After months of hype the new Holden Commodore is finally on the road. The first new model in seven years and the last homegrown Holden of all time arrives in showrooms next week with price cuts of up to $10,000.
The starting price of $34,990 winds back the clock by more than a decade -- and reflects the prices people have really been paying for years. The more transparent price list is a gamble Holden hopes will bring more buyers back into showrooms to consider the Commodore one last time.
Importantly, the new Commodore is not a bare bones proposition. In fact the contrary is true. To compete in the most over-crowded new-car market in the developed world Holden has loaded every model with self parking technology, a rear view camera, a touchscreen display that can reply to text messages at the press of a button -- or on voice command.
The new Commodore is without a doubt the most hi-tech car designed, developed and engineered in Australia -- but in many ways it’s also the Commodore that Holden had to have.
It might share its core -- the doors, roof and glass -- with the previous model but there are big changes under the skin that reduce weight, save fuel and improve safety, quietness and refinement.
Holden confirmed earlier this year the VF Commodore is due to bow out in 2016. What we now know is that this will be about the same time its arch rival the Ford Falcon reaches the end of the line.
But the difference, for now, is that Holden plans to replace the iconic Commodore with a globally-developed front-wheel-drive four-cylinder sedan that it says will wear a Commodore badge. Given that every mainstream Holden has been rear-wheel-drive since the first one in 1948, this VF Commodore really does mark the end of an era.
Which is why Holden has used every resource available to it in the massive General Motors empire, including a new electrical system that has opened up a raft of technology to move the Commodore not only up with the times but ahead of the imported competition.
This would be a good point to acknowledge the significant input of former Holden boss, Detroiter Mark Reuss, who is now the head of General Motors in North America, and his deputy Briton Alan Batey, who ran Holden after him. Both executives took their passion for and knowledge of Holden with them to their new assignments in the US and helped “sell” the Commodore to their hierarchy to revive it there as a Chevrolet.
Without the small but significant US export revival of the Commodore, which starts later this year, the VF model would not have anywhere near the technology it has been given.
Their successor, Holden boss Mike Devereux, the British-Canadian who spent most of his working life in Detroit before running GM operations in Dubai and now Australia, made sure the Commodore lived up to their expectations.
If you think Devereux looks feisty in front of the TV cameras when he’s barracking for the Australian car industry, you can imagine what he’s like at motivating staff to build a better Commodore.
Holden doesn’t like talking about it much, but build quality has been a concern for Commodore for years. I should know, I’ve owned four of them. Not one of them was fault free.
To that end GM sent quality expert and chief engineer Greg Tyus from Detroit to Australia to make sure the bad habits of old have been kicked. Here’s hoping he and his colleagues at the factory have been successful.
If we’re paying Australian car manufacturing workers five times more than those in Asia and 50 per cent more than those in Germany and the USA, they ought to be doing a world class job.
Now all that’s left to know is what the new Commodore is like to drive. To paraphrase former Australian prime minister Ben Chifley, who launched the original Holden in 1948, “she’s a beauty”.
By far the biggest improver is the base model Evoke, partly because the previous Omega was wallowy and underdone, but mainly because it shines a spotlight on all the Commodore’s massive gains.
It’s quieter, more refined and nicer to drive than before. It handles corners well, just like Commodores used to. And it wants for nothing. It is so well equipped and so well presented you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a luxury model.
But the highlight for me was the V8 SS sports sedan. Sure, power is unchanged from before, but it feels more lively and more responsive thanks to the retuned and better quality suspension and nicely weighted electric power steering (that doesn’t feel lifeless as other EPS systems do) that add the finishing touches to the Commodore.
One job for the facelift, though. On the Series II VF Commodore no doubt due in a couple of years, please Holden can the SS get the bigger brakes from the US police car? They bolt right on, and you've already paid for the development of them. Now that would be a finishing touch.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling