Ford Falcon G6E Turbo 2013 review
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If the VF is the very last Commodore then it's a great way to sign off. This is truly a Holden hero, with world-class sophistication and refinement.
In many ways, the VF update is more like an all-new car than a mid-life update and facelift of the VE. Close to 70 per cents of the parts on the cars are new - and so is a pricing policy that tears a minimum of $5000, and as much as $9800, from the bottom line.
You only have to drive the cars for a few minutes, as I did in a preview sweep from the new Evoke through to the Calais V, to see and feel and enjoy the changes that reflect the best of Australian engineering and the best of global sourcing.
The VF is only a couple of ticks away from perfect. There is no hybrid, no four-cylinder fuel miser, and the centre part of the car is carried over - including the unloved exterior mirrors - and those are the only things that stop it scoring a five-star Carsguide rating.
But the VF Commodore has booked and paid for a place at this year's Car the Year shootout and should easily reverse the nasty sales slide suffered by the VE over coming months.
Is the VF package enough to save the Commodore? No, but it's more than good enough to put an old-fashioned Aussie six back on the shopping list.
The extra value in the VF is not just on the bottom line. Yes, the new Evoke starter car is priced from $34,990 and that makes it $5000 cheaper than the outdoing base model and the cheapest Commodore in more than a decade.
The price cuts - and that's what they are, although Holden is painting it as a benefit from the Australian dollar - slash as deeply as $9800 for the Calais V with V6 engine and headlining SS-V manual.
But there is so much extra equipment in the car, particularly on the technology front, that the benefit to buyers is even bigger.
Compared with the old Omega, the Evoke gets things like auto park assist and an eight-inch colour touch screen to control the infotainment system.
As you move up the line the deals get even better, which helps to position the Commodore as a genuine import fighter and not just an old-fashioned Aussie six.
It's much more likely to be shopped against a Nissan Maxima or Honda Accord now, while the wagons make a better case against the fully-loaded SUVs that are so popular for school runs and shopping.
But there are still some buts. No-one knows how the impending end of the Commodore line in 2016 - despite Holden's claims that it will continue the Commodore badge on the car's foreign-spawned successor - will affect resale values. And that's a very big deal, both for private buyers spending big and for the fleets who have traditionally provided the backbone for Australian car sales.
Changes to the VF run all the way down to the basic body structure, including a new firewall to cut noise intrusion and new foot pedals for the driver.
The bonnet and bootlid are now stamped from aluminium to cut weight, as the VF drops around 100 kilograms from the VE in the search for better efficiency.
The Evoke package includes auto park assist - for both parallel and right-angle parking - as well as all-round radar and a rear-view camera. Holden claims improved voice recognition, full Bluetooth with iPod integration, Apps including Pandora and SmartRadio, as well as the giant eight-inch touch screen in the dash.
Things get predictably better as you move up the range, with the Calais getting blind-spot warning and the Calais V also has forward collision alert and a coloured heads-up dashboard display.
The changes to the VF bodywork are not huge, but more than enough to mark it out as a new Commodore.
The crew at Fishermans Bend worked hard to make the car look more aggressive but also more grown-up, even smoothing the rear-end look and insetting the rear glass slightly. The new nose is significantly different and works well both on the luxury and sporty SS models.
Things really get good inside, from the new dash to seats which are both more supportive and set lower for a better driving position.
The layout is a huge change and so is the presentation work, including the mix-and-match approach to surfaces and materials. You won't find a boring slab of black plastic in the VF, which has all sorts of contrasting design work from the new door skins - which hold the electric window switches on the drivers' side, up from the console - through to the impressive new centre stack.
The VF is, not surprisingly at all, a five-star winner with ANCAP. But … Americans will get their VF, tizzied and badged as the Commodore SS, with knee airbags for both front seats. Holden says they are not needed here, and that American crash testing usually includes results for un-belted passengers, but you still have to wonder.
On the other side, the Evoke package includes all that parking help, as well as an electric parking brake, hill-start asset and vehicle-sway control, and further up the line the active electronics will make a real difference with the forward collision and lane departure alerts.
And, in a country where far too many people spend their time focused on the speedometer and not looking ahead for potential hazards, the heads-up display is a big advance.
The bottom line on the VF Commodore is impressive. The car is a great drive, from the Evoke right through to the Calais V.
What's most impressive is the refinement and composure. The new Holden hero is easily the best Australian car I have driven, wipes rivals like the Honda Accord, and is more like an Audi or BMW in the way it covers ground with comfort and finesse.
It's not perfect, although even the clunky old V6 engine is now far quieter than in the past. I just wish Holden had been able to junk the undersized rear-view mirrors, as it has even managed to improve visibility by slimming the oversized A-pillars that blighted the VE.
My advance drive of the VF happens at Holden's Lang Lang proving ground, on roads I know well and respect immensely. It might be a closed course but it has the sort of surfaces and corners that show up even the tiniest flaws.
First up, I notice the extra comfort and support in the seat and the lack of engine noise. Even the pedals seem more isolated than before.
The performance is not noticeably better, despite Holden work and the slightly better economy, but I'm not as busy over bumps and the cornering grip is good without throwing me around. The six-speed auto shifts smoothly, although the manual is still a bit of a beast.
At highway speeds the car is really noticeably quieter, and there is plenty to play with in the cabin. I'm past the Gen-Y gadget age, and it's really a job for a full-scale test, but the infotainment package is a clear step up on anything else made here.
And then there are the little things, like cleaning the console by moving the switches to the door - and outside the spill zone alongside the upholders - and adding an electric parking brake.
My bottom line on the VF Commodore is simple: four stars. That's a great result at a time when big Aussie sixes are, like the dinosaurs, heading towards extinction. The score would have been better if Holden had a hybrid or a four-cylinder greenmobile - like Ford's EcoBoost Falcon - and if those mirrors were bigger.
Holden has done a great job on the VF, which thoroughly deserves the tag as Australia's best car.
It's just sad that the goalposts have shifted and Australia's best is not good enough, or satisfying enough shoppers, to resist the rising tide of imports.
The best Holden of all time? You bet.
|Berlina||3.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$7,600 – 11,770||2013 Holden Commodore 2013 Berlina Pricing and Specs|
|Berlina (LPG)||3.6L, LPG, 6 SP AUTO||$9,600 – 14,520||2013 Holden Commodore 2013 Berlina (LPG) Pricing and Specs|
|Evoke||3.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$7,200 – 11,220||2013 Holden Commodore 2013 Evoke Pricing and Specs|
|Evoke (LPG)||3.6L, LPG, 6 SP AUTO||$7,700 – 11,990||2013 Holden Commodore 2013 Evoke (LPG) Pricing and Specs|