I can’t help it. Every, single, time I jump into a new Holden Commodore, I get a little emotional. Ute, Sportwagon, Sedan, it doesn’t matter. So when I had the option of pinching the new 2016 Holden Commodore SS V Redline from the CarAdvice Melbourne garage for the Christmas break, I didn’t hesitate.
Looking bright and menacing all at once, our Red Hot SS V Redline VF Series II Holden Commodore could not be more ‘on-brand’ for the local lion.
Rolling on 19-inch gloss-black alloy wheels, the $53,990 flagship Commodore looks the part with a black roof, quad-exit bi-modal exhaust, rear spoiler, Brembo brakes front and rear, and just the right mix of exterior chrome and black highlights. New for VFII, there are also bonnet vents, a revised front grille and bumper, and clear tail-lights.
And while it’s hard to ignore the 304kW/570Nm 6.2-litre LS3 V8 engine now tucked under the bonnet – producing 34kW more power and 40Nm more torque than the 6.0-litre lump in the VFI – it’s this car’s transmission that has me smiling.
No self-shifting, six-speed ‘Sports Automatic’ or paddle-shifters here, mate. Here, we have the real deal. A six-speed manual gearbox with an old-school single clutch (and clutch pedal).
I know I’m CarAdvice’s resident juvenile, but I maintain: find me a fun car and it will be even more fun with a stick and three pedals in it. And, for me at least, the SS V Redline is no exception.
So while most people are with their families and loved ones on Christmas Day, I’m at the carwash giving ‘Big Red’ a quick once-over and planning the day’s drive.
Growing up in Melbourne’s east, my old ‘backyard’ comprises Warrandyte, Kangaroo Ground, Kinglake, Healesville and Marysville, and sometimes if a bigger drive is on the cards, Gembrook, Launching Place and Reefton.
With the highway’s ‘choccas’ with families running all over Melbourne getting to and from countless family functions – fun no doubt – the twisty roads in the hills are usually rather deserted. Good news.
The Holden Commodore is somewhat of a TARDIS. Sure, the thing is 30mm-odd off being five metres long but still, its outright spaciousness really is something to behold.
Sit up front in the wide, comfortable partial-leather seats and, while you can see a decent bonnet stretching out ahead of you, there’s stacks of space. Slide into the back seats and there’s loads of legroom and plenty of noggin clearance for taller folk. Again, stacks of space. Pop the boot – which annoyingly you can only do from either the key fob or via a button tucked into the driver’s door – and you’re presented with an abyss of a rear end that can swallow up to 495 litres of gear (or Christmas presents if that’s your bag).
Another thing to behold is the noise emitted from the car when explosions going on inside the engine are expelled via exhaust pipes that feature a unique mechanism designed by Holden engineer David Baillie – who sadly died from leukaemia before the VFII launched.
Keeping things polite when not active, once the system’s electrically actuated valves switch to ‘upset the neighbours’ mode, the bi-modal exhaust lovingly fills the air with a sound few future cars are ever likely to replicate. Pushrods, two valves per cylinder and a single camshaft may not be the height of modern engineering, but the noise generated by the GenIV LS3 engine is something enthusiasts will miss once engines of its ilk are long passed.
Log a few kays in the Holden through flowing blacktop and big-country straights, and it’s the flexibility of the whole package that impresses most.
Peak power might be at 6000rpm and peak torque at 4400rpm, but unless you’re intentionally trying to put yourself behind bars, you simply don’t need those sorts of revs.
Second-gear starts are taken in stride and shifts at or near 1500rpm are all that are required for daily commutes and back-road coasting. If low-end grunt is your thing, the big V8’s effortless pickup is just plain addictive.
Of course, if you prefer revving things out, the Commodore will gladly oblige, giving you even more reasons to stir the cogs.
Testing the VFII Redline’s revised ‘FE3’ sports-tuned suspension through some quality bends, the 1793kg Holden feels far from a dynamic lightweight.
That said, with exceptional grip from the 245mm-wide, 40-profile front and 275mm-wide, 35-profile rear Bridgestone Potenza tyres, the performance Commodore can easily pass for a legitimate sports sedan. Even the four-piston Brembos, teamed with 355mm discs up front and 360mm discs in the rear, consistently perform well.
Less likely to please the majority of punters is the remarkable speed at which the V8 Holden attempts to drain its 71-litre fuel tank.
The 6.2-litre engine’s claim of 12.6 litres per 100km (12.9L/100km if you go with the auto) is up from the old 6.0-litre’s 11.8L/100km, though, in our time with the car we averaged 13.9L/100km – climbing to beyond 16L/100km following some more ‘spirited’ driving.
The six-speed Tremec transmission is also attached to a heavy shift action, and while the sound produced by the standard nine-speaker stereo isn’t bad, our test car’s eight-inch MyLink infotainment touchscreen experienced repeated Bluetooth phone-related ‘glitches’.
In any spec, VF-based Holden Commodores are a solid example of high-quality, locally-built product. And in 2016 VFII guise, the Holden Commodore SS V Redline is, overall, a gem. It combines acres of space with bucket-loads of torque and genuine sporting ability. You also get plenty of equipment including six airbags, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, a semi-automated parking function, and a rear-view camera with reverse traffic alert.
Driving a Holden Commodore through some of Victoria’s best twisties and textbook Australiana landscapes feels undeniably right. Brown, dry countryside, eucalyptus trees and the sound of a thumping V8 – I told you I get a little emotional. Perhaps, though, if you’re anything like me, driving a manual is still more fun than driving an auto…
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Holden Commodore SS V Redline images by David Zalstein.