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First look: Holden’s Commodore goes social climbing

Class above: Holden's Calais V gets more bling in the new VF edition.

Holden aims for a more upmarket, aspirational Commodore than ever before

10 Feb 2013

LIGHTER, longer, stronger and significantly more aerodynamic, the upcoming Holden VF sedan is designed to keep the Commodore contemporary as well as competitive through to the end of 2016.

The car was revealed today only in high-series Calais V sedan form, with the sporty SS-V to be unveiled next weekend to coincide with the United States launch of the American equivalent at the Daytona 500, the Chevrolet SS Performance.

The Sportwagon and utility versions will remain under cover until closer to the VF’s on-sale date in June, as will the design of the entry-level Omega, sporty SV6/SS and mid-range Berlina equivalents, although it is odds-on that some variant nameplates – notably Berlina – might not survive the transition.

Along with all the engineering details (including the Commodore’s long rumoured weight reduction process), the long-wheelbase model known as the WN Caprice is also still under wraps for now.

With VF production yet to start, managing director and chairman Mike Devereux admitted that Holden was reluctant to unveil the Calais V and SS V models four months out from launch, but the Daytona exposure and the accompanying international interest and publicity meant there was little choice but to do so.

There will be no sheetmetal changes between base and flagship VF, meaning that only the ‘soft’ items such as the bumpers, air intakes, diffusers and decorative garnishes will serve as differentiators.

We understand that a total reskin of the 2006 VE sedan was originally planned for around this time, probably involving a completely redesigned body, including new roofline, doors and glasshouse.

But financial difficulties and an accelerated, unprecedented contraction of the large car segment leading up to and beyond General Motors’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 forced a rethink.

13 center imageThanks to advances in technology and communications, Holden was far more connected on a day-to-day basis with GM’s international design studios when VF exterior styling commenced in early 2009 than when the VE was being finalised seven years earlier.

According to Holden Design director Andrew Smith, this meant a more profound global influence on the Holden’s styling than before, from Chevrolet, Buick and Opel.

Overseen by chief designer Richard Ferlazzo and exterior design manager Peter Hughes at Holden head office in Fishermans Bend, the VF’s styling is based on a series of proposals from lead designers Andy Harrison and Justin Thompson, with the final product ‘cherry picking’ the most desirable elements from a bunch of drawings.

The car was essentially in the can by the end of 2009, although it wouldn’t be until the engineering feasibility work was completed in early 2011 that the styling was signed off and frozen.

From a body point of view, only the roof, front and side pillars, A and B pillars, doors, door skins and glass are shared with the VE.

But while these and the outgoing car’s aggressively cab-backward rear-wheel drive proportions are maintained (wheelbase and track widths remain the same), the designers rounded off the nose, introduced a (fake) vertical air vent in the front mudguards to accentuate the VE’s signature door-to-wheel arch length, and tapered the rear into a longer and more aero-efficient form.

The aim was to provide a more dynamic and premium look on the road as cheaply and effectively as possible, with Mr Ferlazzo describing the changes as making the Commodore “more flamboyant and contemporary (and) way more sophisticated”.

Moving away from the sober geometric forms of the VE, both ends of the VF are all-new, sitting higher and wider than before, and adopting a treatment Holden describes as being “more layered and detailed”, with a stronger use of chrome and other embellishments.

With influences from the Opel Insignia among other models, the nose features larger halogen projector headlights that use a ‘curved blade’ park lamp effect an aluminium (instead of steel) bonnet has a subtle power bulge and ‘raking spears’ that point down to a more prominent trapezoidal grilles and the lower air intakes are bookended by LED daytime running lights and fog lamps.

A number of different grille and air intake designs visually separate each VF variant. As an example, the SS employs unique front and rear-end graphics and brightwork compared to the Calais V. More will be revealed in coming months.

In profile, Holden was keen to emphasise the rear-wheel drive proportions. The bumpers transition more smoothly into the wheelarches (which are of identical width to before), the mudguards are new, while the rear’s ‘duck tail’ up-kick – implemented to improve airflow, and reminiscent of the 1986 VL Commodore’s – serves as the base for two spoiler options on SS models – a modest one and a large ‘floating’ item.

Width and height are also underlined by the newly jewelled tail-lights that sweep around (rather than being longitudinal on the VE), extending into the boot lid that is now aluminium, while the numberplate valance is now set within the redesigned bumper, which also incorporate a number of varying diffuser executions serve to differentiate between the variants.

According to Mr Ferlazzo, the Commodore has long been all about “proportion, proportion, proportion”, so the basic VE silhouette was a great starting point for the VF.

“With such good bones, it was very easy to enhance the car,” he said.

“We wanted to make a car that is comfortable, safe, and a rewarding experience, with a level of richness … and with features … that will make people very proud to be seen in this type of car.

“We wanted to make the Commodore fresher, sleeker and more sculptural. We wanted it to look more athletic and more appealing.

“(Large cars) don’t need to be all things to all men anymore.

“There’s a lot more competition in the marketplace … and it’s afforded us the luxury of pushing this vehicle a bit more upmarket as an aspirational car.”

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