Holden Commodore: Make new or break for big Holden
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VF Commodore has a lot riding on it for Aussies
It will be touted to Kiwi drivers as the most technically advanced Holden Commodore ever made in Australia, but with some of its features it could be mistaken for an expensive European large sedan.
Launched last week in Canberra, the Adelaide-built VF is the company's first major overhaul of the Commodore in seven years - with Holden Australia spending just under A$1 billion on the new model and using the North American facilities of parent company General Motors to test the VE replacement.
And with the announcement last week that Ford Australia was closing production and retiring the Falcon badge in 2016 this is a make-or-break model for Holden.
To sustain production, Holden will also begin building a left-hand drive model, the Chevy SS, at the Adelaide plant later this year, to be exported to North America.
The VF gains as standard across the range such features as auto park assist, a touchscreen display, dual climate control and the ability to listen to text messages via MyLink radio system and respond to them.
Add a little extra to the budget and you get heads-up display, 19in alloys, reverse traffic alert, and a pumping nine-speaker Bose stereo system that when used with the DVD system for rear passengers, provides a better viewing experience than any cinema could provide.
The range starts in New Zealand from $49,990 for the 3-litre, V6 Evoke (replacing the Omega) and heads up to $74,490 for the highly specced 6-litre, V8 SS-V Redline.
Added to our line-up will be the SV6 ute from $49,900, an SSV6 ($55,490) and V8 (from $6000 extra), a sportwagon (from $52,390 for the 3-litre V6), and hefty beast the 6-litre CalaisV V8 ($74,690).
Holden NZ has simplified the line-up - with automatics only (manual transmissions on customer request only) and LPG only available in the high-end Caprice model.
LPG is being touted in Australia as an alternate fuel source with it being offered across the VF Commodore range, including the ute and sportwagon. Unlike the old days of LPG in New Zealand, where a bulky tank filled up a large chunk of the boot, the system is incorporated into the new VFs, replacing the petrol tank.
The V6 and V8 engines and transmissions remain the same as the VE models but have been calibrated for the new Commodore while the steering was altered after customer feedback on the handling of the previous model.
To accommodate the parking assist, the steering was softened at low speed and tightened up at high speed - both aspects noticeable during my parallel and right-angle parking exercises then on the open roads heading from Canberra to the Snowy Mountains.
While the new Commodore may be big in features, it's lighter than the previous model with the Evoke slicing 43kg off its kerb weight because of using aluminum for the bonnet and boot, with an 8.7kg difference just from switching the bonnet from steel.
That weight loss helps with fuel economy with the Evoke claiming 8.3l/100km, a 7 per cent improvement, while the aerodynamic refining of the front of the car also helps keep petrol costs down.
Those fuel savings will be encouraging for the main buyers of Commodore in New Zealand - fleet, rentals and government (your local police officer will be impressed with the new car).
In Australia, the main sales go to private buyers and Holden New Zealand boss Jeff Murray wanted to change the perception of the Commodore to become a family car.
Currently, the Commodore takes more than 50 per cent of large-car sales but that's only 5.2 per cent of new-car sales. Instead, private buyers are snapping up SUVs and compact vehicles such as Toyota's Corolla, but Murray hoped for a 5 per cent increase in VF sales this year.
And it's the introduction of technology usually found in pricey European large sedans in New Zealand that will woo buyers. Personally favourites included the colour heads-up display (where such information as your speed and navigation information are reflected on the window in front of the driver), the perpendicular parking assist (the car reversed itself into a tight right-angle spot in three moves), and blind-spot alert.
Another technical delight - that was the most discussed feature during Holden's official media dinner - was the automatic start function. With a push on your remote you can activate your aircon system and even turn on the heated car seats.
After the weather New Zealand's had this week, it'll be a favoured option for Kiwis.