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We're back with Australia's best selling car this week. Not quite, maybe, because the car in the Carsguide garage is a Calais, but it's still part of the Commodore family and a subject of the latest VEII upgrade.
It takes a bit to see the changes in the VEII, until you sit inside, but it's a worthwhile range of updates as Holden spreads its focus between today's showroom hero and the Cruze hatch that's about to go into local production for sales in 2011. The big news on VEII is E85 bio-ethanol engines, the next stage in the greening of Australia's locally-made cars.
We already have the Camry Hybrid, and Ford is heading towards a four-cylinder Falcon in 2011, but this is Holden's first effort before things like hybrids and a local version of the range-extended, battery-powered Volt.
The bottom line on the VEII is the same as always: a big car for a value price. Holden has even held the basic price line at $39,990 despite the cost of the latest changes, and boosted value - mostly with the new 6.5-inch colour touch-screen infotainment system - across the range.
It's hard to evaluate the biggest value change at present, because the cheaper E85 fuel used in the new Holden is not widely available. It's more than 30 cents a litre cheaper than premium unleaded but will be hard to find until Caltex delivers on its promise of 100-plus E85 stations. Even then, E85 fuel burns faster than unleaded gasoline and that means economy will be down and range will also be cut. But the engine changes have made the powerplants more economical on unleaded fuel, a good move.
There is a lot of technology involved in the move to E85, but it's mostly hidden and irrelevant to Commodore owners. It doesn't make the car safer or nice, just allows the flex-fuel capability. But it is reflected in better emissions performance and a little more power for the 3-litre V6 and 5-litre V8, with the mid-range V6 scheduled for its tweaks sometime in 2011.
The real improvements are in the infotainment system, which is a huge leap forward and even presented in an easier-to-use dashboard layout that puts the colour screen up higher in the dash. It has Bluetooth, wireless, cable and USB connections for music and mobiles and is capable of storing up to 15 CDs in its hard drive.
The visual changes to the VEII are tiny. There is nothing a regular Commodore buyer would pick, just a true fan, despite some inevitable work on the lamps and wheels. There are some aero clean-up parts, but they are very small and mostly tucked away to do their work. The dashboard is cleaner and has the touch screen, with some improvements to fabrics.
The latest Commodore is a little sweeter and a little more enjoyable. It's not light years ahead of the previous model, and it still doesn't have the sporty chunky feel of the Falcon, but it's good. We started with a Calais and are running a 3-litre ute and an SS Sportswagon through the Carsguide test program, but don't expect to find much extra stuff to report.
The SS will obviously grunt along, and the ute is good for tip runs, but the Calais shows the sort of work that's been done. The 3.6-litre engine does the job on the Commodore, even if we're waiting for the E85 work. It's a little smoother than I remember, and works well with the auto gearbox, but I cannot comment on the E85 changes without a long drive and some significant refueling in a 3-litre car.
It's easy to pass judgement on Holden iQ, because it works so well. The colour screen is great, the controls are easy to understand and use, and the satnav is finally up where you can use it. The VEII also feels a little smoother in most driving conditions, down to some engineering work on refinement, and does the job you want and need with minimum fuss. It would have been good if Holden could have fixed my two biggest beefs - the undersized rear-view mirrors and the cheap-and-nasty handbrake and window controls - but I'm promised that the changes are coming. Eventually.
It's great to have a big family car for a change. No worries about pram space in the boot, plenty of room in the back for the child seat, and you can still carry passengers in comfort. I'm not a huge fan of the Commodore or Falcon, as I much prefer cars like the Skoda Superb, but the new Holden drives fine and has enough go for me. My only real complaint, and it's a big one, is the blind spots created by the pillars at the edge of the windscreen. They really are nasty and sometimes, on tight corners, you cannot see if anything is coming. This really needs to be fixed, and now.
A small but worthwhile change.
|V||6.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$12,600 – 18,260||2010 Holden Calais 2010 V Pricing and Specs|
|V||6.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$12,200 – 17,710||2010 Holden Calais 2010 V Pricing and Specs|
|V Redline Edition||6.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$13,100 – 19,030||2010 Holden Calais 2010 V Redline Edition Pricing and Specs|
|(base)||3.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$8,000 – 12,320||2010 Holden Calais 2010 (base) Pricing and Specs|