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First drive: Commodore gets VYII treatment

Lap of luxury: VYII Calais heads upmarket, while Berlina fills Calais’ luxury shoes.

More equipment, refinement and a sporty new Calais headline VYII Commodore range

13 Aug 2003

A SPORTIER Calais is the most significant change in a revised Series II VY Commodore range released on Monday by Holden.

The more aggressively styled Calais has been moved upmarket in a similar way to the recently facelifted long-wheelbase WK Caprice, as part of a mid-model update for Australia’s most popular large car.

The VYII revisions, which include an extra 10kW peak power output for all V8 models, new wheels for most models and a host of minor specification changes, bring with them price rises of between one and 2.5 per cent across the range, plus a rise in official weights.

Holden says the VYII upgrade, which is claimed to focus on refinement and detail, required some 150,000 staff hours to complete, including more than 400,000km in durability testing.

The move uptown by the revised Calais, which features bigger 17-inch alloy wheels, sportier suspension, black mesh bumper inserts, a sports grille and front, rear and side skirts, has made way for a better equipped Berlina, which now features front foglights, leather and chrome interior highlights and different 16-inch alloy wheels.

Bringing it closer in peak power terms to Ford’s popular 260kW XR8, peak power output of the Chevrolet-sourced 5.7-litre Gen III V8 found in SS sedan/ute, SV8 sedan and Monaro CV8 coupe has increased to 245kW (at 5600rpm, up from 235kW at 5200rpm).

There is no difference in torque – remaining at 465Nm at 4000rpm – following the changes, which include engine recalibration, a high-flow air-cleaner and full dual exhaust system.

In turn, limiting the number of Holden’s V8 engine variants to two, is the increase from 225 to 235kW for the optional V8 for Berlina, Calais and Ute S, with maximum torque remaining at 460Nm at 4000rpm.

Now bettering Ford’s Barra 220 single overhead cam V8 by 15kW in terms of output, Holden’s optional base V8 remains unavailable in Executive, Acclaim and S sedan models. One Tonner S will offer the upgraded V8 from January, 2004.

Commodore’s cast-iron pushrod V6 boasts no such output increases, producing the same 152kW and 305Nm of torque. The trusty GM V6 will, however, receive engine calibration changes and two close-coupled catalytic converters to meet emissions standard ADR 79/00 from January, 2004. The same catalyst specification will be fitted to V8 models from launch.

In other changes, all 245kW models now feature a front suspension strut tower brace “to cope with the additional energy load associated with heavy acceleration and high torque sports performance”.

Commodore S is now equipped with larger 17 x 8.0-inch alloy wheels and Commodore S and SV8 both receive Bridgestone RE030 235/45 R17 tyres said to provide improved linearity and on-centre feel with reduced coarse-chip road and low-speed graunch.

VYII and Monaro III models now also feature “acid etch resistance” on all clear coat finishes, applied at the end of the paint shop process before baking to provide better “stone chip, scratching and environmental fallout resistance (bird droppings)”.

A factory-fitted sunroof – said to feature better headlining quality, reduced wind noise, better corrosion protection and a minimum 10-year service life – is now available across the Commodore range.

Matching Falcon, now standard across the Commodore sedan range is power front windows, adjustable front lumbar, overhead sunglasses holder, audible/visual driver’s seatbelt warning and rear reading lights, while Executive and Acclaim now go one better by offering cruise control as standard. All models have also received steering column modifications aimed at reducing occupant injury in a frontal collision.

Acclaim, Calais and Monaro models benefit from a new active head restraint system as standard (including a 34mm-longer seatback), while all wagon models now feature another Saab-sourced device – aircraft-style cargo rails for extra tie-down capacity, plus a retracting roller blind.

All VYII sedans and utes – with the exception of the base Ute and SS sedan – now feature new-design alloy wheels.

The sole distinguishing feature of VYII wagons and utes is new jewelled tail-lights, while S Ute/sedan and SV8 models now employ the discontinued Monaro CV6’s chrome ringed instruments and Quicksilver paint is offered across the ute range for the first time.


HOLDEN admits it is a risky decision to give Calais, formerly the luxury car of the Commodore range, a more sporting bent in the same vein as the new Caprice.

While Caprice is a low-volume long-wheelbase model, Calais represents a far more sizeable slice of Holden’s bread-and-butter Commodore sales. So The General is gambling on attracting a higher number of driving enthusiasts to the Calais nameplate than the number of luxury buyers it might lose.

Of course, a number of moves have been made to position Berlina higher in the Commodore range to fill the void left by Calais, with some Holden people privately admitting the revised Berlina is now the “old man’s car” of the Commodore range.

Whatever happens in the showrooms, Calais now targets a different type of buyer than before, with more aggressive front, rear and side skirts complemented by chunky, HSV-style mesh bumper inserts and new, in-ya-face 17-inch sports alloys.

Combined with a heavily chromed grille surround and dark tail-lights, the new-look Calais takes on an entirely different demeanour than its less flamboyant predecessor.

The sports theme continues inside, assisted by new items like a leather-wrapped steering wheel, illuminated steering wheel audio controls, three-position driver’s seat memory, tailored floor mats and, most convincingly, black headliner and pillar trims like those found in the SS.

New bucket seats feature a longer seatback to house the new active front head restraints and are trimmed in new-style woven velour upholstery, while surprising new features include heated mirrors that dip on the passenger side while reversing.

