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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - SV6 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Handsome design, HFV6’s improved performance and sound, completeness of package, more features for less money, greater model differentiation, world-class dynamics, brilliant rough-road capabilities and ride quality, reasonable fuel consumption
Room for improvement
No split/folding rear seat, $250 charge for full-sized spare wheel, questions about Holden’s ability to maintain quality control

8 Aug 2006

"OF all the new VE models, the SV6 is my favourite to drive – especially the manual."

This was a recurring comment over the two-day drive program for the new VE Commodore range, from a disparate number of people within Holden.

And listening to the praise from equally enthusiastic colleagues, the same is probably true among more than a few of the critics out there too.

The SV6 is a relatively new model in The General’s Commodore line-up, having replaced the under-achieving ‘S’ (the barebones base HB Torana of 1967 was known as the ‘S’!) as the company’s riposte to Ford’s runaway success Falcon XR6 series, when the new-generation Alloytec engines were fitted to the VZ Commodore in August 2004.

In its latest guise, the SV6 looks less like a jumped-up bread-and-butter Omega, and much more like its lairier, media-hogging SS sibling.

After long and considered examination, we’ve decided that it’s the 18-inch five-spoke alloys that give the SV6 its biggest fillip over the lesser VEs, filling in those impossibly flared wheelarches and accentuating the shamelessly cab-backwards silhouette that does so much for our admiration of the new Commodore’s design.

The latter, by the way, is something all car-loving Australians should be absolutely thankful for, especially as the fuel-price driven sales of light and small four-cylinder cars threaten the very existence of big brutish family cars.

Do we really want a world full of Toyota Corolla and Camry clones?

Yet here lays the paradox in the SV6. It was only a brief drive, over roads cherry-picked by Holden, in pre- or early-production press cars that were undoubtedly prepared within an inch of their lives for perfection.

Nevertheless, throughout wet, dry, fast, slow, smooth and rough conditions, the SV6 displayed a level of grace, control and refinement hitherto foreign to anything wearing a Commodore badge before.

It literally ironed out road imperfections, tracked through corners of varying cambers and radii like the tyres were made of Hubba Bubba, and responded to changes of direction with the poise and focus of, well, the better BF Falcons – which, don’t forget, underwent a $500 million refit as the BA four years ago.

We can’t say for sure if, dynamically, the SV6 creams the local Fords or not, but they feel so very close. If anything, the Ford might have the sharper steering feel.

Obviously the VE seems a whole generation ahead in styling, packaging, cabin design, and is probably an advancement in safety, strength and rigidity – as you would expect from a $1 billion package – although we cannot say for sure yet.

Equally impressive is the five-speed automatic gearbox that has a BMW-style back-for-upshifts/forward-for-downshift gate. Many prefer the opposite set-up, but it comes as a surprise to learn that Holden was going to add a probable industry-first switch to accommodate all drivers’ tastes here.

Sadly, Holden didn’t offer a manual SV6 during our initial drive days.

The SV6’s performance is also an improvement over the outgoing car, and not least because the engine sounds much more eager and raring to go to the outer rev limits. That’s the new dual exhaust system talking.

Somehow, despite the big weight rise (over 100kg) and minimal output increases (albeit at lower revs than before), the VE SV6 is a powerful and refined performer.

On the downside, we were conscious of too much wind noise rustling past the driver’s A-post and exterior mirror.

The cabin’s unrelentingly dark trim and fabric treatment might be just what the sporty types want, but it isn’t ultimately as inviting or uplifting as the contrasting (and appealingly distinctive) materials used in the Omega, Berlina and Calais interiors.

The same goes for the small red-on-black instrumentation colouring, although there is certainly nothing wrong with their design or layout.

As in the other VEs, the steering wheel is stylish, a little larger than expected, but great to use and hold, backed up by VW/Audi-like switch and trip computer interfaces.

The same is also true for the clever centre console presentation.

Full marks also for the integrated front passenger airbag housing, Saab 9-3-style handbrake, world-class door trim architecture and plentiful storage solutions.

The front seats are great, while the outboard rear ones equally as comfortable, although longer-legged folk will find the big transmission tunnel an impediment to comfort.

As the thick pillars that form such a vital role in the VE’s crash safety performance allude, rear vision is poor and the fat ‘A’ post can be a pain.

In these early VE examples, poor dust and dirt sealing, revealed inside each lower-door aperture after a rough-road stint, was detected.

The placement of the power window switches beside the handbrake isn’t an ideal site, while the lack of a folding rear backrest is a huge omission for many potential buyers. Cyclists will be gutted.

Still, for those interested in a spacious, safe and dynamic sports sedan, the VE SV6 seems to have fewer compromises when it comes to the very important business of driving pleasure.

Just look at it – the latest Commodore looks like it is moving when it is standing still.

And watching it from behind as it snakes down a winding road is a reminder that people who love and care about cars were responsible for it.

After driving every VE Commodore variant currently on offer, we are excited, relieved and nervous in equal parts.

Will Australians believe how great the new Holden is from virtually every aspect? Isn’t it fantastic that it has succeeded so brilliantly!

But won’t buyers be put off as a result of the misguided hysteria already created through rash and hasty assessments, particularly regarding the VE’s fuel consumption?

The reality is, we often breached the 10L/100km barrier according to our in-car fuel consumption readouts (of course independent tests must verify these), and these included some pretty heavy thrashings.

What we are trying to say is that the VE Commodore might just be the greatest mainstream Australian family car ever, from a company that could just have easily brought us the same type of tripe represented by Holden’s own TK Barina.

With its poise, balance and linearity, the SV6 is certainly one for people who love driving on a budget – fuel consumption included.

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