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First look: Holden outs new VF Commodore

Here it is: Holden’s new VF Commodore has been revealed in its flagship luxury Calais V form.

Holden’s sophisticated VF Commodore is the latest and greatest – but not the last

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Holden logo9 Feb 2013

By RON HAMMERTON

HOLDEN today revealed its new high-tech VF Commodore – and promised it would not be the last iconic Aussie large car from the company that started it all in 1948.

Dripping with electronic gadgets and cloaked in some lightweight aluminium panels for the first time, the Australian-designed and engineered VF was shown in flagship Calais V form – a one-off, hand-built example – this morning at Melbourne’s Docklands.

GM Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux said the VF was the most technologically advanced car ever built in Australia “without a doubt”.

He said the sophistication, technology and performance of the VF would make it a “no-excuses world-class vehicle – no asterisks”.

Still four months away from its showroom release in June, the new Commodore line-up will be revealed progressively, with the top sports model, the SS-V, next to be shown in an event coinciding with the unveiling of the Chevrolet SS export version in the United States next weekend ahead of the Daytona 500 where the Aussie car will lead General Motors’ NASCAR racing charge this season.

Today’s event was almost overshadowed by a bombshell on Friday from Mr Devereux who suddenly announced to journalists that the VF Commodore would not be the last of the line, with an all-new model – dubbed ‘VJ’ – already under development at Holden’s Melbourne design and engineering centre (see separate story).

Many pundits had speculated that the VF Commodore – a major reworking of the VE Commodore – would be killed off from the end of 2016 when Holden is due to start production of a two all-new models on a re-jigged production line at its Elizabeth factory in South Australia.

Work has already started work at the plant on a new body shop for the new models, now believed to be the next-generation Cruze small car and derivatives, along with the next Commodore, in just three to four years.

Until then, the VF will carry Holden’s hopes of reinvigorating Australia’s large-car segment and reversing its own sliding market share from June.

Holden would have preferred not to have revealed the new model this far in advance of the showroom release, but its hand was forced by its American cousin Chevrolet and former Holden boss Mark Reuss – now GM North America president – who were adamant they wanted to preview the car in time for the NASCAR racing season.

To minimise the impact on sales of the current VE Commodore, Holden has withheld pricing and critical product details such as powertrains, performance figures, full specifications or fuel economy figures.

The base Commodore and Sportwagon and Ute variants are also being kept under wraps as long as possible, until about May, but we can tell you that the VF gets a raft of high-tech gadgets and safety features that until recently were only available on high-end luxury cars.

All Commodores will get an anti-collision warning system that uses a camera mounted behind the windscreen to detect imminent danger, while at least some VFs will get an auto parking system that, like Volkswagen’s Passat, can park both parallel to the kerb and end-on.

Rear parking sensors not only beep when objects are detected behind the vehicle but also warn of approaching traffic. Other safety features include blind-spot alert and lane-departure warning.

A head-up display that can show speedo, tacho, sat-nav instructions and other functions in colour on the windscreen is included.

The Commodore’s interior has been totally reworked with the objective of lifting levels of ambience, comfort and features to luxury car levels. However, cabin space remains about the same.

A large LCD touchscreen embedded in the middle of the dash is central to many new functions in the Commodore, including GM’s internet-connected MyLink system that can play web radio via a Bluetooth streaming connection to a mobile phone via Pandora app.

New fronts seats have been installed, while the dash gets a totally new layout with new up-market trim surfaces including stitched suede, chrome and, on the Calais-V, fake wood.

Controls have all been reworked after feedback from both Australian and American customers, with no fewer than nine buttons on the new flat-bottomed steering wheel to not only adjust the cruise control, audio volume and Bluetooth phone connectivity but also control the new collision warning and lane-departure warning systems.

The centre console has been swept clean, with VE’s console-mounted electric window switches banished to the door grab handles and the parking brake handle replaced with an electric parking switch.

This frees up more room for storage, including two big cupholders and storage bins fore and aft on the console, which is lit by “ice blue” ambient lighting.

Outside, the VF Commodore’s sheetmetal is all new forward of the A-pillars and rear of the C-pillars.

The bonnet and boot are now fashioned from aluminium alloy to save weight, with the bonnet getting a more prominent raised profile, while the rear of the vehicle echoes these stronger lines.

Unsurprising, the effect is rather Chevrolet, with the American brand getting the same sheetmetal in its SS version that will be exported from Australia to North America later this year.

Holden’s chief designer for creative design, Richard Ferlazzo, said his team had raised the bar on the Commodore, keeping the strong elements of the VE – such as the pronounced front wheelarches – but adding greater sophistication.

“We have taken an existing form and brought it up to another level,” he said.

The Calais shown today gets a large chrome grille, but other models, including the SS and base Commodore, will get unique front and rear styling treatments, especially around the front air openings.

Mr Ferlazzo said the design had been “tuned to the nth degree” to improve aerodynamic performance, and while he and other Holden executives would not divulge fuel economy figures, he said engineers had been getting “some good numbers … some great numbers”.

As expected, the fuel economy will be enhanced with a new electric-assisted power steering system that was one of the fuel-saving features developed for Commodore with a $39.8 million federal government Green Car Innovation Fund co-development grant.

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