Ford Falcon vs. Holden Commodore vs. Nissan Maxima vs. Honda Accord vs. Toyota Aurion vs. Skoda Superb
Words Paul Maric Pics Pavle.com.au
Our Mums told us that if we didn’t have anything good to say, then we shouldn’t say anything at all. Unfortunately, we’ve gone against their advice and stuck two Aussies, three Japanese and one European car into a room and interrogated them until we found one worthy of your money.
We’ve spent the best part of this week shuffling through six vehicles from the top selling manufacturers in the sub-$60,000 large car segment. The segment is loaded with in excess of 100 models from eight manufacturers – it’s any wonder people get confused when it comes to purchasing a large car.
With a maximum price tag of $60,000 (plus on-road costs), we selected the top model from each of the top six manufacturers, ending up with an even spread of the large car market.
From the Aussie camp, we have the new Holden Commodore Calais V-Series V6 (SIDI) and the Ford Falcon G6E Turbo. The Japanese aim to retaliate with the Nissan Maxima Ti, Honda Accord Luxury V6 and the Toyota Aurion Presara. Our lone European contender is the all-paw Skoda Superb V6.
Ranging in price from $46,990, through to $57,490, the battle is on and there can only be one victor – let the war begin.
Sixth Place – Holden Commodore Calais V-Series V6 (SIDI)
Released in 2006 as Holden’s answer to the Australian car market, the VE Commodore fired off the blocks with the greatest intent in mind. While it had a phenomenal start, things began to stammer when Ford released their FG Falcon.
While the dated styling still leaves a lot to be desired, Holden’s new SIDI range of engines promise to offer Commodore drivers a brand new driving experience. The Calais V-Series now receives a 210kW 3.6-litre direct injection engine. In addition to the engine upgrade, the Calais is also fitted with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
After opening the driver’s door and jumping inside, the commanding driving position, in addition to the masses of leg and head room allow the driver to feel right at home.
Rear seat passengers are also graced with a generous amount of leg room, catering for both adults and children. Our passenger test indicated that even with a load of five adults, there was ample room to feel comfortable.
Road noise has also been dramatically improved with beefed up door seals. They helped bring the interior noise levels at 100km/h down to 68dB on test, bettering the line-up of competitors. The interior noise on gravel jumped to 85dB, suggesting the underbody buffering remains unchanged as it’s still relatively high in comparison to its competitors.
The only downside to the beefed up door seals was that the doors have become harder to close. Instead of a regular shove, the doors now require a sure-footed jolt to shut correctly.
At $56,790, the Commodore is the third most expensive vehicle on test. Unfortunately, the feature list doesn’t match the Commodore’s rather hefty price tag. The Commodore misses out on a reversing camera (instead featuring front and rear parking sensors), seat heaters, satellite navigation, sunroof and auto-dimming rear vision mirror.
A desirable trait – especially for Australian sold vehicles is decent high-beam headlights. Second only to the Falcon’s headlights, the Commodore packed a decent throw when the high beams were engaged. This helps with country driving and spotting rogue animals.
Holden’s new SIDI engine is far punchier than the outgoing offering, but is totally let down by the confused six-speed automatic gearbox. Whenever the driver demands power the gearbox always needs a moment to think the process through before handing over the correct cog. The end result is driving filled with jolts and shoves as the gearbox attempts to predict your next move.
Once it’s in gear and is holding a gear, the engine provides ample torque for tasks like overtaking. It no longer feels like it’s being held by the throat.
Brake pedal feel was the worst of the bunch. The driver needs to push the pedal three-quarters of the way to the floor before the brakes are engaged. From there on the pedal remains firm and requires plenty of boot to stop the vehicle.
The initial highway stretch to our test ground had the Commodore using 9.9L/100km – placing it fifth overall. Including performance testing on the day and the final city and highway loops, the Commodore returned to the office consuming 11.9L/100km – placing it fifth again.
Unfortunately while Holden’s Commodore is still great in isolation, the dated interior, exterior, transmission and unrealistic price have landed it with the wooden spoon, placing it last. When placed against its natural rival, the Ford Falcon G6E, the Commodore is $7300 more expensive and doesn’t offer any extra features that yield such a large price difference.
