I’ll admit, I’m slightly disappointed.
You see, this review was originally intended to feature another car. None other than the Holden Commodore SS-V Redline VF Series II.
It was to be my first, and potentially my last, blast in one of Aussie motoring’s V8 icons. (I’ve always been more of a Ford man).
I had imagined penning phrases likening the exhaust note to the love child of Pavarotti and Eminem, or how the automotive equivalent of a bogan had cut off the mullet, donned an Armani suit, colour-matched to his thongs, of course, and completed a Masters in Engineering.
Alas, fate had other ideas. A Tiger Airways flight cancelled at the last-minute, necessitated an axing of the fire-breathing dragon, so this was the best I could do!
So, let’s take a closer look at the final Commodore in its slightly warmed over guise, the 2017 VF Series II SV6, and see if it’s a fitting send off for the Holden nameplate that’s been a constant presence on the Aussie motoring landscape for almost 40 years.
In all honesty, unless you’re a Holden Commodore tragic (and good on you if you are), you’d be hard pressed to tell the 2017 model from the model it replaces. In this specification, the exterior changes are limited to a new set of black accented alloys.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, as the overall VF II package for Holden’s entry into sports touring has always been a reasonably muscular looking piece of kit.
Front on, with an aggressively sculpted front bumper, complete with chrome accents and daytime running lights, and teamed with some subtly pumped guards, it looks ripped, fit and ready to stretch its legs.
At the rear, apart from the boot lid ‘spoiler’ living up to its name, the sleek, modern tail-lights, a contrasting black rear diffuser, flanked by a couple of chrome-tipped exhausts, certainly give the impression that the SV6 is up to the task.
Move side on though, and a lack of training starts to become a little more obvious. As I write this, I’m struggling to pinpoint the reason for my dispassion. Is it the fact it sits a bit high with too much air between tyre and wheel arch? Or is it the fact the alloys look they belong on some P-Plater’s beaten up Hyundai Excel?
I suspect it’s a little of both. Too harsh? Perhaps, and I know there needs to be room to move styling-wise on the step up to the big brother V8 SS but, to me, it just screams tacky Evoke mock-up.
When the first VFs were released back in 2013, their interiors were hailed as a massive improvement over the previous VE model, and they certainly were a huge step up, in terms of both materials used and overall cabin ambiance. Fast forward to 2017, and the materials and ambiance remain the same. Quite simply, the SV6 is a comfortable place to spend a considerable amount of time.
Mush the keyless entry button on the door handle, crack the driver’s door, and it’s immediately apparent that Holden is trying to send you a message. You, sir, are about to plonk your (in my case, considerable) rear end in a classy sports sedan.
‘Leather-look’ stitched sports seats, complete with suede-y, Alcantara-ish inserts for both rows, a generous smattering of faux carbon-fibre inserts across the dash, and a couple of red-ringed instrument clusters ahead of a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel, leave you in no doubt of this.
There are plenty of creature comforts to be found inside the cabin, too, with a USB charging/connection point, and a huge centre console storage bin for all your gear, along with relationship-saving dual zone climate control, standard satellite navigation, and the now ubiquitous massive cupholders.
All those features are great, but to be honest, in 2017, you’d be struggling to match up spec-wise against cars half the price without some, if not all, of the gizmos mentioned above, so Holden has been kind enough to throw some very welcome, useful equipment upgrades at the VF II SV6.
New to the MY17 SV6 is a relatively simple piece of tech that, in my opinion, should really be standard in all new cars, head-up display. For those of you unfamiliar with the technology, head-up display (HUD) is a projection of relevant information (current speed, current speed limit, turn by turn navigation, etc) onto the windscreen just off the eye-line of the driver, allowing you to keep your eyes focused on the road ahead. It’s a great addition, and while its primary function is to allow the driver to continue to scan the road ahead, rather than take their eyes off the road to check their speed or navigation info, I’ll admit it did make me feel a bit like a fighter pilot about to get into a dog-fight.
It’s not the only cool tech that Holden has bestowed upon the SV6. Standard is front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring with warning lights on the side mirrors, and semi-automated parking assist, to help people like me to reverse parallel parks without looking like a complete dick.
Unfortunately, novel tech like HUD can’t disguise the fact that the interior is starting to show its age in more ways than one. I have no doubt the plastics used on the doors, and centre of the steering wheel are quite durable, it’s just that they look and feel a little cheap. I’ve no doubt that this is a necessary compromise to keep the price down on what is a feature-packed car, but it does detract somewhat from what is, generally, a nice place to munch some miles.
Similarly, I found the standard sat-nav system, and infotainment system in general, to be quite button heavy, terribly laggy, and cheap-looking, compared to some of the other systems I’ve tested. The system has been around since 2013, so I guess in some ways I shouldn’t be surprised that the auto Alzheimer’s is kicking in, and the graphics look like something from a late ’80s video game.
The instrument cluster and central information panel unfortunately suffer the same fate. In a world of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, Mercedes Benz’s dual display, where even VW is stuffing the Virtual Cockpit inside the new Golf, as a guy who loves his ‘bleeding edge’ tech, the Holden system is a pretty big disappointment. That said, I had no trouble connecting my phone for audio streaming, and the ability to listen to your text messages over the stereo, while not exactly state of the art these days, is a great feature to have. Yep, I’m looking at you, smartphone-obsessed iZombies!
On the Road...
Foot on the brake, a press of the keyless start button, and the SV6 hums to life. It’s not exactly the stuff automotive dreams are made of. There’s a (very slight) hint of purpose to the exhaust on start-up, it just doesn’t exactly stir the soul.
