The Skinny: Planting the 6.2 litre LS3 engine in the Commodore SS and SSV has transformed the performance. Already quick, they’re now quicker, and throttle response is sharper and more electric.
We love the way these cars drive; the level of performance they offer at the price is unmatched in this market. We also love the sound of that new V8 – it is sheer theatre at the exhaust.
Inside, neither the SS, nor the more expensive SSV disappoint, with wide comfortable seats and quality leather trim. The ride and handling is also matched better to Australian roads than any imported competitor.
We’re not so keen on the display graphics and the chunky style to the interior, we’re also not so keen on the fuel economy… this V8 has lost the cylinder de-activation technology of the previous model.
Vehicle style: Large performance sedan
Pricing: $44,490 (SS V8 manual) to $56,900 (SSV Redline V8 auto)
Engine/transmission: 304kW/570Nm 6.2 petrol 8cyl | 6sp manual or 6sp auto
Fuel economy: (claimed) 13.1 l/100km; (tested): 13.9 l/100km (excluding ‘track’ component)
The new VF II Commodore, the ‘best ever’, is the last in a line of Australian-produced Commodores that began with the VB in 1978.
In this market, the success of the Commodore badge is remarkable. For 15 years straight, from 1996 to 2010 it was Australia’s best-selling car. And, over the 37 years of manufacture, no less than 3.13 million have been produced and sold.
The new VF II 6.2 litre V8 range, priced from $44,490 remains remarkable buying value. The cars we’ve tested at launch are the sporting V8 Commodores – the SS, and SSV Redline. (‘S-models’, including the SV6, now account for around 60 percent of Commodore sales.)
Sedans and wagons might not be the flavour of the month with family buyers, but for anyone who enjoys a sporting drive, and loves the sound of a V8 on song, these are, simply, great cars and great buying.
At the wheel things are familiar – generous, well-trimmed, comfortable seats, a nicely-styled dash and centre-stack and smart metal, piano-black and carbon-look garnishes.
The leather and suede trimming, in particular, is very appealing and a ‘cut above’ for both quality feel and comfort, especially at this price point.
The electric seat-adjustment in the upper-spec models works precisely as it should.
Though short (like a duck), I have no trouble finding the ‘sweet spot’ with good vision all-round and with wheel and pedals just right for an enthusiastic belt around the track – we found ourselves at Collingrove Hillclimb in SA – or a quiet winding road.
Stylistically, however, the way the interior comes together is a little heavy-handed and lacks the detail finesse of, say, the Audi A4.
But there is no doubting the quality of the trims and materials, particularly in the SSV, and most particularly when you line it up against others at this price point. (Like, say, the Megane RS, Subaru WRX STi and Golf R.)+
The 8-inch touchscreen sits at eye-level, but recessed – which we like, rather than sitting proud on a raised tablet – and, with clear buttons and functions, is easily and intuitively navigated through its various settings.
The graphical style of the display looks a bit overblown and boofy to me, as though it’s been designed for bigger thumbs and poor eyesight, but there is no shortage of functionality sitting behind it.
Rear seats, and rear legroom, and access to the rear (if you’re lifting little ones in and out) is wide, generous, comfortable and spacious. In case you haven’t been close to a Commodore in recent times, these are bigger, and roomier, than a Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series.
They’re also stronger and quieter (unless you start paying huge dollars)… but more of that later.
And the SS and SSV (and SV6 for that matter) will also absolutely kill any SUV you might want to line up at the same price point for interior comfort and effortless travel.
On any a measure of what you get, for what you pay, these sporting Commodores are simply great buying value. More to the point, settle into this interior, and you’ll know you’re at the wheel of a smart sporting saloon.
ON THE ROAD
Well, yes, it’s the way the new VF II drives, that is the real story.
And it is the new LS3 6.2 litre V8 under the snout – the way it goes, and the way it sounds – that is the story behind the story.