Fifth Place – Toyota Aurion Presara
If this comparison didn’t take into account a car’s soul, handling, practicality, drive or style, the Aurion would win hands down. Unfortunately, with the way people buy cars, each and every one of those factors is taken into consideration, putting the Aurion at a disadvantage.
Although the Aurion doesn’t fail in any particular field, it manages to fly under the radar most of the time.
From a driver’s perspective the interior looks nice, until you start poking around. Each of our test passengers agreed that the materials used throughout the cabin felt cheap. The faux wood was hollow and the half-wood steering wheel looked far too tacky even to consider as a style statement.
While the cabin feels low class, passengers are graced with more than ample leg room. The seats are also very comfortable (both front and rear), but don’t offer much side and bottom bolster, sending the driver and passengers travelling around the cabin on several occasions during the five-passenger portion of the test.
An advantage to the cheap looking audio and navigation controls is that they’re incredibly easy to use. There’s no confusion when a driver sets out to increase cabin temperature or adjust the volume, it’s almost an instinctive process and goes to show how much Toyota spends on ergonomics.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is great in all directions. The vehicle comes standard with front and rear parking sensors, along with a reversing camera.
An array of standard features has the Aurion missing out only on heated seats, auxiliary input and DVD player. Satellite navigation, auto-dimming rear-vision mirror, sunroof and Xenon headlights are standard features.
The Aurion’s Xenon low beam doesn’t include a Xenon high beam, making the high beam on the Aurion appalling for country driving and made it difficult to see far ahead due to the narrow high beam.
Priced at $49,990 (plus on-road costs), the Aurion was equal second with the Honda Accord Luxury V6 on price.
Driving the Aurion is pleasing until you deviate from the norm and attempt to overtake or drive on unsealed roads. The front-wheel-drive Toyota torque steers frantically under full throttle (say during an overtake manoeuvre) and doesn’t give the driver any confidence while driving on unsealed dirt roads due to the narrow tyres and comfort-oriented suspension.
The stability control removes nearly all throttle response when provoked and doesn’t release the reigns for several seconds afterward. This type of intervention removes the perception of control and can be disorienting.
The slightly jarring ride over bumpy roads becomes frustrating after a little while, but in general the ride is very compliant and responds well to a full complement of passengers.
Cabin noise at 100km/h on sealed roads sits at 73dB, placing it equal second with the Ford Falcon G6E Turbo. On gravel the value jumps to an audibly noticeable 89dB, 4dB better than the nearest rival.
Its 3.5-litre, 200kW V6 is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Where the six-speed automatic in the Holden was its major downfall, the Toyota gearbox is very responsive and always manages to select the correct gear chosen for the prevailing conditions.
If you take a look at the performance figures, the Aurion’s comparatively light 1625kg mass and rev-happy 3.5-litre engine makes it fast in the 0-100km/h dash, completing the sprint in just 6.77-seconds. 100-0km/h on the other hand was the Aurion’s main downfall, pulling up in the longest distance of 40.39m.
The initial highway stretch had the Aurion averaging an equal best 8.9L/100km. By the time we’d finished performance testing and the final highway and city segment, the Aurion consumed 10.9L/100km on average.
While the Toyota Aurion performs okay when limited to city driving and open highways, it begins showing its flaws upon closer inspection. Sub-par perceived quality, under-the-pump performance, dynamics and head room see it take a lowly fifth place.
Fourth Place – Honda Accord Luxury V6
The other two Japanese contenders in this comparison – the Honda Accord Luxury V6 and Nissan Maxima Ti –are more than often overlooked when Joe Bloggs wanders out to buy a new car.
Honda’s Accord is available in both four-cylinder and six-cylinder form. While I don’t really rate the power lacking four-cylinder variant, the V6 brings the Accord back into contention with great pricing and a great drive.
Released in early 2008, the Accord features love it or hate it styling. The exterior’s multitude of angles are a total contrast to its Accord Euro sibling, but still see Honda move around 360 units per month.
