The great eight debate
Home-grown or imported? That’s the choice for V8 lovers in this three-way arm wrestle
EIGHT-CYLINDER cars are an extravagance most buyers can do without. Most buyers already do, opting for smaller sedans and SUVs with efficient turbo engines rather than the home-grown V8s.
For those who drive their vehicles rather than commute in them, a traditional V8 is still an enticing prospect. If you were raised on the Holden v Ford rivalry, it is a last chance to wave the red or blue flag.
That’s why Holden expects its new 6.2-litre V8s to account for more than half of VFII Commodore sales between now and the factory shutdown in 2017.
Ford fans are equally keen to put a supercharged 5.0-litre Boss engine in the garage, be it as a final farewell to an icon or a speculative investment.
Chrysler will be the last large mainstream V8 sedan left standing with the local duo’s demise and the US brand justifies its heftier price tag with a more luxurious interior and the best straight-line performance.
All three are capable of a sub-five second sprint time, will house five adults in reasonable comfort and have a drift racer’s disdain for fuel economy and tyre wear.
HOLDEN COMMODORE SS-V REDLINE
The roar appeal of a big capacity V8 — the most powerful engine fitted to a regular Commodore — is now supported by suspension that can manage the torque. The revised rear end has a new sway bar to cut body roll, letting the engineers soften off the springs.
The changes mean the grunt now goes to the ground rather than evoking spinning wheels under hard acceleration out of a corner. It is a vastly improved car when pressed hard. Brembo brakes are fitted to all wheels and a bi-modal exhaust gives the Holden bark to match its appreciable bite. Bonnet vents and an LS3 badge pinned to the front bumper are the easiest way to spot the VFII Commodore because the updates don’t extend to the interior. That means more buttons than are found in many modern cars and there’s still a mish-mash of quality finishes and budget bits.
Overall it is still a generation clear of the Falcon but a quick survey shows friends are split on whether it or the Chrysler has the better looking dash layout.
CHRYSLER 300 SRT
If bigger is better, the SRT rules the roost. It is the largest vehicle here in size and engine capacity and, in the eye-searing red of the test vehicle with polished 20-inch alloys, overshadows the local duo visually.
The Chrysler is also the quickest car in a straight line. Its launch control — all three cars have software assistance to help harness the torque off the line — lets owners adjust the take-off revs depending on road conditions. A mid-four second sprint time is possible in the right environment.
The premium cabin feel is enhanced by leather and alcantara upholstery and carbon-fibre inlays in the dash and door trim but for $69,000 (a less-blinged SRT Core can be had for $59,000) the door plastics are too hard for the money and details such as the sunglass holder mechanism feel and sound cheap.
A long wheelbase also means the Chrysler can’t wriggle through the tight stuff like its local competition. Frontend response and steering feel is vastly better than the previous model but the Chrysler is ultimately a grand tourer rather than a track-focused performance sedan.
Chrysler has the Charger SRT Hellcat to fulfil the latter role in the US and the Australian arm still hasn’t given up on getting that vehicle here.
FORD FALCON XR8
Rumours continue about the arrival of a more powerful XR8 Sprint next year but that will address an area the Falcon already excels in. There’s nothing wrong with the Ford’s
drivetrain; it is the time-warp interior that lets this car down.
Not much has changed since the FG launched in 2008 though the XR8 does come with Ford’s Sync2 infotainment interface displaying on an eight-inch screen. It is easy to operate and responds to thousands of voice commands but that’s the highlight of an otherwise mundane interior.
Driving aids such as lane departure and blind spot alerts are standard on the rivals but not on the Falcon even in the options list and the $2200 auto transmission option doesn’t include paddle shifters.
The supercharged 5.0-litre engine is the highlight. It delivers peak torque much earlier in the rev range than its rivals. It is a push in the chest that intensifies until the driver is smart enough to back off.
The XR8 is more prone to push its nose through the corners and is happiest of this trio to light up the back end exiting turns. The suspension may be borrowed from the old FPV GT R-Spec but it still isn’t enough to tame this beast.
The brakes do not feel as solid as the Holden but they take longer to fade than the heavier Chrysler.
Beyond the supercharger there’s enough to whine about in the XR8 to relegate it to third place here. Yes it will beat the Chrysler in some situations but the interior civility and electronics are off the pace.
The SRT’s improved ride and cornering make it more than a drag-strip special. Size and weight work against it when hustled on back roads but it has presence and performance.
That leaves the Redline as the best balanced car in this field, both dynamically and in terms of its ability to perform as a track weapon or family cruiser. Holden has saved the best for last and the SS-V Redline will leave a lasting impression on all who drive it.
If you were raised on the Holden v Ford rivalry, it is a last chance to wave the red or blue flag