2017 Holden Commodore Motorsport, Magnum and Director review: Race-certified Commodores driven

$59,290 $63,940 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    11.8L
  • Engine Power
    304kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    292g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

This is it, the final three new locally-produced Commodore models ever. Paul Maric gets behind the wheel.

It's been a long time coming – after 38 years in production and over three million cars sold, local production of the Holden Commodore will come to an end this year. But, the Commodore won't be quickly forgotten with three very special limited editions announced today, and we've driven them.

The 2017 Holden Commodore Motorsport will sit in a sedan body modelled on the SS-V Redline. The Director will also be a sedan, but modelled off the Calais V. The final special edition will be the Magnum, which was designed to offer performance above and beyond the SS-V Redline ute.

Kicking off the price range will be the Magnum, starting from $59,290 (plus on-road costs) for the six-speed manual, with the six-speed automatic an extra $2200. That's a $8300 premium over the SS-V Redline ute.

Next up is the Motorsport, which is priced from $61,790 (plus on-road costs) for the six-speed manual, and an extra $2200 for the six-speed automatic. That's a $7300 premium over the SS-V Redline manual.

Finally, the Director will only be available with a six-speed automatic and is priced from $63,940 (plus on-road costs), which is $8000 above the Calais V V8.

Limited is exactly what all three will be, with only 1200 Motorsports being produced (with an additional 151 for New Zealand – a nod to Greg Murphy's car number and the grade of wool used on the floor (just kidding)).

Just 360 Directors will roll down the line (with an extra 51 for New Zealand) and even less Magnums, with just 240 entering production (again, with an additional 51 for New Zealand). That makes 2053 units in total.

Each of the cars will come with one of four product codes – UTE, DIR, KOM and NOPD. UTE is obviously a Magnum code, DIR for Director, KOM is allocated to Motorsport vehicles and stands for 'King of the Mountain', while NOPD is a special one. It stands for 'no pre-delivery'.

No pre-delivery is basically a car delivered to the customer that entirely bypasses the pre-delivery process. It's delivered with plastic on seat covers, bonnet protection, logo coverage, door sill plastics and floor protection in place. NOPD is intended for the collector that wants to slot their car straight into storage.

Each car comes with a unique presentation case that includes a copy of their build plate and a video screen that plays professionally shot images of their car. Buyers can also purchase a full size car cover that includes a logo of their car and can also be custom made with unique text. Finally a 1:18 scale model is also currently being produced and will be available for sale to anybody once the cars enter production midway through this year.

Before we dive into the details, it's worth noting how these cars actually came about. The project was initially started as an automotive skunkworks, with the team looking at ways to deliver extra track-rated performance without diluting the Commodore's excellent suburban and country driving dynamics. A group of engineers and members of the marketing team got together and started pooling ideas to make this happen before taking them to directors for approval.

Little did we know that when we shot a video on Holden's engineering program last year, the team was already working on the program using the car we were standing in front of.

The team looked at increasing power output, but determined that 304kW of power would be the perfect number – and we tend to agree. The range remains powered by a 6.2-litre LS3 naturally aspirated V8 engine that produces 304kW of power and 570Nm of torque.

To help make it easier, we have split the bottom sections into four categories, with an additional two categories for our road drive and track drive.

Motorsport, Director and Magnum

Each of the three special editions is 'GM Level 3 Track Capable'. That means that these vehicles have achieved the same track capable certification as vehicles like the Corvette Z06 and Camaro ZL1. They achieve this certification by conducting 24 hours of race pace laps at GM's Milford Road Course. The in lap and out lap don't count and if a certain lap isn't within a certain race pace timeframe, it doesn't count either.

Part of testing also includes going through a full tank of fuel at VMax at temperatures above 38 degrees Celsius ambient.

The certification ensures that from a powertrain and braking perspective, they are capable of being driven hard without risk of overheating or part failure.

To successfully achieve the Level 3 certification, each of the limited editions had an additional engine oil cooler fitted, an auxillary automatic transmission cooler (for six-speed automatic models) and an in-tank radiator water-to-oil cooler for manual models.

