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Mike Stevens | Oct 29, 2009 | 19 Comments

2010 Commodore Berlina 3.0 SIDI Road Test Review

IT'S LATE, IT'S COLD, the light is fading and I’m standing on the side of the Hume highway funnelling petrol into a car. To be honest though, this is a good result.

The day started at 6:00am in Melbourne with two cars and one objective: to see how far we could drive Holden’s new SIDI 3.0 litre Commodore Berlina before it spluttered to a halt.

We specifically wanted to verify Holden’s claim of a 900km range on a single tank, and just maybe give 1000km a nudge. After 14 hours of solid driving we had our answer and the results may surprise some.

But before we delve into the numbers, let’s take a look at our test subject.

 

Styling

For the 2010 VE Commodore update, Holden hasn’t touched a single thing body-wise.

Save for the addition of a few SIDI badges, the removal of some chrome around the windows and another exhaust outlet, there’s nothing new to see on the Berlina’s exterior.

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For some that’s a good thing, but many were expecting to see a new take on the VE’s three year-old form for 2010. Holden insiders tell us a comprehensive styling overhaul is currently being finalised, but a launch date for a facelifted VE range has yet to be confirmed.

The Berlina’s exterior differs slightly from the base model Omega, with a unique grille, 17-inch alloys and foglamps all standard features. Other than that, it’s a pretty anonymous looking car.

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That sadd, the Berlina still looks a handsome - if slightly unremarkable - machine. The sharpness and dynamism that wowed the crowds when the VE debuted in 2006 may have faded a little, but the Commodore’s bold lines and chunky form still look good, and modern, today.

 

Interior

Like the exterior, nothing much has changed inside the doors of the Berlina.

All cabin plastics, switchgear and fittings carry over for 2010, meaning the same complaints about quality do too.

The plastic panels around the centre console are particularly hard and unpleasant, and Holden still has not solved the issue of the dashboard trim reflecting against the instrument cluster.

The A-pillars remain as bulky as ever, and impede visibility when approaching a corner.

These complaints aside, the Berlina’s interior is still a reasonably nice one. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake, the driver’s seat can be moved in six directions and there’s acres of room and storage space.

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The front seats are comfortable and offer a good level of support (a fact verified by our 14 hours of seat time in this particular car). The rear seat cushions are firm but pleasant to sit on, and three full-sized adults could easily fit in the back with minimal complaint.

Cloth seats are standard, but our tester came fitted with the optional black leather trim. It’s not the highest-quality hide, but it does give the Commodore’s cabin a more up-market feel.

Unlike the base model Omega, the Berlina scores a six-inch monochrome information display in the centre stack.

The instrument cluster features clear and legible markings, but the reflection issue does impact readability under some light conditions. At night the green backlighting looks a touch dated, but it does make everything easy to see.

The boot holds 496 litres of luggage with the rear seats up, however beneath the floor lurks a tyre inflator kit – a full-size spare wheel is an optional extra.

 

Equipment and Features

Although just one rung up from the base model Commodore Omega, the Berlina still boasts a respectable equipment list.

Dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth phone integration, cruise control and a trip computer are all standard features – not bad for a $43,000 large car. The Berlina gets rear parking sensors too, a worthy addition considering the VE’s high bootline and less-than-ideal rearward visibility.

Tunes are courtesy of a Blaupunkt AM/FM tuner with six-stacker CD player, that will also read your MP3 music files.

Steering wheel mounted controls and an auxiliary input for portable media players also feature, however there’s no iPod integration for the stereo.

Safety equipment is excellent and, with the VE Commodore range scoring a full 5-Star ANCAP rating, a great source of pride for Holden.

Electronic stability control, traction control, ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution are all factory-issue. Should they not be enough to keep you on the tarmac, a full suite of front, side and curtain airbags (six in total) will help keep passengers in one piece.

 

Mechanical Package

And now we come to the meat of our review. Although the exterior, cabin and spec levels remain largely the same for the 2010 model year, the Berlina’s mechanicals have undergone some radical changes.

The old 3.6 litre V6 has been turfed and replaced with a newly-developed 3.0 litre V6, codenamed LF1.

It’s no ordinary bent six either, with Holden equipping it with a sophisticated Spark Ignition Direct Injection (SIDI) system that produces more power from less fuel.

The LF1 is only used by the base Omega and Berlina. The rest of the VE range uses an SIDI-equipped 3.6 litre borrowed from the Cadillac CTS, internally known as the LLT.

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Thanks to high-compression pistons and a new cylinder-head design that allows the fuel injectors to fire directly into the combustion chamber, the LF1 can extract more power despite its downsized dimensions. Fuel economy is also improved as a result.

Not since the VL Commodore has Holden’s large car utilised an engine of this size, but it’s certainly no handicap for the Berlina. Although 600cc has been slashed from the engine’s displacement, power is actually 10kW up compared to the outgoing Berlina’s 3.6 litre motor.

That brings total power output to 190kW – a healthy number for a 3.0 litre. Torque peaks at 290Nm, which is 40Nm under the old 3.6, but Holden has another trick to help the Berlina overcome this deficiency.

A six-speed automatic gearbox replaces the antiquated four-speed that burdened the 2009 Berlina, and because of its greater spread of ratios and more intelligent shift mapping, the LF1’s torque shortfall can be compensated for.

