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Car reviews - Holden - Statesman - V6 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Big-car value for money, interior space, ride and handling
Room for improvement
V6 still doesn’t sound as refined as it actually is

8 Dec 2006

GoAuto 08/12/2006

AUSTRALIAN long-wheelbase sedans have been a staple of our new-car diet since the advent of the first Ford Fairlanes in the late 1960s. Ford and Holden – when the latter finally got its Fairlane-challenging Statesman off the ground in the early 1970s - have been swapping the lead since then.

But now there’s a new kid on the block. The glaringly American Chrysler 300C marched into the market out of nowhere and instantly issued a big challenge to both Ford and Holden – to the point that the former is under siege and could fall behind the impertinent newcomer in total sales to by the end of the year.

Holden looks a lot safer.

Its new WM Statesman/Caprice series is truly impressive for the depth of engineering, quality and Euro-luxury style, while in sheer road presence it gives the chunky Chrysler a good run for its money.

As now well established by Holden, the Statesman/Caprice are aligned towards slightly different driver profiles. The Caprice is more driver oriented, while the Statesman plays a more traditional role in terms of what we expect from a local long-wheelbase limo.

Many kilometres in both Statesman and Caprice have demonstrated how deeply these dynamic differences run: Passengers are usually a lot happier with the Statesman’s softer ride, while the Caprice driver is more likely to revel in the crisper responses and more assertive suspension settings, leaving passengers to hang on and brace against the G forces.

In base V6 form, the WM Statesman, if previous sales figures are anything to go by, is destined to be the bigger seller, compared with Caprice, by a margin of about four to one.

Those opting for the less-expensive alternative need have no fear about being short-changed.

Not only does the new car pick up all the usual features that are standard across the new VE Commodore range – including electronic stability control – it also adds the sort of equipment seen in option-hungry Euro luxury cars nudging $100,000.

This includes curtain airbags, active front head restraints, front and rear park-distance sensors, full leather, power front seats, dual-zone climate-control, 11-speaker MP3 compatible six-CD sound system and the usual trip computer, cruise control, steering-wheel mounted audio and in-car phone controls, as well as auto-on headlights.

Like Caprice, the dash is also noticeably different to that of the VE Commodore and has a tasteful fake-wood trim running across its full width and merging into the long-wheelbase-specific instrument panel fascia.

With a further stretch of the WL’s wheelbase the WM is now out to a quite massive 3 metres, which means the legendary inner space is even greater. The back seat legroom is almost ridiculously massive and continues as a benchmark for determining whether a car is truly big inside.

Like the Commodore, the Statesman doesn’t offer split-fold access to the boot, although the fold-down centre part of the seat is large enough to qualify as something more than your average poky ski port. Utilitarianism don’t figure quite so highly on the Statesman’s agenda as the Commodore’s, making the lack of a split-fold seat less of an imposition.

WM Statesman owners will certainly appreciate the palpable lift in quality and presentation of the new car. Materials quality, fit and finish and other touchy-feely aspects have clearly benefited from Holden’s heavy investment on making the new cars competitive on a world stage – and they needed to, because the long-wheelbase Holdens are heavily dependent on offshore sales.

The Statesman continues the Holden tradition of providing decently proportioned seats for Australian passengers. The ability to get comfortable behind the wheel should bring no grumbles from anyone not intimidated by its sheer size.

There’s a distinct impression of classy tastefulness in the Statesman that only becomes a little compromised when it’s fired up and the surprisingly agricultural sounds of the unquestionably high-tech V6 permeate – at very low levels admittedly – the cabin.

The Alloytec engine, seemingly as a consequence of Holden engineers attempting to add a little aural life to the so-far unfulfilling 3.6-litre multi-valve, multi-cam VVT V6, is now more vociferous on the road, but not in an entirely convincing way. It drones, rather than sings. Maybe Holden should talk to Alfa Romeo engineers who have done a great job of making the engine sound good in the 157 sedan and Brera coupe.

At the same time, the engine doesn’t have a problem coping with the Statesman’s 1.8-tonne bulk.

In a way it has recovered some of the step-off acceleration so blatant in early VN Commodore Ecotec V6s – for which we can partly thank the five-speed auto transmission that is standard fare in the six-cylinder Statesman.

Unless you continually exploit the V6’s undeniable ability to rev, where it nevertheless begins to sound a bit frantic, you’ll find it an easy-going, responsive powerplant capable of delivering reasonable fuel economy (Holden’s official figure is about the same as the previous V6 Statesman at 11.7L/100km, although that can vary wildly depending on how, and where, the car is driven. We saw worse, and better on our week-long test).

The Statesman’s ride and handling demonstrate just how far this new WM series has come.

With a much stiffer chassis, and a suspension system said by Holden engineers to be geometrically the equal of any luxury car on the planet and only in need of refinement (air springs, variable-rate shock absorbers) to bring it head-to-head with the best, the Statesman is both confident and passenger-friendly on the road.

Gone is the heavily weighted, numb steering of previous Holdens dating back to VX Commodores. It is replaced by a brisk, sensitive system undisturbed by bumps and somewhat easier to handle when parking.

There’s a lightness of being not experienced before in big Holdens, yet the nicely controlled, big-car ride is still there, enhanced by the much stronger body which not only helps feelings of solidity but is also a part of the Statesman’s steady, quiet progress at speed. Appropriately for a big luxury car, wind noise, road noise and tyre noise are all well attenuated.

And with its standard dynamic and passive safety systems, there’s an assurance you’re riding in a car that offers levels of security that were only a dream less than a decade ago.

If you get the impression we’re liking the new Statesman, you’re right.

Large cars may not be our favourite flavour at the moment, but as yet there’s no sign of a suitable replacement offering the same easy, long-distance, five-passenger cruising abilities. A situation where the big Holden’s true colours – and potential fuel economy - become apparent.

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