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Liquified petroleum gas, or LPG, has a bit of an image problem. And, we suspect, a marketing problem as well. Despite being significantly cheaper at the bowser due to lower taxes and Australia’s significant reserves of the stuff, we’d argue it remains synonymous with smelly old taxis. But as the Holden Commodore Sportwagon SV6 LPG shows, you need not fear a thing.
But both Ford and Holden have made huge strides with LPG versions of their locally-made large-car staples, not that you’d ever catch either advertising the fact to the general public to any great degree.
In fact, Ford’s EcoLPi engine is actually more powerful than the regular petrol inline-six equivalent.
Holden can’t quite claim the same with its Vapour Injection 180kW/320Nm 3.6-litre LPG offering — down 30kW and 30Nm on the 3.6 petrol, and even 5kW less than the smaller 3.0-litre unit— it’s still quick enough though a little raspy under revs, quiet at idle and there’s not a trace of that signature gas odour.
When you consider that LPG is about half the price at the bowser of unleaded petrol, the business case for buying seems interesting at the least. Especially since Holden claims its LPG isn’t twice as thirsty as the petrol version (9.3 litres per 100 kilometres for petrol compared to 12.1L/100km for the LPG).
On paper, it seems the LPG Commodore offers all the benefits of the big Aussie six without the drawback of expensive fuelling costs. A home-grown answer to European diesel estates or Japanese/ South Korean (and even Australian in the form of the Ford Territory) SUVs even? The question, is this the case in reality?
Well, in any form, the Commodore Sportwagon SV6 as tested here (with a limited-edition Storm package that has run its course but added a few extra bits of spec such as sat-nav for an extra $500) is a pretty fantastic alternative to an SUV, with huge levels of passenger space, comfort and technology for the money and sharper driving credentials and a better ride to boot.
But when it comes to the LPG option, we’re not sold on the cost/benefit ratio from a private-buyer's perspective. At the time of writing, the average cost of 91 RON unleaded around our office was $1.34 per litre, while LPG cost about 68 cents.
However, Holden charges $2500 extra for LPG versions than regular petrol offerings with more power. The SV6 Sportwagon is $40,690 plus on-road costs, but the LPG version is $43,190. You can have a base Evoke LPG version for $39,990, as well.
Furthermore, our fuel consumption figure hovered around the 15.0L/100km mark, and we’ve kept 3.6-litre petrol Commodores to about two-thirds this figure. This is despite the aforementioned power drop.
There is also that tricky issue of resale value, with the LPG versions of the Commodore generally depreciating a few per cent faster than their petrol cousins. Holden will also sting you an extra $80 per service on LPG models, charging $265 rather than $185 a pop over the first three visits, incremented at 15,000km or nine-months, whichever comes first.
Finally, there’s the issue of practicality. The placement of the 84-litre tank (13L bigger than the petrol) means if you want a full-size spare wheel, you have to mount it in the cargo area against the window, which impinges on storage space.
Generally, the Sportwagon offers a claimed 895 litres of space with the rear seats upright, expanding to 2000L when folded flat, despite its shallow floor. This remains the case if the LPG car has the range-standard tyre sealant and air compressor kit (known in car parlance as a can of goo).
But if you option the full-size steel spare wheel that sits in the boot rather than under the floor as it would in a non-LPG Sportwagon, you end up with a fair bit less room.
That said, what if hypothetically you came across a killer deal on an LPG version that made more financial sense? Go for it.
The VF Sportwagon remains something Australians can be proud of, even as Holden prepares to wind down its factory and put the car out to pasture in a few years.
We’ve written at length about the car’s merits, and despite having 14-months under its belt now, the latest generation model is still supremely comfortable over whatever road surface you throw at it, and surprisingly fun to punt about when said surface gets a little twisty.
The Commodore’s chassis is nicely balanced though the rear-drive layout gives it a propensity to slip into mild oversteer, something the relaxed stability control permits. The electric power steering has the signature moment of play on-centre but weights up beautifully and is top of the class for directness, though the nice turn-in is watered down by those massive A-pillars that hurt through-corner visibility.
Size dictates the big Aussie six is never going to feel overly agile, but it sure turns in as well as anything this side of a high-end German. The soft-ish suspension eat up country miles and gives plenty of pliancy around town. It's not tied-down to an excessive degree, but nor does it float. You could say it was almost made for local conditions. Oh yeah, wait...
The LPG engine gets a little raspy under revs - peak power of 180kW comes on at 6000rpm - and the long-travel accelerator pedal requires broad-stroke inputs, but it hustles along at a relaxed clip without any signature note or odour, and the six-speed automatic is exceedingly fast to kick-down when immediate urge is needed. It doesn't feel like a taxi, is what we're trying to say.
The SV6 comes with a decent spec sheet, though satellite navigation ought to be standard at this price point.
Despite being only one-up from the base Evoke, you get 18-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, a leather steering wheel with illuminated controls, auto headlights, rear-view camera, climate control and Holden's MyLink infotainment system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, embedded streaming apps, Siri Eyes Free connection and Bluetooth/USB audio streaming.
This MyLink system remains a cinch to use, with Bluetooth connection re-forged in the blink of an eye, and the app connectivity with the likes of Pandora well integrated.
There are also faux leather and suede armchairs (they really are LA-Z Boy esque) with power adjustment for the driver that feel like pews from a class above, although the mismatched cabin finishes and the scratchy plastic on the transmission tunnel and squeaky gear-shifter surround tarnishes the ambience.
It's also not wanting for legroom or shoulder space in the rear, though the raised centre pew without a decent headrest makes it a more effective four-seater than five. Those raked rear windows with narrow apertures may look cool, but they also make the rear feel more claustrophobic for smaller occupants than most SUVs would.
Standard safety equipment includes Park Assist (an extremely effective semi-automatic parking function that can detect parallel and perpendicular parking spots, then use the steering to navigate into the spot), front and rear sensors and a blind-spot and reverse cross-traffic alerts. All models come with a five-star ANCAP crash rating with six airbags and ISOFIX-compatible child seat anchors in the rear.
So then, if we were to sum up the LPG Sportwagon, we'd say stick with the petrol version, which counteracts its thirst for pricier fuel with its cheaper starting price, slightly better resale and superior practicality (if that spare wheel is optioned). That said, if you can get a killer deal, don't be afraid, and don't think you're buying a taxi.