Road Report
Crunch time for the Holden Commodore

Despite the chapter 11 bankruptcy of parent company General Motors, Holden says that it will continue to build the Commodore for Australian and New Zealand consumption at its Elizabeth plant in South Australia.

 

With GM winding up their Pontiac brand, the export markets for the VE Commodore have effectively dried up. Some long wheelbase product will still go to China, the Middle East and Korea but these will be small production runs in the hundreds rather than thousands of vehicles.

 

Holden says there are also plans to build the new four-cylinder Cruze sedan and hatchback from 2010 or 2011 at the Elizabeth facility which no doubt they hope will save jobs and possibly give them another export opportunity.

 

At the recent Holden Cruze launch, CEO Mark Reuss spoke about further alternative fuel saving options (which Holden calls EcoLine) which are being investigated for the Commodore, including alternative fuels such as LPG.

 

Mr Reuss said that with the price of oil remaining steady in the current world economy a diesel variant of the VE Commodore would remain unlikely as there would not be enough demand from the home market.

 

In New Zealand the Commodore SV6 is a favourite in the use-chooser fleet market, much like its direct competitor the Ford Falcon XR6, so on a recent trip to Melbourne in April I found myself being reacquainted with Holden’s billion dollar VE baby.

 

Somebody at the Holden public affairs department obviously thinks that I like the lurid shade of lime green metallic paint called “crunch” which envelopes this SV6 Commodore pictured here.

 

I’d arrived at the Holden headquarters in Port Melbourne, Australia, on Good Friday expecting to collect a front-wheel-drive Captiva diesel but some how that car had been lost in translation and I was presented the key to the “crunched” SV6 instead.   

 

This is the third Commodore variant I have test driven which has been painted in crunch. One was the raucous HSV Maloo which the colour really suited, the other was an SV6 sport wagon which it didn’t, and the jury is still out on this SV6 sedan.

 

Never mind the colour, I had places to be and people to see, so it was time to throw the carry-on luggage into the passenger foot-well (I never use the boot) and hit the road out of Melbourne city and head southbound on the Monash highway.

 

The SV6 is well appointed for what is ostensibly a sales representative’s machine.

 

Manual air-conditioning rather than climate is the order of the day as is Onyx cloth upholstery and lashings of plastic trim. You do get a factory installed Bluetooth telephone kit, a single CD player in the Blaupunkt audio unit, and the always necessary (particularly in speed sensitive Victoria) cruise control function.

 

Incidentally in Australia they award double demerits to speeding drivers on long weekends and public holidays through the stationary camera network as well as highway patrol vehicles. Given I was playing tourist there over Easter weekend the cruise control was put to good use. 

 

 

 

From the exterior the SV6 is very much an SS V8 wannabe but instead of the 6.2 litre Gen III V8 there’s a Alloytec 195kW 3.6 litre V6 engine under the bonnet (hence the moniker SV6) but matched to a five-speed active select automatic gearbox.  The single exhaust tailpipes are a dead giveaway too but the 18-inch alloys look the business.

From rest the SV6 accelerates away briskly enough (zero to 100kph 7.5sec) but it still sounds and feels quite asthmatic and coarse at times at under 4000rpm, and it’s certainly not as refined as the 4.0 litre straight-six unit found in the FG Falcon.

 

Where the Commodore engine comes into its stride is on the freeway where it’s quiet and composed turning over 1800-2000 rpm at 100kph. We have been told by a Holden staffer that a direct injection 3.6 litre V6 engine such as that found in the Cadillac CTS may become available for future VE Commodores.

 

One can only hope as this would really suit the SV6.

 

Despite having a more sporting suspension set up than its cheaper Commodore Berlina and Omega siblings the SV6 offers a comfortable and compliant ride over the worst road conditions you can ever encounter in the city and outside it, but it is still a tidy performer around a corner.  

 

It is for these reasons alone that I began to understand why Australians continue to buy large six-cylinder rear-wheel-drive cars. The three-lane Monash freeway gets a bit claustrophobic at times in peak hour traffic and they have some rather large trucks and buses in Australia, so at times I was grateful to have the protective armour of the SV6 around me as well as its’ ESP and arsenal of safety features.

 

When you cover long distances regularly across some pretty rugged country roads and highways as they do in Australia, the safety and comfort offered by the Commodore and its arch rival the FG Falcon are a no-brainer in the decision making process.

 

The same doesn’t necessarily apply in New Zealand where we don’t cover quite as greater distance but the safety and functionality of a six-cylinder car still appeals to many fleet buyers.

 

The Commodore continues to be a top seller in New Zealand, it was the third highest seller in April 2009 behind the Suzuki Swift and the Toyota Corolla, but in overall sales at the end of May 2009 it lays second to the Corolla year to date.

 

Despite the world’s economic woes and fuel price movements, it would seem that it’s not yet crunch time for the Commodore! But thankfully that dreadful colour has been deleted.

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