Holden Commodore

We test the Thunder from Down Under as Australia releases its new Holden SS V model

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

As newcomers go, the Commodore VXR will be a pretty impressive offering. Muscular styling and that awesome V8 engine from the Corvette are its undoubted trump cards. However, it’s not too shabby on the road either, and once Vauxhall’s engineers have tweaked it further to suit our surfaces, it could be a decent and practical all-rounder. Only a rather low-rent interior lets it down.

British drivers are a tough bunch to please – high standards and unique road conditions mean that some of the world’s best regarded performance cars have flopped here.

But there are exceptions to the rule – Vauxhall, for example, got it right with its Aussie born-and-bred Monaro coupé. The V8 machine re-established the marque as a serious purveyor of muscle cars, and paved the way for the VXR brand’s launch. Flushed with success, the firm is trying again, but this time the thunder from Down Under set to wear the Griffin badge will be based on the new Holden Commodore SS V.

On its launch in Oz, the new car got rave reviews, but will it meet our expectations when it arrives wearing the VXR moniker from March? We hit the road to find out. There’s no doubt there are some major differences bet-ween the Monaro and Commodore. The first is the number of doors.

The Commodore is a saloon, and a very spacious and fine-looking one it is, too. There’s loads of room for five passengers, and the boot is massive.

With a sporty short front overhang, steeply raked windscreen and bulging wheelarches, the Holden has an aggressive stance. From the rear, it also looks pretty mean, thanks to a big – although not absurd – wing and four tailpipes. Underneath, a diffuser completes the package.

Inside, it’s even more brash, with black leather seats and an orange dash. The doors are lined in tasteful black leather and the orange instruments look cool, too. But it all goes wrong after that. Some of the plastics feel brittle and are old-fashioned, and it’s not special enough for a range-topper.

However, as with the Monaro, you won’t be buying the Commodore for its interior – it what’s under the bonnet that counts. And you won’t be disappointed. The unit, which is tucked back as near to the driver as possible to improve weight distribution, is the same all-alloy engine as in the Corvette C6.

It sounds fantastic and is a punchy performer, yet happy to potter along quietly in sixth at 70mph, barely ticking over. However, drop a couple of gears and it’s like poking an irritable lion in the eye. There is more of a bellow than a roar, and even at high revs, it’s never coarse. The six-speed gearbox has well spaced ratios, although with 530Nm of torque on offer, you can take second gear corners in third and barely notice the difference in pulling power.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the ride, the Commodore is found wanting. Larger bumps jar the cabin, and it feels unsettled at low speeds on anything other than a flat surface. The steering doesn’t offer enough feedback to make the most of twisty roads either, although the car is still surprisingly agile for its size. Smooth surfaces and long, fast curves are where it feels most settled and impressive.

And then there’s the value card, as Vauxhall is planning to offer it for around £35,000. If you like your cars loud and proud, want a super-saloon that’s not German and can live with a bit of cheap trim, the Commodore could be the motor for you.

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