It somehow seemed appropriate that our first extended VF Commodore test in our home area should be a station wagon, or a Sportwagon to use Holden’s title. Commodore was king of the family car market for 15 years before many buyers moved to either smaller cars or medium SUVs. So it’s likely the big VF station wagons could draw those who strayed from Commodore back into the fold again.
Many external styling changes to the VF distinguish it from the VE it supersedes. The new front gives it a stockier look, partly because the bonnet has been raised to incorporate pedestrian protection, but also to fall into the global General Motors design theme.
While the VF sedan is significantly different at the rear, the wagon (and ute) remain much the same as before, principally to save design dollars. Tellingly, at no time during our road test that covered over 600 kilometres did any other drivers stare at the Sportwagon’s rump and recognise it as a new Commodore.
Changes to the interior are extensive and give the VF Commodore a fresh, modern look. The centrepiece is the large, easy-to-read 8-inch colour touchscreen with well-spaced controls that are big enough to avoid the dreaded push-two-buttons-at-once hassles.
Visibility outwards is still marred by the huge A-pillars that we have been complaining about since the earliest VE Commodores. Some alterations have been made to the trim to try and cure this. Slimming the underlying metal was going to be expensive so we will have to live with the need to move our heads around to negate the blind spots created by the wide pillars.
At least the damn-fool handbrake that was so irritating in the VE has been replaced by a small, sophisticated electric unit. Although it’s built on the same platform as the VE Commodore, around 60 per cent of chassis components have been either modified or replaced. An overall weight reduction of almost 40kg has been achieved, mainly through the use of an aluminium bonnet, and sedan versions gain an aluminuim bootlid.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
The SV6 comes with a 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine with 210kW of power and 350Nm of torque and sends drive to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission (or six-speed manual on sedan and Utes).
It gets a five star ANCAP crash safety rating with electronic stability control, front and rear park assist, traction control, electronic brake force distribution, hill start assist and blind spot alert.
There’s something distinctly Aussie about the way the VF Commodore feels on the road, particularly in country driving. It lopes along with a minimum of fuss, makes light of coarse-chip surfaces that can rattle even the most expensive Europeans, and copes with corrugated dirt as though it’s barely there. Out onto the open road the interior of the Commodore is noticeably quieter than before and there’s a real feeling of luxury not unlike that of cars that cost tens of thousands more.
The 3.6-litre V6 on our test SV6 Commodore wagon was happy to sit at minimum revs thanks to the efficiency of the six-speed automatic transmission. The engine and transmission are both responsive and communicate with one another to give pleasing amounts of torque at all times. However, the 3.6 is still not as smooth as that of similar units used in many competitors. It’s certainly not as harsh as when first introduced almost a decade ago, but it really should be better.
Performance is strong, yet fuel consumption has been reduced markedly compared to that of the already good VE Commodore. Expect the 3.6 V6 to use about seven to nine litres per hundred kilometres when cruising in the country. And around nine to eleven litres when driven sensibly in suburban areas.
Handling is excellent with good feedback through the steering wheel and the suspension system. The new electric power steering (EPS) gives a sharp feel that’s all but indistinguishable from that of the old hydraulic assistance used in all Commodores till now. EPS is there primarily as a fuel save because it only takes power from the engine when it’s needed, not all the time as when a hydraulic pump is running permanently.
There’s something just right about settling into these big Aussie cars. A feeling of security and easy going running, particularly in the bush. This ‘something’ will really be missed if it disappears from the motoring scene forever...
Holden Commodore SV6 Sportwagon five-door wagon
Price: from $40,190
Engine: 3.6-litre 6-cylinder, 210kW/350Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Turning Circle: 11.4 metres
Kerb Mass: 1776 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 71 litres
Towing Ability: Up to 2100 kg (with braked trailer)
Thirst: 9.3L/100km, 222g/km CO2
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km