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A closer look at the VF Commodore’s changes

Ring in the changes: The VF Commodore’s MyLink system can send pre-set text messages to keep the driver’s eyes on the road.

What exactly has Holden done to make this VF Commodore different to the others?

31 May 2013

HOLDEN’S entry level VF Commodore Evoke V6 now uses less fuel than an entry 2.3-litre Ford Mondeo four-cylinder. It can also be started remotely, host online music streaming, send and read text messages aloud and park itself – with a little help from the driver’s right foot, anyway.

Move up the range, as most private buyers invariably do, and you can have premium features such as a colour head-up display, a forward collision alert system – albeit without radar-guided cruise control – lane departure warning, a blind-spot monitor and a clever reverse traffic alert.

While not a clean-sheet redesign like the VE before it, Holden says the new VF is easily the most advanced Australian-made car to date. The company says it has taken some of the best technologies available in the global General Motors empire, and even premiered a few to boot.

As we know, people have to a large extent moved away from venerable large-car such as the Commodore. Sales are at their lowest point in decades, and Ford’s recent decision to axe the Falcon in 2016 could be no bigger symbol that this decline is an industry trend.

To read our detailed reviews on six new VF Commodore variants, click the links to the right of the page>>> Simply put, there’s more choice out there for private buyers, from affordable entry European hatchbacks to compact SUVs, while the fleet market has shifted to a so-called ‘user-chooser’ model where people get more of a say in what company car they drive.

By adding more premium entertainment and safety features, and by taking steps to cut weight and improve fuel economy – even though the engines are largely unchanged – Holden hopes to get its venerable large sedan and Sportwagon back on some shopping lists.

Price cuts of between $5000 and $10,000 certainly won’t hurt, either.

We’ll have to check the sales charts over the next few months to see if this is a winning strategy, but for now, let’s explain in a little more detail some of the changes to one of Australia’s best-known nameplates, in alphabetical order.

Aerodynamics: Changes to exterior styling over the VE are subtle – Holden didn’t have the funds – but that new nose and tail design looks the way it does for a reason.

Smoother surfaces on the lower front bumper, new fog lights, ‘optimised’ grille openings, higher boot and a smaller spoiler on performance versions reduce the coefficient of drag by a claimed seven per cent.

According to Holden, air deflectors on the rear wheels and air intake modifications to reduce air bleed make a further contribution to getting the fuel economy down – most notably in the Evoke, which squeezes beneath the fleet requirement of 200 grams of CO2 per kilometre (8.3L/100km).

Aluminium: VF is the first Australian-built car with an aluminium bonnet and boot. The lightweight and strong – but energy intensive and pricey – material is also used on the new instrument panel beam (a support structure between the A-pillars) as well as the front knuckles and lower control arm.

As a positive side effect, Holden also says the new beam helps improve noise, vibration and harshness. All up, the weight loss from the Commodore is 43kg – it would be higher, but Holden counteracted the losses by adding more heavy gear such as an electric steering box and all that active safety technology.

Auto Park Assist: Not a new feature, this one – think Volkswagen with its Park Assist 2 program – but notable in that it features on every single Commodore variant.

The system uses eight ultrasonic sensors in the front and rear fascias to measure either parallel or 90-degree parking bays. Once measured, the car steers itself into the bay – although the driver controls the brakes and accelerator.

The standard reversing camera allows the driver to better see what is going on.

We’ve tried it, and can say that it works – at least for us. Some others had to have a few practise runs. However, note that the car will take a three-point turn in reverse when going into a 90-degree bay, rather than moving straight in.

Active safety: Lane Departure Warning: A camera mounted on the windscreen above the rear-view mirror keeps a digital eye on the lane markings and sends a warning to the drowsy or inattentive driver who strays. It can be deactivated via a steering wheel button.

Forward Collision Alert: Fitted to the Calais V and SS V variants as standard, this system warns a driver of an impending frontal collision at speeds below 40km/h via the head-up display. However, it doesn’t apply brakes like many other systems, and does not have radar-guided cruise control.

