2010 Holden Statesman AFM and SIDI Road Test Review
WITH A STRENGTHENING TREND among new car buyers to downsize, it is no bed of roses in the large car segment.
Sure, some larger luxury brands, notably Audi and BMW, would seem to have been insulated from the move to smaller thriftier cars. But others have not fared so well - Holden's WM Statesman and Caprice had a tough year in 2009.
According to VFACTS figures, the Caprice was down 11.3 percent in 2009 compared to 2008, while the Statesman was down a hefty 67.6 percent. That will have alarmed Holden's bean counters, particularly with a resiliently high Aussie dollar compounding things.
But it's not yet time to ring the bells on Holden's luxury warriors. The Statesman is a big car, sure, but it is also stylish, serenly comfortable and - as we discovered with both SIDI and AFM models - commendably fuel-efficient.
Like the rest of Holden's VE/WM range, the Statesman has recently had a mechanical revamp designed to boost fuel economy and, in the case of the base V6, power and torque.
The updates include two 'firsts' for Holden - the first application of cylinder deactivation technology in a V8 engine, and the first use of direct-injection in a locally-built product.
The V6 model also benefits from a newer, more efficient transmission. Of course, in a tough and getting tougher market segment, the Statesman has to match it with the best from overseas.
So, how good is it and how much has it benefited from its under-the-skin makeover?
The big changes with both the AFM and SIDI models occur under the skin, and as such there’s nothing new to report style-wise.
That’s both good and bad: good because the WM Statesman always did a nice job of projecting an image of businesslike authority, and not so good because the shape is perhaps, by now, a little too familiar.
BMW’s 7 Series, Benz’s S-Class and Lexus’s LS have all either been recently facelifted or completely revamped, and although they occupy a much higher price bracket than the Statesman, it makes the Holden one of the older designs in the large luxury segment.
But while it may be starting to sport a few crow’s feet and grey hairs, the Statesman still looks every bit as dignified as it did when it launched in 2006.
The large headlamp clusters, big rectangular grille, prominent Statesman ‘wreath’ emblem and a chrome bezel on the lower air intake are hallmarks of the model.
Its close cousin the Caprice incorporates similar elements, however it does away with the Statesman’s three horizontal chrome slats within the grille and flaunts a sportier front bumper.
The foglight lenses are ringed in chrome, and more brightwork is applied to the beltline moulding and over the tops of the door frames. A band of chrome runs parallel to the lower edges of the doors and rear bumper, while a thick chrome strip spans the gap between each tail light.
There’s little flamboyance or styling excess in the Statesman’s lines, but it stands out in traffic thanks to its sheer bulk and dignified presence. The Statesman is enormous; its side profile the best view from which to appreciate its dimensions.
Although based on the VE’s platform, there’s little carry over. The front doors and windscreen are shared with the VE, with everything rearward of the B-pillar elongated.
The rear doors are lengthened to ease entry and exit, and the boot space is longer and larger. Ten-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels are standard, although wheels up to 20 inches in diameter can be had for a little extra outlay.
While the exterior is unique to the WM, the interior styling is familiar.
The centre console, front door cards, steering wheel and lower dash plastics are the same shape as those used by the Calais, however the dashboard, instrument binnacle, instrument cluster and centre-stack are unique to the WM.
The front seat cushions are broad and soft, although don’t expect much in the way of lateral support. The leather is pleasing to touch, but the seatback seems to be unnaturally firm just below the shoulders.
The driver’s seating position is good though, with an eight-way electrically adjusting seat (four-way on the passenger seat) and a steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and rake. Visibility is hindered by the WM’s thickish A-pillar, but otherwise outward visibility is decent.
Although the front of the cabin may seem like familiar territory, the rear most definitely shares little with the Commodore range. ‘Abundant’ doesn’t even begin to describe the amount of legroom that is on offer to back seat passengers, and a wide cabin means there’s plenty of room to accommodate three adults across the rear bench.
The large transmission tunnel require any centre seat passengers to sit astride it, but otherwise the Statesman’s back seat is amazingly commodious.
And so too is the boot. Measuring in at 535 litres (39 more than the Commodore) and featuring a perfectly flat floor, the Statesman’s boot will swallow large quantities of suitcases, golf bags, shopping or whatever else you choose to throw in it.
Unfortunately though, not all of the rear seatbacks fold down to extend luggage room. The centre seatback flips forward to create a large skiport, but the outboard seats remain fixed.
Equipment and Features
As the lower-end luxury model in Holden’s extended wheelbase sedan range the Statesman is well-equipped, but the fancier gadgets are reserved for the flagship Caprice.
Dual-zone climate control, auto-on headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth telephony, heated wing mirrors with built-in puddle lamps, cruise control and parking sensors are all standard features on the Statesman.
Satellite navigation, a rear-seat DVD player and a tilt/slide sunroof are the only notable options.
The sound system is a seven-speaker AM/FM tuner with six-stacker in-dash CD player. It can also read MP3 files and play sound from an external music player via its 3.5mm audio jack.
Safety is provided by the standard stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist systems, while six airbags (dual front/side airbags for the front seats, full-length curtain airbags for front and rear) cushion impacts.
All seats are fitted with three-point safety belts, with the front belts featuring height adjustment and pyrotechnic pretensioners. The WM Statesman has achieved a 5-star crash safety rating in ANCAP testing.
A tyre inflation kit is fitted as standard, however a full-size spare is a no-cost option.
The Statesman comes in two models: V8 with Active Fuel Management (AFM) and V6 with Spark Ignition Direct Injection (SIDI).
The V6 is the standard engine, and is GM’s direct-injection 3.6 litre LLT V6 – essentially a direct-injected version of the previous port-injected 3.6 litre LY7.
