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Commodore VE


The open-throated roar of a V8 at full noise faded as the corner loomed, and I knew I was going to be part of a big crash. There was no way the driver would get a Holden Commodore around that corner.

Yet he did. With barely a twitch of his hands on the wheel, the rear squirmed and the car carved round, howling for the next bend, and the next - drifting lightly here, scrabbling for grip there, arrowing straight on to the dirt where he barely slowed, the lightest touch controlling the big car.

Then he switched the ESP off. But the speedo needle barely dipped, the car a touch more sideways, the drift a tad more pronounced. He’s a man of few words, Holden chassis magician Colin Sichlau, but he doesn’t need them.
It’s his ability to divine what the car needs, then chase the ragged edge to check it’s got the good, that makes him valuable. As is his ability to find young drivers almost as talented. Drivers like Mike Barber, who detailed frightens the bejesus out of us on the dirt course by being paid to do what others get arrested for. I theorise that Colin hangs around police stations to source his new recruits, Mike just laughs.

As does Greg Murphy, later the same day, when he puts on a tyre-shredding display of precision hoonery.It’s true that I won’t be able to work the same magic with the same set of wheels, but the fact that these men can, bodes well for the new Commodore.

Not only does it permit insane, 250km/h violent lane-changes at the hands of a young man with an ability to flirt casually with disaster, it allows drivers like Mike and Colin to dance these big Aussie sedans on dirt with the same casual aplomb they display on the seal.

Do all this with the outgoing car, and you’d be dead. For it always had a rear-end weakness on the limit, not to mention a host of other problems that Holden fans seemed keen to overlook.

A cynic might think Holden hadn’t had to lift its game while the fans bought the car regardless. These test cars prove that, yes, build quality, fit and finish are vastly improved. So is stability, at 170km/h on the high-speed banking, you could take your hands off the wheel and the car tracked true and yes, I did try it.

Attention to detail is also vastly improved - finger the inside of the door pocket, the undersides of the handles and you won’t find plastic seams, or exposed screws.

You won’t feel that vibration through the wheel at speed either, or the over-intrusive nature of the safety aids, the coarse gearbox action. We could go on.
Over 900km of driving on a wide variety of terrain in Victoria, including Holden’s Lang Lang test track, we were dared to find an Achilles heel, and failed.

Even the retention of a four-speed auto transmission for the base Omega and Berlina models is arguably less of a handicap than you’d think. It allowed Holden to keep the price pinned, while careful tuning of the ratios and an efficient sport mode makes the most of what’s on offer.

At 198km/h on the high-speed banking, the Berlina auto’s sport mode still kicked down when I wanted more. Yet it’ll do a decent job of round-town work too, its smoother changes most obvious at these speeds.

Which car would I buy? Where once I’d have turned a Commodore down if a Ford Falcon was on offer, now I’m not so sure. Nor am I sure if I prefer the light and nimble touch of the SV6 as it dances through the corners, or the Viking sledgehammer of the V8 SS, as keen to corner but more muscular in its delivery.

There’s a further choice to make. The six-speed manual can now be operated without a gym membership, and the six-speed auto with its manual option now operated to racing protocols is good enough for even performance fans to consider.

So, a handsome car, instantly identifiable even in the rear-view mirror, thanks to those flaring fenders over the alloy wheels.

It’s well-built, if these early cars are anything to go by and individual, with
each model’s face and interior differing from every other.

It’s well specced, with even the base car having the Electronic Stability Control program alongside its ABS, plus 16-inch alloys, cruise control, a
power-adjustable driver’s seat and more. And fun to drive hard.

The bad news? Well, there isn’t much. Fuel economy’s similar, after all, these are largely heavier cars, offering more power from the same basic engines. An Omega uses 0.1 litres less per 100km test cycle than the old Executive, about 17 cents saved every 100km at current prices. Peanuts.

As for the price, you’ll pay $390 more to enter the Commodore market, the Omega priced at $44,590. The Berlina drops three grand to $47,990 and the SV6 is up just 90 bucks. But SS and Calais V6 buyers are the big winners, the SS drops nearly seven grand, the Calais V6 more than nine grand, with the extra-luxury Calais V topping the range at $61,490 in V6, and
$67,490 in V8 form.

That’s good news for Holden fans and for any big-car buyer, for the Commodore, at last, has the goods to compete on equal terms. 

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