I love the name Statesman. Most Australians have heard of a Holden Statesman. It doesn't quite have the same bogan connotations as the Commodore name, and most people I've encountered are quite nostalgic about it.
In the '90s you'd buy a Merc if you'd properly "made it." If you were nearly there you'd get a Statesman or Fairlane. Some would argue that it was more sensible to go for the local option and pocket the savings.
For sure there are differences in quality and safety, and you see a lot more older Mercs around. And those Mercs are all over the world. Where else do you see LWB Fords and Holdens?
For the time, this Statesman was a very well-specced vehicle, and today it's an underrated and unique car in my opinion. Bought for under $5000 in 2015, as a one-owner vehicle with 160,000km on the clock, this has been a practical and enjoyable vehicle in the years since.
The VS brought a number of improvements over its predecessor, notably the more advanced Ecotec 3.8-litre V6. It's not the most refined unit going around, but it does the job very effectively and is remarkably efficient on the open road.
That's where the Statesman is best. At 110km/h you're sitting at 2000rpm. It's quieter than many modern vehicles from Thailand or Japan. The long wheelbase, coupled with 15-inch wheels and high-profile rubber allow the Statesman to glide over bumpy Australian highways, back roads and dirt roads. Of course, I'm one of few who have kept their Stato with this wheel/tyre combo.
It's been from Melbourne to Adelaide, four-up with a bootful and the AC on, in one tank. Sub-8 litres per 100 kilometres is easily achievable on the highway. That's pretty remarkable for a 25 year old vehicle, which wasn't at the pinnacle of technology even in its day.
The Ecotec isn't a nice sounding engine, but it's reasonably quick and you rarely have to rev it beyond 3000rpm. Peak torque is low in the rev range. The worst thing about the V6 is that it’s not the V8. When you say you have a Statesman, people ask if it's the V8 and you disappoint them by telling them it's 'just the 6'. The 5.0-litre V8 sounds great, but offers little more in terms of performance. A 1995 Wheels review agreed, with the writer remarking there’s little point forking out extra for the 8.
What helps performance in the VS is the relatively low weight. The later VT SWB and WH LWB series put on a few hundred kilos. Obviously there were safety gains made in later models.
The four-speed auto is agricultural by today's standards, but the four ratios are well spaced out and it shifts smoothly. You learn how much throttle to apply to get it to change down. There's also the Power button, which makes a notable difference. It's annoying going up a steep hill with cruise control, when it shifts back and forth between third and fourth.
For its part, the Statesman was relatively well-equipped for its time, with ABS and dual front airbags (non-Takata). I wouldn't trust it as much in terms of crumple zones and occupant protection, but good visibility and handling help to avoid crashes.
It's an easy car to drive, with a floaty ride but predictable handling. It's not going to set any cornering records, but IRS and well-weighted power steering (luxury models had the upgraded Variatronic steering, which is lighter at low speeds), mean it's a fun vehicle to punt on the open road.
I think the VQ-VS is about the sweet spot of modern Statesman/Caprice in terms of size. Its footprint is about that of the VE Commodore. Later models are a lot longer and harder to park in tighter spaces. While WH-WM models got extra leg room, the VS still has an abundance of space. Everyone loves being in the back of it.
Another improvement in the VS was the quality of the paint. You still need to look after them, and I'm fortunate that the previous owner garaged the car for 20 years. I think it looks great with the dark blue on grey, and the dark tint all around. Particularly with the full-width tail lights and the floating C pillar. It's a design that's aged nicely, and looks quite different from the Commodore. Fortunately no clear peeling yet!
Parts are still common and relatively cheap, except for some more unique LWB panels and trim. There's still plenty of Commodores with the same drivetrain on the road. Some panels are getting harder to find. It's had a few issues over the past few years, but no massive mechanic's bills and it hasn't depreciated like a more modern car.
In terms of technology and features, it's a 25 year old car. It has a 10-stacker CD player, climate control, trip computer, electric antenna, cruise control, power windows and three ash trays (very '90s!). A $25 Bluetooth FM transmitter from Kogan works okay.
Inside, the Statesman shows its age. The 1996 VS Series II update brought more upmarket detailing to the interior to better differentiate it from the Commodore. This Series I is a sea of grey. It's not ugly, just a bit dull, but it's all held up pretty well. Green footwell lighting makes things more interesting. Door pockets are narrow and there are no cupholders! Possibly the most annoying thing about the car.
Second to that is the lack of folding rear seats, which Holden never resolved in Commodore sedans. I could never understand that. Luckily the boot is massive but fitting things like a bicycle is impossible.
The VS series turns 25 this year, which means that mine is eligible for a club permit in Victoria. It's starting to cost a bit more money. I think the auto gearbox is about to give up after 225,000km (cheap to replace I am told), and a couple of electrical glitches could either be a simple fix or very expensive. A recent car park swipe on the passenger side (with no note) also hurts. I think I will retire it to club rego, and hopefully preserve an under-appreciated Holden.
People often say the VT drove Holden's dominance in the early 2000's, but it all started with the VR-VS series, which helped Holden wrestle market leadership back from Ford. They added safety and refinement to the VN-VP predecessors. The VS Statesman nailed the brief of a big, comfortable Aussie sedan which was affordable to run and looked good.
A few years ago it would have been derided as a grandpa car, but now as they become rarer and as Holden nostalgia grows I think everyone appreciates seeing an original well-kept Statesman. I certainly appreciate driving it.