It’s the only gearbox offered in the Berlina, but a tiptronic system enables manual shifts when required by the driver.


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Taller gearing and a lock-up torque converter improves mechanical efficiency, as does a lighter and more freely-spinning alternator. Low rolling-resistance tyres also play their part in assisting the Berlina drive further on each drop of fuel.

Combined fuel consumption is claimed to be 9.3 litres per 100km traveled, giving the Berlina – with its 73 litre tank – a theoretical range of 785km on a combined urban/highway cycle.

Holden also claims the 3.0 V6 can travel from Melbourne to Sydney (a distance of some 900km) on a single tank, claiming a highway fuel consumption a lot less than the combined 9.3 l/100km figure. By how much? You’ll find out shortly.

The rest of the Berlina’s mechanical package is the same, with the exception of more rigid bushing in the rear suspension.

Braking is still handled by the same ventilated disc set-up, and the suspension layout still consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear end.

 

The Drive

This was first and foremost a real world economy test. We didn’t drop our (non-existent) kids to school, we didn’t drive to the milkbar, nor did we take it for a quick fang along some mountain switchbacks.

We did however make every effort to drive just as the average Aussie motorist would, keeping up with traffic and sticking to the posted speed limits. As fate would have it, we also chose a day that had blustery weather and strong winds buffeting most of Victoria.

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Holden has made some pretty big claims about what its new 3.0 litre V6 can do with a single tank of unleaded; our objective was to verify them: how far can this car be pushed before it runs out of juice?

With that in mind, we planned a trip that would most certainly see the Berlina run dry: a 1015km odyssey that would have us travelling north-west to Bendigo, up to the Victoria/NSW border at Swan Hill, east to Cobram, then back to Melbourne via a quick detour to Wangaratta.

At a constant speed of 100km/h, that works out to between 10 and 11 hours of solid wheel-time. The necessities of eating, bladder maintenance and refuelling our Skoda Superb support car added a few hours to that.

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It was plainly apparent at the 6:00am start time that it was going to be an incredibly long day, so after a hastily-scoffed breakfast we adjusted the tyre pressures back to factory spec, topped up the tanks and set off.

An hour or so in, it looked promising. We’d traveled well over 100km yet the needle refused to budge off the 'full' mark of the fuel gauge.

Meanwhile, both myself and TMR’s Kez Casey (acting as ballast/entertainment) were still comfortable and enjoying the ride.

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Seats and suspension are two of the most important areas of any long-distance hauler, and the Berlina didn’t disappoint in either respect.

The ride is soft, yes, but it doesn’t pitch and wallow over undulations in the pavement, nor is it perturbed by the occasional pothole or large bump.

The seat cushions are a near-perfect mix of soft and firm foam, and the built-in lumbar support on both front seats helps keep spines straight.

The cabin is also reasonably quiet. Despite its low-friction Bridgestone tyres and their stiffer sidewalls, road noise is low inside the Berlina’s cabin.

By Swan Hill it was apparent that the Berlina is no slouch. A few overtaking manoeuvres confirmed that although somewhat lacking in torque, the 3.0 SIDI V6 was certainly capable of propelling the Berlina past slower traffic.

Between Kerang and Cobram, the new six-speed transmission also earned our respect. It’s intelligent enough to shift down when approaching hills, and doesn’t waste time (and fuel) hunting between ratios like the old gearbox did.

It also places the engine in the meat of its powerband whenever the throttle is stomped. The extra two ratios meant there was rarely a moment where the engine was caught off guard.

Under strict instructions to drive the car as we normally would, there were no hypermiling tricks employed. The throttle wasn’t caressed with a delicate foot, nor did we avoid braking when approaching corners.

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Despite this carefree attitude towards economical driving, the Berlina just kept going. We were on the Hume highway and heading back towards Melbourne (well past the Violet Town turn-off), when the tripmeter clicked over the 900km mark, verifying Holden’s claim.

Then 950km came and went with the fuel gauge still hovering over the empty mark. It wasn’t until we’d passed Seymour that that SIDI engine finally spluttered to a stop and we coasted onto the gravel verge.

We’d traveled 983.13 kilometres and burned 78.02 litres of 91RON unleaded.

Our average fuel economy registered at 7.94 l/100km, proving that Holden’s claim was achievable in real world driving.

The 3.0-litre SIDI equipped Commodore can and will travel 900kms – and beyond – on a single tank.

The Verdict

We know the new SIDI Commodore range is capable of some impressively frugal numbers (we steered a 3.6 litre SV6 to 7.2 l/100km at the model’s launch).

That the well-equipped and smaller-engined Berlina is capable of returning the fuel economy it achieved under real-world, and less than ideal, driving conditions is remarkable.

We’d go so far as to suggest that employing a few basic driving techniques to improve fuel efficiency, and more conducive weather would see the Berlina clock more than 1000kms on a single tank. Another nine minutes travelling at the legal limit would have done it. But that’s a test we’ll leave for another day.

The engine might be smaller, but there is no arguing that it is a change for the better. The 2010 Holden Commodore Berlina offers big car comfort, 5-Star safety, comfortable cruising for a family of five and now exceptional fuel economy as well.

At $43,490 it’s an excellent value package.

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