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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Sportwagon SSV Redline

Launch Story

Holden logo8 Jul 2011

By MARTON PETTENDY

FOUR years after it launched the billion-dollar VE Commodore and a year after the MY10 upgrade brought ‘SIDI’ direct-injection 3.0 and 3.6-litre V6 petrol engines, Holden has readied a midlife makeover it hopes will extend the Commodore’s reign as Australia’s top-selling vehicle to 15 consecutive years.

The first full VE range facelift brings a number of detailed mechanical, cosmetic and equipment upgrades for all sedan, wagon and ute models from late-September

Headlined by the standard fitment of E85 ethanol-compatible 3.0-litre V6 and 6.0-litre V8 engines and a new high-tech ‘Holden-iQ’ touchscreen infotainment system, the VE Series II line-up comes with price increases over the MY10 range it replaces, at least for sedan and wagon models.

That means the same respective $39,990 and $41,990 starting prices for the entry-level Omega automatic sedan and Sportwagon models, while the base Ute price has jumped by $2000 to $35,490 because it finally gets the more powerful and efficient SIDI 3.0 V6 and six-speed automatic combination from the MY10 Omega sedan and wagon.

Holden’s latest Commodores are easy to miss from the outside, where changes are limited to a new squarer front bumper and grille, revised headlight shapes, an ‘aero lip’ detail on the sedan’s boot lid, redesigned alloys on some models, and four fresh exterior paint colours (a bright red, mid-tone grey, beige and bright yellow) – oh, and the addition of subtle ‘Series II’ front quarter badges.

The VEII range offers more differentiation inside, where a new dashboard with a redesigned centre stack is now dominated by the Holden-iQ vehicle-driver interface unit, which is now standard on all models.

Apart from E85 engines and the iQ system, the other main development Holden will be spruiking for its upgraded large-car range is an optional new ‘Redline Edition’ package that brings substantial wheel, brake and (on sedans only) suspension upgrades for five V8-powered V-Series models, taking Holden further into HSV territory than ever before.

Running on E85 fuel for a varied 170km launch drive out of Holden’s Elizabeth assembly plant in Adelaide, it was clear the fleet-oriented entry-level Commodore and the bent-eight sports variants bring worthwhile improvements in both CO2 emissions and everyday driveability.

Of course, E85 bowsers remain scarce in Australia, where only about 30 outlets will exist in most capital cities this year (expanding to just 100 by the end of next year) and the 3.6-litre models favoured by most private buyers won’t become E85-ready until 2012.

What’s more, the running cost savings to be had from the significantly lower price of E85 are almost entirely cancelled-out by the lower energy content and therefore higher consumption of the renewable ethanol-blended fuel, meaning what you save at the pump will be mostly wiped out by the more frequent visits you must make.

That’s why Holden will be focussing on what it claims are CO2 reductions of up to 30 per cent over the entire ‘well-to-wheel’ lifecycle of models run on E85 (including the manufacture of the vehicle and the fuel) compared to the same cars running on petrol, as well as the lower volatility of ethanol fuel compared to petrol, rather than any cost savings.

But the other advantage of its E85-fuelable models is performance.

Officially, there is no change to the (petrol-fuelled) power and torque outputs for any Series II Commodore models, but Holden engineers say that when running on higher-octane E85 fuel the 3.0 V6’s peak torque increases by 20Nm, from 290 to 310Nm, but that maximum power is reduced from 190 to 185kW.

The performance increase for the E85-fed 6.0-litre V8 is more impressive, with peak power increasing by 7kW – from 260 to 267kW in six-speed automatic guise and from 270kW to 277kW as a manual – while maximum torque for both transmissions is lifted by 8Nm to 538Nm.

More importantly, E85 fuel also improves the low to midrange flexibility of both engines, with the 3.0 V6 claimed to offer an extra 20Nm and the 6.0 V8 said to deliver 35Nm more torque between 1500 and 2000rpm.

On the road, that brings noticeable gains in driveability, with the launch feel of both engines feeling slightly more spritely, especially with the 3.0 SIDI engine, which is now a little less lethargic off the line and feels more like the larger-displacement 3.6 during standing starts, even if it’s still gruff at the top-end.

