The last day of the holidays. The last beer in the fridge. The last hot chip in the bag. The last V8 Commodore in the showroom… Nobody wants any of these things to ever happen.
But while there will be more holidays, beer and chips, there won’t be any more new V8 Commodores, not after 2017 when Holden closes down its assembly lines. At the launch of the Commodore VF II last year Holden confirmed that this would be the final one to come with a V8. Brocky, Bathurst and a fast youth flash before the eyes – 37 years of V8 Commodores comes to an end.
Like the last hot chip, testing the SS-V Redline Sportwagon was savoured before extinction. And making the experience more sweet than bitter was the type of V8 Holden has given the Commodore as a parting gift – it’s a bigger and better engine than the one in the previous car. But more on that later.
At $58,690 the automatic-only SS-V Redline Sportwagon is $2000 more than its sedan twin. That makes it the second most expensive Commodore in the line-up with the Caprice V going for $2300 more.
So given that the sedan is hardly small and there’s no shortage of SUVs to pick from if its cargo size you’re after is a high-powered station wagon necessary? Absolutely.
Why should you have to migrate to an SUV like nearly everybody else if you need to carry more things? And why should you have to give up the option – the right, even dammit – to haul gear AND arse at the same time? When you grow up in a family where the SS Commodore sedan ferried you to school and cricket practice, and then became the car you ‘borrowed’ at night as a teenager to meet your girlfriend, the 2016 SS-V Sportwagon appears to be the perfect family car.
And it very nearly is – but after spending a week in it with our one year old, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the idea.
Is a high-powered station wagon necessary? Absolutely.
The first issue we discovered was because the head rests in the back seats aren’t removable, installing a high-backed child seat like ours isn’t possible to do safely – the back of the child seat needs to sit flat against the car’s seat and backrest. An option is to install the child seat in the middle where there isn’t a head rest – but this means climbing through the car with your kid under your arm to put them in – this will destroy your back after a week. Another option is to fit a lower backed child seat – we had one of these too and it worked.
Loading kids into a low car is also punishing on the back. It’s another reason why SUVs are so popular with families – there’s less bending when installing the offspring. Things never considered before the bubba came along. The Sportwagon was looking less like the perfect family car.
But then there’s the boot – at 895 litres (to the roof) it’s double that of the sedan and 17 litres bigger than the cargo area of Holden’s biggest SUV – Colorado 7. It’s seriously big and still leaves limo-like legroom in the rear seats and more space that you’ll ever need in the front.
And those seats are great – leather, big and supportive. Plus they’re for fit for those of us with broader shoulders and bums.
I've never been a big fan of the dash design though, it’s use of faux carbon fibre, and other several different types of textured materials makes it seem like Holden didn’t have enough of just one to go around.
The air vent design and touchscreen is starting to look dated, too.
Not looking at all old is the exterior – Holden nailed this years ago when the VE came out and the VF has only improved on it. The VF II in SS-V Redline guise adds a new grille, bonnet vents and updated tail-lights. Perhaps it’s my inner-bogan but there’s something great about an angry looking station wagon built for speed which is almost irresistible.
Yes, it’s built to go fast, but it doesn’t have the race car hard suspension you’d expect. The ride is outstanding, it's composed and comfortable even on what seem like worst roads in Australia around where we live. To get this ride on 20-inch wheels with low-profile tyres is a bit of an engineering feat, and Holden have done it.
That ride is another child friendly feature – you want the kids to stay asleep, not have them shaken awake by every crack in the tarmac.
The six-speed auto is great for the city – much time was spent in stop-start traffic.
At 4.39m the Sportwagon is a big car but it’s actually 27mm shorter than the sedan. Automatic parking worked every time even in spots you’d think twice about attempting yourself.
Yes, it’s built to go fast, but it doesn’t have the race car hard suspension you’d expect.
The VF Commodore has a five star ANCAP crash test rating and Holden introduced a stack of advanced safety equipment when it was launched. There’s blind spot and lane departure warning, rear traffic and forward collision alert, reversing camera, plus heads-up display. There's three ISOFIX and three top-tether child seat mounts across the back seats, too.
The touch screen works well, but the actual media system is a bit clunky and slower compared to more modern units.
There's cupholders in the doors, plus space for another two beverages between the front seats.
On the road
The SS-V Redline Sportwagon is a bullet. For this final bent-eight Commodore Holden has given it a 6.2-litre V8 that makes 304kW and 570Nm. It’s the engine HSV used in its previous Clubsport and it makes 34kW and 40Nm more than the 6.0-litre V8 in the previous SS-V Redline.
The previous car could do 0-100km/h in 5.4s, this latest version smashes it in 4.9s.
The engine is also in the SS, so if you’re not keen to pay the extra for the sporty bits that come with the SS-V Redline – its bang for your buck factor there is even better.
But the sporty bits are good. The SS-V brings a bi-modal exhaust which to these ears is operatic. Every house in our neighbourhood knows the car came to stay because you can hear it before you even turn into our street. You can turn it off (or down) via the touchscreen though, or just don’t keep mashing the accelerator and it’ll just burble along at a dull roar.
The Redline grade brings sports-tuned suspension, bonnet vents and rear Brembo brakes (360mm discs) now join the existing front Brembos (355mm) to pull the beast up fast.
Tyres and wheels are in a staggered format, meaning the ones at the front are narrower than the rears – this provides better grip and handling.
But there’s no way you’d push the SS-V Redline Sportwagon hard with a bub on board. But drop them off at daycare and you have your sportscar back again.
This isn’t as agile as Porsche, it’s a grand tourer with a big bucket at the back. And it ruled the freeway from Sydney to Newcastle to visit the grandparents. It’s a sleeping giant that cruises until you have to wake it up to overtake with a kick of your foot and then it bellows and blasts off.
The six-speed auto does feel a bit slow and lazy, it would be great if the shifts were harder and faster like in some of the German V8s.