Holden Commodore SS V SE review

The cynical might call it the Pontiac nose run-out edition, a side-effect of the unfortunate end of an export program.  Hopefully some with Chevrolet badges and the steering wheel on the wrong side can start going back over the Pacific soon, but in the meantime, there are some meaner-looking SS V-Series sedans on sale in Australia.

The twin-nostril snout bridges the gap between Holden and HSV, giving the SS a road presence without the extrovert HSV appearance screaming ‘look at me’.  The more subtle rear lip spoiler keeps the look as almost subtle, as well as making rear vision less obstructed than the rear wing on an SS or SV6.

Engine and gearbox

The six-speed manual's clutch pedal has to meet the firewall before it will fire - turn the key and the six-litre V8 offers a muted rumble at idle and it has an immediate aural effect.  The six-speeder is still a gearbox that requires strong direction but the gates and the shift-feel are cleaner than its predecessors.

Driving

Slinking through the traffic, the V8 is more than happy to move along with not too many engine revolutions above idle showing on the tachometer.  Despite tipping the scales at just over 1700kg it can roll along in a high gear without complaint, which does help with the fuel use.  It doesn't mind swinging the needle around to the top end either.

The manual model doesn't have the active fuel management system, so it delivers the full whack with a bellow of menace.  The noise falls just short of the 290kW/520Nm Ford V8 but it delivers 270kW at 5700rpm; 530Nm is on offer from 4400rpm but the low-end pull is stronger than the Ford powerplant.

Holden don't make official performance claims but independent testing says mid-5s for the sprint to 100km/h, which puts it in pretty strong performance sedan company - for example, an M5 claims 4.7 seconds, an E63 AMG boasts 4.5 seconds, but at around four times the price.  While we're not suggesting the special edition is quite up there with the two Germans, the Commodore has its charms.

Firstly, the ride is well-sorted despite low-profile rubber wrapped around 19in wheels.  It's still going to be too tough on the bumps for some, but given its balance and cornering capabilities it's excellent.

The SS doesn't turn-in like a big lump o' lard, feeling light on its feet - up to a point, when the nose will push or the tail can be provoked with the right foot, but brisk country-road work is handled with nice cornering ability.  The strong low-end means high gears are easily managed by the engine, which means frugal figures can be achieved, particularly on the open road.

Price and equipment

If there was an option to upgrade the brakes then that might be the only box I'd tick - although a rear DVD player is a great rugrat tamer.  The stoppers are fine up to a point, but there once was a performance brake option ex-factory that would be worthwhile given the performance potential and the ever-increasing popularity of track days.

Points to ponder for future designs would be the big A-pillar blind spot, which can easily hide a car when turning from T-junctions.  For a car beyond $50,000 the satnav - which is bordering on theft at $3250 and more expensive than a set of 20in alloys - should be standard, particularly if sub-$40,000 Japanese small cars can have it as part of the standard features.

The SS V-Series Special Edition is priced from $55,290 - unchanged from the standard SS V-Series model aside from the bonnet scoops, and the rear spoiler, which means the features list is not completely bare.

Dual zone climate control, power windows and mirrors (centre-mounted and still annoying), a six-CD MP3-compatible sound system with auxiliary input jack, alloy pedals, automatic headlights (but no rain-sensing wipers), a sports leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio, trip computer and Bluetooth controls, 19in wheels and leather trimmed sports seats.The safety features list has stability control, anti-lock brakes, dual front, side and curtain airbags.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  As many new car buyers of this world apparently aim for better fuel economy, there are still people who want and/or think they need a V8 - it's not hard to see why.

Holden Commodore VE SS V-Series Special Edition

Price: from $55,290.
Engine: six-litre V8.
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive with limited slip differential.
Power: 270kW @ 5700rpm.
Torque: 530Nm @ 4400rpm.
Performance: 0-100km/h 5.6 seconds.
Fuel consumption: 13.9L/100km, on test 17L/100km

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