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2013 VF Commodore Review: SV6, SS, Evoke Ute and Calais Photo:
2013_holden_commodore_sv6_sportwagon_01 Photo: tmr
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Karl Peskett | May, 30 2013 | 17 Comments

NEW HOLDEN VF COMMODORE REVIEW

  • What's hot: Massive leap in quality and refinement, great auto gearbox, good handling, huge list of included features
  • What's not: Manual V6 transmission not so great, Cruze-ish steering wheel and stalks
  • X-Factor: The best Aussie car ever made, at a truly game-changing price

Vehicle Style: Large Sedan
Price: $34,990 - $56,990

Engine/trans options: 185kW/290Nm 3.0 petrol auto | 180kW/320Nm 3.0 LPG V6 | 210kW/350Nm 3.6 petrol auto/man | 260kW/517Nm 6.0 petrol V8 auto | 270kW/530Nm 6.0 petrol V8 manual

Fuel economy listed: 8.3 l/100km (Evoke) | 11.8 l/100km (SS-V Redline) | 12.1 l/100km (SV6 LPG)

 

OVERVIEW

This is it: the one we’ve been waiting for. It hasn't been an easy road, but Holden has done it: the VF Commodore is the best car ever made in Australia.

No ifs, no buts.

If you've been thinking that this is merely VE Series III, hop into the driver's seat. Just a few minutes behind the wheel will confirm the VF is a vastly improved car over the VE.

You'd barely pick it from the exterior lines, but around 70 percent of the car is new.

While the cabin glass, door skins and exterior mirrors are carried over, it’s the stuff you don’t see that has made such a massive difference to the feel, character and quality of this car.

Like the nicely weighted electric power steering (EPS) system, the weight-saving aluminium bonnet and boot, the redesigned lightweight aluminium suspension and mechanical components and the aerodynamic improvements.

Overall, the Commodore has dropped 43kg, despite adding more noise insulation and higher quality interior materials.

And the changes to the car’s design and underneath has resulted in a drop in the car’s drag co-efficient from 0.330CD to 0.309CD

Holden has thus managed to bring the fuel consumption of its Evoke sedan down to 8.3 l/100km, which, on the basis of our drive, would seem perfectly achievable.

This figure, Holden (quite rightly) points out, is better than the Honda Accord Euro, Subaru Liberty 3.6X and Mazda6 petrol auto – all medium-sized cars.

 

THE INTERIOR

Comparing the VE to the VF is chalk and cheese - only the centre armrest lid and rear vents are carried over; everything else is brand new. A huge eight-inch colour touchscreen sits in the centre of the dash, with crisp, clear detail.

Nothing feels flimsy or cheap; the selection buttons and dials feel solid under the hand, and the recessed screen with 'ledge' below adds an interesting three dimensional element to the centre console.

Across the dash fascia is cloth, suede or fibre-weave pleather, depending on your model. It breaks up what could be a large slab of plastic and lifts the interior ambience, especially in the lighter colours of the higher-spec cars.

Under that is a flowing piece of trim in varying colours or patterns, from a plain grey in the Evoke to faux-carbon-fibre or finely textured charcoal.

The fibre-weave trim panel on the dash flows onto the door trims, as well as surrounding the instrument cluster on sports models, or lighter suede-effect trims in luxury models

In sports models, the MyLink screen is backlit in red rather than blue, and generally the interior theme is more cohesive than in the VE.

Thankfully, Holden has included ISOFIX mounting points across all three rear seats, meaning three baby-seats can be fitted safely side-by-side.

 

EQUIPMENT

The VF comes with a very impressive standard equipment list.

Electric park brake, hill hold and trailer sway control, auto parking assist (which autonomously steers the vehicle into parallel or reverse parking positions), parking sensors, reverse camera (including utes), and remote starting on all automatic models – so you can get the climate control working before you hop in.

There's also Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and aux inputs, speed-sensitive steering, auto lights, voice recognition, powered lumbar on the seats, dual-zone climate – it’s all standard on every single model.

As you move up through the ranks, even more features are loaded in as standard (read about it here).

Optional on the Evoke though, is a suite of driver aids (blind-spot warning, lane departure warning, and reverse traffic alert - $350), sat-nav and DVD playback ($750).

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VF introduces the MyLink entertainment system to the Commodore. It ultilises the crystal-clear eight-inch colour touch screen and provides voice recognition technology activated via the steering wheel with Siri Eyes Free integration plus built-in apps like Pandora and Stitcher SmartRadio.

But despite having Siri activation, Android users, in some respects, will actually find the system easier.

Android allows viewing of your SMS messages on the screen, even those which haven’t been opened yet.

You can then have it read an SMS to you, and you can also reply with preset messages - all without touching your phone or the screen - by simply talking to the system.

And yes, it understands the Australian accent perfectly, as you’d expect from an Aussie car.

