Holden's Commodore LPG range plugs a long-running hole in the company's large car line-up. Available across sedan, Sportwagon, ute and long wheelbase body shapes, the LPG Commodore is determined to shake up long-standing perceptions of the alternative fuel technology.
With more than 3300 LPG-friendly fuel stations across Australia, range anxiety for LPG owners is practically non-existent. LPG currently powers about five per cent of transport in Australia and Holden believes there is potential to increase that to 10 or even 20 per cent.
With 180kW of power and 320Nm of torque, the LPG Commodore’s 3.6-litre “beyond Euro 6-compliant” V6 engine (which powers all LPG Commodore models) delivers 19kW less power and 89Nm less torque than its direct competitor, the Ford Falcon EcoLPi. The smaller capacity is certainly a factor, but so is the use of LPG vapour injection, instead of the more advanced liquid injection system used in the Falcon.
Holden says it built a liquid phase injection Holden Commodore as part of the program’s development phase but says the system couldn’t meet its goals of lower CO2 emissions and improved fuel economy. Speaking with Australia's automotive media at the vehicle’s launch, Holden program engineering manager for global rear-wheel drive vehicles Brian McMurray said the only solution for Holden to meet its goals was a vapor phase injection system. He defended the company’s decision further by noting that while it may not match liquid injection for power and torque, it does have other key advantages.
Holden believes the vapour system is better suited to Australian conditions (despite HSV using a liquid injection system similar to the Falcon), offering consistent start-up in hot climates while being less mechanically demanding on the whole powertrain. The General Motors-owned company conducted over 1.3 million kilometres of testing to fine-tune its vapour phase injection system and developed its own injectors, fuel rail system and filters, all of which are unique to the LPG Commodore.
Holden’s marketing team is also happy to admit that while it’s keen to market the LPG Commodore to a broad demographic (hence the wide variety of body shapes and variants), its target market is not those concerned with power and torque figures, but those interested in lower running costs and CO2 emissions and better fuel efficiency.
Using an 84.4-litre aircraft-grade aluminium fuel tank, the LPG Commodore Omega delivers 710km of combined city and highway driving on a single tank (11.8L/100km for Omega and Berlina - 12.3L/100km for other sedan and Sportwagon variants - 12.4L/100km for Utes). That’s more than the Toyota Aurion ATX (707km), Mazda3 (696km) and even the Ford Falcon XT (687 km). It's also more fuel efficient than the Falcon EcoLPI. Better still, based on the average 20,000km a year cycle, the LPG Commodore costs around $1227 in fuel per year, which is very similar to the more powerful Falcon EcoLPi ($1279) but significantly cheaper than the Toyota Hybrid Camry ($1644) and Toyota Corolla ($2028).
Given the high European demand for LPG in the past few months, the Australian price of LPG (which is linked into global markets) has risen noticeably. Even so, Holden believes LPG prices will soon normalise and that, on average, it will cost around $55 to fill up an LPG Commodore.
Holden will charge $2500 to option up from petrol to LPG but the federal government will rebate $2000 of that to private customers. Based on the above numbers, it will take around six months (or 10,000km) to recoup the $500 outlay for LPG compared with buying petrol variants. Holden will initially offer a free LPG option for Caprice buyers, meaning private customers will gain $2,500 of value from Holden and a further $2,000 from the government.
On the road, the LPG Commodore is nearly indistinguishable from the petrol model both in design and in its driving characteristics. Apart from a small LPG badge on the boot and the diamond LPG marker on the licence plate, its power source is unknown to most. Even though it offers 10kW less power than the 3.0-litre V6 SIDI, it does have 30Nm more torque. Compared with the 3.6-litre SIDI V6 petrol, it’s 30kW and 30Nm behind. Nonetheless, Holden’s insistence that its LPG program is not about producing lots of power and torque is almost irrelevant as LPG models deliver more than adequate acceleration off the line and on the highway. 0-100km/h times are about half a second slower compared with their petrol equivalents.
The butane and propane variation of the LPG fuel itself may also have an effect on the vehicle’s performance. Official power and torque figures were obtained on a 50:50 mixture split (same for the Falcon EcoLPi), but in reality most urban locations carry an 80:20 or 90:10 mixture in favour of propane and rural areas are likely to be 100 per cent propane. The higher level of butane in LPG helps with better acceleration and is generally a better fit for city driving while100 per cent propane will benefit drivers in rural areas who are more concerned with fuel economy. Holden has tuned the LPG Commodore’s powertrain to handle up to 50 percent butane.
During our drive through Melbourne’s many highways, we found our LPG Commodore to deliver very reasonable acceleration. The updated six-speed transmission, which has seen its weight reduced since it doesn’t need to deal with the additional 30Nm of torque found in the 3.6-litre petrol, is smooth and well matched to the engine. Our test car did seem to hesitate at times before dropping down a gear (likely a case of learning our driving style) but overall we felt it performed well. We were also impressed by the quick engine start times and quiet cabin ambience.
One of the primary reasons the dedicated LPG Commodore program began in 2009 was the limited boot space of the previous dual fuel models. While many customers showed interest in dual fuel Commodores, the issue of having a fuel tank in the boot became harder and harder to avoid. Holden engineers were given the task of creating a dedicated LPG model that didn’t compromise boot space. This meant relocating the LPG tank from the boot to behind the rear axle. Of course the lack of a full-size spare tyre may still be an issue for some, but Holden’s marketing team is quick to explain the merits of the standard inflator kit. For those that want the reassurance of a spare tyre, a space-saver or full-size spare can be added to the boot, while a deflated spare wheel is also available on sportwagon models.
As with all Holden Commodores, LPG variants are awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating. Holden’s aluminum fuel tank is capable of taking a mighty hit in a rear collision and the company insists that it’s just as safe as its petrol variants.
The LPG Commodore range is very much a wise choice if a Commodore is what you are after in the first place. For an additional $500 (for private customers), you gain the benefits of improved fuel economy and lower running costs which will likely result in thousands of dollars in savings over the vehicle’s lifetime. It may not be as fast or as technologically advanced as the Falcon EcoLPi (which attracts the same $2500 premium over standard Falcons), but it does present a viable choice for Holden fans. Most importantly, it aims to bring back the relevance of large cars to everyday families.
Private buyers will be pleased with the LPG Commodore Equipe sedan and Sportwagon models, which Holden will release with 18-inch alloy wheels, rear-view camera, rear park assist, leather interior and steering wheel, and front fog lamps with chrome accents.
Although fleet customers are much more likely to see the benefits, the need for a perception change towards LPG in the private sector is paramount. The idea that a large car doesn’t have to mean a gas-guzzler may prove a hard sell in a market crowded with more than 60 brands and 230+ models, but the facts and figures do support the cause.