Blind Spot Alert: Radar sensors check out the blind spots behind the car, illuminating a diode on the side mirrors when it is unsafe to switch lanes.

Reverse Traffic Alert: Radar pulses beam out at 90 degrees from the rear of the car when reversing blind from a perpendicular bay – suitable, says Holden, for when you’re trapped between two vehicles and can’t see oncoming traffic. When it senses a car travelling below 36km/h approaching, it sends out a beep.

Chassis: As well as cutting weight and adding sound insulation, Holden tweaked the chassis of the VF, even though the platform remains the same as before. More than 60 per cent of components are new or updated.

There are now three levels of chassis tune: Comfort-oriented FE1 (Evoke, Calais and Caprice), sporting FE2, which adds firmer dampers and quicker electric steering for the SV6, SS and SS V, and track-tuned FE3 for the SS V Redline that has a reduced roll angle, larger bore struts, bigger stabiliser bars and wider rear tyres.

Colour head-up display: A favourite of Holden chairman Mike Devereux, and usually the province of more expensive Euros, the colour ‘HUD’ projects four ‘screens’ onto the windscreen showing setting such as such a digital speedo, tacho, vehicle infotainment and navigation instructions.

More substantial than most, the VF’s unit can also display alerts from the forward collision system, audio functions, phone information, vehicle messages, temperature and even racing-style gear shift lights.

Electric power steering: Holden has ditched the old-school hydraulic set-up in favour of a (slightly heavier) electric unit that conserves fuel – it needs no hydraulic pump.

Three calibrations are available, with the steering feel lightened for FE1 vehicles, and given weight and on-centre sharpness for FE2 vehicles.

Global A: GM is rolling out a common electrical architecture called Global A on its vehicles. The Volt plug-in and the new Cruze already have it, and now so does the Commodore.

In short, it consists of a high- and low-speed data network that connects system modules, handling critical control systems such as the anti-lock brakes and stability control, plus all infotainment systems and switches such as the window and mirror controls.

The benefit, according to Holden? Aside from allowing the window switches to be moved to the doors, it’s a simpler, modular system that allows faster diagnosis of problems, and therefore easier and cheaper servicing.

ISOFIX: It’s still not legal here, but it soon will be. Mandated in Europe, ISOFIX simplifies the fitment of a child seat. Attachment points click in to anchors at the seat base, and are backed-up by a top-tether.

Holden – and others – says up to three-quarters of child seats under the current lap/sash belt and top-tether system are fitted incorrectly. It’s not that the current Australian system is unsafe, it’s just complicated compared with ISOFIX.

Once the seats are legalised, the VF can fit three side-by-side in the back row.

MyLink: We are already somewhat familiar with this system, which made its debut on the Barina and now features on the Cruze.

All VFs have an eight-inch touchscreen, which has integrated music streaming from Pandora and Stitcher once paired with a smartphone with a data connection.

Via the Stitcher embedded app, drivers will be able to select from more than 15,000 news, comedy, sports and talk radio shows and podcasts from global broadcasters including NPR, CNN, Fox and the BBC.

Using voice commands it’s enough to say “tune Pandora” or “tune Stitcher” for the station to start playing in a few seconds. It goes as far as enabling you to ‘thumbs up’ a song from your Pandora playlist – thereby ensuring it stays on your list of favourites – via voice recognition.

The voice recognition system is, by the way, programmed to better understand the Australian accent. Nice one, cobber.

Other apps are available, such as a navigation tool, and more are planned for down the line. But for now, Holden requires you to go to a dealer to make updates.

The voice recognition is now more thorough and accurate, and can active music or phone functions. The display also shows and reads SMS messages aloud, and even responds via pre-set replies such as “call me, I’m driving” - similar to the tricky driving mode on a Samsung Galaxy.

Remote starting: A remote vehicle start feature is available on all VF models with automatic transmission. You can start to car from 100 metres away to get the air-conditioning or heating going in advance – it even activates the seat heaters.

Once out of range of the key fob, it won’t work. So opportunists theoretically can’t jump into the ghostly running car and make off with it.

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