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2006 VE Holden Commdore: First Look

By Motoring Channel Staff - 17/July/2006

Holden VE Commodore
The Holden Commodore SS V sits in 19-inch wheels

Fourth Generation Commodore

It's finally broken cover and Holden fans across the country are no doubt poring over the photos and information, digesting every last tidbit of information, which is vital to fuel the fires of the Ford vs Holden war. And now, finally, Holden has something that will be able to compete with the Falcon in the handling department with a new floorplan (the Zeta platform) and new suspension rigs fore and aft. We can't wait to give the SS V with 19-inch alloys a flogging.

The new look? Quite good, with a hint of the Torana TT36 concept thrown in for good measure. It's more sophisticated than past models, and even the base-model Omega looks decent with its wide stance and less angular headlights. We actually spotted an SS model cruising around North Melbourne in Victoria on Sunday arvo (without camouflage), and though the new vehicles are much larger in almost every respect, on the road they actually look quite compact, which is a testament to the smart work Holden has done with the styling. Pushing the wheels out to the corners and reducing the overhangs gives the VE Commodore a strong presence on the road, and the sporty style of the new SS V and Calais V models will have enthusiasts slavering, not doubt about that.

As always, we'd love to know what you guys think of the new look, the ballsy V8, the more spacious interior and all the other new features of the VE Commodore, so drop a comment to the mailbox and post your opinions.

- Feann Torr, Editor

Holden VE Commodore
The colour-matched interiors add a
custom car element to the SS V model

Holden VE Commodore
The new information system that dominates the
centre console takes the Calais interior upmarket

Holden VE Commodore
Colour-coded dials anyone?

Holden VE Commodore
Will Holden's gamble with the big 6.0-litre V8
pay off, or will it hurt sales? Time will tell

Holden VE Commodore
The VE Calais V is one of best-equipped Aussie
cars ever made, sitting on large 18-inch wheels,
and you may notice the Falcon-esque headlights

Holden VE Commodore
The SS V, shown here, gets a higher spoiler than
the SS model and larger wheels, but will cost more

Holden VE Commodore
The VE Commodore's profile is sportier
than its predecessor, the VZ Commodore

Melbourne, Australia — Australia's best selling car for the last 10 years has just had the biggest overhaul in its history: meet the new VE Commodore.

Due to arrive in showrooms in August, the new VE Commodore cost a bit more than a billion dollars of investment to research, design and then build, and though large car sales are down by more than 20% so far this year in Australia, Holden is confident that it's stylish new family car can reignite interest in the segment.

Holden's army of publicists and even the top brass are touting the new Commodore's advances in overall refinement and quality, spanning everything from the drivetrains, to the interior and exterior: "VE Commodore delivers ultimate value to the Australian buyer. Its design is comparable to anything in the world and we made major advances in refinement and quality," said Denny Mooney, the GM Holden Chairman and Managing Director.

"Our targets have been some of the most expensive and most carefully crafted cars around the world and this careful consideration of global expectations is what should make this car work. We pored over every panel, the tiniest of details to place this car right up there in terms of refinement, quality and performance," stated Mooney.

Safety was another point that was highlighted in detail by GM Holden, as ESP (Electronic Stability Program) is now combined with front airbags as standard features on the entire VE sedan range: "The chassis is designed to accommodate a range of active and passive safety technologies as well as the crashworthiness expected in many different markets," continued Mooney.

"We have used more super-strength and high-strength steels than ever before in Commodore's structure. Real world crash performance was a huge priority throughout its development," said Mooney.

However, no mention was made of the new VE Commodore's fuel consumption, which is perhaps one of the most important factors for most new car buyers today. Denny Mooney said that testing was still ongoing and full specification would be released closer to the car's showroom debut in August.

With a sportier, almost European design, the new Commodore will turn heads when it's seen cruising the streets, and power will be provided by the same 3.6-litre Alloytec engines used in previous models, but this time with 180kW as the entry-level engine output and a 195kW version for Calais and SV6 models. Sports and some luxury models can be had with the new 6.0-litre LS2 V8 engine, which develops a heady 270kW @ the crankshaft, more than enough power to eclipse 250km/h.

