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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - SV8 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, steering, subtlety
Room for improvement
Price, equipment level, transmissions

9 Jan 2003

CAR buyers with a conservative bent and a hunger for shut-'em-down performance will probably lament the passing of the V8-engined Commodore Executive.

No longer is it possible to flick through the options list and shoehorn Holden's 5.7-litre V8 into your white, innocent-looking, steel-wheeled family sedan.

Today, with the advent of the VY series Commodore, the only way to equip yourself with a V8 is to go upmarket - well, at least to $40,000 "S" specification, where the Gen III engine makes its first appearance on the price list.

If you're beginning to think this a pretty raw deal considering how cheaply the combination could be had in the past (just over $35,000), there are a number of incentives to sweeten the deal.

It may not suit the less flamboyant driver, but the SV8 Commodore does throw in a set of neat, 17-inch alloy wheels, a boot spoiler and various other identifiers including relatively discreet side skirts, an SS rear bumper and black-background head and tail-light clusters.

Inside, Holden's interior designers have added woven "spiral" trim for a more distinguished touch.

Of course, the more important stuff is the stuff you can't really see and this includes Holden's effective but not jarringly sporty FE2 suspension along with traction control and four-channel anti-lock braking (regular Commodores use a three-channel system). And, in manual form, there's also the long-legged six-speed transmission.

So, Holden customers, what you get with your new SV8 (the S is still also available with either regular V6 or supercharged V6 power) is, under the skin, almost precisely the same package that underpins the overtly rorty, but almost $10,000 more expensive SS.

The wheels are down one inch on the SS's 18-inch hoops and you miss out on the tactility of a leather-wrapped steering wheel and more sculpted seats, but the dynamics are virtually identical.

And, to be sure, the intrinsic appeal of the car is all tied up in the deep-chested, casually quick V8.

Where Ford's turbocharged (and slightly more expensive) XR6 is all high-tech clinical efficiency, the SV8 strokes its way along to an alluring beat from its eight muscular cylinders.

In its latest, 235kW guise, the Gen III loses the understated, hissing acoustics of the past and gains a deep, distant but satisfying rumble that in itself is enough to seduce a potential buyer.

The adoption of a full, divided exhaust nicely exploits the intrinsic aural appeal while also playing a part in extracting the extra 10kW.

The GenIII has never been a paragon of low-speed flexibility, but there can still be no denying its sheer size - and it is not likely to leave you waiting around for a surge of useful power.

Maximum torque may not appear until 4400rpm, but that doesn't mean there is not plenty available below that (it's easy to think though that the original de-tuning of the engine for Commodore might have played a part in its unusually rev-dependent characteristics).

Our manually-equipped test SV8 was usually a pleasure to slip through the gears, although there was occasional confusion when attempting a skip-shift from sixth to fourth, or third.

Otherwise, the box moves relatively lightly through the ratios with its not-too-heavy clutch and well-defined shift pattern. It is certainly more fluid to use than Ford's manual Falcon gearbox.

The V8 will deliver a pupil-dilating blast of power whenever asked, making good use of the traction control, yet retains the flexibility that enables it to be stroked along at a reasonable pace, using barely any of the revs available.

This may prove to be the discipline applied by long-term SV8 drivers because fuel economy is very sensitive to how the engine is used. We worked hard at keeping the average consumption below 13 litres/100km in a mix of driving conditions.

Like all other Commodores, the SV8 gets the new, more precise steering system which is an immediately noticeable improvement even if it is still not as nice to use as Ford's.

Ditto for the suspension, which does a pretty good job of gobbling up road irregularities at the expense of introducing a little softness and body movement when it is being hunted along. Where the Falcon feels affirmative, the Commodore tends to feel a little conciliatory.

The four-channel brakes that come whenever traction control is used (both use individual rear-wheel activation, rather than activating the rear wheels together as in three-channel, non traction-control systems) are strong and well up to the task - although they do require more pedal effort than those of the Falcon XR6.

The SV8's interior is not a huge leap over Executive, although you do at least get power windows and different trim, as well as a red background to the instruments, to remind you that you are not quite in a taxi.

The new instrument panel is an improvement that adds to the Commodore's impressions of class and tactility, and the seats were always pretty comfortable anyway, if lacking in the lateral grip usually sought by a sportily inclined driver.

The new steering wheel looks and feels good, too, but it would have been nice to see some leather trim on the SV8.

In the end, what you get with the SV8 is a pretty complete performance package that lacks the pizzazz of an SS yet is more of a standout on the road than a Commodore Executive.

The engine actually feels pretty refined and, if you're beginning to compare with the similarly priced but fundamentally different XR6 turbo, it still comes down to a battle between brains and brawn.

For most Australians, the appeal of a muscular V8 is hard to deny.

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