LPG COMMODORE REVIEW
With the launch of the Commodore LPG Vapour Injection range, Holden has put a stake in the ground and thrown out a challenge.
It has produced, it says, "the right car" for Australia - one that offers the space and mechanical robustness of a large car, but with the running costs of a small car.
And in removing the 'fuel cost barrier' to buyers, the challenge is for Australian families and fleets to shed their misconceptions about LPG and LPG cars, and to embrace the fuel that this country has in abundance.
With the LPG Commodore priced just $2500 more than the 'regular' models, but with a $2000 Federal Government rebate (for private buyers), the only change to their lives will be to accommodate the extra money they will have in their pockets every time they 'fuel-up'.
Well, that's Holden's plan. So, how does the LPG Commodore range measure up?
We drove the LPG Commodore Berlina Sportwagon, the LPG Ute, and the LPG Caprice. Aside from the whacking great signs on the doors of our launch cars, you would barely have picked that these were any other than 'regular' Commodores.
Neither is the aircraft-grade multi-cell gas tank to be seen anywhere. And each has a bootspace (or 'tub' in the case of the ute) that is as good as uncompromised; the floor of the sedan is fractionally higher, the ute and wagon unaffected.
The spare wheel gets the flick, almost (you can specify some options here), and that will alarm some.
But that's also part of the challenge: do we really really need to carry a spare, as once everyone did, or are the options an acceptable and equally sensible course?
It's nearly six months since I last drove a Commodore; behind the wheel of these cars, I can feel little difference - as good as none in fact.
There's certainly little difference underfoot; maybe the LPG DOHC V6 is not quite as eager... but I'm not sure, there's certainly little if anything in it.
And there is also little difference in the 'feel' - the sounds it makes on road and how it drives generally. You'll notice a slightly changed throttle-body sound when accelerating or under load, but each otherwise sounds like any other Commodore.
The 3.6 litre LPG vapour injection V6 produces 180kW and 320Nm of torque. That's 30kW and 30Nm shy of the petrol 3.6 litre. It is in fact very close to the 3.0 litre V6 which produces 190kW and 290Nm.
It's a strong engine in a strong car.
Mated to the six-speed auto, the only tranmission on offer, it gets up and hauls - it's a heck of a lot stronger right through the rev range than, for example, the similarly-priced Passat 118TSI or the considerably more expensive 125TDI (compared to the Commodore Equipe and Omega).
The EcoLPi Falcon is gutsier however - it harbours a lusty 198kW and 409Nm under the bonnet. The LPG Commodore features electronically-controlled heated vapour injection rather than the liquid injection system developed by Ford.
In a nutshell, LPi has a power advantage, the simpler vapour injection has a mechanical advantage (in terms of 'work') and marginally better fuel consumption and emissions figures.
As for the rest of the drive notes, the LPG Commodore drives like a Commodore. It is, as Holden describes, a "seamless driving experience".
The brand new "lighter and smarter" six-speed tranmission behaves as it should, it kicks down willingly and shifts decisively.
The ride is absolutely first class - it soaks imperfections with ease, isolates shocks from the cabin, and still manages to provide a good feel through the wheel of connection with the road.
(There is a reason Commodores, Falcons and Toyotas are found in greatest concentrations away from the cities - they can cope with roads, day in and day out, that will shake lesser cars to pieces.)
And, lastly, the LPG Commodore range also holds a 5-Star ANCAP rating.
The 'fuel cost' savings
For our time behind the wheel of the Berlina Sportwagon, we returned 12.8 l/100km. This was mostly a city driving stint, with some heavy traffic followed by a freeway run.
This compares favourably with Holden's average claim of 11.8 l/100km.
So, working it out on the scenario of our 'city-cycle' figures, doing 20,000km a year at 12.8 l/100km with an LPG fuel cost of 72cpl (they've hovered there for a week or so now), would cost $1834.20 for the year's driving.
Working it out on the Commodore's average claimed 11.8 l/100km, that figure comes down to $1699.20 for the year - even less, you can safely assume, for drivers on country roads.
For comparison, what would the incredibly frugal Mazda3 SkyActiv cost for the year doing 20,000km and assuming you could meet it's claimed average of 6.1 l/100km?
Using $1.32cpl (city average this week), its fuel bills for the year would come to $1610.40. That's an advantage over the LPG Commodore of just $90, and that's assuming petrol is not going to go seriously north of $1.50cpl here once the world economy starts to crank up again. (It's going to go seriously north...)
So, yes, the LPG Commodore has a killer value-equation advantage.
Furthermore, on those fuel-use figures, the Commodore Omega has a range of 710 kilometres on one tank. More than half of the service stations across the country supply LPG; that's more than 3300 of them - surely enough, with that range, to remove any anxiety about 'running out'.
It also has an advantage in lower CO2 and NOx emissions than similar petrol and diesel-engined cars - 189g/km average is a best in class result, something that will not pass unnoticed by fleet buyers.
The spare tyre thing, or the 'lack of', will be the breaker for some. Holden offers a pump-up kit which works effectively on typical punctures where a nail or a screw has been picked up, or a deflated spare wheel that eats into boot and wagon space.
The latter is the likely choice for buyers living in the sticks.
Making the case for LPG
On the matter of LPG, on why it can - and should - become the fuel of choice for Australians, Holden has more than a few things to say. Each of the points it makes is right.
Australia produces far more LPG than it uses. Though there has been recent price rises, it has remained over the long term consistently under half the price of ULP and is subject to less price fluctuations. (The LPG pump-price we pay here is set against the Saudi Aramco CP - or contract price - which is set monthly.)
LPG is also an indigenous fuel; for our energy security, reducing our dependence upon imported fuel is good for the country, and good for local industry.
At the launch of the LPG Commodore, Mike Devereux said, "Brazil in the 90s made the transition from fossil fuel to ethanol-based fuel. I think there is a possibility (in Australia) to make the energy transition to LPG. They've done it in other countries, we can do it here."
It's not a bad point. He will be hoping that ordinary Australian families are ready to make the transition. Of course, a few sudden petrol price shocks might help them along.
Holden in the meantime, and Ford, has a car for them: two large cars with the running costs of a small car.
We're spoiled with the quality of our large cars at the prices at which we can buy them.
If you have turned your back on them over recent years, the LPG Commodore is one very good reason to come back and have another look.