This is a fantastic rip-snorter of an engine. It has been in the export Chevy SS since day one, but has only now found its way into the V8 Commodores (HSV aside).
It spins deliciously freely all the way to its 6600rpm redline; with 304kW and 570Nm it pulls like a train. And such is the torque, and so accessible, that it can be held in higher gears when cornering, and will still lift and fire out the other side like a startled weasel.
And it sounds sensational. There is a deep gruff throttle body sound, enhanced by a low frequency induction baffle that pipes sound into the cabin (to add to the joy) and a bi-model exhaust valve that opens up when you give it the shoe.
There is also a sleeved hole in the exhaust tip that resonates sound back underneath the body.
The effect of all that is a crackling, roaring, snorting howl under the whip. And a mile-wide grin when you’re at the wheel.
The six-speed manual transmission is equally a joy to use. The spring-loading and weighting on the shift is absolutely right, it can be snicked effortlessly between gears, and the throw is neat and precise and ‘centres’ accurately in the middle of the gate (between third and fourth).
We also drove the auto – not our first pick for sports driving – but also found little fault with the way it works. It’s a little slower on the changes than a BMW ‘box, but there are just margins in it.
It also changes down pre-emptively when cornering (or you can use the paddles in the SSV, or plus-minus shift in the SS), and will readily jump down a ratio or two if a sudden burst is called for. (Overtaking happens in such a rush.)
Both fifth and sixth in the manual are overdrive gears, at 100km/h you’re barely pulling 1600rpm. The SS and SSV are effortless on road for relaxed high-speed touring.
Out on the highway, you will also notice improvements to the ride and handling. The rear stabiliser bar has been redesigned; the pivot points are now 200mm wider out. This has allowed softer rear springs while maintaining stability and rear axle movement.
On the track, it ‘squats’ at the rear a little more readily when accelerating out of a turn, and on the highway it is simply more comfortable and composed. This relatively small change adds refinement to the ride and handling that you will feel.
The front suspension has also been revised for a flatter more direct feel. For a big sedan, it points and shoots incredibly well.
The party trick is the ‘competition’ button to left of the gear-shift. Tap it twice and it sharpens the responsiveness of the steering; it also backs off the intervention of the traction control.
This allows some ‘oversteer’ from the back. Put it on the track (we were firing around the Collingrove Hillclimb track north-east of Adelaide), and you will find you can hang the tail out at will.
It doesn’t make you go faster, necessarily, and still has the hand of God there to keep you on the tarmac if things get too extreme, but is huge, huge fun.
The 0-100km/h sprint is dispatched in a worthy 4.9 seconds.
Lastly, all this go comes with impressive stopping ability. The VF II V8 SSV Redline Commodores now get the Chevy ‘police upgrade’ package with beefy Brembos, front and rear (optional on the SS and SSV).
Running just three cars around the track on continuous runs, the car handed to me was showing no sign of brake fade, despite some serious work in some very heavy hands.
VERDICT | OVERALL
There is no other car you can buy in this market that offers such space, with such interior quality of leather and suede, and with such performance at anything near the price of the SS and SSV Commodores.
These are out-and-out performance bargains.
But they are also built for Australian roads and for effortless long-distance travel.
The SS and SSV are considerably less-wearing than the equivalent sporting German counterparts (with their uncompromising hard suspensions), while giving nothing away in straight-line performance, and scant margins in track-ready handling.
Pay no attention to the nay-sayers who ‘poo-poo’ our home-grown performance sedans. They do not know what they’re missing.
When it comes to “what you get, for what you pay”, this 6.2 litre LS3-engined Commodore has no peer in this market. Not one.
If you don’t mind paying for the extra fuel it uses (it has lost its cylinder de-activation technology and doesn’t half-mind a drink), you will love this car. It’s a bit boofy, yeah, but so is an AMG C 63, these are not subtle cars.
Buy one, get it past the Chancellor for the Exchequer by explaining the ‘collectible value’ of the purchase, but buy one.