I’m not sure what it is about the Accord V6, but everything feels solid and very well built. When you open and close the doors, they open and close like the doors of a BMW 7 Series, while the cabin plastics feel soft to the touch but firm to the blow.
Large wing mirrors and small A-pillars make forward visibility brilliant, while rear visibility is somewhat hampered by a rising boot line.
The leather-clad interior adds an element of luxury to both front and rear seat passengers. Leg room is impressive throughout the cabin, but shoulder room is limited due to the narrow width of the vehicle.
Brace yourself if you need to adjust any temperature or audio settings and heaven forbid having to use the satellite navigation. There are no less than 45 buttons scattered over the centre portion of the dashboard. They become confusing and frustrating if you need something in a hurry and are better mastered before setting out on travels.
An impressive list of standard features makes the Accord a value proposition, missing out on front and rear parking sensors (using a reversing camera instead), auto dimming rear vision mirror, DVD player and Bluetooth compatibility.
The sporty ride is a little firm but helps the Accord feel in-check during tight corners and twisty sections of road. Our five passenger test left all passengers happy and comfortable, although a little bit cramped.
Road noise at 100km/h on sealed roads was 79dB; placing it fourth, while noise on gravel roads increased to a third place getting 84dB.
Under the bonnet, Honda’s renowned 3.5-litre V6 produces 202kW and sends torque to the front wheels courtesy of a five-speed automatic gearbox.
Steering the Honda is a truly pleasant task. The relatively light steering is accurate and provides great response, while the brake pedal feels on task to pull the car up when required.
Due to the nature of the i-VTEC engine the torque doesn’t show its head until around 3500rpm and reaches its peak at 5000rpm. As such, it’s relatively gutless below that magic figure. From there on, it just seems to keep pulling until the next gear is called to continue acceleration.
Overtaking is handled with ease. Unlike the Aurion, there is little torque steer to contend with and the Accord pulls in a straight line during overtaking.
Honda uses Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) which allows the engine to shut down up to three cylinders in a bid to reduce fuel consumption. You can feel the system kick in when lifting off the throttle and although it doesn’t work wonders for fuel consumption, every little bit helps.
Fuel consumption during the first highway stretch saw 9.3L/100km on the dial, while the final reading after performance testing and the final city and highway stretch read 11.0L/100km.
It’s hard to fault the Honda Accord. Unfortunately its competitors simply offer better value for money, more features and better gearboxes. It only just lost out to its nearest competitor and in isolation is far from a bad purchase choice.
Third Place – Skoda Superb Elegance V6
A limousine sized European car with a V6 motor for under $60,000…you’re kidding right?
Skoda has managed to offer their flagship Superb to the Australian public for a couple of thousand dollars short of the $60,000 cut-off.
Skoda’s reliability and customer satisfaction is amongst the best in JD Power surveys, continuously placing in the top five.
Jump inside and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Every component of the interior feels well built and extremely solid. The driving position is superb (pardon the pun), while the position of controls and ease of use is second to none.
Visibility from the driving perch looking forward is great. Looking back on the other hand yields a large blind spot about the C-pillar, while the lack of reversing camera makes parking a bit tricky in tight spaces (although rear parking sensors are standard fitment).
Possibly the most surprising part about the Superb is the front and rear leg room. Leg room easily exceeds all competitors in this class and even challenges the likes of the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes Benz S-Class.
The easy to use touch-screen multimedia system controls audio, climate and the optional satellite navigation.
Leather clad seats provide great side and bottom bolster for passengers and are very comfortable and supportive. During the five passenger portion of the test, the middle seat passenger experienced a very firm seat and lack of head room, hinting that the Superb is built mainly for four passengers. Front passengers and the two outer rear seat passengers get heated seats to help with frosty mornings.
The somewhat firm suspension was surprisingly compliant over sealed and unsealed roads, offering the perfect compromise between handling and comfort.
The intuitive boot opens as either a hatch or sedan style boot by virtue of twin servo motors that alternate boot hinges.