 

ON THE ROAD

Underneath the VF is a suite of major changes to increase refinement and qulity feel. The improvement on road is absolutely obvious.

The engines are now extremely quiet at idle - from both inside and outside - and there’s been plenty of work done in reducing NVH levels while at speed.

Wheel liners are now made from a recycled plastic-based material, reducing road noise and water-splash on wet roads; something we were able to experience during the launch through a freezing-cold Canberra.

Evoke Ute

Despite being the entry level, the Evoke’s interior possibly impresses most. And, although sitting under $35k, this looks nothing like a cut-down, stripped out poverty pack.

With that large clear screen up top and high quality build, the leap from VE Omega to VF Evoke is so dramatic you’ll wonder if you truly are in the entry-level model.

The cloth seats are comfortable, and even more so with standard electric lumbar adjustment.

Like the VE, there’s space behind the front seats, but with two cupholders on the centre console, spaces for bottles in the door bins and a good-sized glovebox, there’s enough storage.

Our test car for the one leg of the launch route was an Evoke ute. Despite being fitted with steel wheels, its handling and high-speed stability is very impressive.

The ride is a lot firmer than the Omega, owing to a suspension revision that features a tighter damper tune and larger stabiliser bars front and rear. Holden calls it the “Touring” suspension setup (FE1) which Evoke shares with Calais and Caprice models.

The electric power steering is excellent. Holden set out to mimic the linear progressive feel of a hydraulic system and have produced one of the best electric power steering systems you'll find on a sub-$50k car.

Occasionally mid-corner, when the camber shifts, you’ll notice a little “woodenness” creep in, but it’s only if you’re really looking for it. On-centre feel and response is fantastic, a trait that filters through the whole VF range.

There’s one area, though, in which the VF positively shines: the automatic transmission. It is now every bit as good as a ZF - this auto is very impressive.

With its rapid response to kickdown (in normal or sport mode) and its unflappable selection of the right ratios for the conditions, it is a true revelation to the Commodore.

Manual downshifts are extremely quick and done with a delicious rev-matching blip that does a good impersonation of a DSG. Upshifts are slower, of course, but the way it slurs from gear to gear is a delight.

The ute comes as standard with the 210kW/350Nm 3.6-litre V6 which, at idle, with the doors shut and windows up, is virtually silent.

With VF’s new-found refinement, the 'thrashiness' apparent in the former model has disappeared.

Even at the top end of the rev-range, it spins cleanly and surprisingly quietly. Couple that with the fabulous automatic and the drivetrain is a winner.

As a drive, the Evoke is very good, even in ute form.

SV6 Sedan and Sportwagon

The interior differences between Evoke and SV6 justify the asking price alone.

With its sports-seats and smarter trim, it pushes its feel further upmarket. The seats are very comfortable and a bit softer than the firmly padded Evoke.

Like the Evoke Ute, the SV6 employs the 3.6-litre V6 under the bonnet. As a sporting drive, it too benefits from the automatic’s improved kickdown response and shift quality.

It’s especially evident on long climbs where a gentle press on the accelerator to maintain your momentum sees the auto respond immediately.

The SV6 gets FE2 suspension (shared with SS and SS-V), which is stiffer than the Evoke’s already firm ride.

While it never crashes, it can get a bit thumpy over cracked tarmac, which we experienced more than once on the drive route to the Snowy Mountains.

The SV6’s steering, like the Evoke, is excellent. With good response all the way through the lock, other manufacturers might look to Holden for tips on making an electric steering system feel like this.

With its crisp turn-in and stiff suspension, the SV6 is able to hustle along through twisty roads. Despite being a physically big car, it sits flat and with an inate balance more like a European tourer.

The manual transmission in the sedan we tested didn't impress as much. Let’s just say this: go for the automatic every time.

We found the SV6's manual shift heavy and sluggish, and our test car suffered from clutch take-up at the top of pedal travel, making getting off the line smoothly a bit of a chore.

In fairness, the cars on test were pre-production models, so we'll wait for an in-depth review to see if our experience with the manual was an anomaly.

Despite our misgivings with the stick-shift version, the SV6 is a very rewarding drive and for a few thousand over the Evoke, it’s well worth the extra spend.

SS and SS-V

It’s not an Aussie car without a V8, right?

Being the sports model, you’d expect the SS to blow your socks off. No doubt about it, the V8 models are quick... but there’s a problem.

With the VF gaining so much refinement, it’s lost some of that bassy-V8 rumble we’ve all become so accustomed to (and loved). There’s a V8 note in the background, but it doesn't immerse your ears and surroundings with the same visceral bellow as the VE on song.

Whether that’s a good thing or not, is moot, you can decide.

But, raucous bellow or not, the 270kW (260kW auto) GM V8 under the VF's all-alloy bonnet in the SS and SS-V is creamy-smooth and ultra-quick.

The steering is heavier than the SV6, yet just as accurate and sharp. And like the V6 models, the 6L80 automatic has improved out of sight.

