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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - S Supercharged sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Sharp styling, lively performance, practicality
Room for improvement
Auto transmission only

22 Mar 2001

GIVEN the outstanding sales success of the VT Commodore, it is perhaps not surprising Holden changed as little as possible for the VX update.

Introducing greater visual differentiation between variants was one of Holden's key objectives with the VX, and the S and SS are the biggest beneficiaries, gaining an aggressive styling treatment that garners frequent second looks from passers-by.

The most obvious visual change is the use of new teardrop-shaped headlights that dispense with outer lens optics. Holden says these offer better low-beam spread, penetration and beam pattern evenness.

Other changes to the nose include a new one-piece bumper/spoiler that houses twin circular driving lights and a larger central air intake.

The rear end features a new taillight assembly that no longer extends across the rear décor panel, contributing to a cleaner look.

The S also gains street cred from stylish 16-inch alloy wheels that endow it with a purposeful stance.

Overall, the cosmetic upgrades are a success. The S is an eye-catching car that manages to look menacing and classy at the same time thanks to the absence of tacky boy-racer add-ons.

Happily, the purposeful looks are complemented by performance that qualifies the S as a genuine sporting sedan.

The supercharged 3.8-litre V6 engine has been left untouched and its outputs of 171kW at 5200rpm and 375Nm at 3000rpm keep it almost exactly on par with Ford's Falcon XR6 VCT (172kW and 374Nm).

But perhaps more impressive than the raw figures is the sheer flexibility of the engine. Floor the throttle at almost any speed and the engine delivers a seamless rush of acceleration without the lag associated with turbo powerplants.

Consequently, overtaking semi-trailers and nipping into gaps in traffic becomes child's play. Just plant the clodhopper and hang on.

Aural accompaniment comes in the form of a subdued whirring from the supercharged V6. It brings back memories of Mad Max's Interceptor - which, incidentally, was based on a 1973 XB GT Ford Falcon Coupe.

It's fair to say no other engine on the local market sounds quite like it.

Ford's XR6 VCT emits a meatier bellow, but it cannot match the supercharged S for mid-range punch.

As for off-the-mark acceleration: the force-fed S can sprint to 100km/h in around 7.5 seconds and cover the standing 400m in the mid-15-second bracket.

Very respectable figures for a feature-laden automatic sedan. Holden quotes fuel consumption figures of 7.6 litres/100km on the highway and 13.0 litres/100km around town. But you won't come close to these figures if you succumb to the temptation to blast away from traffic lights wherever possible.

The four-speed auto mates well to the engine, offering a good spread of ratios and shifting up and down almost seamlessly.

But the non-availability of a manual gearbox with the supercharged engine may deter buyers who prefer to do their own shifting.

All VX models also gain a new dual damper propeller shaft with rubber couplings at each end to reduce vibrations.

This, along with addition of an "anti-booming" brace to the transmission tunnel, contributes to improved refinement levels, according to Holden.

While Ford's engineers equipped the AU II Falcon with a laminated firewall to improve noise suppression, Holden's technicians have adopted a more simple approach, filling the A, B and C pillars with heat-expandable foam to block road noise travelling up the body structure.

A noise deflector board and foam blocks under the rear parcel shelf - along with a seatbelt silencer - are said to further enhance refinement levels.

Holden has also worked hard to overcome the slightly nervous steering at cruising speeds that is a characteristic of the VT Commodore.

The front suspension features a lower control arm pivot that is raised by 4mm to build in more understeer and reduce the steering's directness just off centre.

The overall effect of the changes is that the Commodore is a more relaxing car to drive at highway speeds and feels less likely to snap the tail out under heavy cornering loads.

Even though the Commodore's semi-trailing arm rear suspension does not match the Falcon XR6 VCT's double-wishbone set-up in terms of sophistication, it performs well in most conditions.

The XR6 VCT still has the edge in terms of handling dynamics, but in VX guise the S has narrowed the gap. It can certainly match or surpass the Watts link-equipped base model XR6.

Hustling the car through corners reveals minimal body roll and ample grip, thanks to the standard sports suspension and sticky 225/50R16 rubber wrapped around 16x7-inch rims.

The S won't budge off line in normal circumstances, but it is possible to "hang the tail out" if your right foot gets inordinately heavy.

Large diameter four-wheel disc brakes - ventilated at the front - are up to the task of reining in the 1603kg missile when called upon to do so.

Ride quality is beyond reproach for a sporting sedan and the majority of road surface undulations are comfortably dealt with.

Passive safety levels benefit from a new B-pillar designed to swing with a pendulum effect to direct impact velocity away from the body's most fragile areas - the head, neck and chest.

Energy-absorbing foam between the door trim and inner door sheet metal further lessens the risk of serious injury in side impacts.

Dual front airbags are standard equipment and side airbags are now available as an option, while steering wheel-mounted stereo controls - standard across the VX range - are a welcome addition.

Overall, the S is an accomplished sporting sedan that offers ample reserves of power, plenty of grip and sufficient practicality to make it a sound proposition as a daily driver.

Its eye-catching looks are also a plus, but not if you hope to remain anonymous.

The supercharged Commodore S can outperform the standard Ford Falcon XR6 - against which it is priced - although the significantly more expensive XR6 VCT can just about match it.

But in the XR cars' favour is their sportier handling characteristics - particularly the IRS-equipped VCT - and the fact that they are available with a manual transmission.

Consequently, it's fair to say the XR6 and XR6 VCT will appeal more to hard-core driving enthusiasts while the supercharged Commodore S will be sought after those seeking style, refinement and effortless grunt.

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