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First drive: Monaro is greatest Holden ever

Raising the bar: Monaro is the most dynamically capable Holden ever.

Holden's legendary Monaro nameplate returns after a 33-year absence

Holden logo20 Nov 2001

FIRST examples of the new generation Monaro coupe begin rolling off Holden's Adelaide production line today, following yesterday's national media launch of the striking new Commodore-based two-door.

While Monaro shares its name with the now legendary original of 1968, the 2002 model is nostalgic in name alone.

Representing Holden's ability to produce niche market products in record time through revolutionary new computer-aided design technology and flexible manufacturing processes, Monaro has made the transition from concept to reality in a record 22 months at a cost of $60 million.

Much has been written about the new Monaro already - both since its unveiling in concept form at the 1998 Sydney motor show and its debut in production guise at the 2001 Sydney motor show. (Full engineering, design and marketing details can be found in the special Monaro edition of automotive e-news, published on October 11 and available at www.mellor.net.)Production versions of the Monaro will be faithful to the show-stopping concept car, save for the 1998 version's 20-inch wheels, super-low ride height and VT-based front and rear end styling.

Due to roll out of Holden's Elizabeth (SA) plant at a maximum rate of 32 vehicles per day, the production Monaro features a General Motors corporate front-end which will be similar to that of next September's facelifted VY Commodore. Gone is the twin-nostril grille that became a Commodore trademark with the VR model, replaced by a letterbox-style opening with large central Holden logo on a single horizontal bar.

Apart from the more steeply raked windscreen, lower roofline, 150mm longer doors and deeply lipped, 100mm shorter bootlid, other features that make the stylish new coupe instantly discernible from the four-door sedan upon which it is based include projection headlights and circular globes within newly designed tail-lights. But the real Monaro difference is in the driving (see drive impressions below).

Monaro is available in two guises: the entry level CV6, powered by a supercharged 3.8-litre V6, and Gen III 5.7-litre V8-powered CV8. The $47,990 CV6 is a four-speed auto only while the CV8 is available with either six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, both priced at $56,990.

Equipment levels are high for the money including alloy wheels (17-inch on CV6 and 18-inch on CV8), chromed exhaust, projector headlights, black leather trim, eight-way power front seats, cruise control, trip computer, CD audio system (10-stacker in the CV8) and air-conditioning (dual-zone climate control in the CV8).

There are seven exterior paint finishes, three of them exclusive to Monaro. Go for the CV8 and you can option one of four leather trims to match the exterior colour. Holden says the CV8 will claim 80 per cent of all Monaro sales, with 70 per cent of those buyers opting for the automatic version.

Holden currently has 750 firm orders for Monaro and expects to sell up to 4000 units in the first full year. It will be sold through around 250 of its 350 dealers nationwide and of course Holden will support Monaro's release with a concentrated advertising campaign and a series of Monaro Galleries along the east coast, at which the car will be previewed to potential customers.

Melbourne's Cavalli restaurant was the venue for the opening Monaro Gallery, which received enormous response, but the second event at Holden's Advanced Driving Centre at Norwell (Qld) surpassed all expectations with a staggering 14,000 people attending the week-long exhibition.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

FROM the moment one sits in the 2002 Monaro, it is apparent this is a Holden like none other. Sitting in the supportive and fully electric leather driver's seat, the lower A-pillar that makes alighting slightly more difficult is the first giveaway. The long reach to the seatbelt is further confirmation this is no ordinary Commodore.

A piano-black instrument surround, colour-coded instrument faces, door lighting, suede-look inserts in the doors and lower dash, automatic dual-zone climate control (in CV8), chrome-finished touches and a full-house sound system and trip computer combine to create an overriding feeling of quality.

And initial impressions that the Monaro is positioned at the premium end of Holden's range are backed up immediately on the road. Monaro feels worlds away from the humble family sedan upon which it is based, offering an impression of solidity that surpasses the sedan.

