Overhauled interior brings big gains, but a few small steps backwards.
Forget the exterior of the significantly redesigned Holden VF Commodore. When you’re stuck in traffic, it’s the inside where you will spend most of your time casting a critical eye over things.
In designing the new car, Holden took a huge amount of feedback from customers both here in Australia and overseas, and has used it to give the new Commodore’s interior a complete overhaul. It is almost unrecognisable when placed alongside the old one.
Here’s the best, and worst, of the changes.
UPDATE - MAY 2013: Pricing and photos for the new VF Commodore have been released. Click here.
Holden has now split the Commodore between two model types: one called “sports luxury”, and the other knoVF as “luxury sports”.
The new VF Calais V falls into the “sports luxury” category, and has a more refined look than what its sports-focussed siblings - and the Chevrolet SS - are expected to wear.
SEAT OF POWER
The frame used for the driver’s seat is an all-new design borrowed from GM’s global parts bin. However, the bits that cover the frames are made locally by Futuris.
Holden basically has two seat types available - a comfort-oriented “luxury” set-up and a heavily bolstered “sport” one - and can play around with foam densities to get different feels.
The carmaker can also chop and change parts, such as fitting a sports seatback to a luxury squab as it has in this Calais to give the “luxury sport” illusion. Headrests are now integrated into the seatback rather than sitting on top of them.
If the tiller of the new Commodore looks smaller than previous generations, that’s because it is. Sports models will get a steering wheel with a squared-off bottom, while the more pedestrian ones will get a rounded wheel.
The new, 7mm smaller wheel fits a lot better in the hand thanks to big revisions to the 'handshake' part of the wheel, where you grab it in the 2:00 and 10:00 o’clock positions.
This means the Commodore should steer a lot differently than the car it replaces, and more so when you consider the car swaps its old hydraulic power steering unit for an electrically-assisted one.
Loan your Commodore to a Holden Cruze owner (or even owners of a Holden Colorado or Barina) and they will be right at home behind the wheel.
Headlight controls, indicator and wiper arms, the instrument binnacle and even the steering wheel controls now all wear the GM corporate face.
A big plus is that the indicator stalk now controls the information displayed on the small colour screen in between the instrument dials (which flick with a playful Subaru-esque sweep once the ignition is turned on), and cruse control functions are moved to a more logical place on the steering wheel.
The new VF Commodore is “enabled” for steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but Holden won’t reveal any details yet on which vehicles will have them.
All we know is that the mainly cosmetic Red Series is set to continue with the new model, and that they may be bundled in the expansion pack.
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
Huzzah! After years of obstinance, Holden has finally moved all the car’s window controls to the driver’s door armrest.
Again, feedback from customers both within and outside Australia was the driving force behind this change.
Holden admits that this change has gone against the VF Commodore’s strict weight loss program, adding weight compared with the former model’s centrally mounted system, but it is a clear win for buyers.
The once centrally mounted central locking button have moved up beside the Opel Insignia-look door latches.
OLD IS NEW
There are only two carry-over bits between the VE Commodore’s interior, and this one.
The first is the lid over the centre console storage bin (it still doesn’t slide forward to cover the cupholders like the first-generation Calais’s did), and the other is the rear-seat air vents off the back of the console.
SAFE AND SOUND
We counted eight airbags in the new Calais, including front driver and passenger, seat side, curtain and rear. Asking around, it looks as though the big count will be standard across the Commodore range.
The big box sitting in behind the rear-vision mirror houses a forward-looking camera that feeds into the driver collision alert system that, while it won’t stop the car automatically, will warn the driver if there’s danger of a prang.
DON’T HAVE A COW, MAN
Order the leather seats in a new Commodore, and instead you will get a mix of real and artificial cowhide.
You’ll still sit on leather, but the seat sides, backs and headrests will be the synthetic stuff. (Not an uncommon trick these days, though. - Ed)
The Calais now comes with what is called “ice blue” ambient lighting that shows small puddles of light in places such as the small-item storage cubby hole at the front of the centre console, and inside the new, rather inadequate-looking door-pulls that replace the old handle door skins.
Sporty models stick with the red ambient lighting theme, while the more pedestrian models continue with the white lighting that replaced the old gungy green with the introduction of the VE Series II.
The Calais will also have two contrasting interior trims: light and dark. This car has the beige synthetic suede fitted to the dash and doors, but there is an all-black option available if buyers prefer a more stately look.
The big, bold swathes of contrasting seat colour on the VE have been replaced with a subtle stripe. Contrast stitching is now grey rather than red.
Continuing with its brief of making the VF Commodore the most technically advanced Australian-made car, there’s now the option of a head-up display.
The display appears to float half way doVF the bonnet in front of the driver, with a changeable display that will also show things such as turn-by-turn navigation. One interesting display we saw was cornering G-forces.
Holden developed the iQ system for the mid-life update of the VE Commodore, and the word at the time was that it would evolve into a sophisticated infotainment system for GM’s premium brands. With the arrival of the VF Commodore, we bid it a fond farewell.
The Commodore system will include the same smartphone-style apps, and will allow limited control over the phone from the steering wheel’s audio buttons.
Accessing the infotainment system is via a big eight-inch colour touchscreen mounted high on the dash.
The idea is that MyLink will eventually roll out with smartphone-based apps that will allow you to do things like check the fuel level or unlock the car without using the keys.
Oh, and if you want a DVD player, it will cost you extra. The default setting is a CD player only.
NEAT AS A BUTTON
Holden has cleaned up the number of buttons around the cabin. The count is definitely down, but again we’re going to have to wait for the full-bloVF engineering briefing to find out just how different it is.
Holden looked briefly at replacing traditional buttons for a Volt-style touch surface, but it was deemed a wrong fit for the car.
The buttons for the multimedia screen are laid forward to provide a handy finger rest, as well as make use of the normally wasted step back form the centre console’s face to the screen.
Notice there’s a big step in between the multimedia controls and the climate control system? This is a deliberate ploy to separate the two and avoid the confusion generated in the VE Commodore.
Another neat advance is that the independent dual-zone climate control temperatures are displayed inside the dials rather than just popping up temporarily in an illogical place like they did in the VE.
GIVE ME A BRAKE
An electric park brake is now standard across the Commodore range.
Gone is the old Saab-style finger pincher, and removing it has cleared up heaps of real estate in the space between the driver and front-seat passenger.
Where the VE Commodore lacked decent small-item storage, the VF Commodore has it in spades.
Cup holders are now larger and conform to international standards, and tapered so that they will hold a conically shaped cup securely.
The front door bins are now a lot smaller because a radio speaker is now integrated into the lower part of the door, eating into real estate. You won’t get a drink bottle in them.
One of the burning questions designers faced with the VF Calais is whether wood trim would continue to be an option.
While dropping it was discussed, in the end the natural timber look was considered an important fit for the luxury look and feel of the car.
An announcement is yet to be made over which wood trims will be available when the car goes on sale.
Two types of chrome-look detailing is used in the VF Calais. There’s a soft brushed-look chrome used in larger areas, and the really shiny stuff is used to outline parts of the dash.
The Calais hasn’t quite caught up with the LED era yet, as the low-power light sources cost about $1 each to meet GM’s strict specifications on their performance.
Instead, you’ll notice the main interior lights have hot-burning incandescent globes in their place.
The new Calais has a fixed rear seatback that only has a ski port poking through the centre of the rear seat. We asked why, and apparently it is all to do with Holden’s lightweighting strategy for the long-wheelbase WN.
We have to wait for a more detailed engineering briefing shortly before the Commodore’s official June launch to find out more detail.