Car reviews - Holden - Monaro - CV8 coupe
Extra performance, extra driveability, beefier exhaust note, more subtle traction control, improved handling, improved braking
Room for improvement
Fuel consumption, auto still prehistoric, lack of interior changes, bonnet scoops
13 Sep 2004
By TIM BRITTEN
THE looks may be only slightly altered, but anyone expecting the VZ Monaro to be pretty much the same as the car that first rolled out in 2001 could be in for something of a shock.
Just about all of this has to do simply with the way the new CV8 Monaro accelerates. But it’s enough, in this instance, to endow the big two-door coupe with a whole new character.
The VZ Monaro is a rumbling, confidently aggressive beast that will take on just about anything in a scrap. It’s also the most powerful car Holden has produced, with more horsepower by far than the hulking GTS 350 Monaros of the early 1970s.
The current Monaro’s new-found vigour comes from basically two things: There are power and torque increases - from 245 to 260kW, and from 465 to 500Nm – and a rearrangement of the six-speed manual transmission’s gearing to give a closer-matched set of intermediate ratios.
The VZ’s 260kW output is well above the original 2001 CV8’s 225kW - as is the torque, which was a mere 460Nm in 2001.
The extra power was squeezed out of the 5.7-litre V8 through attention to things like the camshaft, re-calibration of the engine management to capitalise better on premium fuel and a throatier, more efficient exhaust system. Premium fuel is required if your CV8 is to match the factory power output figures.
The result of all this is a marked difference in the way the Monaro drives, compared with any other current Holden V8 - including even the now 250kW SS Commodore sedan, which picked up a shorter (for more accelerator response) final drive ratio with the 2004 VZ model.
The Monaro underlays all this with a lovingly tuned dual exhaust system that gives the Gen III V8 an omnipresence it’s never had before. It is now what it probably always should have been, more able than ever to do justice to its heritage.
A lot of what the Holden coupe is today has to do with its dual roles as a Monaro in Australia, and a Pontiac GTO in the USA.
The latter is responsible, for example, for the latest version’s relocation of the fuel tank out of harm’s way ahead of the rear axle. This might meet US safety legislation, but it severely restricts boot use, and absolutely precludes even ski-port access to the boot.
The slightly smaller (by five litres) 70-litre fuel tank sits dominantly, more or less directly behind the dual rear seats. The boot is now definitely more in keeping with the Monaro’s coupe configuration, way smaller than the massive Commodore-equivalent compartment of the previous Monaro.
What use has been made of the areas liberated by the removal of the fuel tank? Not a lot, apart from Holden’s fiddling with the aerodynamics in the under-body area to improve airflow, and the fitting of twin exhaust outlets, one on either side. The spare sitting under the boot floor is still a space-saver.
But the CV8 Monaro remains a nicely balanced, lovely-looking coupe, a little more macho now, with the twin bonnet scoops and more aggressive front and rear bumpers. The 18-inch wheels are fitted with 235/40ZR18 tyres that provide the required grip while not compromising too much the inherent Commodore-based ride quality.
Holden’s FE2 suspension pack remains a well-sorted compromise between ride comfort and handling finesse.
The CV8’s performance focus is accentuated further by the brakes, which are now the biggest used in any Holden and include red twin-pot front callipers as well as larger front and rear disc rotors. Only the front discs are ventilated though.
The system adopts all the technology used across the Commodore range including four-channel ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.
The Monaro gets, and needs, traction control, operating through the new electronic throttle control and the ABS.
Visually there’s not a lot to identify the latest Monaro, apart from the addition of the aforementioned bonnet scoops, and new front and rear bumpers. A subtle giveaway though is the location of the fuel filler high on the right-side rear guard.
With the Commodore sedans moving towards a more "technical" sharp-edged look, the Monaro separates itself from its four-door cousins by retaining the more rounded lines of the VT.
The Monaro’s bonnet is more curvaceous than the latest VZ Commodore and the tail-lights are still the same basic shape as the original. The rear-view mirrors are the same as before too, quite different to the angular units used on other VZs.
Inside, the Monaro looks plush and inviting, moreso than, say, the current SS, which looks somehow less special than it once did.