All three models also get 20-inch split forged alloy wheels, heated front seats (if not already), premium sports seats (from the Chevrolet SS), Brembo brakes with a two-piece front rotor and cross drilled rotors on front and rear, tyre pressure monitoring, unique decals and a number of other goodies.

Motorsport

The Motorsport Edition picks up the following items in addition to the SS-V Redline it's based off:

  • 20-inch black forged alloy wheels
  • Magnetic Ride Control suspension
  • Cross-drilled rotors front and rear
  • Premium sports seats (based on the Chevrolet SS)
  • Heated front seats
  • eight-way power adjustable passenger seat
  • Gurney style lip spoiler (full spoiler an optional extra)
  • Tyre pressure monitoring system
  • Engine oil cooler
  • Motorsport decals
  • Embroidered IP insert
  • Black grille surrounds
  • Red mirror scalps
  • Red daytime running light surrounds
  • Motorsport floor mats
  • Individually numbered build plate

The Motorsport Edition is Holden's halo special edition model. It's loaded with all the goodies and is also the most available model.

To achieve the feats the team has achieved with its track status, the Motorsport comes with Magnetic Ride Control suspension that has been custom-tuned by Holden's engineering team to offer a balance between performance and comfort.

Three modes are on offer – Tour, Sport and Performance – each with its own firmness and reactive properties. The capacitive damping system works by charging particles within the damper chamber to offer varying levels of compliance and body roll.

It works using position sensors on each corner of the vehicle that continuously monitor and can change the magnetic fluid in the damper at up to 1000 times per second, or 1000Hz.

The suspension system works in unison with the driver mode control system that offers four settings – Touring, Sport, Performance and Track. The system tailors the stability control and suspension to offer drivers the best setting for their desired driving scenario.

Touring works in the city and keeps the bi-modal exhaust closed, Sport steps it up a notch with the bi-modal exhaust defaulting to open and the suspension firmness stepping up, with steering firmness also getting a work over.

Flick it to Performance and the suspension enters its firmest setting for more control at speed. The final setting, Track, gives the driver the most flexibility and fun. Stability control intervention is taken right back, allowing more slip... and more sideways action.

Both the Motorsport and Director get Magnetic Ride Control and the driver mode control system.

Fitted beneath the skirt is a high-rate rear subframe bush, which is designed to improve confidence under maximum lateral and braking events. The constant radial rate bush increases stiffness in the fore and aft motion, along with in the vertical direction, which in return offers a more confidence-inspiring drive. Radial rates have increased by 50 and 180 per cent (front/rear), while vertical rates are up 100 per cent (both front and rear).

At the very extreme end of braking and lateral events, changes to the vertical snubber engagement rate prevent the rear cradle from rolling or pitching. Drivers aren't expected to ever notice this, but it will come into its own at a race track under the most extreme of braking events.

The new front rotors feature an aluminium hat that saves around 3.25kg across the front axle. The floating disc style two-piece rotor offers a more consistent pedal feel in return, while the cross-drilling allows the system to vent gasses built up within the rotor at high temperatures, which can cause a friction drop between the brake lining and rotor.

In terms of styling, you're either going to love or hate what Holden has done. Decals on the bonnet join mirror scalp covers, wheel highlights and daytime running light surrounds to set this car aside from the SS-V Redline.

Motorsport is available in Phantom Black, Heron White, Red Hot, Nitrate Silver, Son of a gun Grey and Spitfire colours.

Director

The Director collects the following extras on top of the Calais V V8:

  • 20-inch black forged alloy wheels
  • FE3 sports suspension
  • Magnetic Ride Control suspension
  • Brembo brakes
  • Cross-drilled rotors front and rear
  • Premium sports seats (based on the Chevrolet SS)
  • Phantom black roof
  • Gurney style lip spoiler
  • Tyre pressure monitoring system
  • Hood vents
  • Black body side moulding
  • Engine oil cooler
  • Director badging
  • Embroidered IP insert
  • Black grille with LS3 logo
  • Red lower grille surround
  • Red decal on rear fascia
  • Motorsport floor mats
  • Individually-numbered build plate

Let's address the elephant in the room first – the name. Director was a controversial name choice given Holden's murky history at times with Peter Brock. With that in mind, Holden did approach the Brock family to seek permission to use the name and they happily obliged. They felt it was the right name to use for the car.

