2011 Holden Commodore Review

Current Pricing Not Available
  • Fuel Economy
    14.6L
  • Engine Power
    270kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    344g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

Holden’s three keywords in introducing the VE Series II Commodore range are “future friendly” & “clever”. It’s both – although not quite mind-bogglingly so on either count.

Holden’s three keywords in introducing the upgraded and revised VE Series II Commodore range are “future friendly” and “clever”. The Holden Commodore is both – although not quite mind-bogglingly so on either count.

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The biggest news around the new Holden Commodore is undoubtedly flex-fuel capability – which is available with the 3.0-litre SIDI (spark ignition direct injection) V6 engine and the 6.0-litre V8. The future-friendliness of the 3.6-litre V6 is a work in progress – flex-fuel capability is coming for that engine. Probably in a few months.

Holden Commodore's flex-fuel capability allows the small six and the big V8 engines to run on a range of ethanol-blended fuels up to E85 (which is 85 per cent ethanol in 15 per cent petrol). The flex-fuel engines can also run on conventional E10, and any ethanol proportion up to E85, as well as 100 per cent petrol. So you don’t have to feed them E-anything if you’re disinclined to do so, and you don’t have to worry about getting home if the needle’s in the red and you can’t find an E85 pump anywhere inside the visible horizon.

Because ethanol is made locally from agricultural byproducts, using it helps dilute our dependency on foreign oil. The first few years worth of flex-fuel Holden’s probably won’t make a real dent in Australia’s energy security, but journeys like this have to start with single, small steps, and Holden and Caltex deserve accolades for taking them.

Holden says using ethanol reduces ‘well to wheel’ CO2 emissions by as much as 40 per cent. If you care about that kind of thing … which you might not if you buy a big car with a big engine. They’re mutually exclusive propositions, at least in the real world. Advanced technology on the horizon points to a future in which ethanol may be produced from domestic garbage, as well as agricultural and industrial waste products.

They’re talking about a plant of that nature here, in Victoria, with a 200-million-litre annual production capacity – about one per cent of the nation’s petrol consumption.

To support the release of the Holden Commodore VE Series II , Caltex has introduced its Bio E-Flex, a high-proportion ethanol blended fuel, available now across Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra. There are 32 stations in the initial roll-out, with more than 100 planned in the next 12 months.

What’s it like to drive? The 3.0-litre feels fantastic – I drove both the 3.0 and the 6.0, both on E85, and the new fuel doesn’t affect the powertrain’s polish at all. There are no stutters off the mark, no starting issues. A lot of work obviously went into the calibration and specification of the fuel system. You do see a little more water vapour than usual issuing from the exhausts when stopped in traffic, however. The funny thing about the 3.0 is that it doesn’t really feel like an entry level engine at all. It’s better than adequate – much better. And the V8? Well, if you don’t love it, you’ve probably got the Greenpeace tattoo to prove it. It’s a grin reaper – all the more so thanks to the slightly extra poke it derives from E85 operation.

Fuel consumption increases on E85 (which has only about 72 per cent of the energy of petrol) but the price of the new fuel is 20-something cents a litre lower, which helps offset the pain. On a happier note you get increased performance on E85 because of the new fuel’s combustion dynamics, which both engines adapt up to. It’s not the same as fitting a supercharger, but every little bit helps – and most of the increase in torque occurs in the middle of the rev range, which is where you mostly drive if you’re not a motoring journalist.

Having driven the new flex-fuel V8 in an SS ute, I have to say it’s one of the world’s best-kept secrets – the easiest, most affordable way into the 6.0 Generation IV V8 from $42,490. It’s a really great drive – inclusive of loose bitumen. Correction: make that especially on loose bitumen.

The other big news for Series II Commodore is – literally – a higher iQ – in the form of Commodore’s new Holden-iQ system, which brings music, telephone and GPS navigation control together inside a single 6.5-inch, full colour, touch-screen LCD interface beneath two circular central air vents.

Holden iQ features high-end multimedia capability. It can store up to 15 CDs directly in the form of a ‘virtual CD changer’ for your favourite music – all you have to do is install each CD and rip it to the unit’s internal flash memory. Alternatively, USB devices like iPods and other MP3 players can be plugged in directly, and an onboard chipset ensures full iPod integration, so the Holden-iQ emulates your iPod from a control interface point of view every time you plug it in.

