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First drive: Holden leans harder on VE Berlina

Ich bin ein Berlina: Holden has given its Commodore midranger greater identity and differentiation, as well as more responsibility.

Holden is hoping to lure more private buyers than ever with its VE Berlina sedan

Holden logo7 Aug 2006

ARGUABLY the most crucial car for Holden in its VE Commodore line-up is the Berlina, priced from $39,990 - $3900 less than its VZ predecessor. As the model made to woo Middle Australia, the Holden that has – since 1984’s VK series – been the quasi-luxury-statement Commodore must now also convey affordable aspiration as well.

Of course, Holden still expects corporate and lease fleets to make up the majority of Berlina sales, but this time the individual buyer is its new focus.

No longer is the Berlina merely Holden’s foil for Ford’s Fairmont, up-spec Toyota Camrys and Mitsubishi 380s and the Nissan Maxima.

With large car popularity waning, prestige and four-cylinder petrol (and diesel) sales soaring and lighter SUVs are maintaining their market share, today the Berlina must also fend off $40,000 rivals as disparate as the Mazda6, Volkswagen Golf, Toyota RAV4, Volvo V50 and Ford Territory.

So, of all the VE Commodore models released this month, it is the Berlina that has to stray furthest from its traditional comfort zone to seize new customers for Holden – a tall order, for when did you last see a VZ Berlina?"Competition is fierce, and although VFACTS highlights discreet market segments, the reality of life these days is that market segments overlap and intertwine line never before," says Holden’s executive director of sales, marketing and aftersales, Alan Batey.

To help it along, Holden has simplified the overlapping old Executive/Acclaim nomenclature by ejecting them for Omega, for more effective and focussed fleet penetration, while creating greater model differentiation for Berlina, SV6, Calais and SS.

In the case of the Berlina this equates to a new grille treatment featuring a prominent horizontal twin-bar appliqué, as well as a revised cabin dashboard and trim treatment dominated by a blonde strip of faux wood.

"... What we’ve done for VE is reposition them to new price points to give them genuine retail and user-chooser appeal," Mr Batey explains.

So although the base-car Omega will account for the lion’s share of the VE’s expected sales projections, it is the Berlina that Holden hopes will be the first port of call for novated lease and private customers.

"Most private buyers want to ‘spec up’ their cars," a Holden spokesman said, adding that they want to spend a little bit more on something special. This is where the Berlina comes in.

At $39,990, it represents a $5500 jump over the base Omega, but adds air-conditioning (a $2000 Omega option), side airbags (but not curtain airbags), climate control air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, rear parking radar and a six-stack CD audio upgrade.

ESP electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist, dual front airbags, cruise control, a trip computer, remote central locking, powered driver’s seat, power windows and mirrors and MP3 CD audio are already standard Omega faire.

Leather trimmed seats and curtain airbags form a $2500 safety pack, sports suspension adds $695, a sunroof (by the suppliers to Rolls-Royce) is $1690, metallic paint costs $375 extra while an overhead DVD player will set buyers back $1290.

Like the Omega, the Berlina uses the base version of the locally made, Euro III-emissions compatible 3.6-litre LE0 Alloytec V6.

It features more power, more torque and a flatter torque curve than before thanks to the implementation of a revised pedal map, new variable intake manifold and completely redesigned exhaust system.

13 center imageThe VE’s V6 delivers 180kW of power at 6000rpm (up 8kW on the outgoing VZ Berlina) and 330Nm of torque at 2600rpm (up 10Nm).

The American-made GM 4L60E four-speed automatic is the only gearbox available with this powerplant.

Extensively recalibrated from the VZ, it features a direct input speed sensor for better shift feel and smoothness, and better acceleration feel.

Berlina is the cheapest VE Commodore V8 automatic, since an extra $5000 over the V6 buys you the 270kW/530Nm 6.0-litre GEN IV L98 unit and six-speed automatic gearbox combination. No manual V8 is available with this model.

The Berlina V6 returns 10.9L/100km on the ADR081/01 fuel economy average, and 14.3L/100km for the V8, representing a 0.1L/100km improvement and 0.3L rise, respectively, over the equivalent VZ versions.

Brakes are by 298mm front and 302mm rear ventilated rotors, using twin-piston front and single-piston rear callipers.

Unfortunately the 3.6-litre High Output LY7 Alloytec V6 – producing 195kW at 6500rpm and 340Nm at 2600rpm, is barred from the Berlina, and is its slick five-speed sequential shift automatic gearbox.

For this engine and gearbox you must opt for the sporty SV6 at $40,990, or go luxury with the $45,490 Calais V6 automatic.

Holden has offered a ‘luxury’ alternative to its bread-and-butter base cars since the FJ Special arrived to complement the Standard model in October 1953.

The 1962 EJ Premier delivered unparalleled features in a Holden (separate seats, a lower console with standard heater). The Premier stayed on until the demise of the HZ range in 1980.

Meanwhile the 1978-1981 VB/C Commodore alternative wore an SL badge, until the short-lived SL/X took over for the 1981-1984 VH.

Along with Berlina, the 1984 VK also introduced the Calais and now dead Executive nameplates.

"Our objectives... extend to generating more sales to private buyers and user-choosers, selling an improved model mix through more sales of Berlina (as well as SS and Calais)," Mr Batey revealed.

2006 Holden VE Berlina pricing:

Berlina V6: $39,990
Berlina V8: $44,990
First Drive: VE sets a new Aussie benchmark

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