The release of the Holden VE Commodore is the
biggest automotive news in Australia this year. If history is anything to go by,
the VE Commodore will serve as the platform for the General’s full-size family
car for the next decade. And, in this time of unstable fuel prices, shifting
consumer focus and a changing world market, it’s a pretty big risk.
The VE is a AUD$1 billion dollar project with a
lot riding on it – let’s take a detailed look at what’s on offer...
VE Model Range
The VE Commodore brings a slight model shuffle -
with the notable loss of the Executive model.
The new base model Commodore is badged as an
Omega, while the Berlina represents a cost-effective step-up and the
Calais/Calais V are the luxury-spec models. In the sports range, there’s the
SV6, SS and SS V.
Interestingly, the range has also grown from the
dimensions of the previous generation. The VE Omega is 18mm longer than the VZ
Exec, the wheelbase is a substantial 126mm longer, it's 57mm higher and 57mm
wider. It’s a big car!
“More power, more torque and more refinement” are
claimed for the new Commodore range.
In the bread-and-butter six-cylinder range, the
Melbourne-built 3.6-litre Alloytec V6 – as introduced in the previous generation
Commodore – benefits from a new variable intake manifold and free-flowing
exhaust. Variable inlet cam timing, DOHC, four-valve-per-cylinder heads, a
10.2:1 compression ratio, forged steel crank and piston oil jets are the key
features of the V6. There’s also a new Bosch E77 management system with digital
crank and cam position sensors, more aggressive electric throttle control
calibration and front and rear oxygen sensors for tighter emission control.
NVH (a criticism of Alloytec powered VZ
Commodores) has been improved using a new 7.7mm inverted tooth camshaft chain,
new harmonic balancer, new engine covers, a die-cast oil pan and revisions to
the intake and exhaust. A stiffer and stronger engine cradle as well as
six-point (instead of four) engine mounting further reduce noise and vibration.
The body also boasts a new acoustic laminated windscreen, new bonnet insulator
and sound deadening packages. All carpets are also layered with acoustic
The base V6 of the VE Omega and Berlina generates
180kW at 6000 rpm and 330Nm at 2600 rpm. The high-output version of the Alloytec
V6 (found in the SV6 and Calais/Calais V) is equipped with variable inlet and
exhaust cam timing and a dual exhaust to push 195kW at 6500 rpm and 340Nm at the
V8-powered Commodores now use a Generation IV (aka
LS2) 6-litre engine which is built in Mexico. The all-alloy 6-litre achieves an
extra 300cc capacity over the LS1 by increasing the bore diameter from 99 to
101.6mm. Pushrods and two-valve-per-cylinder breathing remain but there’s a
10.4:1 compression ratio, high-flow exhaust with dual 2¼ inch pipes, revised
exhaust manifolds, performance ECU calibration and a new engine cover. Output is
270kW at 5700 rpm and 530Nm at 4400 rpm – an increase of 10kW. Drivability,
response, part-throttle performance and launch feel are also improved. Service
intervals are also lengthened to match the V6 – the recommended distance between
services is 15,000km.
Transmissions are significantly improved.
The 6-litre V8 comes with an optional six-speed
automatic as found in the US-market Corvette and Cadillac. Coded 6L80E, the
six-speed auto features Active Select sequential shift, extensive calibration in
Australia, a wide spread of ratios and a tall top gear ratio of 0.67:1. The V8
can also be purchased with an upgraded version of the existing T56 Tremec
six-speed manual. The new T56 brings closer ratios, a short-throw shift
assembly, shorter clutch travel, triple synchros on first and second gear and
double synchros for the rest.
In the six-cylinder range, the high-output 195kW
engine comes with a 5L40E five-speed auto or AY6 six-speed manual. The auto
features Active Select and extensive recalibration while the manual brings an
isolated shift assembly, a shorter gear lever, reduced clutch travel and effort.
The same manual ‘box is used in base-grade Commodores. Base grade VE Omegas and
Berlinas are available with a revised 4L69E four-speed auto with extensive
recalibration, improved shift and launch feel. There’s no Active Select mode.
At the rear, an all-new aluminium cased ZF
differential is used with a 8.3 inch crown wheel (up from 8 inches in the VZ V8
and 7.5 inch in the VZ V6). An upgraded multi-plate clutch type LSD is fitted to
the SS, SSV and is optional on other models equipped with sports suspension.
One of the most important aspects of the VE is
Holden claims, despite increased mass and engine
output, the VE achieves “competitive fuel economy outcomes”. This is thanks to a
more efficient differential, regulated voltage control to reduce alternator
power consumption, increased tyre pressures (to 2.5 Bar) and digital engine
The four-speed automatic Omega and Berlina are
claimed to achieve an ADR 081/01 figure of 10.9 litres per 100km, which is
0.1 litre superior to the outgoing VZ equivalents. In the 195kW high-output V6
range, the five-speed auto achieves 11.3 litres per 100km consumption in the SV6
and Calais while the Calais V drinks 11.6 litres. The six-speed manual version
of the 195kW V6 (found exclusively in the SV6) reduces consumption from
11.4 litres per 100km achieved in the VZ to 11-litres per 100km.
And the 6-litre V8s? Most frugal is the six-speed
auto version found in the Berlina, SS, SSV, Calais and Calais V – Holden claims
14.3 litres per 100km. This is slightly thirstier than the 5.7-litre 4-speed
auto combo available in the VZ. The six-speed manual version of the 6-litre V8
(found in the SS and SS V) drinks 14.4 litres per 100km which slightly less than
the outgoing 5.7-litre model.
