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Holden Monaro VZ CV8 2004 review

And it highlights a package of improvements that includes more power and torque, bigger brakes, a refreshed cabin and an exhaust burble that has more of a V8 signature.

The all-round improvements give the Monaro a kick that is expected to revive sales as well as restore bragging rights in a high-performance category that has gone wild since the original Commodore coupe.

Importantly, particularly for owners, the VZ Monaro has no problem passing the 100m test. From that distance you can easily tell it's a Monaro and not merely a big-wheel Commodore.

Monaro sales in the first 10 months this year were down from 2561 to 2149, but Vfacts numbers for October show the immediate impact of the VZ. Sales rose from 223 in 2003 to 321.

The Monaro motor has been tweaked to produce the highest output of any mainstream Holden.

The numbers are 260kW and 500Nm, which would once have qualified it as a racer or a hero car at Holden Special Vehicles.

Holden says the latest Monaro has better throttle response and a stronger kick from a standstill.

The exhaust is a little louder, just as Holden has boosted the note on the SS Commodore with a V8 rumble.

But don't think the Monaro is a safety worry. It also comes with the biggest disc brakes on any Holden as well as new-look 18-inch alloys with special Bridgestone rubber.

The speedometer reads beyond 130km/h but the Monaro is safer at cruising speed than any 15-year-old clunker on bald tyres at half the pace.

The latest Monaro picks up two extra dash-top dials and some highlighting to give a more up-market look.

Holden has also added several body colours, including a soft blue that's the new signature shade. It probably won't last long, but it is the hot pick at the moment.

The new nose, with two good-looking but non-functional bonnet scoops, came as part of the Pontiac GTO update introduced this year for the US.

The VZ Monaro's headlights have a sharper edge and the bigger grille has a mesh insert.

It's a bold look that works, though the Monaro's creator – Mike Simcoe, now in the US partly as a reward for his work – probably prefers his original European look.

The CV8 is $60,490, which is good value and there is always room to move with the HSV Z-cars if you want more go and have more money.

On the road

THE new Monaro has more impact. The new nose turns heads and tells people, the instant they look in the rear-view mirror, that it's not just a common Commodore on their tail.

It is a welcome change for a car that had lost some impact and is facing tougher competition from rivals, including the Nissan 350Z, Mazda's RX-8 and even – despite four doors and a Ford Performance Vehicles badge and price – the Typhoon.

Drop the hammer on the VZ CV8, feel the kick in the back and hear the roar from the pipes, and you know the car has changed.

When the traction control kicks in on a brisk 1-2 shift in the manual box, you are convinced.

But we are less in love with the dynamics. The V8 Monaro feels a little less responsive, a little more ponderous, than before.

Holden says the dynamics are just as they were, and the VZ Monaro is still a swift machine that's great to drive on any road.

But we needed more steering lock in corners and the car was set a lot softer than the SV6 sedan.

The engine response is crisper, it is keener to rev, and you always seem to have more than enough pulling power for any job.

We're still not in love with the six-speed manual, but the engine smooths the glitches.

You can easily hold gears and have more fun, or do a 1-3 shift for economy or dribble around the suburbs in sixth.

We averaged 13.8 litres/100km. The readout was as low at 9.3 for some 100km/h cruising, but went over 18 after a Sunday sprint, so the payment at the pumps – in premium unleaded – can mostly be chosen by the driver.

We like the updated cabin, even if the extra dials are no real benefit, and the seats are as comfy as ever. Equipment includes a punchy sound system and cruise control.

The boot has far less space now the fuel tank has been moved to satisfy American safety rules. It still holds two sets of golf clubs, but it has been pinched. And the space-saver tyre still seems like a short-change job.

We haven't had time for a full-scale test of the Typhoon, but the VZ Monaro changes have freshened the car against the Zed and the RX-8.

It has more space than the Japanese sporties, and the advantage of that Aussie V8 kick, but still has to face-down the SS Commodore and compete with the Falcon GT.

Still, the Monaro is an Australian success and the body changes make it special again.


The bottom line

THE macho new look isn't matched by the driving feel, but the Monaro is still an Aussie icon and a test-team favourite.

Pricing Guides

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Range and Specs

CV8 5.7L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $15,999 – 32,000 2004 Holden Monaro 2004 CV8 Pricing and Specs
CV8-R 5.7L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $14,410 – 18,920 2004 Holden Monaro 2004 CV8-R Pricing and Specs
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