It’s been almost 3 years since GM pulled the pin on Holden’s local manufacturing operations. Combined with similar closures of Mitsubishi, Ford and Toyota, it was the final nail in the coffin for Australian automotive manufacturing and a massive blow that is still being felt today.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that news on that scale was enough for one decade, but a lot has happened since then.
We’ve had an imported Commodore which, while regarded as a competent, sophisticated all rounder, and certainly competent enough to fill the void for Aussie left by the big VF, went largely unnoticed and unloved after the initial shock and public outcry over the ‘imposter’ had subsided.
Then came the news that Holden had decided to cut the Commodore from the local line-up. With this announcement and a quick glance at the rest of the Holden sales figures, it became clear that the beginning of the end had begun, and GM duly announced Holden was to exit the market completely in 2021.
All this talk of ‘no more Commodore’ and ‘no more Holden’ happened around the same time as the birth of baby #1, an arrival that instigated the search for something safe that could take the place of the trusty, if a little agricultural, Holden Crewman.
It had run faultlessly for six years, and had served its masters well, but it wasn’t particularly safe for bub, not particularly well-equipped, had the dynamics (and fuel economy) of a cruise liner, and was not liked by me in any way, shape, or form.
Addressing the above deficiencies left me with only a couple of viable options, so now my chance to own what has been referred to as one of best cars ever manufactured in this country was set to become a reality.
Initially, I thought I could potentially save some coin and pick up a low kilometre VE SS-V Redline Sportwagon. One test drive later and that was ruled out. It certainly ticked the practicality and performance boxes, but the interior hadn’t aged well, and I wasn’t going to buy a V8 that sounded like a lawn mower.
Next up was a back-to-back between a VF and VF2 Redline Sportwagon. One press of the starter button was really all it took. I’ll take the 6.2-litre VF2 thanks!
So now that I have it, is it any good?
Styling is subjective, but the exterior updates made to the VF2 added an element of aggression to exactly where it was needed. The bonnet vents, the front bumper air intakes and the LED tail-lights really help keep it fresh. The black 19-inch alloys and big red Brembos look the business too, particularly when paired with the Heron White paintwork.
I would’ve liked the wing mirrors to be completely colour-coded and that Holden would have developed a stubby antenna to replace the 1950's thing hanging off the roof but, in all, it’s one of the best looking wagons out there. Nothing over-the-top styling wise, but you’re left in no doubt over the intent of this vehicle.
It's identical to the Series 1 VF it replaced, but that’s no bad thing.
Big, chunky, leather flat-bottomed wheel. Big, comfy sports seats up front, with plenty of room for my ever-widening posterior, and plenty of adjustment for my 6-foot-6 frame. I actually would’ve liked to see a bit more side bolster to help arrest the bum slide during enthusiastic cornering, but given I don’t spend a whole heap of time attacking mountain roads or racetracks, I’ll let it slide…(See what I did there?! Yes, it’s true. My hilarity knows no bounds!)
The rear seats are well cushioned and accommodating, with ISOFIX points for the easy installation of the kiddy seats, and there's plenty of toe, foot, hip, shoulder and headroom for three adults across the back. The roofline is pretty low for a wagon, so take care getting the ankle-biters out or you might give them (or you) another reason to scream uncontrollably.
The wagon makes for a great road trip car as well, with an 865 litre capacity out back with the seats up, and 2000 litres with them down. There's more than enough for the weekly shopping, a weekend away, or temporary airbnb if you find yourself in the dog house.
Looking around the cabin, it’s actually pretty well put together. Not exactly Audi levels of fit and finish, but a nice mix of leather seats, soft touch plastics, and even some alcantara on the dash ahead of the passenger and on the doors. It’s clear that the interior’s been built for durability, and some real thought has been put into the materials used. It should hold up well, both physically and aesthetically, for many years to come.
The MyLink infotainment system has copped its fair share of criticism over the years, and it can be a little buggy. A perfect example of this are the hoops I had to jump through to remove the previous owner's paired devices out the Bluetooth settings.
After reading a post on Facebook and numerous owners swearing by it, I followed the recommendation to turn off the car, open the door and leave it open for 5 minutes, close the door, lock the door, open the door and start the engine. Whadya know. It worked!