Most obviously, the VE Commodore gets a fresh look, and being based on the new Zeta platform, it's larger too. The new Zeta platform was almost scrapped by GM's head Bob Lutz a few years back, and the new Commodore is one of the first large rear-wheel drive vehicles to be based on the new platform, (if you don't include concept cars like the Chevrolet Camaro). The Zeta platform will also be used to create a new generation of American cars in 2008 and beyond, so the top brass in the US will be keeping a close eye on how the new Commodore performs.

The new Zeta underpinnings give the VE a longer wheelbase (up by 126mm to 2915mm), which improves rear seat legroom by 15mm over the VZ Commodore, and other improvements include more boot space, up by 31 litres to 496L, while rear knee room has been improved slightly. 

Rick Martin, the VE Commodore's head technical designer, noted that his team had a very succinct set of demands: "We had to maintain Commodore’s excellent interior space without expanding the exterior footprint, achieve a stiffer body structure and improve boot capacity and useability. We had to achieve the intents of an aggressive stance and largest possible wheel and tyre package," said Martin, adding that the "VE is a new and exciting architecture which holds true to the vision. It will serve to provide the framework for a multitude of new and exciting products well into the future."

Could such 'exciting' new products include an AWD Commodore? Or how about a next generation Monaro, perhaps even a diesel-powered larger Australian car? These are all viable possibilities that the new architecture opens up for GM's Australian operation.

To better integrate the bodywork with the increased wheelbase, the front and rear overhangs have been chopped back by 90mm and 18mm respectively, which helps give the larger car a more compact look, while some interior dimensions have suffered as a result of the new bodywork: front shoulder room is down by 14mm, front head room is reduced 7mm, while front leg room stays the same as before, at 1071mm.

As well as the changes to the interior's dimensions, the interiors also get new look information displays in the centre console, new look instrument clusters and new materials. The instrument cluster and indeed the new LCD displays appear to be similar to the units used by Volkswagen and Audi, suggesting Holden is sourcing higher quality parts which could nudge the price of the new vehicle higher.

Combined, these changes give the VE Commodore's interior a much more sophisticated look than its forebear, and Holden also reckons that there'll be more interior differentiation between models.

"We designed for greater flexibility to give buyers greater choice across the range. We wanted to personalise every model to ensure we met and exceeded their expectations," said the director of design, Tony Stolfo.

"We have created a very fresh looking interior across all models. It has been taken to another level by using form, color, textiles, decoration, grain, technology and other features. We are able to offer three distinct personalities across the range. Underlying this has been the quest for quality, from the way the fabrics feel to the tightened gaps and margins," added Stolfo.

Intriguingly, Tony Stolfo made mention of the fact that the VE Commodore had been designed for left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive applications, meaning there's scope for the VE Commodore - or variants thereof - to be sold in American, Middle Eastern and possibly even European markets.

Furthermore, Holden's design manager, John Field, said that the new VE Commodore is one of the highest quality cars its ever built: "Gap margins and flushness dimensions were developed with reference to ‘best of the best’ benchmarking data.

"The functional, performance and luxury models each have specific centre stack features, mouldings, displays, decoration and illumination colours. As the road is the driver's focus, primary information is placed in front of the driver in a display within the instrument cluster," said Field.

“Push-button and scrolling thumbwheel controls on the steering wheel manage trip, audio and other functions while more detailed information is displayed in the centre of the car," mentioned Field. Here's the intial list of VE Commodore interior features:

 Four new seats, five new fabrics and three new leathers. Seat trims are cut and sewn which allows greater flexibility in design and material construction.

 New supple and luxurious leather constructions for seat and door trim application, with new perforations for sports and luxury models.

 Storage includes large glovebox, armrest underside with clips for pens and cards. Console has a trinket tray and dual cup holders. Front and rear door trims have bins for drink bottles.

Instrument cluster includes a central vertical-format dot matrix screen, augmented by a high-mounted monochrome display (also a high-mounted auxiliary display (oil, battery levels etc) for high end and sports models).