The Monaro’s glossy piano-black trim around the centre console area and the crisp-looking, colour-coded and silver-framed instruments contrast with the SS’s slightly Mickey Mouse instrument graphics.
Another Monaro identifier for 2005 is the twin-pod arrangement atop the central dash that contains a voltmeter and an oil pressure gauge.
"Drilled" alloy-faced floor pedals help set off the interior and there’s an anti-glare, electro-chromatic rearview mirror to go some of the way towards justifying the plus-$60,000 price tag.
The Monaro also picks up technology that is not yet widespread in local Holdens, such as "active" anti-whiplash front headrests, in addition to the usual dual front and front side airbags.
The Monaro’s seats are big and cosy, incorporating a three-position memory on the driver’s side that allows pre-setting of all power seat adjustments but unfortunately does not include the rearview mirrors.
A good, but sometimes frustrating feature is the power slide-forward of the front seats when access to the twin rear seats is required. It’s frustrating because the sliding process is a little slow.
Stepping into the Monaro, one of the first things many people notice is the steeper angle of the windscreen. This means the A-pillars swoop down in a way that requires a little care if you’re tall because it’s easy to smite the frame with your head.
Once seated inside, you’ll probably also notice that the Monaro doesn’t have the same headroom as the Commodore sedan, even with the front seats sets in their lowest position. The seat configuration is quite different in the Monaro, with all cushions lower-set to maximise the headroom. The back seats are not as commodious as a Commodore, but still reasonably spacious for a coupe.
The 260kW V8 is intrusively audible from the moment it is fired up, rumbling away at idle with a quite discernible rocking motion. For the performance-minded, lovely stuff.
And from the moment the clutch is dropped, the car instantly feels fast.
There’s none of the over-geared feeling evident in even the latest SS - just plenty of eager, throaty response in all gears. If the Gen III has been accused in the past of suffering from disappointing low-down torque, this latest version seems to have pretty well overcome it.
The figures already suggest there’s something going on because even though the torque has lifted to a meaty 500 Newton meters, the revs needed to produce it have dropped. The current SS requires 4800rpm to produce its 470Nm, while the CV8 delivers its 500Nm at 4000rpm.
This, with the closer-set gearbox ratios, eliminates any suggestion of tardiness, and even gives the Monaro decent response from well below 2000rpm.
Even though the V8 is only spinning at around 1600rpm at 100km/h in sixth gear, it will still pull away cleanly and quite responsively with a squeeze on the accelerator. Drop it back to fifth and the response increases significantly.
Shifting through the six-speed box in out test car was smooth and decisive enough, although we have had current Gen III SS manuals that haven’t shifted so willingly.
The Monaro’s ride is firm and decisive, yet far from uncomfortable. There appears to be sufficient travel to swallow large bumps, as well as enough compliance in the suspension to take the edge off sharper potholes and jutting irregularities.
The steering feels weightier than SS Commodores, although it picks up the VZ refinements like the new, lighter power steering pump. The Monaro was deemed not to require the front end geometry changes that sharpened up the steering response of VZ Commodores.
So, with the already well-sorted ride and handling, and with a more purposeful braking system, the CV8 defines quite well what a local performance car should be. The engine delivers, at last, what we always felt a 5.7-litre V8 should deliver. The bottom end torque is now more in keeping with expectations and it revs quite cleanly – and vocally – too.
With the changes, plus 50kg or so of extra weight, Holden says the fuel consumption has increased a tad, but on test we had the Monaro returning a not-disastrous 13.9 litres per 100km – better than the official 15.3L/100km figure (interestingly the four-speed auto CV8, which now gets a lower final-drive ratio for improved acceleration, is claimed to return better fuel consumption, at 13.7L/100km).
It’s strange in some ways to realise the Monaro is now an accepted part of our landscape when we were not sure, at the concept’s first showing at the Sydney motor show in 1998, whether it was ever going to happen at all.
The Monaro took a very understated place in the Holden display at the 2005 Melbourne motor show. Yet it still attracts attention on the road. And, today, the performance delivery is very much in keeping with the way it looks.
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