A dual-fual LPG option is planned for later
Suspension, Steering and Brakes
Holden claims the VE Commodore suspension “sits
alongside the renowned Radial Tuned Suspension of the late 1970s as one of
Holden’s most significant advances in this area.”
The new Linear Control suspension brings a
four-link IRS with coil-overs together with a multi-link strut configuration at
the front. A swaybar is fitted at each end – the front is direct acting while
the rear is decoupled. The front and rear are adjustable for camber and toe and
the front has adjustable castor.
At the front, a hydraulically damped bush is
fitted to the forward end of the tension link for improved ride isolation. The
lateral link has a spherical rubber joint to provide lateral stiffness. There’s
a negative scrub radius, high castor and a short mechanical trail.
At the rear, there are three lateral ball joints
per side for high lateral stiffness and improved longitudinal compliance. A
rubber isolated suspension frame isolates the body from road imperfections and
drivetrain vibrations. The base Omega and Berlina use a comfort-biased
suspension setting while sports settings are found on other models. A country
pack, with an elevated ride height, is optional on the Omega.
The VE’s power assisted rack and pinion steering
incorporates a forward-mounted rack (ahead of the front axle centerline) which
is said to improve on-centre feel and precision. Holden claims 10 percent faster
The VE’s braking system offers approximately five
percent improved stopping distances with improved fade resistance and stiffer
feel. Larger ventilated rotors, aluminium calipers and increased pad area
are the key upgrades.
V6 models are now equipped with 298 x 30mm
ventilated rotors with two-pot aluminium calipers while rear use 302 x 22mm
ventilated rotors with single piston aluminium calipers. V8 models use 321 x
30mm rotors with two-pot aluminium calipers and the rear gets 324 x 22mm
ventilated rear rotors with single pot aluminium calipers.
Note that weight distribution of the VE Commodore
is almost 50:50 thanks to strategies such as mounting the engine low and
rearward in the engine bay, a saddle-type fuel tank and a boot-mounted battery.
The VE Commodore offers improved safety largely
thanks to a stiffer body, improved in-cabin occupant protection, stability
control and increased use of advanced strength steels.
Front, side and curtain airbags are standard in
high grade models and are optional in remaining models. Side and curtain airbags
are optional on the Omega while curtain airbags are optional on the Berlina, SV6
and SS. Active front head restraints are available as standard or as an option (depending on model).
A standout feature of the VE Commodore is
Electronic Stability Program (ESP) as standard on all sedan models. The ESP
incorporates anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, electronic
brake assist, traction control and anti-slide stability control.
The all-new chassis and body has been subjected to
more than 5000 barrier tests using virtual technology. There are clearly defined
load paths to manage crash energy in offset frontal, full frontal, rear and side
impacts. The front rails are larger and more complex and the B-pillars are
The extra chassis/body stiffening is one reason
for the VE’s added weight (though, note that kerb figures are yet to be
released). However, the weight gain has been combated using aluminium front and
rear impact beams (saving 30kg), a composite spare wheel tub (seen in this
photo) and tailor welded blanks.
Body and Interior
The VE Commodore is styled with the wheels located
close to the corners of the car, an increased track and a bold body-to-glass
proportions to deliver an aggressive stance. The different models are identified
by two different headlight styles, three front facias, four rear lights, three
rear facias and two spoilers. Notably, there were no aero drag figures released
at the time of writing. Each model also has its own wheel/tyre package. The base
VE rides on 16 x 7 steel wheels wearing 225/60 16 tyres while the SS V reaches
up to 19 x 8 alloys with 245/40 tyres – and, if that’s not enough, a factory
accessory upgrade brings 20 x 8 inch rims.
Inside, the VE brings all-new seats, a much
improved HVAC system, monochrome or colour centre screens, Bluetooth, a
Saab-like ‘nightpanel’ feature, over and under-speed warnings and is available
with features such as automatic rain sensing and zoned front and rear park
assist displays in the Calais V. Sporty models are also available with a range
of bright trim colours.
AutoSpeed’s Prelim Verdict
If there’s one thing Australian car manufacturers
are good at, its building very accomplished full-size family cars. We reckon
there will be little doubt the VE will offer an excellent ride/handling balance,
abundant space and comfort, improved NVH (with the V6, we certainly hope so!) and strong performance.
But is that enough?
At the time of writing, local fuel prices are
around AUD$1.40 a litre and across-the-board sales of large cars have plummeted.
Not coincidentally, the popularity of diesels, hybrids and LPG are at an
all-time high. And this brings us to the biggest hurdle facing the VE – running
While Holden has achieved a slight overall
reduction in consumption, it won’t be enough to convince buyers – or us. Where’s
the common rail diesel option or the hybrid version (which the Alloytec engine
is designed to accommodate)? And introducing a near 2-tonne 6-litre V8 at a time
like this? Sure, it’ll be great in the role of a ‘hero’ car but who on earth can
afford to run it? Aussie full-size family cars are rapidly evolving in the direction of high power prestige saloons – great if you can afford ‘em...
And you need to be careful when casting an eye
over Holden’s pricelist. Sure, you can buy a new VE Omega for under 35 grand
(AUD$34,490 to be exact) but, incredibly, that doesn’t include air conditioning...
Add cold air and you’re up to AUD$36,490 and you’re still riding on steel wheels
with hub caps... For our money, the AUD$3500 dearer Berlina looks like the pick of
the bunch – you get most of the good stuff found in the mega-buck Calais
although it’s lumbered with the base V6 rather than the high-output version. But
will that really matter? Again, we return to the problem of fuel