In terms of performance and equipment, the Director picks up the same performance mods as the Motorsport, sans the high rate subframe bush, which is exclusive to the Motorsport.

That means it gets the Brembo brake package, functional hood vents, Magnetic Ride Control, paddle-shifters on the steering wheel and the driver mode control system.

In terms of styling, it picks up the coloured wheel surrounds and Director individual lettering on the rear, which actually looks quite good. We could take or leave the LS3 sticker tacked on to the front grille.

Director is available in Phantom Black, Heron White, Nitrate Silver and Son of a gun Grey colours.

Magnum

The Magnum gets the following options on top of the SS-V Redline ute:

  • 20-inch black forged alloy wheels
  • Cross-drilled rotors front and rear
  • Premium sports seats (based on the Chevrolet SS)
  • Heated front seats
  • eight-way power adjustable passenger seat
  • Hard tonneau cover
  • Tyre pressure monitoring system
  • Engine oil cooler
  • Magnum decals
  • Embroidered IP insert
  • Black grille surrounds
  • Red mirror scalps
  • Red daytime running light surrounds
  • Motorsport floor mats
  • Individually-numbered build plate

While the Magnum doesn't get Magnetic Ride Control, it gets an FE3 suspension tune, which has allowed a greater focus on ride and handling, but it comes at the cost of payload.

Spring rates have seen a 26 per cent reduction (75N/mm to 55N/mm), with a 10mm shorter damper, which results in vehicle trim sitting 15mm lower than current SS-V Redline ute.

Payload has been reduced from 620kg to 540kg in line with the suspension changes – probably not a huge issue considering you'd be bonkers to use this as a work ute!

Magnum also misses out on the driver mode control system, but does have a quasi-track mode, which is accessed by pressing the stability control twice.

On the styling side, the Magnum arguably looks the best with modest highlights and a tough looking lower ride height.

Magnum is available in Phantom Black, Heron White, Red Hot, Nitrate Silver, Son of a gun Grey and Spitfire colours.

The drive

I won't pretend like this super long day spent out in the sun was a hard slog at the office. It was probably the most fun I had all year – I know I shouldn't boast, but it was absolutely epic.

Our day started off at Holden's Lang Lang proving ground in Victoria. After scoffing a coffee, croissant and lamington (the communication to Mrs Maric was coffee and muesli bar), we sat down for a quick presentation about the three limited edition models before hitting the road.

We had the chance to test all three back-to-back on a slalom course on the skidpan. This gave us the chance to feel the difference behind the wheel of each model.

We didn't test the final production models, but the prototypes they were built off. Some were left-hand drive, some were right-hand drive. Some also wore Chevrolet badges (given a number of components came from the Chevrolet SS).

The Motorsport was by far the flattest, you could literally be as aggressive as you wanted to be and it wouldn't give way. It's easy to forget just how big these cars are – it's quite deceiving.

The Director was as impressive, but it was the Magnum that really impressed. It's a ute, a vehicle with barely any weight over the rear, yet you can plough it through the cones with almost no recourse.

Our next port of call was some self-driven laps of Holden's ride and handling track. It's a two lane road with typical imperfections such as undulations and tram tracks designed to simulate a real Australian road.

This gave us a chance to explore the limits of each car within the safe confines of the proving ground. We then swapped seats with the Holden engineering team and had the chance to try different Magnetic Ride Control modes.

With the push of a button on the laptop, the guys were able to completely disable the system. As we hit undulations the car literally felt like a 10-year-old taxi, taking two or three bobs before settling. The body roll was also chronic.

We then went in the opposite direction and wound the wick right up. This changed to a super firm feel that the suspension rarely ever reaches during normal operation.

