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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - SS V

Our Opinion

We like
Willing and tractable V8 with an engaging soundtrack, revisions to clutch and brake pedals makes things more city-friendly, move to electric steering doesn’t lessen the experience
Room for improvement
Naff little rear spoiler unless you’re willing to part with more cash for a bigger one, suspension a bit choppy at speed, looks like an SV6 with foglights and quad exhausts


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29 May 2013

FROM the front, you’re not going to see too much difference in the SS from the V6-engined SV6 model. There’s front fog lights, and down the rear are the traditional quad pipes that make the 6.0-litre V8 engine sing... and that’s about it.

At the back, there’s also a quite fine-looking rear boot lip spoiler instead of the big, lairy slab of yore.

Holden had problems with the new aluminium boot lid cracking when it bolted on a big spoiler needing a central support strut, so subtle is now the default position. A bigger one fixed to the strengthened edges of the boot lid is available, but that is an extra $500, thanks.

While the exterior carries subtle changes over the cheaper SV6, behind the wheel is a richer experience.

For starters, the mono screen in between the white-lit dash is now colour, and the seats have swathes of real leather on them, and not just cloth.

For the first time, too, you can leave the key in your pocket, as this little orange duck – the exterior is wearing Holden’s lairy new Fantale paint – has a push-button start system.

In the neon-lit dusk of the underground car park where our drive starts, it’s easy to see, too, that the more upmarket Commodore adds lights in the footwell over lesser models.

It’s difficult to tell, but this version of the Commodore also gets a significant enhancement to its entertainment system. The big, colour MyLink screen high on the dash includes satellite navigation with live traffic updates, a DVD function that allows you to watch films while the car is stopped, and the six-speaker stereo system makes way for an eight-speaker unit.

Like you’ll ever want to use it under the bonnet is one of the best noise-makers built in Australia.

The 6.0-litre “Gen 4” V8 is little changed from the one that has powered the more sporty versions of the Zeta-based Commodore since 2006.

Lumpy at idle, smooth on power delivery and fun when pressed, the SS-V makes for a great driving companion. Sink the slipper and there’s still very little induction noise, although plenty of exhaust note.

Once again, the engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox misses out on the clever cylinder deactivation system that can chop four cylinders off the V8 when fitted to a six-speed automatic transmission, but it still runs on E85 ethanol-blended fuel.

Incidentally, none of the cars on our drive program out of Canberra to the nearby Snowy Mountains were using E85 in the tank.

The manual version of the SS-V is now a lot more user-friendly, particularly around suburban streets, where the clutch pedal is now a lot lighter to use.

The old one was quite stiff, with a surprisingly bitey offset spring that could make gear changes a little difficult and tedious in stop-start traffic.

Instead, there’s a new lightness to the pedal that, while not going too soft, still has sufficient weight to show this is a car that needs to be driven with a degree of interaction.

The six-speed gearbox is also a carryover, and despite a slight tendency towards being a bit notchy, its short throw gear lever can extract the best of the lazy 270kW of power and 530Nm of torque.

Oh, and by the way, the six-speed automatic version still only produces 260kW and 517Nm due to its cylinder deactivation function that lops four cylinders off the V8 under light throttle to save on fuel.

The suspension carries over from the previous model, and still sits on 19-inch rims.

The ride in the VF SS-V is a lot better than we remember, yet roadholding – which bordered on tenacious for the VE-based SS-V – appears to be unaffected. We didn’t really get a chance to fling it around any corners on our drive from the Snowy Mountains to the outskirts of Canberra, so that claim will need a more extensive test.

Like the SV6, the SS-V’s suspension is smooth and compliant, if not on the side of firm. It’s only detraction in our eyes is a tendency for the Bridgestone to slap noisily over imperfections in the road surface at speed, although it is more heard than felt.

A big improvement is the brakes, and not because they have changed. Instead, Holden has given the brake pedal a lot more feel, in part by strengthening where the booster attaches to the Commodore’s firewall.

Instead of a vague softness, the brake pedal on the SS-V feels a lot more progressive and linear, meaning it is much easier to tell how much brake pedal to push to wash off speed.

Also improving things is the move to electric power steering. It, too, feels better on centre, although the extra weight of the V8 over the front wheels did give an indication that it was not quite as precise as six-cylinder versions. Again, this is something we will have to test.

The electric steering is a boon around the shopping centre, where the big, heavy Commodore is a cinch to park. Similar to the rest of the Commodore range, the SS-V has a semi-automated system that can self-steer into a parking spot – it will be interesting to see how many male Commodore SS-V buyers take a big kick in the manhood stakes and default to using it. With rearward visibility diminishing because of a higher boot lid, it’s a welcome thing for some.

Improvements to the base-model Commodore, then, have flowed all the way up to the higher end of the range, meaning the SS-V is a better, easier car to drive than the one it replaces.

It’s no shame that the engine carries over largely unchanged, as does much of the running gear.

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