We drive the ul­ti­mate Com­modore

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story -

FOUR stars. That’smy rat­ing of the VF Com­modore, based on the qual­ity of the car and its place in the Aus­tralian new-car show­room of 2013. The VF is just great, from the tech­nol­ogy to the price to the way it drives. In a blind­folded drive it could eas­ily be mis­taken for a BMW.

But it’s still a Com­modore and, great as it is, the VF is a di­nosaur. It’s the T-Rex of its time, an apex preda­tor that rules its ter­ri­tory, but that ter­ri­tory has been torn apart re­cently by the SUV in­va­sion and low-priced im­ports that have de­stroyed the value bal­ance for lo­cally made cars.

There was a time when a car as good as the VF would have been a five-star stand­out, but th­ese days it takes an aw­ful lot — or the lat­est Golf— to get a top score. It’s still as sporty and re­ward­ing as I ex­pect when I drive a Com­modore but the smooth­ness, quiet­ness and com­pli­ance are as­tound­ing.

The Com­modore story for 2013 goes on and on. Nearly 70 per cent of the parts are new and there is a to­tally new ap­proach to show­room stick­ers as well as a new deal for those who have de­serted big Aussie sixes in re­cent years.

The high­lights in­clude the im­pres­sive new in­fo­tain­ment cen­tres, the up­scale de­sign and fin­ish­ing in the cabin. The fresh ap­proach to noise sup­pres­sion in­cludes mount­ing the ped­als to stop engine ac­tion in­trud­ing into the pas­sen­ger cell.

Safety is also im­proved with a range of com­puter aids in­clud­ing blind-spot warn­ing and re­verse traf­fic alert.

The car is also marginally lighter on fuel, al­though it’s still pow­ered by rel­a­tively in­ef­fi­cient V6 and V8 en­gines — with no sign of a hy­brid or an eco­nom­i­cal four such as the EcoBoost mo­tor in the Fal­con. It goes al­most with­out say­ing that the Com­modore is the best of its breed, and I’ve driven them all since 1978, in their time, in their place and against con­tem­po­rary ri­vals. Some of the old-timers were more fun, some had more go and some were more out­ra­geous than the VF, and there was also the ex­e­crable Com­modore four. None was as com­plete as this.

I ar­rive for the press preview of the VF ex­pect­ing a tizz and tweak for the fa­mil­iar VE and that’s the way the car looks. It’s newer and fresher but the cen­tral sec­tion of the body is just as it was and those aw­ful, tiny rear-view mir­rors have not been changed.

But I get be­hind the wheel— and en­ter a new world of Com­modore. And new pos­si­bil­i­ties. Com­pared with a Fal­con or a Camry, or even a Mazda6 or Honda Ac­cord, the VF has stepped up a league. It’s now in the Audi class.

There are four cars to try, from the new Evoke starter car through the SV6 and ute to the Calais, and I’mdriv­ing on the fa­mil­iar ride-and-han­dling test loop at Holden’s prov­ing ground at Lang Lang, out of Melbourne. It’s a road I know very well and, even with­out stop-start traf­fic or end­less Syd­ney stop lights, a great place to try a car as new and im­por­tant as the VF.

The first im­pres­sion at the wheel is all about the cabin qual­ity. Audi learnt a while back that many peo­ple buy be­cause of a pow­er­ful first im­pres­sion in a show­room, with­out even driv­ing, and the new Holden has that same sort of im­me­di­ate im­pact. Some of the plas­tic pieces don’t fit per­fectly and look a bit un­der­done but that is the only short­com­ing.

The new seats feel bet­ter; I’m sit­ting more in them than on them, and I’mdef­i­nitely way more cos­seted than in a Fal­con.

On the road, each of the VFs makes its case. A com­mon trait is the quiet­ness that comes only from a ground-up re­view of the sus­pen­sion, the ba­sic body (in­clud­ing fill­ing holes in the fire­wall), the steer­ing and ev­ery­thing else.

Per­haps there is a lit­tle less cor­ner­ing grip in the Evoke than I re­mem­ber, and the SV6 snaps side­ways at one point dur­ing a rain shower, but the com­pli­ance is great and the VF is a car that will make for low­fuss long-dis­tance tour­ing.

It’s the end re­sult that is most im­por­tant and, as I com­plete my time in the Calais, I can­not wipe the smile from my face. The flag­ship is so good, and such good value (now from $39,990, down by $8300— that it should be a world-beater.

As I drive away from Lang Lang and pre­pare for my next VF en­counter in the real world, I know the crew at Holden has done some­thing spe­cial.

The VF Com­modore is the best of its breed and a car you would choose for your­self, not just the car you take as part of your nine-to-five salary pack­age.

So we now know the VF is great but is a great Com­modore good enough th­ese days?

We’ll get the an­swer to that ques­tion when we get it to the Car of the Year con­test for 2013, where it starts as the ob­vi­ous and tough­est ri­val to the new Golf.

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