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With its classic rivalry with the Falcon heading for an end, the new Holden VF Commodore must continue to fight another battle: relevancy.
With the majority of Australian car buyers either wanting to sit in something smaller or something higher, the large car that’s built in South Australia needs to bring fresh appeal to the showroom table.
Holden VF Commodore is not quite a dramatic reboot in a JJ Abrams Star Trek kind of way, though. The platform architecture underneath is carried over from the 2006 VE, although Holden claims 60 per cent of chassis components are new or revised, and the exterior design bears a similar silhouette to its predecessor but with markedly different front and rear ends.
General Motors’ Australian outpost, however, has spent four years developing a thoroughly overhauled package – the result of which it’s calling Australia’s most advanced car yet.
Technology ‘firsts’ for a locally produced car include semi-automatic parallel and perpendicular parking (the car controls the steering; the driver controls the speed), systems for warning Commodore drivers if they’re wandering unintentionally out of a lane or facing a potential collision when reversing, and a head-up display that projects a digital speedometer onto the windscreen.
The parking system is standard in all VF models, including sedan, ute and Sportwagon (below) variants, and the base model Holden Commodore Evoke we’re focusing on in this review.
Click on the other variants to read CarAdvice’s reviews of the Holden VF Calais and Holden Commodore SS.
The Holden Commodore Evoke starts at $34,990 in sedan form or $36,990 in Sportwagon guise. That’s not only a $5000 cut over the previous Omega that kickstarted the range but there’s also a broader array of standard features.
Standard in addition to the parking system is front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, Bluetooth connectivity with streaming, 16-inch alloy wheels, six airbags, hill hold and hill start, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, and an eight-inch colour touchscreen with ‘MyLink’ infotainment system.
General Motors, as a general rule, doesn’t have the best reputation for interiors but even with the new base Commodore Holden has produced a cabin strong on design, intuitiveness and ergonomics.
Although hard plastics are still evident at the lower and mid levels of the interior, and some aspects such as the glovebox operation feel cheap, the overall look of VF is more premium.
The awkward, finger-pinching handbrake of VE is replaced with an electric version operated by a switch on the centre console that is now free of the window switches that transfer to where they should always sit in a car – on the doors.
As with the Cruze small car built alongside the Commodore, the VF’s dash adopts an unorthodox yet effective layer of cushioned material on sections of the dash and doors. The material changes with trim level.
The dash, however, is dominated by the large central colour touchscreen that offers well presented graphics and good resolution.
Below the display is one of the best heating and ventilation control layouts we’ve seen. A smaller centre dial controls fan speed while the larger, outer dials incorporate a digital display of the selected temperature. Clever.
There’s a nice tactility to the dials, too, though the buttons throughout the Holden Commodore aren’t as satisfying to the touch as those you would find in, say, a Volkswagen Golf.
A smaller-diameter steering wheel feels good in the hand and the Evoke’s seats are supremely comfortable.
As is the Commodore in general. The Evoke sits on a so-called ‘Touring’ suspension tune that’s the softest in the VF range.
Don’t expect any suspension float or wallow on undulating country roads, however. The VF’s damper rebound control is quicker than VE’s and the result is a Commodore that’s even faster at settling over dips and rises.
Generally, the Evoke has superb ride compliance – the best of the entire VF line-up – yet it also provides fine handling. The Commodore is nothing less than absolutely composed through corners, following keen turn-in, whether they’re S-bends or fast sweepers.
This is aided by another improvement: steering – a surprise considering the big Holden sedan was already relatively excellent in this department and that it has also switched from a hydraulic to electric set-up mainly for the benefit of fuel consumption.
The steering is lighter, but not in a detrimental way, and more importantly it feels quicker to respond to immediate hand movements and is more immune to mid-corner bumps – allowing for a more relaxed and confident driving experience.
While steering was a box ticked ‘Replace’ for VF, the Evoke’s engine and gearbox were ticked ‘Upgrade’.
The direct-injection 3.0-litre V6 were introduced as part of a midlife update for the VE Commodore to help improve fuel consumption. But while efficiency officially dipped below the 9.0L/100km mark, the base VE was frustrating to drive as the accompanying six-speed auto hunted for gears as it struggled with a relatively low amount of torque.
For the Holden Commodore Evoke, power actually falls 5kW to 185kW (at 6700rpm) while torque remains at 290Nm (at 2600rpm).
Two key changes, however, transform driveability. Firstly, Holden’s engineers have recalibrated the automatic transmission to better suit the V6’s characteristics.
Secondly, the Holden Commodore has gone on a diet – with an aluminium bonnet and bootlid reducing its mass. For Evoke, it equates to a weight saving of 43kg (to 1622kg).
From a standing start, the 3.0-litre-powered Commodore is a bit sluggish off the mark and recorded only a 9.4-second 0-100km/h acceleration time according to our stopwatch.
From there, though, the news is virtually all good. The auto is far more intuitive than before, making for more fluid momentum in combination with the smooth V6.
An effective Sport mode will also hold gears longer and downshift faster to better match the enthusiasm of keener drivers.
For the economy-minded, fuel consumption for the 3.0-litre V6 improves by nearly seven per cent to 8.3 litres per 100km – putting the six-cylinder Commodore in touching distance of the four-cylinder Ford Falcon EcoBoost.
The Holden VF Commodore doesn’t reinvent the large car and is unlikely to persuade those with eyes on a hatchback or SUV to reconsider.
But with a raft of significant changes that advance this iconic car’s offerings, for fleet purchasers or buyers looking for a great-value sedan with vast cabin space and excellent comfort the Holden Commodore remains relevant.
Holden Commodore Evoke
Price: from $34,990 (sedan); $36,990 (wagon)
Engine: 3.0-litre V6
Power: 185kW at 6700rpm
Torque: 290Nm at 2600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto
0-100km/h: 9.4 seconds (tested)
Fuel consumption: 8.3L/100km (8.6 wagon)