Has Holden saved the best until last? We drive the final Australian built Commodore - the VF Series II
We’re stepping out of a still ticking Commodore SSV Redline, and Holden’s lead engineer for the VFII program, Amelinda Watt, is probing for initial impressions.
With relatively few kays under the wheels on the first leg of the car’s national drive program, we mutter something about the ride/handling balance (superb) and steering (still great). But the upgraded Commodore’s chief spanner-twirler is all about the engine sound.
Watt and her team have spent countless hours playing with the new car’s bi-modal exhaust system and trick ‘Mechanical Sound Enhancer’, which pipes induction noise from the engine bay into the cabin. It’s no surprise she’s buzzing about the car’s snarling aural signature.
The brilliantly guttural note is generated by the 304kW/570Nm 6.2-litre Gen IV LS3 engine, replacing the 270kW/530Nm 6.0-litre L77 as standard equipment in V8 Commodore variants. And the switchable bi-modal set-up delivers successive blasts of gloriously old-school anger.
The final tweak is the unique-to-Holden ‘Baillie Tip’, which features an aperture in the exhaust that causes sound to reverberate back through the system towards the cabin, increasing the overall dB level by 10 percent.
So, no surprise, VFII first drive impressions are dominated by the big V8’s brutal sound and epic thrust.
We scored seat time in a range of V8s through SS and SSV Redline, in ute and sedan form, along with the 3.6-litre V6 in SV6 Sportwagon and Calais sedan variants over a 200km launch drive program north of Adelaide, as well as a closed hillclimb session at the historic Collingrove track, on the eastern edge of The Barossa Valley.
While the 3.6-litre V6 models remain smooth and refined, with plenty of grunt and relatively quiet operation, the big news is the V8, and Holden has gone all-out to produce a 300kW+ stormer, with claimed 0-100km/h acceleration dropping a full half second to 4.9sec for the six-speed manual, and 5.0 flat for the six-speed auto.
Slip the driver-selectable ESC and steering control into ‘Competitive Mode’ and the car blazes away from step-off, with maximum torque arriving at 4400rpm, and peak power taking over at 6000.
This is a seriously fast (and loud) machine; easily the most powerful production Commodore ever.
But it’s not all about grunt and grumble. The LS3’s huge motive force is channelled to the road via a brilliantly sorted chassis, which manages to blend exceptional dynamics with outstanding ride comfort.
Even on optional 20-inch rims and rubber (275/30r – 245/35f) the SSV Redline calmly smooths out high-frequency ripples, as well more substantial ruts and bumps.
Part of the Redline’s trick is a new rear anti-roll bar design, which, thanks to the fixed calipers on its Brembo rear brake package, allows a longer, thinner bar (25mm, down from 28) to be located further out at each side for lighter weight with greater overall stiffness.
The knock-on effect is softer springs and retuned dampers for a more compliant ride without any handling deficits.
During enthusiastic b-road blasting, the Redline is balanced, controlled and supremely composed. Road feel from the electrically-assisted steering remains class-leading, and the brakes, now with four-pot Brembos front and rear, are simply mega.
During the final phase of VFII development, various examples were run through a 100 lap, flat chat session at Phillip Island (approximately 450km) without drama, each car requiring only a single, largely precautionary, pad change.
The manual ‘box is direct yet smooth, with the stubby lever’s short throws adding to the fun. And the clutch feels professional grade, with a distinct tipping point at around two-thirds pedal travel.
Push the auto’s lever into Sport mode and its adaptive function immediately starts to read driving style and adjust shift calibration accordingly; the trans moving to later upshifts and earlier down-changes, with plenty of exhaust crackle and pop to enhance the experience.
Go for full manual mode via the wheel-mounted paddles and, although not dual-clutch fast, shift speed is still satisfyingly rapid.
Over three fast fangs up the tight, twisting, and unnervingly narrow Collingrove hillclimb course, the Redline felt more like a like a lightweight sports car than a muscular, roughly 1.7-tonne performance sedan.
Lower diff ratios enhance initial acceleration and help the Redline stay close to the meatiest part of the LS3’s torque curve.
Freeway cruising is effortless, and the grippy front sport seats combine solid lateral support with long-distance comfort.
Only a couple of niggles. The VFII’s fat A-pillars remain a literal, head-craning pain in the neck, and the Redline’s claimed fuel economy has gone backwards by 1.0L/100km. But we’d argue that’s a small financial and environmental price to pay for full-sized performance this good.
What an absolute cracker!