Holden Caprice V8 VE

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Keywords: Holden Caprice V8 VE

Description: Holden VE Commodore, SV6, SS-V, Statesman, Caprice, HSV GTS E-series, HSV W427, Pontiac G8, G8 GXP, VF Commodore, HSV Gen-F GTS, Chevrolet SS

H olden Commodore used to be a clone to Opel Omega. Although the 1997 VT Commodore was said to be engineered in-house, its styling was undeniably a copy of Omega and its technical specifications was heavily influenced by the German car. However, since then the fortune has been shifting to the Australian side. As European car buyers shifted towards premium brands like BMW and Audi, Opel Omega could not escape from the axe in 2003. In contrast, big saloons remain strong in the Australia market. In 2004, Holden sold nearly 80,000 Commodores, enough to justify the development of its own platform. Therefore GM invested US$920 million into the VE Commodore program and assigned Holden the responsibility to develop the rear-drive Zeta platform for the whole group. Apart from Commodore, Zeta will be used in the next Chevrolet Camaro and probably more GM cars for North America.

The new Commodore is designed by Mike Simcoe, the same designer as Monaro coupe. Although no longer related to Opel, it has strong visual resemblance to the current Opel Vectra. It uses short overhangs and aggressive wheelarches to deliver a compact and sporty appearance the old car so lacked. In fact, the VE Commodore is larger than VT in every dimensions - now its wheelbase measures a monstrous 2915mm, its length and width are stretched to 4.9 meters and 1.9 meters respectively. By European standard it will be slotted between a BMW 5-Series and 7-Series, yet in Australia it is just seen as a bread-and-butter family car. This is one of the interesting features of Australian car market. Australian cars tend to be jumbo size due to their wide roads, vast parking spaces, low taxation and cheap fuel prices. Nevertheless, last year the surging oil price has already taken a negative effect on their sales, which saw Commodore dropped from 79,170 units to 66,794 units and Ford Falcon even worse, from 85,500 to 53,080 units. The new Commodore is more than 100 kg heavier than the last one, and its fuel consumption increases a little bit. It seems to be a wrong decision to grow larger.

Anyway, excluding fuel consumption, every aspect of the new Commodore has been improved. Its chassis is 50 percent more rigid. Its crash worthiness is substantially upgraded, as are NVH suppression and build quality. Its suspensions are now mounted on subframes through rubber bushings. It finally gave up the semi-trailing arm rear suspensions and adopted a modern multi-link setup to improve ride and control. Its fuel tank has been moved from the tail to ahead of rear axle in order to improve weight distribution. All these changes are set to enhance handling and driving fun.

And the result? Simply outstanding. The new suspension gives you an impression of firm but controlled ride. On the one hand it soaks up the worst bumps in Australia's country roads (not many European and Japanese cars can do that), on the other hand it delivers excellent body control, grip and predictability. The multi-link suspension has sorted out the oversteer problem of the old car, giving the driver confidence to push the car into corners and enjoy the ability of the rear-drive chassis. Therefore the big Commodore feels much smaller than it is. The no-nonsense hydraulic assisted, variable-ratio rack and pinion steering also adds to the driving fun. It is light at the straight ahead and weighs up nicely into corners. The turn-in is linear and the steering is feelsome, a thing lost in almost all modern European and Japanese saloons.

As before, Holden offers it the homegrown 3.5-liter Alloytec DOHC V6 in two states of tune – a 241hp version gets continuous VVT at intake valves only and a single exhaust, while the upper-class engine employs dual CVVT and twin-exhaust to enable 261hp. Unfortunately, with 1.7 ton of kerb weight to haul, no matter which V6 is installed the Commodore is still a little slow by class standard. Transmission can be either a 6-speed manual (for sporty model SV6), 4-speed automatic (for the most popular base model Omega and mid-model Berlina), or 5-speed automatic (for luxury model Calais).

For the top Commodores (model SS, SS-V or optional on Berlina), power again comes from America - GM's Gen IV small-block V8. The 6.0-liter all-alloy push-rod unit produces 362 horsepower and a monstrous 391 lbft of torque. Mated with a new 6-speed automatic it enables Commodore SS to sprint from 0-60 mph in just 5.1 seconds. but its fuel consumption is equally appalling at 19.7 mpg.

On Australian roads at least, the new Commodore has no enemies to worry about – Ford Falcon included, let alone those Japanese front-drivers. Even a BMW 5-Series fails to ride and steer as well on their rough roads. The outstanding driver appeal is perhaps the greatest achievement of the VE program.

Comfort and refinement are also vastly improved, just in a lesser degree. You may say its interior design and materials are still not up to the level of European offerings or Toyota Camry, but the honest Australian probably don't care about that. They ask for a lot of space and practicality at a bargain price, and they get them in the big Commodore. Yes, it would have been better if the Commodore has stronger and quieter V6 engines, lower fuel consumption and a smoother 4-speed automatic, but even in current form it is good enough to be the best big car available in the Australian market. My only concern is, tailored made to the needs and taste of Australian, Commodore has little prospect for export.

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