As well as the impressively modern looking interiors - the colour coded SS models look great - Holden has given the car a fresh new look, retuned engines and upgraded chassis components, which will no doubt put its major competitor the Ford Falcon on notice.

The new look is almost a little more restrained than the VZ Commodore for the entry level models, though the prominent wheel arches lend the VE models a more sophisticated look, while the headlight clusters have a touch of Ford Falcon to them, but overall the front end is familiar but fresh take on the Commodore face. The VE's roofline appears to be somewhat sleeker, while the top end models, such as the SS, SS V, and Calais V get more aggressive styling, with deep front aprons, rear spoilers and 18- and 19-inch wheels.

The new look is thoroughly modern and gives Holden a very powerful product with which to tempt new buyers, and as Holden explains the design is based on the idea to push the four wheels closer to the corners of the car, reduce space between the front wheels and bumper and deliver a purposeful stance. And it looks as though they've succeeded.

Design director Tony Stolfo stated that the "VE gets its visual strength from its bold body-to-glass proportions. If you then add width to the car and increase its track, the effect is a car which has great stance and poise. We had a pretty tough job, designing a car which could appeal to a broader consumer market without leaving anyone behind. It’s much harder when the car you design is Australia’s top-seller and everyone will have an opinion. It’s like you’re bringing a new child into the world and 20 million people are its parents," added Stolfo.

"Having said that, we delivered a design which turned heads even while wearing heavy disguise so we are confident it will hit the mark once it reaches dealerships. It’s a strong, honest design which needs no embellishment to get attention," said Stolfo, clearly proud of the way the 4th generation Commodore look.

All told, the VE range provides a range of different front and rear ends, with two headlight styles, four rear lights, three front fascias, three rear fascias and two rear spoilers in its standard range. While the entry level Omega Commodore sits on 16-inch steel rims, the range-topping sports model, the SS V, gets 19x8-inch wheels, and 20-inch alloy wheels can be optioned for those who want to make the ultimate statement.

Holden's manager of exterior design, Peter Hughes, couldn't contain his excitement, saying the VE highlighted Holden's ability to deliver a design which was created from the ground up. "The car makes a strong and dramatic statement. We spent an incredible amount of time tuning and tweaking every possible detail to deliver what we believe is the most dynamic Australian large sedan ever seen. Many of us have spent years working on this design. We can’t wait to see the reaction of our peers and the Australian motoring public," Hughes said.

And the reaction, by and large from the people we've spoken  to, has been very positive. Some 13 colour choices will be offered, including seven new colors. The 2006 exterior finishes are headed up the new hero colour, Ignition, which Holden describes as a chromatic red orange, solid in appearance with fine mica gold highlights. The full list of VE Commodore colors are:

 Ignition – chromatic red orange with fine mica gold highlight
 Evoke - smoky metallic charcoal with colored mica highlight
 Sandstorm - warm neutral satin gold metallic with fine icy highlight
 Provence - chromatic light glacial blue metallic
 Red Passion - rich saturated metallic red with blue/red velvety mica highlight
 Nickel - mechanical dark silver with coarse metallic highlight
 Crema - crisp, buttery liquid gold with velvety mica appearance (available soon)

The range-topping models such as the Calais V and SS models get much stronger body kits than the standard models, and the Calais gets projector headlamps, while the SS models get a diffuser-type rear apron and a bold quad exhaust system to help the 6.0-litre V8 breathe.

Engines and gearboxes have changed here and there, and though the same 3.6-litre Alloytec V6 engine returns for active duty in the more popular models, such as the Omega, Berlina and SV6, the lowest state of tune is a much healthier 180kW @ 6000rpm and 330Nm of torque @ 26000rpm. Six-cylinder models such as the SV6 and Calais get a 5Nm and 5kW upgrade in torque and power, now 195kW @ 6500rpm and 340Nm of torque @ 2600rpm, but it's the V8 models that will truly shake the earth, developing a crushing 270kW of power and 530Nm of torque - that last figure bests even Ford Performance Vehicle's V8 torque output.

