It's the SS-V muscle car that will become the next Holden hero and, in another landmark Carsguide exclusive, our five million readers are seeing it first.
The V8-powered VF flagship packs all the breakthrough features of the first Commodore makeover since the arrival of the VE - from self parking and anti-collision systems to an Audi-style luxury interior - with new front and rear panels including a lightweight aluminium bonnet and boot.
No-one outside Holden is driving the VF for another six weeks, but the Carsguide crew has seen the car and climbed all over both the SS-V and the impressive new Calais luxury runner. Our early verdict? It's a sure-fire winner.
The VF also proves the Commodore is not dead yet, even before a fresh commitment to the car that now stretches out beyond 2020. The pricing and lineup are still a closely-guarded secret, but it's inevitable that so much new technology in the VF will mean a rise from today's $37,990 starting point.
The SS-V is the standout, from its signature ‘Fantale’ hero colour and optional 20-inch black alloy wheels to a driver-focussed cabin and a tiny spoiler sitting on top of the boot. But it's the basic changes - especially in the cabin - that elevate the car way beyond anything that's worn a Commodore badge in the past.
“We're back,” says Holden's president, Mike Devereux, as he introduces the VF at a secret press briefing ahead of customer deliveries in June. “This is the most technologically-advanced car ever created in this country, without a doubt. What is different about today's vehicle is both the sophistication, technology and refinement.''
The arrival of the VF means the end of the working-class Commodore, as all the changes for 2013 push the car upmarket and away from its humble start in 1978. Holden admits it's now chasing people who want a Commodore on their own terms, not workers who were forced to take one as a company car. “This is a no-excuses car,'' says Devereux.
Holden has spent more than $500 million to design and develop the VF, which looks more muscular and modern despite what are relatively-minor exterior changes. The mid-section of the car carries over, although you would hardly know it from the contoured bonnet, aggressive nose, raised boot and the cabin renovation that brings a new dashboard and a whole suite of new electronics.
Holden has even managed to crib some extra visibility by trimming down the A pillars which have been a VE bugbear, although the mirrors are still the same and still undersized by world standards. “I wouldn't say it's more extreme, but the persona has changed a little bit,'' says Holden's hero designer, Richard Ferlazzo, talking about the SS-V.
“It's not about scaring women and children, it's about looking purposeful. You don't have to apologise for this. All cars have some sort of connection with speed. It's not all anti-social, it's enjoyable.''
But he also knows what wins hearts -- and buyers -- who are also considering Euro luxury cars and full-loaded SUVs. “The interior is what everybody is going to be talking about. Not just in the technology, but the premium content and the fit-and-finish,'' Ferlazzo says.
The look is completely new and dominated by an eight-inch colour touch screen that controls everything from new-generation satnav to automotive Apps. There is a similar smaller screen set ahead of the driver - and standard on all models - but the Commodore now gets a heads-up display. The quality of the materials in the car is a huge improvement, the window switches are moved from the console to the driver's door, and there is an electronic parking brake.
On the safety side, the VF is a landmark local car with everything from blind-spot warning to front and rear anti-collision systems, a rear-view camera and a self-parking system that works for both parallel and reverse slots.
The changes to the VF reflect the changes in the Australian automotive landscape, as the car faces incredibly tough opposition on all fronts. It's not good enough in 2013 to bowl up a car that's basically just an FJ Holden for everyone. It has to be targeted, and the SS-V is laser-locked on shoppers who want Euro-style quality with Aussie muscle.
“We’re back, better than ever. It's game on," says Devereux. But this is just the first chapter of a story that will run for months, so stay tuned to Carsguide for the next instalment on the mechanical developments, ahead of the all-important first drive.
VF COMMODORE - KEY FEATURES
- New look front and rear
- Aluminium bonnet and boot
- LED daytime running lamps
- New wheels
- New dashboard with 8-inch colour touch-screen
- Heads-up display for driver
- Electric power steering and electronic park brake
- Self-parking system
- Front and rear collision warnings
THE NEW RIVALS
Commodore or Falcon, Ford or Holden? That was the only real choice in new-car showrooms for nearly 20 years. But things have changed massively over the past decade and the old-time family favourites are now retreating faster than dinosaurs facing the ice age. So, what's the VF Commodore up against in 2013 and how does it rate against rivals that are similarly priced - or costlier - in a fragmented showroom stoush?
Here are the likely suspects for the Commodore's new-age cross-shopping contest:
The SS-V is finally on the right page for luxury buyers, thanks to that gorgeous cabin. The 6-litre V8 is old-school against the twin-turbo BMW, but the Holden hero is a bargain by any measure. And there are HSV VFs to come.
If you really need seven seats you don't want a Commodore, but lots of families have forgotten that motoring can still be fun. The VF delivers, with the promise of better efficiency than a hulking people mover.
DOWNSIZER DREAM: Mazda6 - $33,460
A medium-sized car delivers similar cabin space to a Commodore in 2013, and the 6 is only a little shorter overall than the Holden. The challenge now is to deliver an ownership experience to rival a Mazda or Honda or Subaru dealership.
Badge buyers love the Germans, and the new Benz-BMW-Volkswagen babies are great little cars at tasty prices. They will make things tough for the Calais, but cannot match its V8 pace or cabin space.