At $56,990, the Superb is the second dearest car in this comparison and contains the least number of standard features. Satellite navigation, electric seats, front parking sensors, sun roof, reversing camera, Bluetooth and metallic paint are optional.
Cabin noise at 100km/h on sealed roads is 74dB, placing it fourth overall. Noise on gravel increases to a comparison leading 82dB.
While the Superb lacks standard features, it most certainly doesn’t lack grunt or handling prowess.
Powered by a 3.6-litre V6 producing 191kW, torque is directed through an all-wheel-drive system. Mated to a six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), the Superb is capable of shifting up gears in a mind numbing 8ms.
The punchy and sonorous V6 engine is very capable and pleasing during normal driving and during cornering.
The all-wheel-drive system which uses a Haldex coupling offers precise torque distribution and brilliant surge from a standing start. The steering and brakes are also standout, offering superb (there it is again) response and pedal feel.
Our brake test indicated that the Skoda’s 100-0km/h brake distance of 36.34m was over 2m better than its nearest competitor, the Ford Falcon G6E Turbo.
During the initial highway stretch, the Skoda returned an equal best fuel economy of 8.9L/100km. At the end of the day after performance testing and the final city and highway stint, the Skoda consumed 11.2L/100km on average, placing it fourth.
The Skoda Superb was a massive standout during the comparison. The space on offer, along with the superb (okay, I’ll stop now) drivetrain were undoubtedly one of the best. Unfortunately, the pricing and lack of standard features dragged it down, placing it within a bee’s wing of the Nissan Maxima, which bet it by the closest of margins.
Second Place – Nissan Maxima Ti
Snatching second place from its European competitor, the Nissan Maxima Ti was able to do no wrong.
Nissan has attempted to revive the Maxima with fresh styling and a perky engine straight out of the outgoing 350Z.
The styling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the pricing and jam-packed level of features certainly will be.
Extremely comfortable seats offer masses of leg and head room, in addition to adequate side and bottom bolster. Heated front seats also warm bums on cold mornings.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is fantastic in all directions. Rear visibility is helped during parking with a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
An easy to use multimedia interface and intuitive satellite navigation can be controlled by both driver and passenger and are easy to figure out once used a few times. The sound system, which includes Dolby surround sound for DVDs, is phenomenal.
At $46,990, the Maxima Ti is the cheapest vehicle in the comparison. It’s loaded to the hilt with features, including satellite navigation, auxiliary plug, leather, seat heaters, electric seats, sunroof, reversing camera, Bluetooth connectivity, DVD player and rear parking sensors. It only misses out on an auto dimming rear-vision mirror and front parking sensors.
A nuisance attributed to both the Aurion and Maxima is the foot operated park-brake. While it may save room, it’s an absolute pain to deal with each and every time you enter and exit the vehicle.
During the five passenger portion of the test, there were no complaints about comfort. Suspension over country roads is very compliant and reacts well when treated to both gravel and sealed roads.
Cabin noise at 100km/h on sealed roads was 80dB and 83dB on gravel, placing it last and second respectively.
Producing 185kW, the 3.5-litre V6 engine is fitted with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). The pulley based CVT is capable of infinitely varying ratios, opposed to pre-determined gear divisions in a regular automatic gearbox.
This helps by allowing the gearbox to keep revs within the engine’s peak torque range and negating the need for gear shifts. While it takes a little bit of getting used to, it propels the Maxima in great haste when required.
As one of the best cars to drive in this comparison, the Maxima’s acceleration is very impressive. The engine note is also noticeable and pleasant to listen to.
Steering and brake feel is impressive to say the least, obviously taking inspiration from its sporty 370Z cousin.
Fuel consumption during the first highway stretch was 9.8L/100km, placing it fourth. At the end of the day though after performance testing and the final city and highway loop, the Maxima returned 10.0L/100km, placing it second.
The Nissan Maxima Ti was well and truly surprising when stacked up against its closest rivals. While it couldn’t match the overall winner in terms of performance, it didn’t put a foot wrong throughout the rest of the comparison.
