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VE Commodore Berlina

A good car - but is it convincingly better than the competition?

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Huge interior space
  • Very comfortable
  • Alloytec V6 much improved over VZ model
  • Auto trans lacks a sequential shift
  • Very good overall - but so is the competition...
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The VE series Holden Commodore might be ‘all new’ but we can tell you it isn’t convincingly the best in its segment.

Tested here in Berlina spec (a high-value model that should attract private buyers), the new Holden brings fresh styling and feel but its closest rival, the aging BA-BF series Ford Falcon, is definitely on the same page in terms of performance, refinement, space - pretty well everything.

The VE is a good car but it isn’tthe knockout blow we were expecting.

So what are the VE’s strengths?

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Well, there’s not much that can beat the new Holden in terms of interior space. Front and rear passengers enjoy ample space and the rear seat is wide enough to comfortably accommodate a bulky child seat in the centre and an adult passenger either side. Rear knee and leg room are genuinely comparable to many Euro luxury limousines. Boot space is equally gigantic and is very useable thanks to the twin strut boot lid support and lack of rear deck speakers (which would otherwise eat into the cargo volume).

The seats are comfortable and combined with relatively soft suspension, this is the sort of car you can drive for hours and hours without fatigue. The main controls are well laid out, the Berlina’s Audi-style multi-function trip computer works well and the leather steering wheel is comfortable to hold.

In normal light-throttle driving, the Berlina is extremely refined – Holden have made huge NVH improvements with the 3.6-litre Alloytec V6. It’s hard to believe it’s the same engine found in the superseded VZ. At idle, engine operation is barely noticeable and in all normal driving conditions it remains relatively quiet and refined.

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The engine feels more responsive than in the VZ and now with 180kW/330Nm (at 6000 and 2600 rpm respectively) there’s plenty of grunt to overtake on the open road or merely leap ahead of that annoying taxi in the next lane. We recorded a respectable 0 – 100 km/h time of 8.5 seconds.

The VE’s rack and pinion power steering is nicely weighted and offers linear response – a big advantage over the rival Ford whose steering becomes very quick away from the straight-ahead position.

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Turn-in is quick and predictable and the chassis feels solidly planted through corners. The Linear Control multi-link front and four-link independent rear suspension soak up mid-corner bumps and broken bitumen with no need for steering corrections. On mid to high speed corners, the VE can be leant over with its front and rear outside Turanza tyres squealing equally – indicative of a very well balanced chassis.

In tighter conditions the front-end will run wide past the corner apex before the standard stability control intervenes. In the dry conditions during our test, the stability control was very well behaved – it doesn’t step in too early and stop you having fun but it effectively straightens and slows the car when required.

So this is a very comfortable, refined car with good dynamics and safety.

But there are problems.

The VE’s noticeably increased body strength brings thicker A-pillars which can easily obscure a cyclist or an entire vehicle. The thickness of the pillar and its proximity to your head is also annoying on twisty roads.

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The ride is comfortable in 90 percent of driving but there are a couple of flaws. On undulating high speed roads the damping feels inadequate while short, sharp bumps (such as potholes) can cause noticeable tyre thump. This is magnified by the Berlina’s 17 inch wheels with low profile 225/55 tyres (the base-spec Omega rides on 16 inch steel wheels wearing 225/60 tyres) but is most likely caused by the very high recommended tyre pressures – 36 psi front and rear.

The upgraded brakes perform well in emergency braking but we reckon a few first-time VE drivers might come near to having a rear-end accident. The brake pedal in our test car often required more and more pressure to achieve our desired rate of deceleration – not what you want when approaching the back of a Mercedes-Benz...

And although the Alloytec V6 offers great refinement in normal driving and more than adequate performance, it isn’t a standout. The Ford 4-litre six offers almost the same smoothness at idle but with greater effortlessness and a happier sound at high rpm. The Alloytec still sounds a bit threshy at high load - though nowhere near the extent of the previous model.

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In Berlina spec, the 180kW Alloytec comes tied to an updated version of the old 4L69E four-speed auto. Compared to the five-speed auto used in upper-spec models, this trans soaks up some performance and no amount of recalibration can hide its age. The trans will occasionally clunk into gear and our test car had an unusual driveline vibration when lumbering up hills at low rpm. The lack of a sequential shift mechanism is also disappointing.

The integration of the Berlina’s six-stack CD audio system and dual-zone climate control generally works well but some of the controls are difficult to decipher. For example, there’s a prompt that appears in the centre LCD display telling you to push the Enter button; unfortunately, there’s no button with this marking... It turns out to be one of the audio controls on the steering wheel.

The quality of our test car (which had obviously done a lot of hard work) was also questionable. The centre console lid has a cheap-o latch system, the stalk controls are clunky and the audio/climate control display failed to operate on one occasion. The inside of the boot lid also lacked any trim.

And what of the 1641kg VE Berlina’s fuel consumption?

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We recorded 11.4 litres per 100km during our test which comprised around 30 percent country driving. The trip computer showed as high as 12.2 litres per 100km after a few short urban trips. This compares closely with what we’ve achieved in the rival Ford but trails the Mitsubishi 380 by almost 1 litre per 100km. Whatever the case, the success of this entire vehicle category will depend largely on future fuel prices. At the time of writing, fuel prices had reached their lowest in more than a year - but don’t expect them to stay that way...

Within the VE range, the Berlina stands out as one of the best value buys. At AUD$39,990, it aces the base Commodore Omega with 17 inch alloy wheels, parking sensors, upgrade interior and body trim, a six-disc CD, dual-zone climate control, side airbags, improved instrumentation and Bluetooth connectivity – all for just AUD$3,500 more than the entry-level model with air conditioning.

The VE’s pricing is very competitive – as is the car. But despite what Holden’s advertising says, it’s not the car to leave its rivals in the Stone Age.

The VE Berlina was provided for this test by Holden Australia.

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