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Holden VY Commodore SV8


I have acquaintances who think Holden's large capacity V8s are superfluous, something that should be designed to the dustbin of automotive history. They argue that the supercharged version of the 3.8-litre V6, with its smooth and seemingly-endless delivery of power is a much better solution to horsepower than a thumping great 5.7-litre V8.

After all, they argue, the supercharged V6 puts out 171kW of power and 375Nm of peak torque, the latter at a commendably low 3000rpm which helps give the engine its torquey feel.

Those figures would have looked good on a V8 not so many years ago, but V8s have moved forward.

The Chevrolet Corvette-derived 5.7-litre V8 used in current Commodores produces 225kW in "cooking" form and 400Nm at 4000rpm. No factory Holden V6 can get near that. Give me a V8 over a supercharged V6 any day.

Though I have to admit my faith has been shaken a little by the latest version of the XR6 Falcon from Holden's old rival, Ford.

To give the new BA Falcon XR6 a performance edge, Ford has developed a turbocharged version of its 4.0-litre six that eclipses Holden's standard V8 by 15kW and the GM high-output 5.7 V8 by five.

The Ford's turbocharged inline six cylinder produces identical torque to the Holden V8 - 450Nm, though the GM high-output motor develops 465Nm at 4400rpm.

The Ford motor offers 450Nm all the way from 2000rpm to 4500rpm. The result is a superbly tractable car with a seamless power delivery and sparkling performance. Add in a beautifully-tuned chassis and you have a very appealing big sedan with the feel of a mid-sized thoroughbred sports sedan.

The enjoyment of the Ford lingers on weeks after we last drove it and it sits right atop our Lotto list.

So it was with interest that we approached the subject of this test, Holden's cut-price sports sedan, the all-new V& SV8. The SV8 comes in two variants - a six-speed manual and a four-speed auto, both priced at $50,500.

It has the high-output V8 with 235kW and 465Nm, so power's no problem. Standard V8 Commodores couldn't be called slow, but high-output powered models have a little extra bite to widen the smile on your lips.

It's when you turn on the ignition and the V8 rumbles into life that the V8/suoercharged V6 argument comes to mind.

How could any V6, save the cammy units from Mitsubishi and Alfa Romeo, come anywhere near the aural joy of the Holden/Chevy V8. And those two V6s save their aural delight for when they're being revved hard.

The Holden V8 in its current high-output guise produces a satisfying burble even at city-speed trickle. Ask it to breathe deep and that Bowtie Beat echoes off the walls of buildings. It's still muted _ after all it has to meet strict Australian noise limits - but it's much more satisfying than it used to be. You definitely know you're in a V8 again.

Holden says the "signature V8 base note burble" comes courtesy of a new, full-length twin exhaust system. As V8 fans we say: "thank you, Holden."

The test car ran the smooth-shifting four-speed automatic gearbox. For the VY, Holden has recalibrated and revised the shift to improve the automatic's performance. V8 automatic transmissions have been upgraded for greater durability.

The gearbox can be used manually on winding and demanding roads. We find using it that way a better solution than leaving it in Drive. Letting the gearbox make its own decisions can leave you a gear too high sometimes, with a resultant front-end washout before the gearbox decides to shift down.

Holden still retains the standard shifter for its auto, eschewing - for now anyway - the sequential approach Ford has taken with the BA. We could see little improvement in the move to sequential-style operation in the new Falcon and find the Commodore's traditional auto-as-manual shifter perfectly acceptable.

In the auto versus real manual gearbox argument, we favour the auto. The Holden six-speed, though improved and easier to use, is still chunky and slow-shifting and sixth gear is almost impossibly high. Acceleration in sixth gear is sluggish, and a six-speed-equipped Commodore is no rocket when asked to accelerate in fifth either. You really need to slot down to fourth to get the best out of the motor for open-road overtaking. And sixth becomes superfluous in city running.

A Mitsubishi Australia engineer at a recent launch spoke disparagingly of the Holden six-speed as a four-speed with two overdrives. He has a point.

The auto is a much better prospect, offering good acceleration in top gear. I accept that many drivers, especially younger ones, prefer manuals; but unless you like to spend your time slotting the car into second gear to experience the raw power of the 5.7-litre V8 at full throttle we can see little advantage in a manual SV8. The SV8, like all VY model Commodores, benefits from steering geometry changes which make turn-in crisper and improve steering feel.

The new Monaro set a new benchmark for Commodore steering, though Holden engineers insist that the VY steering is not merely the Monaro geometry grafted on to the four-door body.

The suspension is Holden's well-proven FE2 sports set-up which the SV8 shares with its high-performance stablemates, the V6-powered S and the high output V8-engined SS. The FE2 suspension provides sharp, vice-free handling in the dry. There's little body roll and the car now turns-in much more crisply. The initial understeer and slight hesitation on turn-in - which though reduced was still present on the VX II after its suspension revisions - is now absent. The car turns-in immediately. The feeling is very satisfying.

The chassis lets you know what's happening and the steering provides good information.

We felt there was a greater hint of rear end movement than in the VX II. Nothing happened, there was no steeping out. It was just that in some tighter corners you seemed more aware of the rear end.

Traction control is standard and can be switched off if you're an oversteer fan. Just as we felt there was more hint of rear-end movement, we found the traction control cutting in more frequently than we had in previous Commodores. So you can say the chassis is definitely more lively. The car changes direction well and tackled our test road with aplomb, though compared with the XR6 Turbo, you were aware you were driving a big car. ABS anti-skid braking and a limited-slip differential are standard. The SV8 rides on cleanly-styled 17-inch diameter alloy wheels which wear 235/45 R17 tyres. They're grippy and nicely quiet.

Ride quality is a little jiggly around town, but smooths out at speed. There's no doubt, though, that you're driving a car with firm sports-style suspension. The sports seats for the driver and passenger are nicely-supportive and the rear cabin is, well, roomy. This is a Commodore after all, and you'd have to be a confirmed nitpicker to find fault with the amount of space in the big Holden. The small-diameter steering wheel is very nice to use.

The Compact Disc Blaupunkt audio system provides good sound and has easy-to-use controls.

The dashboard design is more European-influenced than previous Commodores. But it's more traditionally Australian big car and not as austere as the BA Falcon's. Standard gear includes air-conditioning; trip computer; electrically wound windows, and electrically-adjustable exterior mirrors.

The SV8 is an enjoyable, driver-friendly car with potent performance and capable handling.

The styling changes give it a completely different look to the VX, especially with the one-element grille and the higher, squared-off tail.

The VY takes traditional Commodore attributes and enhances them greatly. It's the best Commodore yet and the SV8 offers SS performance and handling at a much lower price. An appealing package indeed.

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