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Australia's best car yet


There’s nothing more predictable than critics and journalists labelling new model cars as the best yet.

But in the case of the new VE series Holden Commodore, it’s simply and undeniably true. There have been 13 variants and four generations of Commodores since the first VB in 1978, and none of them has been a lemon.

However, the VE – significantly the first Commodore entirely designed and engineered in Australia – clearly tops the chart.

This is the best-selling new car both here and across the Tasman, and deservedly so.
I was in Europe when Holden launched the VE in the second half of last year, and missed the hype and excitement of the car’s unveiling.

So I was unaffected by the flood of propaganda or wave of enthusiasm that accompanies the arrival of any new Commodore or Ford Falcon.

That allowed me to approach the VE on a level playing field, if you see what I mean.
The new Commodore isn’t capable of turning water into wine or winning any awards to save the planet, but it’s still one helluva car.

You could bang on about the brilliant looks, the value for money and the new-found driving manners, and you’d be right.

Wax lyrical, too, about this being the most advanced Commodore yet, with near ideal weight distribution front to rear and a chassis balance created by engineers who care.

There’s also the reassurance of your Commodore commanding a fair used car price when you’ve finished with it, and the fact that there will be no shortage of buyers for a model with such a long-standing reputation.

For the first decade, until the arrival of the second-generation VN series in 1988, the Commodore wasn’t considered a direct rival to the Falcon because the Holden wasn’t as big.

These days there’s no dithering over space. Front seat headroom may be an issue for some tall drivers, but slide the front seat right back and a tall bloke can’t even reach the pedals unless his legs are longer than a giraffe’s, and rear seat accommodation is huge.
The boot has a capacity of 496 litres, which sounds big and is.

Looks, as we all know, are important. And in this area, the latest Commodore excels.
Walking out of a restaurant one evening recently I saw a new, base model Commodore lurking across the road in the shadows. For a few moments, the identity remained a mystery yet the car looked a million dollars and well beyond its station.

From any angle, the VE is superb, especially without the rear spoiler that is found, sadly, on most versions.

Word is the designers wanted the car without a bootlid spoiler, but the marketing department wouldn’t hear of it. Sorry, but the marketers are wrong.

Twenty-two thousand dollars separates the two VE Commodores I evaluated recently. Prices may be edging up a little, but the $44,590 sticker price for the entry-level Omega V6 sedan four-speed auto is still something of a bargain.

At the other end of the scale, the copper coloured Ignition metallic SS-V with beefy V8, quad tailpipes and six-speed manual gearbox was a stunning package without breaking the bank. Its retail of $66,690 is the same if you specify the alternative six-stage auto gearbox.

Best thing about the Omega is that it brings all the new attributes of VE to fruition at a most cost-effective price. Things like the ESP chassis, long wheel movement, compliant ride over poor surfaces and the sensitive steering.

Weighting and steering feel are excellent, and the 2.7 turns lock-to-lock reflect the quick response. The car is 120kg heavier than its predecessor yet feels lighter.

Combine the stiffer body shell with the multi-link MacPherson strut front suspension, new five-link rear suspension and discover the recipe for a fine handling car, although the Omega with its 225/60 tyres on 16-inch alloys had poor grip in the wet, despite the standard electronic stability programme with traction control.

The 245/40R Bridgestone Potenzas on the 19-inch alloys fitted to the V8 Commodore are noisy on coarse pitch sealed surfaces but were, understandably, a lot more reassuring than the Omega’s more modest rubber.

Even though the wheel diameter is huge, the ride quality is smooth enough to please grandma.

The SS-V offered excellent traction without any tyre squeal or body roll, and a precision never known in previous high performance Holdens.

Despite a $1.2 billion programme to bring the VE to the showroom, the latest model still feels like a Commodore – reassuring enough for old faithfuls.

The 3.6-litre Alloytec V6 turns out 180kW and 330Nm of torque, delivering around 12.4 litres/100km in typical town and country driving.

Remarkably, the 6.0-litre alloy V8 SS-V was almost as economical on the open road, but hogged the gas around town. The computer was revealing a thirsty 18.7 litres/100km in the Auckland city rat race – that’s 15.1mpg in old speak.

Slightly slower off the line than the previous Commodore, the V6 gets to 100km/h in 9.1 seconds.

Meanwhile, the V8 dials up our open road limit in a cracking five seconds, but the comparison is hardly fair given the bent eight’s ability to turn out 270kW of power and a hefty 530Nm of torque.

With torque peaking between 2000 and 4400 revs, there’s no need to buzz the big V8, yet the motor is happy enough running to a 6600rpm redline.
The Tremec T-56 stick shift in the SS-V has a long throw and the heavy clutch is a bit of a bind around town.

But the power train is so flexible and willing that the driver can choose to miss the odd gear, no worries. Sixth gear translates to 1500 revs at 100km/h, rising to a still modest 2300rpm in fifth. There’s some gear whine in top gear that might prove annoying for long-distance cruisers.

Meanwhile, the Omega V6 is doing a modest 1750revs at 100km/h with an auto that is, at times, overly-sensitive.

Four-wheel discs, ventilated up front, are right up to the task, although on the SS-V there was occasional rear axle judder under heavy braking.

Both models boast a neat engine room, with bonnets easily raised by twin gas struts.
No complaints about the comfortable seating, the improvement in build quality, and the jazzy orange and black trim finishers in the SS-V interior.

The bulky SS-V front spoiler catches on kerbs and driveways, but the sports Commodore doesn’t have this problem to itself.

The SS-V is the new Aussie muscle car king, with its superb FE2 sports suspension, grippy flat-bottom steering wheel and spirited performance.
So all is perfect? Well, not quite.

Thick A pillars intrude on visibility, as does the rear spoiler if you aren’t driving an Omega. The door mirrors are too small and create blind spots.

Though the handbrake looks neat as it recesses into the centre panel, it is uncomfortable to use with fiddly button topside, while there were trim rattles on the SS-V test vehicle.

Still, Ford has a lot of catching up to do in the classic, ongoing Commodore-versus-Falcon battle. The fact that, in some months, Commodores are outselling the Ford by two to one is evidence enough of that.
Holden has produced the best car out of Australia, no doubt about that.

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