Midrange punch feels crisper, too, with the 3.0 V6 again closing the gap to the 3.6 in the crucial off-idle engine speed zone and the V8 offering even more muscular acceleration, making part-throttle response more effortless on the open road and full-throttle thrust more satisfying when required.

That makes the six-speed auto feel less shift-busy around town, while a range of underbody aerodynamic upgrades also makes all models more efficient – including the 3.6 SIDI V6, which gains the same lower idle speed as the 3.0 SIDI engine.

Running on regular unleaded petrol, the 3.0 V6’s combined fuel consumption average is two per cent lower at 9.1L/100km (formerly 9.3), while the 3.6 SIDI V6 is three per cent more efficient at 9.6L/100km (down from 9.9).

Although there is no change for LPG models, the 6.0-litre V8’s thirst drops by a bigger six per cent, from 13.9L/100km to 13.1 – but expect fuel consumption to increase by about a third when running on cheaper E85 fuel.

While the 3.0 and 6.0 models feel more refined and flexible from behind the wheel (at least when they’re running on E85), the slick new Holden-iQ driver interface also gives the Series II Commodore cabin a decidedly more upmarket ambience.

Topped by new twin circular air vents in sports SV6 and SS models, which also gain a classy gloss black and chrome centre stack, the iQ dash monitor looks elegant even in its most basic form in the entry-level Omega.

The latter also scores dual-zone climate-control, a restyled heater/ventilation/air-conditioning control centre and advanced multi-media features, including Bluetooth, USB and aux-in audio connectivity for most smart phones, iPods and other external MP3 devices.

While the interactive iQ system delivers a whole new world of intuitive colour touch-screen functionality with which all Commodore buyers can now control music and phone operations, from Berlina level upwards it also offers an internal flash drive that can store up to 15 CDs worth of music.

Furthermore, V-Series models add full-colour satellite-navigation mapping, voice recognition, a rear-view camera (except on the Ute) and live traffic alerts, which might sound like superfluous technology but, after sampling it on speed camera-infested South Australian roads with 25km/h-restricted school zones, proved almost invaluable.

Not only does the system provide a timely audible and visual warning of upcoming traffic situations like railway crossings and (fixed) speed cameras – and comes with a lifetime subscription to SUNA traffic mapping updates – it cross-references the location of school crossings and the time of day to alert drivers of variable speed limits at school knock-off times (alas, even on weekends and public holidays).

The other major milestone for the Series II VE is the optional Redline kit’s beefier four-piston Brembo front brakes behind forged and polished 10-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels and, on sedan models only, a sharper ‘FE3’ suspension tune comprising stiffer dampers and anti-roll bars, but no change to ride height or spring rates.

Priced at $1500 for the remainder of this year before becoming a $2500 optional extra for all V-Series models from next year, the Redline kit delivers a noticeable increase in outright stopping power and initial brake pedal feel, while the cool new polished 19-inch alloys neatly frame the silver Brembo calipers and bigger discs up front.

While the Redline pack’s FE3 suspension set-up should also become available for V-Series Sportwagon and Ute models, for now the Redline-equipped V-Series sedans deliver crisper, more responsive handling with less bodyroll, without any noticeable deterioration in ride comfort.

With or without the Redline performance pack, all versions of the Commodore remain right at home on typical Aussie back roads, where only Ford’s Falcon can offer a similarly appropriate mix of performance, handling and size.

The Redline treatment adds a new tier of performance for V-Series V8 models and, while steering wheel gearshift paddles would be nice, Holden has sensibly limited the bright red interior colour-coding for sports models – which get lighter grey rather than all-black interior trim colours as standard – to the instrument dials, doors and lower (not upper) dash.

The disappearance of Holden’s historic Statesman nameplate may disenfranchise some long-standing long-wheelbase buyers, but the cheaper new Caprice models that replace it come with similar internal and external upgrades, while Berlina buyers also get new 17-inch alloys and Calais customers score leather trim and chromed door-handles from the Sportwagon.

If you live near an E85 outlet and are in the market for either a 3.0 or 6.0-litre Commodore, the VE Series II brings worthwhile reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and more flexible performance, while all models offer more user-friendly technology and improved perceived quality.

The fact Holden has delivered all this for no extra cost is commendable, but only time will tell whether E85 and iQ are enough to maintain the four-year-old large-car legend’s position as Australia’s – or even Holden’s – most popular model.

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