Holden claims Monaro offers a big 23 per cent increase in bending stiffness over the VX Commodore sedan - plus five per cent more torsional rigidity - and the extra strength of the Holden coupe's bodyshell was obvious after a solid day's driving through Queensland's Mount Tamborine area and at Holden's Norwell performance driving facility.

Monaro's enhanced structural integrity and the addition, from VXII, of the far superior Control-Link IRS allowed Holden engineers to pursue a level of suspension performance not previously seen in any Holden product. Charged with giving Monaro what Holden calls "sports luxury" ride/handling characteristics, the Fishermens Bend engineers won't go as far as saying the result is both more refined and sophisticated than SS. But they do say Monaro is "totally different".

Spring, damper and anti-roll bar specifications were completely revised, and the result is an impressive level of compliance - far more so than any HSV offering and more confortable than SS too, despite CV8's larger wheels - but with surprisingly little bodyroll. Indeed, the forgiving ride feels closer in nature to other prestige vehicles than most performance cars.

But the supple suspension comes at little expense to handling performance. The revised suspension combines with a slightly lighter and much stiffer body - plus amazing grip levels from the CV8's 235/40-section ZR18 Bridgestone Potenza RE040 rubber - to deliver handling levels previously unknown by Holden drivers.

Mid-corner grip is easily a match for SS Commodore but it is in the power-down department that Monaro really shines. Difficult to break loose even with provocation on Norwell's wet skidpan, Monaro's rear-end is simply unflappable, delivering enormous levels of both high speed stability and cornering grip with a new degree of progressiveness at the limit.

At-the-limit handling is geared heavily toward understeer, aiding the sticky rear-end in making Monaro virtually foolproof. Despite the hefty reserves of torque available from Holden's 5.7-litre Chev V8, Monaro's grip and road holding levels are so high that some Saturday night tyre-smokers will be sorely disappointed.

Not that Holden expects that type of folk to buy Monaro. In fact, Holden says many Monaro customers will be ex-BMW and even ex-Porsche owners. It must be said, however, that the wider-tyred CV8's handling prowess far exceeds that of CV6.

Norwell's spinning disc exercise - which saw Monaro correct itself from an oversteer situation like only a select few, far more expensive sports coupes can - showed Monaro also has a level of chassis balance that betters its donor sedan. Different weight bias (slightly less at rear) no doubt helps in this regard.

The final piece of Monaro's significant handling armoury is its steering. The steering gear ratio has actually been slowed by 13 per cent over Commodore, while the stiffness of the torsion bar within the steering gear valve has been increased by 14 per cent. That means more driver input is required for the same level of steering lock and that Monaro's steering is slower than SS Commodore's, but the result is crisper turn-in, better feedback and far greater steering precision.

This is easily the best, most communicative steering Holden we've driven. The only consolation for regular Commodore drivers is that the steering is just one of Monaro's improved technologies that will some day filter down to garden variety sedans.

Monaro's use of projector beam headlights necessitated the modification of the Gen III V8's induction system and Holden capitalised on the opportunity to bless Monaro with more appropriate aural tones. The Chev is not known for producing a melodious V8 engine note but Monaro improves on this markedly, offering a deeper, more serious induction sound that can be appreciated from both inside and out.

Minor niggles include a reduction in both rear leg and headroom, with rear passengers now positioned below the rear glass, plus the lack of a full-size spare wheel and a thru-loading system for the twin rear buckets. Also, the electrically operated front seats have a tilt/slide function for rear seat access, but it works slowly and does not quite extend forward enough to allow easy egress.

The fitment of a space-saver spare aside, these are minor issues that relate to rear seating - something we don't expect to be a high priority for potential Monaro customers.

Performance will be, however, and this is something the CV8, in particular, offers in droves. But we expected that. What we didn't expect was Monaro's handling to be so well credentialled and so different to Commodore.

Holden has succeeded in bringing the stylish new Monaro to market in record time and with a high level of equipment at a sensible price. Even more impressive, however, is that Monaro offers a unique driving experience that's both more comfortable, more rewarding and dynamically superior to any Holden before it. HSV's forthcoming Coupe will ceratinly have its work cut out for it.

GoAuto can help you buy a new Monaro

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