Bluetooth is included, with Holden-iQ synchronizing your contacts and recent call history, plus voice control for handsfree calling control. Bluetooth music streaming is also available. You can do that via Blackberry et. al. without a hitch.

On high-end Commodores, such as the SS-V and Calais V-Series, the mapping system is upgraded to include live traffic alerts, speed advisory and point-of-interest functions. Voice guidance is integrated into the vehicle’s audio system, and, on sedan and Sportwagon models, the touch-screen becomes the reversing camera display whenever reverse is selected – this latter system working together audible park assist warning sensors. This camera arrangement, which is available across most of the range, offers brilliant lifesaving potential, with the home driveway still representing the second-most common cause of accidental death in children, after the backyard swimming pool. You need it. It should be mandatory on every new car.

The iQ mapping system even features free upgrades for life – a pleasant change from getting raped – or at least pillaged – by dealership GPS upgrades offered by some other brands.

Holden-iQ is brilliantly customizable. You can turn off many of the annoying chimes … unless of course you like them.

Holden has sexed-up the Commodore generally with the Series II, too. Although the cosmetic re-work is so minor only dedicated trainspotters will pick the Series I from the II in traffic. There have been significant aerodynamic upgrades – especially in the underbody, in the interests of fuel efficiency. And the interior is lighter in response to customer feedback.

Hottest news? Undoubtedly the Redline Edition upgrade to Calais V-Series and SS-V models. This performance package comprises a Brembo (front only) brake and handling upgrade for the elite 6.0-litre V8-powered models. The two-piece aluminium Brembo front calipers feature four pistons apiece, while a track-inspired new suspension calibration – codenamed FE3 – complements exclusive forged, polished 19-inch alloy wheels and matched low-profile tyres. The Redline Edition upgrade costs $2500, but Holden is offering a solid discount on the package until the end of the year – it’s a lot of kit for the $1500 you’ll pay over coming months. One Holden insider told me that the discounted price is “very close” to the cost of the bits themselves – which is great value.

Prices are, basically, unchanged across most of the range. The Omega ute has come up $2000 in price, but all the others are unchanged.

Basically, the new Series II Commodore is everything you loved (or hated) about the old VE, with more grunt thanks to flex fuel technology and a slight re-work of the interior and exterior, plus a kick-arse user interface that brings formerly high-end Euro functionality to the home-grown product – for no extra cost. You have to give it the big tick.

In concert with the release of the VE Series II Commodore, the premium long-wheelbase Holden WM Caprice has received its own bespoke Series II upgrades. Better value, higher specification levels, lower entry price points, greater relevance to younger buyers and a new naming convention are the highlights.

To help attract a younger audience, the Statesman name has been retired, and the two entrants in the range have been renamed. The entry-level model is now the Caprice, while the range-topping variant is called the Caprice V-Series.

The entry-level Holden Caprice is available only with the 3.6-litre SIDI V6, producing 210kW at 6400rpm and 350Nm at 2900rpm. It’s mated to a smooth six-speed automatic transmission. And running without flex-fuel capability for the time being.

The WM II gets new Holden-iQ infotainment system provides a touch-screen interface that facilitates control of the car audio, satellite navigation (also with traffic alerts and lifetime map upgrades), Bluetooth telephone system and rear view camera, all of which are standard.

The step up to Caprice V-Series is significant. You get the awesome punch of Holden’s Generation IV 6.0-litre V8 – 260kW at 5700rpm and 515Nm at 4400rpm, thanks very much – as well as this engine’s latest upgrade to flex-fuel capability. The V8 engine still features Holden’s AFM cylinder deactivation system for fuel saving at low loads and highway cruising speeds – which it will need if you run E85, because decreased cruising range is intrinsic to that deal.

Caprice V-Series also includes a standard sunroof, full Nappa leather trim, dual-screen rear DVD (which also plays through the front touch-screen when the car is stationary), a Bose premium sound system and tri-zone climate control air conditioning. And the price? The new Caprice is $61,990, which is actually a reduction of $2000 compared with the outgoing Statesman V6, despite the significant equipment upgrade, and the Caprice V-Series is $69,990 – that’s $5500 cheaper than the former Caprice V8.

Caprice models were not available for drive assessment at the VE Series II launch – stand by for those as soon as possible.

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