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First drive: Refresher course for Monaro

Minor changes: A touch-up here and a polish there are designed to keep Monaro fresh.

Holden updates Monaro with a little more power and equipment

10 Dec 2002

THE hullabaloo over Monaro is finally dying down a little. The "must have" coupe from the 1997 Sydney motor show has been designed, built, launched and found its way into more than 4000 homes.

Now comes the grind - the challenge Holden faces of maintaining interest in Monaro.

Sports cars are not renowned for their longevity, they have a sales curve resembling the short, steep trajectory of a nine iron.

Holden heavies have been on the record since its launch as saying Monaro will probably only survive four years on the market. They are still holding to that even though Monaro has been wildly successful by sports car standards in this country. In its first full year it will sell around 4300 examples.

In year two Holden estimates around 3200 local Monaro sales - so you can see the downward trend is underway. But there is another issue in all this - the deal to supply 18,000 Monaros per annum to the US as Pontiac GTOs, which muddies the production schedule waters a bit.

It gives Monaro a chance of keeping interest alive longer here on the back of the changes being made for the US market, such as power increases, chassis changes and maybe even body restyling.

But US exports do not start until late 2003, so this update of Monaro is all about the Aussie market, with sales commencing toward the end of January.

And, to be frank, it is relatively minor stuff, most of it coming straight across from the VY update of the Commodore range last September.

Perhaps most significant is what it did not get - mainly the controversial VY front and rear treatment. Instead, the Monaro retains its current exterior looks, Series II distinguished by new five-spoke alloy wheels on both the supercharged 3.8-litre V6 CV6 and the 5.7-litre CV8.

The CV8 also gets rear parking sensors standard (optional on the CV6) and twin chromed exhausts exiting together at the left-rear of the car, signalling the change rev-heads will be most interested in, the passing of the upgraded LS1 Chevrolet V8 from VY to Monaro, which means an extra 10kW (now 235kW) and an extra 5Nm (now 465Nm).

Other mechanical adjustments claimed include:* The recalibration of the four-speed automatic gearbox standard on CV6 and optional on CV8 (unchanged six-speed manual continues as the standard choice for V8)* Improvements to body structure stiffness claimed to reduce lower limb injury (but percentage of improvement is not quantified by Holden, which tells you it is nothing major)* Reduction in engine noise courtesy of new absorption materials (gains again not quantified, so ditto)* New load-limiting seatbelt retractors and re-optimised front airbags* Revised park brake operationOther VY changes that did not flow through include the improved steering. That's because the Monaro has its own slower rack and pinion steering ratio that has never copped the criticism the old light and wishy-washy Commodore did. So the two systems still run in parallel.

The same applies to the chassis, where the suspension set-up of the Monaro continues to be its own development of Holden's FE2 system, targeted more at sports-luxury than the SS sedan's firmer pure sports set-up.

So, it's pretty minor stuff so far. Head inside the cabin and Holden is crowing a bit harder about the changes.

Basically, the Monaro inherits the dash and centre console changes from the VY. Essentially, CV6 gets the low series look with manual air-conditioning, while the CV8 picks up the high-series look with all push-button climate control air-conditioning and pop-out cupholders.

Both cars get the binnacle-style clusters, multi-function digital displays and four-spoke steering wheel as well.

The cars are further distinguished by different plastics and trim colour combinations. The CV8 is the one with the multiple choices, depending on which of the seven exterior paints you select - including Purple Haze (named after Jimi Hendrix of course).

That's combined with a black Anthracite centre fascia with silver-accented surrounds, colour-coded instrument clusters, alloy pedal covers, leather-trimmed steering wheel, park brake and transmission shifter with colour-coded stitching and chrome highlights.

The CV6's Anthracite black leather trim is matched to a dark metallic-look plastic trim in the centre fascia, leather trim on the steering wheel, park brake and transmission shifter, as well as alloy covers for the pedals.

New interior specification inherited from VY includes the enhanced trip computer with gear selection indicator for the auto and a stopwatch function, new Blaupunkt audios and a new mobile phone outlet.

There is a pricing increase, but for both models it's only 1.5 per cent, reflecting the level of change that's gone into the car.

Pricing
Holden Monaro CV6 auto $49,450
Holden Monaro CV8 manual and auto $58,750Options pricing:
6-stack in-dash CD player: $595 (CV6)
Holden Assist: $1990
Rear Park Assist: $495 (CV6)
Satellite navigation: $3800
Holden by Design rear spoiler: $750
HBD leather steering wheel: $295Holden by Design alloy wheels:
17x8-inch Y-series multi-spoke (CV6): $1070
17x8-inch I-series six-spoke (CV6): $1050
18x8-inch J-series (CV6): $1720

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

MORE of the same when it comes to driving the Monaro is no bad thing. In CV8 form this is a grand touring coupe of great ability.

The engine and chassis mate with aplomb, complimenting one of the great shapes the Australian automotive industry has ever produced.

We can't pick the extra power and torque - it would take a stop watch and some back-to-back running with the old car to confirm that - but the LS1 is an engine that already had urge in abundance.

The issues remain familiar. LS1's revvy nature means you go searching higher in the range for peak power (5200rpm) and torque (465Nm), rather than being a grunter of the style Aussie V8 fans love so much. But the conflict is once you get up there it loses a little of its smoothness and starts feeling a touch harsh.

On the flip-side, the new full-length twin exhaust system introduced with VY provides a satisfying rumble that could only come from a V8. While you can hear it inside the car, it sounds even better from the outside.

Mated to the six-speed manual this engine feels alive and sporty, ready to sling you forward at a moment's notice in the shorter gears, remembering sixth gear's moonshot ratio is suitable for freeway cruising only. The auto is certainly smoother than in days gone by, but it can still drop through the gears with a thump and takes that first crisp edge off the engine's response.

The ride and handling are as impressive now as when the car was launched. Monaro manages to be sporting, flat and sharp, without losing all hint of suppleness. Yes, road imperfections are transmitted but they have to be quite significant to have any sort of impact on the passengers.

Which brings us to the interior. The old car's more natural, flowing lines have been replaced by the VY's taut, sharp and mechanical look. We liked the old style but there's no doubt that this is a more upmarket and expensive presentation, which probably suits people laying out about $60,000 on a car.

And that's what Monaro Series II is all about. A touch-up here and a polish there, all designed to keep the car fresh and appealing to an audience prepared to pay its substantial entry price.

It has been a pretty light once-over but then the Monaro was pretty good to start with.

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