Power output from the LLT peaks at 210kW at 6400rpm, while maximum torque is 350Nm at 2900rpm. That makes the LLT 15kW more powerful and 10Nm torquier than the port-injected V6.
But not only is it a stronger engine than the one it replaces, it’s a thriftier one too. Holden claims a fuel economy figure of 10.3 l/100km on the combined cycle - a great deal less than the 12.2 l/100km claimed fuel consumption of the old engine.
Despite using a higher compression ratio than the old V6, the SIDI 3.6 litre can be run on 91 octane petrol.
The shift to a more efficient direct-injection setup is responsible for some of the efficiency gains, but a new transmission also helps boost fuel economy.
Bolted to the V6 is a variant of the same six-speed automatic used by V8 models, which supersedes the old five-speed auto. The addition of one extra gear improves efficiency markedly, and a tiptronic function allows the driver to have manual control over gear selection.
The V8 is the same 6.0 litre L76 engine used by the Calais V8 and SS, and produces 260kW and 517Nm when run on 98 octane petrol. Power and torque peak at 5700rpm and 4400rpm respectively, with a great deal of the V8’s twist available at lower revs.
The V8’s party trick is its Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation system, which improves fuel economy by shutting down half of the engine’s cylinders when cruising under light throttle. As soon as more power is required the deactivated cylinders are fired up instantly, and the changeover between four and eight-cylinder operation is almost imperceptible.
The transmission of choice for the V8 Statesman is the 6L80 six-speed tiptronic, which is similar to the gearbox used by the V6 model except with slightly taller gearing to take advantage of the V8’s torque.
Together, the combination of AFM-equipped V8 and six-speed transmission is supposedly capable of delivering fuel economy in the region of 12.6 l/100km.
Both V6 and V8 ride on a MacPherson Strut front and multi-link rear suspension. Power steering is hydraulic, and at full lock the Statesman boasts a turning circle of 11.6 metres – not bad for a car with a 3 metre long wheelbase.
Braking is provided ventilated discs and sliding calipers on all four wheels, and a traction-improving limited slip differential is available as an option. The V6 weighs in 1781kg, while the V8 tips the scales at 1822kg.
The Drive: V6 SIDI
To drive, the new V6 SIDI-equipped Statesman is everything you’d expect it to be. Quiet, smooth and refined, the Statesman is undoubtedly geared towards comfort rather than performance.
The weight of the steering is (not surprisingly) very Commodore-like, and the view from the driver’s seat is also similar to that of the Statesman’s more prosaic stablemate. However, you’re forever conscious of the car’s five metre length and two-metre width, and manoeuvring down tight city alleys can be slightly harrowing.
Out on suburban roads and freeways though, the Statesman’s bulk doesn’t matter so much. Its softly-sprung suspension absorbs even the roughest of roads with remarkable composure, and the chassis seems to float over the surface of smoother tarmac.
Tip it into a corner though, and the Statesman loses a little of its sheen as the soft suspension struggles to keep body roll in check.
But that's the price you pay for a magic carpet ride and not something that will be a concern for the average Statesman buyer (who places ride comfort ahead of dynamic prowess).
That is not to say that there isn't room for improvement, with most large European luxury cars offering a more effective compromise between ride comfort and handling. Few however can devour highway miles in the Statesman's relaxed and unfussed manner.
The V6, despite being the smaller of the engines, is an impressive unit. Although it has over 150Nm less torque than the big V8, it doesn’t struggle to get the big sedan moving and is capable of hustling it along when the accelerator is given a solid prod.
With six speeds available from the new transmission, the engine is rarely far from the meat of its powerband. The gearbox mapping suits the SIDI engine well, and the tiptronic shifter feels direct.
Fuel consumption during our test averaged around the 9.6 l/100km mark – better than the factory claim and a good result for such a large, heavy car.
A driving mix of an almost equal amount of highway and suburban runs saw the SIDI Statesman average 9.6 l/100km. A good result for such a large, heavy car, but one that would deteriorate with more stop-start peak hour driving than we undertook.
The brakes are also quite soft – not ineffective, just soft. They pull the car up strongly and we didn't experience any noticeable fade during prolonged downhill descents, but the long pedal travel feels initially disconcerting and doesn't inspire confidence.
In our experience the Commodore range shares a similar brake pedal feel, and although we'd prefer a firmer pedal, its generally something that you adjust to quite quickly.
The Statesman offers tremendous value for money for anyone shopping for a large luxury car.
It offers a huge amount of interior space, comfortable appointments and a generous serve of mod-cons that should keep most buyers happy.
The fact that both V6 and V8 have now been tweaked to offer better fuel economy only sweetens the deal, and the Statesman is hard to go past if you’re looking for a super-sized sedan on a budget.
Starting at $63,990 for the V6 SIDI and $67,990 for the V8 AFM, the Statesman is certainly one of the better buys in its segment. The Chrysler 300C is cheaper, but it can't match the Holden's passenger or load space, nor its power output.
The only true competitor for the Statesman comes from within Holden's ranks. At $71,490 for the V6, the Caprice may be more expensive than the Statesman, but it features an even more extensive list of standard equipment.
Tri-zone climate control, headrest-mounted rear DVD screens and xenon headlamps are standard on the Caprice, and with a sportier suspension tune and larger wheels shod with low-profile tyres, the Caprice is also the more competent handler.
The Holden Calais makes a strong argument dollar-wise, as a V8-equipped Calais V can be had for $6000 less than a V6 Statesman. A similar argument also applies to Ford's excellent G6E Turbo, but the Statesman is in another league in terms of interior space and ride comfort.
For the money, then, the Statesmen is a safe bet and good buying. It may not be the fanciest large limousine on the block, but it's certainly the most value-packed.