Before we even get behind the wheel, we want to love the 2016 Holden Commodore SV6 Sportwagon. As you know by now, the days of CarAdvice testing Aussie-built cars are coming to an end, and these Commodore wagons are the last in a long line of local manufacturing tradition.
I’m the first to lament the imminent demise of the large sedan (and indeed wagon) in Australia. In the '70s, and into the '80s for that matter, sedans and wagons – most of them locally built – were a mainstay on Australian roads. Pick any corner of this vast continent, and you’d find them motoring families to and fro. They still make so much sense too, despite the fact that the buying public doesn’t love them the way it once did. The fact that local manufacturing is coming to an end then, is one crystal clear reason why we really want to love this SV6 wagon.
After a week behind the wheel though, it didn’t quite turn out that way…
As tested here, the 2016 Holden Commodore SV6 Sportwagon starts from $41,490 plus the usual on-road costs. The automatic transmission is standard. Our test model is devoid of options, so what you see here, is what you get. The most obvious comparison – in size terms at least – would be the Skoda Superb Wagon, which starts from $41,690 in entry-level 162TSI trim. The Superb impresses every time we test it, so the SV6 has some work to do to live up to that standard.
Read about some recent drive away specials on the SV6.
The SV6 is a step up from the Evoke grade and as such, extra equipment highlights include: a 3.6-litre SIDI V6 engine, automatic transmission, sports styling, LED daytime running lights, Sportec/cloth seats, Blind Sport Alert, Reverse Cross Traffic Alert, chrome exhaust tip, full-size spare wheel, new 18-inch alloy wheel design, new front fascia and grille design and a new tail lamp design.
One of the main bugbears (in terms of driving) with the SV6 we’ll get to in more detail in a minute is the engine. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a V8 Commodore, but conversely, this V6 failed to excite us during our test period. On paper though, the numbers stack up relatively impressively.
The engine generates 210kW and 350Nm and is backed by a six-speed automatic transmission. The 71-litre fuel tank promises genuine touring ability on the open road, with the claimed ADR fuel use at 9.3L/100km. On test, mainly around town, we used an indicated 12.9L/100km. That figure starts to drop well into single figures on the freeway though, once you’re cruising, so if you cover long distances, the SV6 is a contender.
Climb behind the wheel, and the SV6 is familiar Commodore fare. Where the various V8 models feel like they have been assembled to a level beyond their price tag though, the SV6 simply feels cheap and like it’s been built down to a price. Erratic stitching, mismatched surfaces, irregular trim gaps and harsh plastics ensure the interior never really feels anything more than basic. That's the case even if you don’t test drive it back-to-back with an alternative as many buyers will. No CarAdvice tester was overly impressed with the execution of the interior.
The seats are comfortable though, there’s a huge amount of room in both rows, and the SV6 will easily transport five adults in comfort. The added benefit of the wagon is the extra luggage space on offer. This vehicle is a sure fit for families with two teenage children for example – it will easily accommodate a family weekend away. 895 litres expands out to a whopping 2000 litres when the second row seats are folded flat.
The driver’s seat is power adjustable and both front buckets are more like armchairs than car seats. They are supremely comfortable even when you spend longer periods in the cabin. While some of the dash and console trim feels a little cheap, the Sportec/cloth seats fitted as standard in this model feel perfectly fine. Given they are the main touch point between driver and car, that’s a factor you’ll appreciate.
Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, with its 8.0-inch touchscreen works well enough, but is starting to feel out of date compared to systems that accommodate Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the system, it’s just that better systems are now available. Once paired, the Bluetooth connection is rock solid and never drops in and out, just like every other Commodore we've tested. Likewise audio streaming, which works flawlessly.
Visibility is excellent from the driver’s seat, and no matter how tall – or short – you happen to be, you’ll be able to get comfortable and settle in for the drive. Thick A-pillars do impinge on through-corner visibility as we’ve reported before. Aside from that though, forward and reward visibility is expansive. The positioning of the switchgear is excellent, and there’s a pleasing lack of superfluous buttons and controls at a time when most interiors are drowning in them. We particularly like the standard rear view camera, especially given the physical size of the Sportwagon – every little bit of assistance helps.
Once you make your way out into the suburban sprawl, the SV6’s engine starts to grate a little. It’s slow to react to throttle inputs, feels generally sluggish and like it needs to be whipped right up to redline to truly get the SV6 moving. An engine of this size, and with those power and torque figures, should be a lot more effortless than it is in practice. Sure, it gets the job done, but it always feels like you’re having to work it a little harder than we’d like.
As such, the engine spends plenty of time rasping and straining at the redline, as you try to coax the SV6 up to speed with a bit of hustle. Some buyers might actually like the urgency of the engine note, but we didn’t love it. It’s a little harsh right up at redline, but pretty quiet through the range you’ll likely use most of the time. In reality, the engine probably isn’t working as hard as it sounds, but perception is often reality for most people.
The gearbox is smooth enough in terms of shifting, regardless of how hard you're working the engine, but we did notice it was a little recalcitrant to kick down when we wanted to dial in some more speed quickly. Again, some buyers won’t care, but there’s little the SV6 does with speed and efficiency. There’s always a delay, and measure of effort, required.
The SV6 handles evenly once you hook into it and ask the engine to perform, but it doesn’t ride as comfortably as we expected. It’s no sportscar, by any measure, so a more cosseting ride is something we’d appreciate. We think most family buyers would too. It’s not overly jarring or bone-crunching, so don’t take our assessment of the bump absorption too harshly. And, while it feels a little stiff over really poor surfaces, anything across the mid-range of driving surfaces sees the SV6 utterly unruffled. In many ways, we’re going to miss local vehicles designed for local roads.
We like the electric power steering, which is light enough at low speeds to make parking and shopping centres easy to negotiate, but weights up nicely as speed increases too. It’s a pleasure to be able to position and manoeuvre a large vehicle like the SV6 so easily.
We’d love to be able to conclusively recommend the SV6 Sportwagon to family buyers who can’t quite stretch to a higher grade, but we can’t. It’s not terrible, but it’s not as strong as we hoped it would be either and leaves itself open to harsh comparisons with vehicles like the Skoda Superb. There’s still numerous reasons to counter the argument that an SUV is the smart family choice though, so the SV6 reminds us why the large sedan and wagon are still as sensible as they are.
More than one CarAdvice tester described this SV6 as a ‘Friday car’ after they’d taken it for a run. No, not the kind of car you’d want to take home on a Friday. The kind of car that was built on a Friday, when the workers at the factory are tired after a long week, and quality control isn’t quite what it should be. It simply wasn’t as well-executed as other SV6 variants we’d tested.
Perhaps part of the issue for the SV6 overall though is the reality that the V8 Commodore is a vastly superior vehicle across all disciplines. It’s no longer too thirsty at the bowser either. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Holden fan, you’ll find many things to love about the SV6, but our list won’t be as long as yours, and that’s why we’ve given it a 7.5 overall. Close, but no cigar then, for the last in a long line.