Since then, no freezing, no blank screens, no problems with the touch inputs not working. Bluetooth syncs perfectly every time, and navigation works a treat (albeit with maps that are 5 years old). Missing out on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay was disappointing, but not a deal breaker, as none of my other vehicles have it either. So, while not ground-breaking, it does what it says on the tin.
Speaking of interior tech, I think I want to have babies with the head-up display. A fairly simple bit of kit when it comes down to it, but it’s bloody brilliant. It can display current speed, speed limit, cruise speed, rev counter, and navigation directions ahead of the driver. It’s not the least bit intrusive, works with polarised sunnies and means there’s no need to take your eyes off the road to constantly check your speed. I find it really strange that a lot of car makers still resist the urge to incorporate this into their vehicles, as it was a major selling point for me with this car. Yes, I’m looking at you, Tesla Model 3!
The Redline also comes standard with lane departure warning and forward collision alert. The former is just annoying. The latter is jumpy, inconsistent and very intrusive. Thankfully, both can be turned off. Blind-spot monitoring, reverse camera and rear traffic cross alert are also standard and appreciated, given the tiny wing mirrors attached to the VF2 range.
In addition to front and rear parking sensors, Auto Park Assist is standard across the VF2 range as it was with VF1, and I’ll be honest and say I’ve not had a chance to try it out. It’s on the list, though. From all reports, it seems to work well in reverse parallel parking, while reversing into a perpendicular car spot at the supermarket takes a couple of stabs.
The feature I get the most enjoyment from is the remote start function, allowing you to listen the 6.2-litre roar to life. Most think it’s a bit of a ‘look at me’ party trick, but it serves a purpose, allowing you to pre-condition the car on a cold morning/hot afternoon and look cool while doing it. A great feature that’s regularly used.
Though it’s a real disappointment that, even in 2016, a car costing close to $60k didn’t come with adaptive cruise control as standard, particularly when my 2015 Liberty had it as standard across the range which, at the time, started just under $30k.
7 Airbags, Brembos front and rear, ABS, EBD, ESC, and lots of other TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). A five star ANCAP rating means you and your loved ones are as safe as possible in the unfortunate event of an accident.
On the Road
In short, it's an awesome all-rounder. Once the aural theatrics of the engine start are done, and the big lion has settled into a nice burbly idle, it’ll tootle off to the shops or down the freeway, the 6 speed auto slurring happily between shifts, with barely a hint of the performance available under your right foot.
Over the crappy country roads I drive on daily, you can tell it’s been set up for handling over ride, but it’s pretty comfortable all the same, particularly given the 19-inch alloys shod in 245/40 front and 275/35 rear rubber. Economy in this environment is pretty respectable, too, regularly sitting around the 10 litres per 100 kilometre mark - a little better if highway is your tarmac of choice.
Get a little heavy with the foot and the big wagon’s sophistication is betrayed by the bogan beneath. Make no mistake, this thing will drink like a fish if pushed. Factor in 14-15L/100km if you drive it like you stole it.
You might find yourself doing that a bit, at least initially. The noise pumped into the cabin through the firewall via the Mechanical Sound Enhancer ensures that as the revs rise, so too does the noise, along with feeling of involvement and serving as a reminder that you’re in a family wagon packing 304kW and 570Nm.
Combine this with the wickedly tuned bimodal exhaust, complete with snaps, cracks and coco pops, any drives you take (regardless of distance, duration or destination) will bring a smile to your face and potentially a crying emoji from your bank account.
The wheel/tyre/brake package also means you’re well equipped to deal with any situation. It feels super-planted in the dry and sure-footed, safe and confidence-inspiring in the wet, even on the dodgy no-name tyres proudly presented as a selling point by the previous owner.
I have no doubt that there are better cars on the market, better wagons even, and the big cat certainly ain’t perfect.
However, my need for a safe, sonorous, smile-inducing, and super practical performance car have been well and truly met and I suspect will continue to be met until the electric tsunami crashes down on us and the Redline lives out its days confined to the garage, sporadically released into the wild for drive days and classic car shows.