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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - SS V sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Bags of grip, 6.0-litre V8 flexibility, performance, near-perfect steering, braking feel and performance, unobtrusive ESP calibration
Room for improvement
Vulnerable chin spoiler, fiddly handbrake, vision across the A-pillar, minor squeaks and rattles, noisy manual gearbox

9 Aug 2006

THE hottest of Holden’s performance-car heroes finally has the brains to match its brawn.

For too long, particularly since the arrival of the latest 6.0-litre V8, the flagship Commodore SS has been regarded as having as a great engine – but needing a decent home.

Well, Holden has not only put some more bricks and mortar into the big bent eight, it has built it a magnificent chateau of a chassis around it.

All the questions about whether the folk at Fishermens Bend had the expertise to take on the best car-makers in the world have been answered by the fully loaded SS V.

It is a ripsnorter of a car that deserves to soar into the stratospheric league that the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz claim as their high ground.

It is not perfect. There was some annoying squeaks and rattles from the dash and rear of the test car we drove on the launch, the six-speed manual gearbox is still noisy and there was obtrusive exhaust boom through the cabin on the overrun.

But these are all semantics when you take into account the massive improvement in ride and handling, steering feel and increased safety – not to mention value for money with the extra features it gets over the superseded VZ for only $200 more.

At a time when increased fuel prices are hurting the hip pocket of average Australians – undoubtedly the heartland of Commodore’s demographic – it will be interesting to see if the SS V can re-ignite the local performance-car segment.

Don’t be mistaken it has the ability to convince the stingiest of scrooges that it is a fantastic car. Even in isolation it becomes the benchmark against which all Australian-made cars will be compared.

The revised 6.0-litre L98 V8 delivers power in spades. With the tacho needles pushing into the redline it can be a bit gruff and raucous, but there is no denying that it is producing plenty of ponies. Holden’s claim of 5.4-second slingshots to the speed limit is on the money.

But it is not just a monster with gobs of top-end grunt.

The 6.0-litre is also extremely flexible for everyday driving with plenty of pulling power and can comfortably cruise at city speeds in fifth gear at a little over 1500rpm.

Even at low engine speeds it doesn’t require too much throttle to pull it out of the trough and start singing its way into the delightful midrange, where the exhaust note grumbles at its best through the quad pipes at the rear.

The exhaust boom on the overrun is particularly noticeable above 3000rpm when it is trying to dump loads of unburnt unleaded. But it is only evident under spirited driving, and may appeal to die-hard enthusiasts.

The trusty Tremec T56 six-speed manual has come in for some much-needed attention and is better than it has even been, with a remote linkage on the selector and triple synchros on the lower gears making gear selection easy and relatively fuss-free. But only the exhaust note from the V8 can mask its noisy nature.

The revised clutch ratio is a significant step forward. It has heaps of feel, a very linear action and doesn’t feel heavy even in city traffic – not that you need to change gears that often anyway.

The 6L80E six-speed auto, on the other hand, is the pick of the bunch. It is not as sophisticated as Ford’s ZF transmission, but the combination of the self-shifter and the flexible 6.0-litre are a much better match than the peaky 5.4-litre V8 in the Falcon.

The gearbox shifts are smooth and precise, and the manual mode is set for the "right" direction – forward is downshifting, back is upshifting – but the action of the selector is not as refined and you can still feel it changing cogs.

The most noticeable improvement over previous Commodores is in the chassis – the one area that Holden has been let down by for so long.

The steering is magnificent. There is almost instant reaction to any input with excellent linearity across the entire rack. It has great on-centre feel that provides stability and confidence at highway speeds and is well weighted with terrific turn-in and feedback when the roads turn twisty.

The balance in handling is also up there with the best. Even a torture test through some of the twistiest roads in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne could not upset the SS V. It hangs on with plenty of grip at both ends of the car, and will inspire even the most talented driver with confidence.

Combined with the calibration of the Electronic Stability Program, the SS V is predictable and super-quick under any condition. The ESP will only intervene when the limit of the car has clearly been exceeded, and brings it back into line quickly and effectively.

The ride is still a little harsh, primarily due to the increased tyre pressures and low-profile rubber, but even the biggest bumps fail to unsettle the chassis. Tyre noise and wind noise from the A-pillars are noticeable, but crank up the booming sound system and all will be forgotten.

As for the cabin, the layout of the dash is neat and functional with tactile surfaces and easy to read gauges.

The centre console is at the perfect height to rest your arm on long-distance journeys, there is plenty of adjustment in the steering column to suit all types of drivers and the optional orange dash inserts even started to blend into the overt nature of the car very quickly.

The seats have plenty of lateral support, although, when pushed through some very quick switchbacks, it was noticeable that the outside bolster of the seat was stiffer than the inside because of the side airbag module – it almost felt as though it was asymmetrical.

The Commodore SS V is too good to be dismissed as a gas-guzzler for hairy-chested hoons.

The fact that nothing this side of six figures will see its tail-lights through a cloud of blue tyre smoke should build on its status rather than tarnish its reputation. It is no longer a lead-tipped arrow. It is a weapon of mass destruction.

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