The VE Commodore is an enormous car. Huge.
Gargantuan. When the VT Commodore was released, we said that there was room for
a small person to sit on the floor behind the driver’s seat. Now, with the front
seats positioned for normally sized people, you could have a bloody party in the
On the floor.
Going through the McDonalds drive-through within
half an hour of picking up the car (yep, very sophisticated) we winced at the
narrowness of the lane and the tightness of the corners. In fact even a current
limousine like the Lexus LS460 is within 3 per cent of the Commodore in length,
width and height. Compare the VE to previous Commodore models and you’d have to
figure that in the last few decades, all humans have all grown 200mm and 30kg
In fact, unless the VE is designed for extremely
tall, fat people, we can see no reason why the car is so enormous. Doesn’t
matter? Well perhaps less so in the run-of-the-mill models, but in the SS V – a
car with seriously sporting pretensions – we’re talking about lugging that extra
mass when you want to accelerate, want to brake or want to go around
The fact that the SS V does so well
on the road is a triumph of engineering over design. If the Commodore lost
perhaps 20 per cent in external dimensions and 400kg in mass, we can only guess
how fantastically the car would go, stop and corner. And how much better fuel
economy could be with a smaller engine delivering the same performance...
But clearly Holden believe there’s a market for
people who don’t care about size - and care little about fuel economy. And if
you’re one of these people, let’s be absolutely clear: the SS V is a brilliant
Over the more downmarket SS, the SS V scores
projector headlights, 19 inch wheels, a colour central LCD, curtain airbags and
a few other good bits. In as-tested 6-speed auto form it comes in at AUD$53,990
- an amount which is simply astonishingly good value for money. Include sat nav
on the standard colour LCD (and nav is a relatively cheap option), glue on a
Euro badge, and in nearly every aspect the Commodore could be a $100,000 car.
Remember, this car is now sophisticated from top to toe, from suspension to
chassis control electronics to braking to interior to performance. And yet it
also has the ruggedness that cannot be denied of the local product, is supported
by one of the best service networks in the country and – arguably – looks very
For us the most remarkable aspect of the car is
its poise on the road. The steering – controlled by a wheel with a rim too thick
for all but large hands – is superbly weighted, has excellent on-centre feel and
a directness that is a good compromise between sports twitchiness and lethargic
limousine. The suspension is extremely well sorted, with linear body roll (and
not much of it) and a beautifully engineered match with the stability control
system. Basically, the SS V is a safe and reassuring machine to point and
squirt, lair-arsing in the bellow of the V8 - or to use as a weapon to
analytically and quickly despatch a difficult stretch of mountain road.
(However, to return for a moment to the issue of
size, we found the Commodore so big that much cheaper and smaller cars could set
the same point-to-point times on tight roads – the sort encountered every day. A
good small car will always beat a good big car – the small car has an extra
metre of road width to play with....)
And the engine, the 6-litre Gen 4 pushrod V8?
Well, the paper specs suggest that with 270kW and 530Nm it’s big and it’s
powerful – and that’s exactly how it feels! In fact, it’s pretty hard to tell
you anything that “6 litre V8” doesn’t. When heard from outside the car, the
exhaust has a superb note (inside, it can at times drone a little, eg when
climbing country road hills) and when given throttle, the V8 responds well. Idle
is lumpy. Sometimes – like when the engine has just been started and the air con
is on – the idle is very lumpy indeed. Like the previous 5.7 litre V8, the
engine is tuned to rev – it doesn’t have gutfuls of bottom-end torque. But then
again, there’s a 6-speed auto to pick the right gear - so the torque at 2000 rpm
isn’t as important.
The auto – controlled manually only by the
gear-lever not steering wheel buttons – works well most of the time. But not all
the time. Twice in the time we had the test car the auto has spasms – once it
stayed in manually-selected low gear even when the lever was returned to Drive,
and the other time it took a long time (perhaps a few seconds) before responding
to a large throttle kick-down. However, in normal driving, it makes the
performance of the big V8 immediately accessible. Playing through city traffic,
the auto is quick – very quick. Against the stopwatch we recorded a 0-100 km/h
time in the low sixes.
And enhancing that real-world speed is the way in
which the electronics look after wheel-spin. The utterly stupid kick-you-in-the
throttle Holden traction control is long gone; now it’s a case of watching the
digital display screen in the centre of the instrument cluster to see when a
stability control notification occurs. The system’s so good you cannot easily
feel either the braking or engine power reduction interventions. We think it’s
important to stress the worth of Holden’s version of ESP: it’s a safety net
that’s always there whether the road is dry, unexpectedly slippery or streaming
with rain. And yet it still allows fun...
And what of the fuel economy? If it’s anything
which makes this car seem so out of step with prevailing social values it’s the
huge engine. With the present state of technology it would seem impossible to
make miserly a 6 litre V8 that’s lugging around 1805kg – and so it proves.
Unusual circumstances for our test meant that we weren’t able to have the car as
long as normal, and that most of the kilometres were on gently driven 100 km/h
roads. We’d therefore suggest that the 12.5 litres/100km figure we achieved
represents the best that any driver would ever see with the car being driven
normally. And the maximum fuel consumption? Drive the car hard and it’s easy
to be in the low twenties.
So how does the interior of the SS V stack up?
Very well! Room is huge, the seats comfortable (although oddly the fronts don’t
have adjustable B pillar seatbelt mounts) and the interior pockets and
compartments well organised and practical. The boot is probably amongst the
biggest of any sedan sold, although the rear seat does not fold flat – a large
ski port is provided instead. The other side of this folded part of the seat
contains a picnic style tray and holders for cups. A red warning appears on the
locking tab if this part of the seat has not been returned fully home – good
design. The boot opening is fine (in most current cars it’s quite restricted)
and external hinges and gas struts help maximise the opening. Under the mat (in
the test car a practical rubberised insert was also provided to cover the
carpet) you’ll find an 80 km/h rated space-saver spare. A full size spare is
The displays – a large colour LCD in the centre of
the dash and a smaller red/black LCD in the centre of the instrument cluster –
work well and the associated controls are clear and after a short
familiarisation, easy to use. Interestingly, the huge, ugly and unwieldy buttons
of Commodores of the last decade are gone – the controls use clear and crisp
graphics and normal sizes. But driver vision is hampered by large A-pillars and
we found the external rear vision mirrors a little small – or perhaps we’ve got
used to heavily concave glass all round. The rear spoiler also obscures a lot of
the rear vision. The body looks well made and the paint on the test car was
lustrous (except under the boot lid, where it was poor). Shut a front door with
the windows down and there’s an awful, cheap clang. The rear windows also don’t
As you might have gathered, in this test we’ve
wrestled with the final judgement. One part of us says that the SS V is simply a
great car; in fact, in terms of value for money, an amazingly good machine.
Safe, fast, roomy, practical, well designed, fun – a gun performance car. But
another part of us says that the SS V is a dinosaur anachronism, a car where
bigger is equated to being always better, and where if driven as designed, the
consumption of fuel, brake pads and tyres will be huge. If only Holden had put
the same design team onto something scaled at 75 per cent... But they didn’t – and
this test is of the VE Commodore SS V we actually get.
In the final analysis, the Commodore dramatically
raises the bar for Australian sporting sedans, and at this price, can easily be
argued to do the same in a worldwide context.
We absolutely loved driving it for the test
period. But would we buy one? Hell no!
Commodore SS V was provided for this test by Holden Australia.