Production of the iconic Holden Commodore draws to an end in October, and they've saved the best 'til last. The SS Commodore has been an Aussie performance staple for decades, but does it still hold up?
It still hasn't really sunk in. This time next year, the Australian-built Commodore, as we know it, will be dead and gone.
That's why I was so chuffed to have the chance to get behind the wheel of a manual Holden Commodore SS for one last crack before local production ends this October.
In September 1982, Holden released the first SS Commodore. It was a VH Commodore and came with either a 4.2-litre or 5.0-litre V8 engine, which were subsequently further modified by Peter Brock's Holden Dealer Team outfit, releasing the Group One, Group Two and Group Three.
Fast-forward to today and Holden has stuck to its guns, releasing a final run of SS Commodores that would include an upgraded LS3 engine and a brilliant sound package to really make the SS Commodore sing.
It was always one thing missing from the VE and Series I VF SS Commodore: noise. The SS Commodores I remember from my youth were all loud and generally had smoke billowing out of their rears.
They nailed it with the Series II VF Commodore, installing a liberal bi-modal exhaust, interior noise plumbing and a device on the exhaust to enhance the note for passers-by.
If all you ever wanted was a V8 Commodore and you were on a budget, this is the one you'd go for. The 2017 Holden Commodore VFII SS retails from $47,990 (plus on-road costs) and comes standard with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Under the bonnet is a gruff 6.2-litre LS3 V8 that produces 304kW of power and 570Nm of torque, sending its full complement of torque to the rear wheels through a mechanical limited-slip differential.
The six-speed manual shift motion is tighter than a Bondi bikini, while the clutch is light enough to deal with daily traffic.
From the outside, the SS Commodore can only be described as 'police spec'. It's the car you never want to see rushing up behind you or out of a side street.
Standard 19-inch alloy wheels are clad with 245mm-wide tyres on all four corners. The braking package can be upgraded for $350 to the performance brake option, which increases rotor sizes to 345mm at the front and 324mm at the rear. They are normally 321mm at the front and 324mm at the rear.
This option was developed for use by the police force to ensure the brakes withstand the police testing regime, which is required for highway patrol vehicles.
At the front, chrome highlights surround the LED daytime running lights, and there's also an LS3 badge on the front. New to the Series II are dual black air vents on the bonnet that expel heat from the engine bay.
At the rear, there's an SS badge and quad exhaust pipes, introduced with the VE Commodore.
Inside the cabin it's standard Commodore fare, with a nicely presented interior highlighting its credentials as a performance sedan. A suede-esque material on the dashboard features 'SS' insignia, while the stubby manual shifter sits perfectly in hand with a cold-to-the-touch metal housing.
The SS misses out on the chunky steering wheel used in the SS-V Redline.
In fact, at this point, it's probably worth pointing out what the $7500 difference between the SS and SS-V Redline gets you: Redline models get Brembo brakes on all four corners, the chunky sport steering wheel, FE3 suspension, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, sunroof, ESC competitive mode, 275mm tyres at the rear and electric seat adjustment.
The Commodore's infotainment system is starting to show its age. The MyLink system is an eight-inch touchscreen that misses out on creature comforts like DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It does come with satellite navigation though, but it can be a bit clumsy to use at times.
One of the car's main highlights is the voice recognition system that allows you to call contacts by name and even use your phone's Siri or Google Now feature.
While it's largely irrelevant for a V8 buyer, the SS consumes an official 12.6L/100km on the combined cycle — but expect to see around 14L/100km if you predominantly spend time in the city.
Boot capacity is an impressive 495 litres and one of the main reasons you would buy a large sedan like this. Rear seat leg room is another — there's acres of space in the second row to sit three adults abreast in relative comfort.
You would imagine a car like this would have heavy steering and be particularly hard to drive, but it's the direct opposite. The steering has plenty of feel and is light enough at low speeds to manoeuvre the car.
An automatic parking feature, along with front and rear parking sensors are standard on the SS, making getting in and out of parking spaces a breeze.
When the speed picks up, the car shrinks around you and is surprisingly easy to drive at speed. The suspension is soft enough to cater for comfort, but firm enough to keep the car level through corners.
With that said, you can still feel its weight as you move through corners or change directions quickly. That's impossible to get around, because at the end of the day it weighs 1703kg.
If you're thinking of using the SS at the track occasionally, it may be worth investing in the SS-V Redline instead.
Pushing the car closer to the limits reveals its biggest flaw — the tyres and the brakes. At 245mm wide, the rear treads are a little too narrow for this much power and the brakes too small for any serious track work.
Find a track with decent braking zones and the brakes begin to fade before long, around the same time that the tyres become worn and effectively frictionless rubber.
But, the package around the tyres and brakes is excellent. The engine stays strong and the gearbox can be rammed through gears with little fuss.
Then there's the noise — simply awesome. The V8 note erupts into the cabin while the exhaust bellows at the top of its lungs in traditional V8 fashion.
There's perfect spacing between the pedals for heel-toe action and the brake pedal itself is responsive enough to attack time after time — well, at least before the brakes start fading.
We say this time after time, but Holden has really nailed the large-car formula. Ironically, the company has saved it until now to bring its best work to the surface.
If you're a Holden tragic and need to have a V8, but can't stretch the budget to an SS-V Redline, the SS does almost everything you need it to do. And, it'll hold up for the occasional track day.
But, if you can fork out the additional cash, the SS-V Redline presents some of the best performance bang for buck we'll see for a long time yet (depending on what the upcoming Kia Stinger is like).
Either way, this car will be sorely, sorely missed when it disappears in October this year.