Nose pointed onto the street, park brake toggle button disengaged, and the six-speed auto (now standard) slotted into drive, let’s hit the road, and see how the latest, and final, SV6 handles the daily grind, some freeway work, and a scenic blast through the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, on what can only be described as a perfect driving day.
The first destination of the day was down to Noosa’s Hastings Street. Always busy, but particularly so during school holidays, the route was filled with roundabouts, speed humps and a lots of pedestrians. Suburban streets pose no issues for the big Holden, with progress smooth and effortless, almost lazy, thanks to the 210kW/350Nm V6 up front, even with the FE2 sports suspension setup onboard. It never became intrusively loud or crashy over imperfections. It’s clear it’s been tuned, and refined over time, specifically for our crappy roads.
The brakes too, felt just right for this type of environment, with a good ability to modulate the pedal, without losing the ability to pull the big fella up in a hurry if needed. Certainly a lot more progressive than the ‘if you hover your foot over me, I’m going to throw you through the windscreen’ set up of, say, a certain small German hatchback... **cough** Golf **cough**.
Steering around town can be a touch heavy. While I prefer a bit of weight in the steering, as it makes things feel a little more planted, it may prove to be a little heavy for some, making the squeeze into tight parks, for example, a bit of a chore.
Once out of town, having successfully navigated through all of the 800 roundabouts the Noosa area has to offer, and turning onto the Bruce Highway, it became clear where the SV6 was most at home.
Planting the right foot produces a surge of forward momentum, and while the accompanying exhaust notes and engine noise are nothing to write home about, this thing provides some fairly rapid acceleration.
Once up to speed, cruise control engaged, and head-up display locked on target, you can really see why the SV6, and Commodores in general, were so popular, for so long, on our roads. What a shame they’ve become the latest victim in the SUV apocalypse sweeping the globe.
Plenty of room, plenty of comfort, plenty of tech, and plenty of safety, surely still make this one of the best ways to cover the huge distances that a great Aussie road trip demands.
It is, however, labelled a ‘Sports’ sedan, and given that the Sunshine Coast Hinterland contains some of the finest driving roads in the state, it would be an insult to Holden fans everywhere, if we did not seek out these roads, and provide the most well-rounded review possible of one of the finest Aussie cars ever made. The fact it’ll be fun as hell to throw the V6 at some twisty stuff is simply a bonus. ?
Throwing the shifter left from ‘D’ engages ‘Sports’ mode, and from here you can allow the six-speed to continue to self-shift, with the geeky onboard computer brain changing the auto shift points, or DIY it using the shifter. Unfortunately, no flappy paddles on the steering wheel, but at least the orientation of the manual shift is correct, with a push for downshifts, and a pull for upshifts.
There’s no denying this is a hefty beast, but thankfully the brakes seem up to the task, washing off speed impressively as you approach a hairpin. The 1600-odd kilos can tend to cause a bit of resistance to initial turn in but, once settled, the weighty steering, which seems far more at home in these conditions, in conjunction with the suspension tune, really inspires confidence that you’ll continue to hold the line you’ve chosen, regardless of what mid-corner obstacles might come your way.
What didn’t exactly inspire confidence is the lack of bolstering on front pews. A couple of corners in and while the SV6 was proving to be planted, the same couldn’t be said for my wide-load, that was doing its utmost to escape through the driver’s door every time I turned left.
In truth though, the SV6 felt much more at home on the long sweepers, where I didn’t ask it to drastically change direction in a hurry. It stayed flat and settled into a groove quite quickly, and with the majority of Aussie back roads in this big, flat country falling into this category, it makes perfect sense that this iconic Aussie car should feel right at home.
I started my week with the SV6 with the preconception that it would be nothing more than a standard Commodore with a few ‘look at me’ upgrades to justify an increased asking price over the povo-spec Evoke.
Has my opinion changed? Yes, slightly…
I wasn’t sold on the looks. While front and rear looked the biz, the side profile was a bit of a letdown.
I was impressed with the general road manners for a car with a ‘sports-ish’ suspension tune, both around town, on the highway, and in the twisty bits. It’s quite rapid, and handles well, for a car of its size, but I found the aural accompaniment pretty drab and uninspiring.
The level of tech in the SV6 was welcome, and useful, particularly the head-up display, and rear cross-traffic alert, and semi-auto parking, only to be let down low rent instrumentation and the outdated, laggy navigation system that probably deserved one last upgrade.
Fuel economy has never been a selling point for big Aussie sedans, and the SV6 didn’t really go against tradition here. Over a week of driving, which only really contained about 20 minutes of ‘semi-enthusiastic’ driving, it returned an average of about 10.3L/100km. Not exactly stellar by today’s standards, and that was just with me and my partner in crime up front, and a single 20kg suitcase down back.
So, would I buy one? That’s a tough call.
At the current run-out price of $39,990 drive-away, it’s a lot of car for the cash, no doubt. It’s rapid, practical, spacious, and safe, and would make a great long-term family hauler.
If you can stretch the extra couple of thousand though, I would definitely take a look at something like the Subaru Liberty 3.6R. It’s similarly sized, offers similar levels of go, handling, and stopping power, uses significantly less fuel, and comes with an even higher level of standard kit. Add to this the added safety of all-wheel drive, and the award-winning Eyesight system, as standard, and it’s hard to ignore. Low km examples can be had for around the $40k mark.
However, if the budget is set and/or you’re a die-hard Holden fan, and you’re after a car that will go the distance, and take you and the family the distance safely, and in comfort, you could do a lot worse than the last of the big Aussie sixes.
They will no doubt be a feature on our roads for many years to come, and unlike the decision by Ford to give up on development of the Falcon with the introduction of the BA all those years ago, I applaud Holden for throwing (almost) everything at the final Commodore SV6 to give it the send off it deserves.