On the road, in either standard V6 or optional supercharged V6 guise, it is hard to pick the VYII differences. The bigger wheels and sportier suspension, which features firmer spring and damping rates that are around halfway between the previous Calais specification and Holden’s sports FE2 suspension setting, provide slightly crisper turn-in and a less floaty feel.

Combined with the VY’s revised steering, the new Calais suspension does a good job of combining a high level of ride quality with impressive steering and handling response.

While the refreshingly sporty suspension is the most noticeable change behind the wheel of VYII Calais, also evident is the extra urge offered by its optional 235kW V8. With an extra 10kW of peak power and an extended top-end rev range, the greater rewards are there if you don’t mind a few more revs.

Of course, torque is unchanged so day-to-day driving is effected little, and of course the coarse V6 and even more coarse supercharged V6 are unchanged. So too is Commodore’s clunky four-speed GM automatic, which won’t be replaced by a five-speed auto until this time next year.

As for the rest of the Commodore range, it is mostly window dressing.

Exceptions include the addition of cruise control, lumbar adjustment, sunglass holder and power front windows for Executive, which hits back at XT Falcon’s impressive standard equipment list.

Acclaim picks up similar handy items, while even handier load-carrying conveniences like cargo rails and a roller blind have been added to the Executive, Acclaim and Berlina wagons.

Along with Calais, Commodore S also picks up larger, 17-inch alloy wheels, while SV8 picks up front power windows and cruise control too. SV8 and S sedan and ute models get the discontinued Monaro CV6’s chrome-ringed instruments.

The SV8 and flagship SS sports models both pick up a 245kW version of Holden’s 5.7-litre V8, which now falls just 15kW short of HSV’s and feels considerably stronger at the top end. The addition of a strut tower brace up front – as featured by many more serious sports cars – also plays a role in both models’ tighter overall chassis feel.

Interestingly, SS is the only VYII model not to score new wheels, but it does pick up the sporty new, Euro-feel black headlining, along with a handy seatbelt sash height adjuster, among other things.

Berlina is perhaps the second biggest winner after Calais, now featuring front foglights and leather and satin chrome interior trim highlights.

Meantime, the VYII Ute range is least changed, offering only slightly different tail-lights as the exterior giveaway. The base ute does pick up power driver’s seat adjustment and steering wheel audio controls, while the S now gets body-coloured mirrors and front foglights.

Of course, Ute SS - which now features the 245kW V8, black headlining, strut brace, illuminated steering wheel controls and colour-coded instruments - offers the greatest driving difference in a VYII Commodore range that must be branded strictly evolutionary rather than revolutionary.


HOLDEN has announced price rises across the board for its updated VY Series II Commodore range and Monaro.

The rises range between one per cent on sedan, ute and Monaro models, to 2.5 per cent for the sportier Calais model.

The increase comes as no surprise, following Holden’s decision to hold pricing at the time of the VY Commodore’s introduction in August, 2002, just weeks before the launch of Ford’s new BA Falcon range.

While Commodore and Falcon have both increased in price since then, there will be no equivalent BAII launch this year, so the latest (VYII) price rise sees entry level Commodore pricing leapfrog its Falcon rivals, although Holden’s sports, luxury and utility models remain below Falcon levels.

Although still not standard, we have included air-conditioning as part of the Executive’s price, as follows, for comparative purposes. Virtually all base model Commodores are sold with air-conditioning.

ModelVYII ($) VY ($)BA Falcon($)
Executive33,92033,580XT $33,740
Executive (a)34,69034,350 XT (a) $34,660
Executive wagon (a)36,61036,270XT wagon (a)$36,445
Acclaim (a)38,27037,890Futura (a) $38,015
Acclaim wagon (a) 40,21039,810Futura wagon (a) $39,450
S (a)38,73038,160XR6 (a) $39,455
S s'charged (a)40,36039,790
SV841,55040,940XR6T $45,085
SV8 (a)41,55040,490XR6T (a) $46,005
SS 49,99049,490XR8 $50,130
SS (a)49,99049,490XR8 (a) $51,050
Berlina (a) 41,79041,290Fairmont (a)$42,450
Berlina V8 (a)46,39045,890 Fairmont V8 (a) $49,170
Berlina wagon (a)44,690 44,190
Berlina wagon V8 (a)49,29048,790
Calais (a)49,91048,690Fairmont Ghia (a) $51,135
Calais s’charged (a)51,01049,790
Calais V8 (a)54,61053,390 Fairmont Ghia (a) $56,135
Monaro CV859,35058,750
Monaro CV8 (a)59,350 58,750
Ute25,72025,190XL Ute $26,450
Ute (a)26,490 25,960XL Ute (a) $27,370
Ute S31,970 31,950XLS Ute $29,380
Ute S (a)32,74032,420XLS Ute (a) $30,300
Ute S V836,970 36,650XLS V8 $34,380
Ute S V8 (a)36,97036,650XLS V8 (a) $35,300
Ute SS40,14039,340XR8 $40,925
Ute SS (a) 40,14039,340 XR8 (a) $41,845
One Tonner (a) 26,490
One Tonner S (a) 32,240
One Tonner S V836,470
One Tonner S V8 (a) 36,470
*Also check out our comprehensive model-by-model and old-versus-new weight tables in New Models, plus in the News section how departing Holden boss Peter Hanenberger and the Commodore's 25-year history are inextricably linked.

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