In operation the two gearboxes behave identically, with smooth, slurring shifts in normal mode and quick downshifts with fabulous rev-matching and a complete lack of shunting at any time.

Our twisty road route allowed us to test the ESC’s intervention as we passed from damp to dry blacktop.

Like the VE, there’s a bit of slip allowed first and a subtle grab if you’ve overcooked it. Switching it off requires no more than the press of a button.

The SS-V’s brakes hauled us up from, ahem, serious speed time and again with excellent feel and little discernable fade.

The SS-V Redline (not tested at launch) also gets larger discs with Brembo callipers and, on manual versions, a launch control function.

Calais and Calais V

With the FE1 suspension employed, the Calais models have an exceptional blend of ride and handling, though it’s a tad on the firm side.

Those used to the VE’s loping ride will need to adjust to this Euro-based damper tune, but the upside is brilliant country-road grip.

Both V6 and V8 models are impressively quiet, although at speed, coarse-chip surfaces present some tyre roar from the bigger rubber down below.

The comfort tune of the EPS actually feels better than the heavier weighting of the SS, as it’s less artificial, and wheeling it through a set of corners really is a pleasure.

Like all VFs, the Calais benefits from the fantastic work on the automatic in both engine formats, and, with the same quiet exhaust note, befitting its luxury bias.

The colour head-up display (HUD) on the Calais V is one of the clearest around, and with information on speed, revs, gear selection, navigation and G-forces, you’ll want for little. There's also a thumping Bose audio should you wish to shake up the neighbourhood.

 

FIRST DRIVE VERDICT

The amount of energy that has gone into making this car for Australian motorists, at the price level it is, is truly staggering.

No car this size, at this price, comes close for quality, comfort or drive experience.

It’s not perfect, of course. The thick A-pillars still hinder visibility in tight cornering, and that steering-wheel looks out of place, but the shaping of the wheel and the leather used, especially on sports models, does make it nice to hold.

Holden spoke at length about this being a “world-class vehicle”. So often that’s just marketing spin. In the case of the VF, it’s simply the truth.

Holden's new VF Commodore answers so many questions - blockers - for people who may not before have considered a larger car.

Difficult to park? The VF’s auto park assist, does it for you – both in parallel and reverse parking.

Well, fine, but what about its thirst? With 8.3L/100km in the Evoke and LPG options available, that’s been removed as a concern.

Visibility issues?

The VF comes with blind-spot alert, reverse traffic alert, parking sensors and reverse camera on all models. Next question?

Take these so-called negatives out of the equation and you suddenly end up with all the benefits of a large car (space, comfort and practicality) with none of the drawbacks.

Excuses for not buying a Commodore have officially run out.

At this price level, there’s nothing that can touch it.

Holden’s job now is to let everyone know about it. Bums on seats, getting behind the wheel, will sell this car. We've tried it, we think you'll agree.


 

PRICING (Excludes on-road costs)

NOTE: Across the Commodore range, selecting the Sportwagon body style adds $2000 including GST (auto transmission only), while optioning an automatic transmission in sports models adds $2200 including GST. Prestige paint adds $550 including GST.

Recommended retail prices, comparing new VF to VE, excluding dealer delivery and government charges:

Model

VE

VF pricing

Rollback

Evoke (auto only)

$39,990 (Omega)

$34,990

- $5,000

SV6 (manual)

$42,790

$35,990

-$6,800

SS (manual)

$47,790

$41,990

-$5,800

SS-V (manual)

$55,290

$45,490

-$9,800

SS-V Redline (manual)

$57,790

$51,490

-$6,300

Calais (auto only)

$48,290

$39,990

-$8,300

Calais V V6 (auto only)

$56,790

$46,990

-$9,800

Calais V V8 (auto only)

$61,990

$52,990

-$9,000

 

Options

Evoke

  • Blind Spot Alert / Reverse Traffic Alert - $350
  • Satellite Navigation - $750 (Available September 2013)

SV6

  • Satellite Navigation - $750
  • Sunroof (Sedan only) - $1,990
  • Rear wing spoiler (Sedan only) - $500
  • Leather Appointed seats - $1500

SS

  • Satellite Navigation - $750
  • Sunroof (Sedan only) - $1990
  • Rear wing spoiler (Sedan only) - $500

SS-V

  • Sunroof & Bose® Audio Package (Sedan only) - $2490
  • Rear wing spoiler (Sedan only) - $500

SS-V Redline

  • Rear wing spoiler (Sedan only) - $500

Calais

  • Satellite Navigation - $750

MORE: VF Commodore And Ute range REVIEWED
MORE: VF Commodore Pricing Announced
MORE: HSV Gen-F Pricing Announced
MORE: Unveiled: VF Calais V | Commodore SS | VF Ute | WN Caprice
MORE: HSV Gen-F range revealed

 
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