We drive the ultimate Commodore
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.