It was a very tight tussle between second and third, with the Maxima eventually clawing its way to the top. We would love to see more of these vehicles on the road as they are outstanding value for money.
First Place – Ford Falcon G6E Turbo
I can just see the complaints flooding in now.
“Where’s your credibility CarAdvice, another biased win for Ford!”
“Get with the times CarAdvice, the taxi shouldn’t be anywhere near this comparison!”
When Ford set out to develop a competitor to the VE Commodore, they didn’t stop at the design or technology front. They went one step further and produced a car which could perform when it needed to and use little fuel the rest of the time.
From the moment you open the door and sit down in the driver’s seat, you are impressed with the layout of all the controls and the marked build quality and trim improvement from the BF Falcon. The Onyx leather interior and charcoal trim surrounding the centre facia give you the impression you’re driving something much more enticing than the humble Falcon.
Extremely comfortable seats both front and rear offer generous side and bottom bolsters and allows the passengers to sink in and become relaxed. Rear seat leg room is the least accommodating of all competitors and could certainly be improved.
The five passenger portion of the test revealed a set of happy passengers. Leg room was a bit tight in the rear due to the protrusion of the driveline down the centre of the cabin. Cabin noise at 100km/h on sealed roads was 73dB, placing it equal second with the Aurion, while on gravel it rose to 85dB, making it equal fourth with the Commodore.
The standard features list is impressive, with the Falcon only missing out on heated seats, satellite navigation, DVD player and front parking sensors.
The commanding driving position has the driver sitting high with an uninterrupted field of view both out the front and rear of the vehicle. The reversing camera is also the best out of this bunch, offering great clarity during day and night.
At $57,490, the Falcon is the most expensive car of the comparison. The G6E on the other hand is priced at $49,490, but doesn’t receive the stellar turbocharged engine.
Producing 270kW of power, the 4.0-litre inline-six-cylinder turbocharged engine is mated with one of the best gearboxes on the market – the six-speed ZF Sachs automatic gearbox.
The intuitive gearbox is constantly in the right gear and when a boot full of throttle is unleashed, the turbocharged six begins moving – seriously fast.
The fighter-jet style induction noise is seriously addictive and is unlike any other car on the market.
Steering is brilliant, with direct feel and responsive feedback. The brakes feel okay, but could do with a bit more pedal feel.
Handling is the Falcon’s downside with a considerable amount of body roll hampering overall performance. The body roll does allow the ride to be more compliant through, soaking up all types of roads thrown at it.
CarAdvice also managed to record a blistering 0-100km/h time during performance testing. The G6E Turbo managed to cover the stint in just 4.97-seconds and went on to finish the quarter mile in 13.25-seconds.
For such a heavy car, it is seriously fast. As you can imagine, overtaking is completed without even a consideration for space.
The Falcon consumed 10.2L/100km on the highway stretch and finished the day at 12.6L/100km after the city and final highway stint.
The world class engine and gearbox combination was absolutely unmatched in this comparison. At $57,490, you will not find anything that matches it in terms of performance, luxury and space.
Performance Tests –
While performance isn’t at the forefront of most purchases, it is a benchmark which allows drivers to compare braking and acceleration.
All tests were performed with two passengers on board (driver and front passenger) using a Racelogic VBOX. Each vehicle had three-quarters of a tank of petrol. Ambient temperature was 17-degrees Celcius.
Equipment supplied by Applied Measurement.
Nissan Maxima Ti:
Skoda Superb Elegance V6:
Honda Accord Luxury V6:
Toyota Aurion Presara:
Holden Commodore Calais V-Series V6:
Scoring Regime and Vehicle Specifications–
With that, CarAdvice is pleased to award the Ford Falcon G6E Turbo with the award for the 2009 Large Car Comparison. Well done Ford, this is a car which Ford should be sending overseas with great haste, it would be a certain sales success given the opportunity.
While the Falcon took the award for best car, each of the other vehicles is a sensible and good value purchase option. Most have their individual flaws but none of the vehicles featured in the comparison had glaring omissions.
Money talks, so haggling and test driving the lot are the only way to find which vehicle suits your situation the most.