One simple question kept coming back to me while driving Holden’s new VF Commodore: why? Why, if the Aussie icon is capable of building a car this good, has it waited so many years to do it?
Why, if Holden can produce a car that’s of truly world standard – and in my opinion this one certainly is – has the Australian car industry all but died before we started tackling the Europeans head-on?
Why, if this car can be so filled with technology, refinement and quality finishes, have previous Commodores fallen a rung or two short of the same standards? Why is it possible to add so much extra equipment, yet slash the price by thousands?
Then again, why question it?
There’s no doubt that the VF Commodore is seen by many as the last roll of the dice for the big Aussie sedan. Ford has already announced the death of the Falcon and Holden is under enormous pressure to maintain its Australian manufacturing operation.
But if this much-awaited VF Commodore is a demonstration of how good Aussie cars can be – both in terms of quality and value – then reports of its death might be way premature.
“This is the best Commodore I’ve ever driven.”
I know that’s probably true for each successive model, but with the VF the difference is huge. This car is light years ahead of the VE – and by extension every other Australian-built car that has gone before it.
We drove the SV6 wagon – sitting in the bottom half of the Commodore range with a starting price tag of $35,990 – which Holden says is almost $7000 cheaper than the previous model, despite the inclusion of a staggering level of standard kit.
The SV6 will park itself, thanks to an automatic parking system standard across the Commodore range, but will also start remotely, and cool down or warm up the cabin (depending on the time of year) from a distance of up to 100 metres.
There’s front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera (part of the MyLink colour touchscreen arrangement), blind spot monitors in the wing mirrors and an electronic park brake. Unseen inclusions range from hill hold control and hill start assist to trailer sway control. Inside, you get full iPod and Bluetooth integration with built-in apps such as Pandora and Stitcher music systems, plus voice recognition linking to a Siri “eyes-free” command system. Even the entry-level Evoke gets most of that kit – including the MyLink system and the self-parking function.
Step up to the higher-spec Calais V and SS-V models and you can also expect lane departure warning, satellite navigation, frontal collision avoidance system, colour head-up display, sunroof, DVD player and eight-way power seats. That’s despite a $10,000 price reduction on the Calais V to just $46,990.
Only the Koreans can come close to matching that level of kit for that kind of price – and they can’t match the VF in terms of power, space and driving dynamics. Any European car that can match the Holden’s interior space, ride and handling – and fitted with same level of specification – would cost at least double and up to three times the price.
Fuel consumption, which is good but not outstanding, is perhaps the only weak point for the Commodore – and that’s unlikely to be a deal-breaker. The entry-level 3-litre V6 manages an improved 8.3L/100km while the punchier 3.6-litre version (as in our test machine) a respectable 9.3L/100km (a five per cent improvement).
Underpinning that reduced thirst is a substantial weight-reduction program for the VF, including increased use of lightweight steels and aluminium components, cutting more than 40kg from the Commodore’s bulk.
OK, so you could be excused for thinking that, at first glance, the car hasn’t changed all that much at all – at least from the outside. Styling is not a great departure from the VE, although on closer examination the changes are greater than you might think. Obvious cues are things such as the shapely headlights, the vertical breather gills behind the front wheel arches and the restyled boot and tail-lights.
Cabin presentation is light-years ahead of the old VE – both in terms of style and quality. Soft-touch surfaces, including a leather-look stitched finish to the dash and door trims, is complemented by tasteful use of alloy and polished finishes in a cohesive and modern looking cabin.
The Sportwagon concept has been a winner for Holden. Combining wagon practicality with still-sporty looks was a big success for the VE model, to the point where it put its Falcon wagon rival completely out of business. The VF builds on that legacy with impressive quietness and sedan-like handling and ride.
On the road, the new VF continues to impress. Commodores have long been known for their solid road holding, compliant ride and predictable handling and braking characteristics, and the new model enhances that reputation. Ride is comfortable and impressively quiet – Holden boasts that “quiet zone tuning” has helped deliver class-leading serenity to the cockpit. There are no surprises, either, if you push the big Commodore into a corner – it turns accurately and avoids any sense of feeling rushed or unbalanced.
And while the big Aussie six-cylinder might have slipped off many a shopping list, it’s still hard to fault for occupant comfort and its ability to swallow up a massive load of family items. The Sportwagon, in particular, adds to this ability with a usefully flat and wide loadspace and a rear hatch that can be opened in tight spaces – great for tight shopping centre car parks.
Even the now-familiar 3.6-litre V6 of the Commodore seems to have undergone some improvements as part of the VF upgrade. It’s always been torquey and responsive but it felt smoother than I recall from the VE, perhaps a product of all that additional sound-proofing.
The six-speed auto is no market-leader but it’s more than competent – rounding off a more than adequate drivetrain.
So, will the new VF Commodore spark a stampede of buyers back into Holden showrooms? Probably not, I’m sad to say. More’s the pity, because this is a car that deserves to find its share of the market – even if the days of Commodore dominating our sales charts are gone. No question about it.
HOLDEN COMMODORE VF SV-6 SPORTWAGON
DETAILS: Five-seat, five-door full-sized wagon with six-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
TECH STUFF: 3.6-litre double overhead camshaft, direct injection V6 produces 210kW@6700rpm, 350Nm@2800rpm; six-speed manual or automatic transmission with sports mode.
FEATURES: Five-star safety rating with six airbags; vehicle stability control and ABS with brake assist; keyless entry, remote start function, self-parking system, front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera; eight-inch colour touchscreen MyLink system with iPod integration, Bluetooth, Siri hands-free voice activation, blind-spot monitors, electronic handbrake, electric windows and mirrors; 18-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights.
THIRST: 9.3L/100km (combined cycle).
VERDICT: Perhaps Australia’s first truly world-class car. Let’s hope it’s not the last.
BOTTOM LINE: Sportwagon, add $2000; automatic transmission, add $2200 to base price.