You can see why it's now so complex to tune a suspension system like this because there needs to be a command or program for literally thousands of vehicle positions and speeds.

The craziest part of the day came when hot shoe driver Rob Trubiani hopped behind the wheel. Rob's history with General Motors dates way back to the VT Commodore and he knows this place like the back of his hands.

With all vehicle controls switched off, we set off for a hair-raising lap of the ride and handling track. High speed drifts were teamed with tyre limit testing cornering and a demonstration of the vehicle's incredible body control over poor surfaces. It's at this point you realise even at your quickest track speeds, you're only accessing 70 per cent of what the car can actually do.

Following a quick lunch we hit the road destined for one of Australia's best race tracks, Phillip Island.

On the smooth roads between Lang Lang and Phillip Island we found the rides of all three cars have become firmer, significantly so in the ute. It's a compromise that's to be expected in cars of this calibre.

The race track

Normally at these drive days, we're split into groups and there will be a pace car leading the charge. Today was a little different.

We were a small group of journalists and there was no pace car. We were thrown the keys and told to have a proper crack, so we obliged.

Without a word of a lie, we went out for around five or six laps at a time with the cars coming in for a tyre pressure check and simultaneous driver change before heading back out immediately. This went on for around three hours. I've been to Phillip Island before when cars haven't been able to handle this type of continuous driving — there was even that one time when a Lamborghini Aventador caught on fire.

I'll put this out there right away – I'm not a race driver. But, I've driven at Phillip Island a stack of times in everything from a Subaru Impreza WRX STI to a Lamborghini Aventador (the one that didn't catch fire).

I can tell you right now all three limited edition Commodores are fast – seriously fast. We were hitting 220km/h over the start/finish line, which is an impressive feat in a road car on road tyres.

Each car was nicely balanced through the high speed corners and offered plenty of feedback and consistency through tighter corners.

In the Track mode and in the Magnum's version of Track mode, you could hang the tail out at turns four and 10 comfortably and then straighten up to get onto the throttle.

Those brave enough could even keep the foot in through turn eight and into nine, but each car would require all of the road to make it.

But it was on the straight that each car impressed with compliance and confidence. We were circa 240km/h by the end of Gardner Straight and while some cars squirm under brakes into turn one, each car managed to stay composed with enough room to slow up and push through the first turn.

Brake performance was en pointe, staying strong even into a third fast lap. A true judge of a brake package's performance is the floor-penetrating stomp the pedal gets into turn four. You go from well north of 100km/h and close to 200km/h back to second gear, it's a true torture test for a braking system and each vehicle withstood this with military precision.

Of the three, the ute was the one that was liveliest. It was still incredibly fun to drive, but it didn't feel quite as planted or confident as the others, especially on turn in.

The Director impressed us the most, given its luxury status, but it was the Motorsport that led the charge for a confidence inspiring drive.

Steering feel was excellent with all three. The EPS system dials in enough weight to make you feel like you're doing something, but not so much that it becomes a chore to drive the car fast.


Either way you cut it, these three special edition models well and truly live up to the iconic heritage and passion that has been put into them. They are an outstanding send-off for the locally produced Commodore.

If you are even remotely considering getting into a Commodore before the end of local production and can afford the price premium, these cars are a must. But, you need to be quick, they'll be gone in a heartbeat!

Before we finish off, I need to be selfish and talk about myself for a moment. I'm a huge, huge fan of the Australian car industry. My family has been part of it in some way for the past 30 years, so the closure of Ford's local manufacturing operation has meant a lot, as will the closure of Holden's local manufacturing operation later this year.

Regardless of your thoughts on what has happened and why it happened, it's key to understand how much passion has been poured into these three cars. The team at Holden was so incredibly happy to finally be able to tell us about the cars, show us the cars, let us drive them (and drive them hard) and drive us in them. On a personal level, I was absolutely thrilled to be able to take part in this drive.

Holden won't be putting vehicles onto press fleets for us to drive, so this was the one and only time we were able to have a proper crack in Holden's final three models.


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