You can tell a football fan by the jersey they wear, an Olympian by the flag they bear, and a coffee snob by the quality of their Keep-Cup, so surely you can tell a car enthusiast by the car that they drive? Right?
My fear is that if the mantra rings true, I’m almost as much of a car enthusiast as I am a rocket scientist. That is... I’m far from one.
You see, despite touting myself as a fully fledged fan and stakeholder in all things automotive, each day I find myself hopping into a 14-year-old Holden Commodore. While the new Commodore continues to cause a stir online, my trusty base-model VZ Commodore continues to be driven through life with not much more than the core qualities of the nameplate on board.
It’s large in size, was produced in Australia, is powered by a naturally aspirated engine, and has power sent to the rear wheels via a transmission with less cogs than fingers I have on my hand. It may seem a sad formula, and one well out of touch with the current craze of SUVs, four-door coupes and dual-cab utes, but I for one declare my fondness of it.
Over the past three years, the VZ Commodore has held its place in my garage thanks to its ability to humbly complete my daily drive, while I overthink the possibilities of the next car I might purchase. Consisting of 50 highway kilometres and 10 of suburban streets, the Commodore manages to provide the right balance between comfort and performance when bends are far and few between.
It’s thanks to this daily route, combined with a relatively light right foot, that fuel economy sits between 8.8 and 9.4L per 100km on the majority of refills. Despite this figure shifting to the low teens when loaded with three mates on board and camping gear for a week-long road trip, I've repeatedly come to the realisation that none of the cars I've considered on my shopping list have the same skill mix that this trusty Commodore has (while also justifying the lump-sum payment required), which further cements its place in my garage.
While on the highway, the 3.6-litre 175kW engine provides just the amount of power to garner confidence rather than cockiness when overtaking. Despite this poke, time has taught me to be prepared for a 1–1.5-second delay before the cogs kick back a gear and allow the revs to climb to 2800 where peak torque is met and momentum gained. While this is done without much fuss with a light load on board, a few adults and luggage help to establish the limits of the engine. Inclines take a little longer to conquer, the fuel gauge tends to drop a little quicker, and the softness of the suspension can be felt as the car slumps at the rear.
Speaking of suspension, the Commodore soaks up most terrain fairly well, whether it be gravel back-roads or the increasingly aggressive speed bumps that are plodded throughout suburbia. Sadly, what it gains in comfort over speed bumps, the Commodore loses when it comes to steering and cornering ability.
This base-model Executive was never meant to be a racer, however the combination of the suspension and its size and weight result in significant body roll through corners when travelling at any pace that can’t be described as ‘pedestrian’. Steering is also on the heavier side, but never impedes the driving experience to the point of significant inconvenience. Instead, it helps remind me of the fact that I’m driving a 14-year-old, 1.5-tonne large car with four handprints' worth of tread keeping me connected to the road (which is no bad thing).
Although the Commodore lacks a few of the whizz-bang features you’ll find on new cars today, I find myself oddly satisfied with the simple niceties like automatic headlights, cruise control, a trip computer with digital speedo, electric driver's seat adjustment, electric front windows, and enough space to be the designated road-trip vehicle for trips anywhere from Kosciuszko to Coonabarabran. It also has safety (partially) covered with ABS (which has saved me a couple of times on those sudden highway stops), two front airbags and ESC.
My qualms with the car are limited to what I call wear and tear, and include a fuel cap that needs to be opened from the boot, an air-conditioning system that’s seen a few too many hot summers, some scratches from a younger version of myself who was in denial that a school bag could cause scratches, and a snapped door handle that was replaced for $10.
Over the three years I’ve owned the car, servicing at each of the car’s 15,000km intervals has been relatively hassle free. To sweeten the deal, I’ve fared much better than friends and family with similarly aged pieces of Japanese and European metal (for example, I paid $200 for a water pump replacement in my Commodore, while my friend paid $1200 for the same in his 325i #humblebrag).
All things considered, as the car approaches the 200,000km mark this week, and as we head toward our four-year anniversary together, I reflect and come to a realisation. Although I may not have had a single moment when I’ve drooled over its styling or had my heart race while thinking of its engine bay, I can’t help but be thankful for the reliable companion the VZ Commodore has been, and for the taste I’ve had of back-to-basics Australian motoring.
It won’t win any awards for beauty or even brawn, but hey, I’m a car enthusiast and I think I love my VZ Commodore.