Strewth cobber, that’s a ripper car… err… she’s a beaut, mate…
Yes, well spotted there. this is an Australian car. It’s the SS-V, the performance flagship version of Holden’s spanking new VE Commodore range, and probably the Australian car of the moment. Designed, developed and engineered in Australia at a cost of over £490m, the new Commodore is Holden’s first ever clean sheet-design. And it’s four-door rear-wheel chassis architecture is set to underpin a range of future GM products.
It looks the part…
It’s a superb looking car, the Commodore. It’s proportions are spot on – check out the way the front axle has been pushed hard up against the nose, how those flared wheelarches create plenty of visual tension, and how the windscreen is raked back over the cabin. The light detailing is clean and smart and the whole package looks tidy and cohesive. The 2915mm wheelbase of the new car is 126mm longer than its predecessor but the car’s overall dimensions have barely changed. It’s pretty sharp underneath too. The engine is now mounted lower and further back within the wheelbase and the petrol tank sits ahead of the rear axle for 50:50 weight distribution. The steering rack sits ahead of the front axle so it’s stiffer. Both front and rear track are significantly wider to boost stability. And the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension set-up is all new too.
A longer wheelbase normally means a bigger cabin, right?
Correct – and the SS-V has a cabin mini-cabbers would die for. It’s huge in there. The driving position is spot on with acres of leg, shoulder and head room, there’s room for three adults across the vast rear bench and with a 496litre boot, there’s plenty of room for luggage. That nasty orange two-tone dash aside (the dash colour changes according to the choice of paintwork) the interior is not bad. Some of the plastics are a bit cheap and overall fit and finish falls under the good-but-could-try-harder category, but you get plenty of goodies and everything is well laid out.
So, is she a goer?
Damn right. The SS-V is powered by the same all-alloy 6.0-litre V8 found in the Corvette C6’s nose. Codenamed L98, this fourth generation 16-valver pushes out 360bhp at a relaxed 5700rpm and a plentiful 391lb ft of torque at 4400rpm. There’s a choice of automatic or manual transmission, both with six cogs. That V8 hauls around the 1790kg SS-V with such languid ease that you need to keep an eye on the dials to avoid falling foul of Sydney’s notoriously strict speed cops. Switch off the traction control and the SS-V will smoke to 60mph in 5.5seconds and onto a top speed of around 170mph. With all that torque a relative close set of ratios from first to fourth, in-gear go is dramatic. It sounds brilliant too, those four exhaust pipes playing everything from a window-pane shaking low-rev rumble to a Bathurst Super Eight howl.
But what happens when you start throwing almost two tonnes of fast-flying metal about?
You start grinning like a demon, that’s what happens. Rumble down from Sydney’s salubrious Dover Heights, past Watsons Bay and around to Bondi Beach and the big and chunky SS-V feels entirely at home. It feels, well, very masculine - the clutch is heavy, the steering demands positive inputs and the gear lever needs deliberate and well-timed shift actions. The ride over Sydney’s appalling roads – they make London’s patchworked tarmac look babybum-smooth by comparison – is fidgety and stiff-jointed at low speed. But as the speed increases so the Holden’s suspension starts to iron out the road. And the SS-V does speed very well. With its uprated suspension, hefty but direct steering, taut body control and excellent brakes, you can hustle the Commodore along very quickly indeed, it’s progressive responses and surprising agility belying its size and weight. It can play the civilised mile-muncher pulling the tonne at a barely audible 2200rpm in top, or it can be the tail-wagging smoker and keep Bridgestone in business.
Great. After the 2005 Ashes, the Aussies need something to brighten up their lives…
Well, the good news isn’t confined to the Southern Hemisphere. Early next year Vauxhall is going to bring a shipload of SS-Vs over to the UK, give them a bit of a visual going over, squeeze another 50bhp out of the engine and call it a VXR something or other – the name as yet to be decided. It will get 19inch alloys, a bigger wing that the SS-Vs and a revised front grille and bumper. It won’t be replacing the Monaro, though – the SS-V is a four-door saloon only and there are no plans for it loose the rear doors. Nor will it become the new Omega, although it would make a fine rear-drive replacement for the underrated Omega. In Australia, the SS-V costs A$51,990 – that’s a faintly ridiculous £21,000 at today’s rates – but Vauxhall will sell its VXR version for around £37,000 and expects to shift around 400 a year, the same as it did with the Monaro coupe. Still, that’s cheaper than a Chrysler 300C SRT-8, it’s main muscle car rival.
It’s easy to fall for the SS-V’s balanced mix of performance, dynamics, size and looks. Yes, with that V8 chugging down plenty of unleaded, running it will be costly, as will insuring it, but this hot Holden comes with plenty of character, shows you don't need some noncey niche-busting crossover vehicle to carry five and luggage in comfort and it will always turn heads. We like it.