It's nigh on a year since I first saw the new generation Holden Monaro coupe at the Sydney motor show.
The cars are now relatively common sights in New Zealand, though to my eyes the pure lines of many of the Monaros I see have been spoiled a little by aftermarket bootlid spoilers.
After a week with a manual CV8 I'm pleased to report the car looks as fresh and exciting as it did 12 months ago.
That freshness was helped, in the test car's case, by the paintwork. It was the metallic green shade Holden calls Hothouse, a colour that conjures tomato red for me rather than an unripe green tomato.
But Hothouse is Holden's big colour nowadays, the hero shade for the soon-to-be-released VY Commodore (due here in November).
It looks great on the SS Commodore, and when you're living with it day-in-and-day-out, it looks great on the Monaro.
When I first saw it in Sydney and subsequently on the Gold Coast launch of the Monaro, I was unconvinced.
Now, I'm a convert. It brings out the subtlety and elegance of the Holden stylists' design (that's despite the fact that it's a colour that shouts its presence). And it produces interesting visual effects in different lights.
The Monaro, and especially a Hothouse-coloured Monaro, still attracts attention. People wander over to take a look at the car, some gawp as you pass by. Some even wave. It's not a car to drive if you're trying to remain incognito.
The green theme is reflected in the instruments whose dials match the body colour (interestingly they don't light up green at night).
The Monaro is intended to be a driver's car and that's plain from the time you slide over the seat's high side bolsters and settle into the sport-style buckets.
I like to sit low and have the steering wheel set high and it was easy to achieve that in the Monaro. My short legs meant I had to move the cushion well forward to ensure I could fully depress the clutch (which isn't as heavy as some I've encountered in V8 sports sedans).
That meant putting more rake than usual into the seat back to gain a little more arm room. And that meant I sat lower than usual; not quite Paul Radisich low, but low enough to have the top of the steering wheel rim at the bottom of my line of sight.
It felt just perfect.
The heart of the Monaro CV8 is the Chevrolet-developed Gen III 5.7-litre V8 producing 225kW of power at 5200rpm and 460Nm of torque at 4400rpm.
Performance is excellent. The car will hit 100km/h in around six seconds from standstill. Acceleration for passing is prodigious.
The test car had the six-speed manual gearbox which transmits the power to the rear wheels via a standard limited-slip differential. Traction control, also standard, can be switched off if you favour a bit of tail-wagging.
The gearbox has been criticised by some as being a four-speed with two overdrives.
That's unkind, but there is some truth in it. Acceleration is extremely flat in sixth gear and there's a noticeable pause before anything happens when you floor the throttle in top gear at highway speeds. Fifth is much more lively, fourth provides excellent acceleration. Select third an you're in for an exhilarating ride. We found fourth best for city running, though fifth coped well enough. Sixth was just too high.
The shift quality is relatively notchy and the shifts short-throw but slow. There's no need to rush anyway. The motor's hefty torque means a steady flow of power.
Don't rush it and you can make beautifully-smooth gearshifts. There was a tendency for the gear lever to rattle, especially in second gear and there's a fair amount of gear noise in the lower ratios.
The revised six-speed we tried in the VY in Australia recently is much smoother and easier to shift, and if we were in the market for a manual Monaro we'd be inclined to wait till the gearbox revisions filter into the coupe.
The manual is not a great commuter. The clutch the gearbox can be a pain in stop/start running where there's also a fair amount of driveline shunt.
It's on the open road that the Monaro really comes alive.
The engine, gearbox and suspension combine brilliantly.
New Zealand market Monaros have Holden's FE2 sports suspension as standard (it's an optional extra in Australia). It has lowered ride height, beefed-up rollbars and sports-oriented spring rates.
The car rides on 18-inch diameter, eight-inch wide alloy wheels wearing 235/40 R18 Bridgestone low-profile tyres.
The excellent steering and composed chassis mean you always feel in command. You never get the impression that you're just along for the ride, despite the amount of power beneath your right foot.
The steering is beautifully crisp and informative. The car dives eagerly into corners and holds its line well.
There's good steering feedback and you can feel exactly what the chassis is doing.
The manual car felt a little more taily than the automatic, though the traction control means there's never any rear-wheel breakaway.
Holden's traction control is seldom intrusive anyway and allows the car's rear end to move a little before cutting in. That means you can get a feeling of steering the car on the throttle.
We ran the CV8 along our favourite little wiggle/waggle road, keeping it in third gear. Despite the car's mass (1640kg) and bulk (4788mm long, 1841mm wide) it never felt big on a road on which the new BMW Mini remains king. In fact we found we could tackle some of the corners (the road is a string of 80km/h to 100km/h bends) without braking (normally required in big cars on this road).
So it's very nimble and very satisfying to drive.
Ride? From the driver's seat it was fine. The regular passenger thought it was too harsh and insisted it should be dropped from the wish list. Now, she loved the automatic Monaro CV8. This one, though, rode too harshly, she said.
Holden says the suspension settings are identical for manual and auto so all I can suggest is the driveline shunt in the manual and the fiercer initial acceleration when you hit the throttle after changing gear may give an impression of a harsher car.
I'd have to agree, though, that the manual Monaro didn't gel with my comment on the automatic version's ride. "It's supple and absorbent without compromising handling sharpness," I wrote in Prestige & Classic magazine.
The test manual did feel a little harsher than that.
The Monaro's standard equipment includes cruise control; leather-wrapped steering wheel; 12-function trip computer); dual horns; dual zone climate-control air-conditioning.
Windows, exterior mirrors and radio aerial are power-operated and there's remote-control central door-locking.
The sound system is a 260 watt set-up with a dash-mounted cassette player and a boot-mounted 10-disc Compact Disc changer. The steering wheel has sound system controls.
The front sports seats are power-adjustable with eight adjustable features and three-position memory for the driver's favoured settings.
Safety gear includes ABS anti-skid braking, driver and front seat passenger airbags, and lap/sash seatbelts for all four seats.
Getting reacquainted with the Monaro was fun and every time we pick up a Holden NZ test car from Moyes Holden in Auckland we're interested to note how many people are willing to lay down $74,000 to own one. Every time we go into the showroom there's a Monaro with a "sold" sticker on its windscreen.
It's good to see so many people have such good taste.
AutoPoint road test team; words and pictures by Mike Stock.