Car reviews - Holden - Statesman - V6 sedan
Metal for the money, rear legroom, luggage space, price
Room for improvement
Use of Commodore parts, coarse supercharged engine, boot hinges
1 Feb 2002
By TIM BRITTEN
THE Holden Statesman has never really looked back since the mid 1990s, when it dropped stylistic conservatism in favour of unashamed American brashness.
The basic elements had been there for some time but the Holden never really achieved its Fairlane-bashing potential until the 1995 VS model. With its dramatic tail-light treatment and a general styling clean-up - as well as a completely reworked V6 engine - it gained a new status in the local stretched-wheelbase market.
The arrival of the WH model in 1999 has consolidated the company's hold in the segment and has helped local car-makers in their aspirations to nibble away at the bottom end of the imported luxury car market. The top-of-the-line Series II V8 Caprice nudges the factory past the $70,000 mark for the first time (if you exclude some of the specialist HSV Holdens).
The Series II WH Statesman in fact looks a pretty good deal when compared with the most expensive versions of the short-wheelbase cars, as it is only about $3500 on top of a similarly equipped Calais.
And you do get a lot of Holden for your money.
The Statesman is available with any of the three engines offered in the regular Holden line-up, which means the buyer is able to choose between the regular 152kW V6, the supercharged 171kW V6 or the 225kW 5.7-litre V8. And whatever engine you choose, you are still going to be a good $10,000 short of what you would need to pay for a Caprice.
Standard gear in the Statesman includes driver and passenger airbags as well as front side airbags, four-channel anti-lock brakes, traction control, climate control air-conditioning, eight-way adjustable power front seats, 10-speaker 260-watt sound system with boot-mounted CD stacker, alloy wheels and cruise control.
This is in addition to a gargantuan interior and a big, useful boot. It can be a comfortable interstate conveyance for a full load of adult passengers, or a car in which real estate agents can impress clients on guided property tours.
The Statesman hardly looks any less impressive than the Caprice with its new, clear-lens headlights, remodelled grille, bolder side window surrounds and new multi-spoke alloy wheels. It is an imposing hunk of motorcar, similar in size to a long-wheelbase S-class Mercedes and has a classier look than the out-there VS model from the mid-1990s.
The transformation from Commodore to Statesman, in terms of styling, has been relatively seamless and even though there are plenty of Commodore parts, the big car looks distinctly different.
Inside, the Statesman gets plush-pile velour seats and has the same wood grain treatment on the centre console as the Caprice to impart a sense of luxury.
It misses out on the more expensive car's soft leather upholstery, individually shaped rear seats and extra detail such as the overhead climate control and sound system adjustments for rear-seat passengers, but it comes across as pretty complete. The interior is very similar to the Calais in terms of trim, except for the latter's auto-dipping rearview mirror.
The driver gets leather on the steering wheel (which also incorporates sound system controls as per all Commodores) and handbrake, an eight-way adjustable seat (but not the three-position memory that comes in the Caprice) and little touches such as a readout for the auto transmission located between the speedometer and tachometer.
There is chrome on the door handles and handbrake, plus a touch of extra velour and suede-type trim on the doors - which also get extra foot-level courtesy lights. The Statesman gets the same pockets on the forward edges of the rear seats as the Caprice, but has the larger central ski port (with armrest) used in other Holden sedans.
The Statesman's boot is a pretty serious affair too and will hold 541 litres of luggage, compared to 475 litres for Commodore sedans.
It is fully carpeted with the CD stacker housed behind the right-side wheel arch and the full-size spare sitting in its own under-floor well. Isn't it about time though that Holden started thinking about the non-intrusive boot hinges that are becoming a familiar sight even at the lower end of the market?
That the Statesman is an accommodating car there can be no doubt, especially when stepping into the rear seat. With its 151mm wheelbase stretch it picks up 10cm more rear legroom over the already quite good Commodore. Even with the front seats in their most rearward position, there is plenty of stretching room, plus plenty of elbow and shoulder room as well.
The seats are well shaped and we can vouch for at least the front pair in terms of long-distance comfort.
Our test car was equipped with the 171kW supercharged V6, a good choice at Statesman level as it adds only $1000 or so to the price but introduces the extra torque needed to balance out the big car's weight gains (at 1720kg it is barely any lighter than the Caprice and quite a bit more than the Calais).
With a decent 375Nm on hand, the supercharged Statesman never feels wanting for accelerator response although maintaining a comfortable relationship with the fuel consumption display on the trip computer is not an easy task.
The suggested averages implied by the official figures are difficult to achieve in normal commuting, even if you are prepared to resist the temptation of digging into the blown engine's readily available power.
Traction control is standard on Statesman regardless of engine, but the extra weight of the car means it is asked to step in less frequently than, for example, in a supercharged Commodore.
In the Statesman the not entirely sporty nature of the engine is less of a concern than it is in some other Commodores (why would you specify it at these levels if you weren't after extra performance), giving it the mid-range responsiveness that would be lacking with the regular V6. But it still gets a bit rowdy and uncomfortable when revved towards the upper reaches of the rpm range.
The Statesman's ride is - stately - much smoother than, say, a Calais, and the car uses its long wheelbase to advantage by minimising fore-aft pitch. Bump-absorption is a recognised Holden quality and the Statesman has an ability to quietly and efficiently deal with most rough surfaces.
The Statesman capitalises on the adoption of the new control-link version of the semi trailing arm rear suspension by reducing the diameter of the rear stabiliser bar by three millimetres. A general re-tuning of the entire suspension has also taken place, all aimed at improving ride comfort and making the car more stable both when tracking in a straight line or when rounding a corner.
The Variatronic rack and pinion steering is road-speed sensitive, intended to give a more stable feel at speed combined with increasing lightness as speeds are reduced, but it still tends to feel a little artificial compared with a regular power steering system.
However, the Statesman feels something less than 1720kg when being wielded around city streets, turning in quite well for such a large car. The new rear suspension seems to help the car feel even more supple, at the same time introducing a more certain feel at the steering wheel during cornering and on rough roads.
Holden says unsealed road performance has also benefited from the suspension rework. It is no SS, however, but is quite confidence-inspiring on tightly winding roads and the use of four-channel anti-lock braking is a welcome safeguard.
Yes, the WH Series II Statesman V6 merely reaffirms what most people already knew: Holden is on a roll with its current line-up, regardless of which level of the market, and there is no sign of any serious challenge on the immediate horizon.
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