Plans for a dual fuel (gasoline/LPG) 3.6-litre V6 model are in the works, and Holden expects to release the fourth engine variant later in 2006. For now, here is the new engine list:

Alloytec V6: 180kW @ 6000rpm, 330Nm @ 2600rpm (increase of 8kW and 10Nm) Available on: Omega, Berlina
High Output Alloytec V6: 195kW @ 6500rpm, 340Nm @ 2600rpm (increase of 5kW and 5Nm) Available on: SV6, Calais, Calais V
Gen IV 6.0-litre V8: 270kW @ 5700rpm, 530Nm @ 4400rpm, (increase 10kW and 30Nm) Available on: Berlina, SS, SSV, Calais, Calais V

Holden has yet to release fuel consumption figures, nor even a kerb weight for its new models, but with the extra cubic inches from the 6.0-litre V8 should give the SS the legs to power past Ford's XR8 Falcon, which features a smaller but more advanced 5.4-litre V8.

"The peak power of our advanced Alloytec V6 engines, made right here in Australia, will move up to 180 and 195 kilowatts respectively," noted Holden's chief, Denny Mooney. "The six-litre V8 will stamp its authority with peak power and torque of 270 kilowatts and 530 Newton metres which will really deliver the performance Holden buyers know and love."

Mr Mooney also said: "We will introduce a new six-speed automatic transmission for V8 models, sharing it with GM’s premium cars such as Cadillacs and the Chevrolet Corvette." New gearboxes make the VE grade, most notably a high torque 6-speed automatic transmission for use with V8 models, which has previously seen use in Cadillac cars and the Chevrolet Corvette. In addition to the new GM 6L80E 6-speed automatic, the old 4L60E 4-speed slush box returns for the entry-level models. Comined, there are five transmission options, three autos and two manual gearboxes:

GM 6L80E 6-speed automatic with Active Select - optional in all V8 models
Tremec T56 6-speed manual - SS and SS V
GM 5L40E 5-speed automatic with Active Select - Calais V6
Aisin AY6 6-speed manual in SV6
GM 4L60E 4-speed automatic in Omega and Berlina

So while the entry level models still persist with 4-speed autos, the option of a 6-speed auto with the V8 models will please a lot of drivers, and should also make a reduction to the car's fuel economy.

The front and rear tracks have been increased by 33mm and 44mm respectively, widening the vehicles footprint and potentially giving it more stable handling characteristics. As well as the increased width between the wheels, new suspension systems front and rear will play a large role in keeping occupants safe, sound and comfortable. Not much has been said about the suspension thus far, but we do know that the rear now gets a new multi-link independent set-up, which will help the Commodore gain handling ground lost to the Falcon's control blade IRS system.

Finally we'll touch on safety, and one of the biggest innovations for the entire VE range will be the introduction of the life-saving ESP. The new Electronic Stability Program is designed to avoid potentially dangerous situations by reducing torque and applying brakes based on data collected from various aspects of the car, from road speed, front wheel direction, steering wheel angle and so forth. Denny Mooney said that safety was a key factor in the new vehicle, highlighting the ESP as an "acclaimed crash avoidance technology".

"The chassis is designed to accommodate a range of active and passive safety technologies as well as the crashworthiness expected in many different markets," said Mr Mooney, continuing, "We have used more super-strength and high-strength steels than ever before in Commodore's structure. Real world crash performance was a huge priority throughout its development."

 Electronic Stability Program (ESP) standard on all models
 Driver, front passenger and side impact airbags available on all models
 Occupant protection system designed for real world driving environment
 Curtain airbags available on all models - standard on SS V, Calais and Calais V; optional on Omega, Berlina, SV6 and SS
 Ultra-stiff body structure, multiple load path strategy, structurally optimised front and rear deformation zones
 Greatly expanded use of super-strength and high-strength steels in the body

Ladies and gentleman, the new VE Commodore. We've been teased for what has seemed like years with hints of the new model, spy photos and rumours, and now it's (almost) all been revealed. We'll be looking at the new WM Caprice and Statesman models soon, and as it stands, Holden's upcoming VE Commodore appears to rectify a number of issues that drivers had with previous Commodores. The big questions regarding fuel consumption and pricing will be revealed closer to the cars launch in August, but rest assured we'll keep you abreast of all the latest VE news.

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