s just for a few years. It may have taken 36 years, but the Commodore has finally come of age.

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