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Road Tests

VZ Holden Commodore: First Look

By Feann Torr

VZ Holden Commodore
VZ Holden Commodore - The Calais
(click images for high res versions)

VZ Holden Commodore
The new SS Commodore gets stylish side vents

VZ Holden Commodore
The SV8 doesn't get the SS bodykit, but being
almost $10,000 cheaper increases its appeal

VZ Holden Commodore
SS, SV8 and SV6 get tricky clear lens brake lights

VZ Holden Commodore
The entry-level VZ Commodore Executive

VZ Holden Commodore
The VZ Holden Berlina wagon looking sharp

VZ Holden Commodore
The sporty SV6 is causing plenty of interest

VZ Holden Commodore
It generates 340Nm of torque @ 3200rpm

VZ Holden Commodore
Expect it to reach 100km/h in about 8.0 seconds

VZ Holden Commodore
The WL Caprice - looking better than ever

VZ Holden Commodore
Pressure sensitive LED brake lights anyone?

Holden's large car has come a long way since the 1997 launch of the VT, upon which this new VZ is based.

And though there are many detractors who claim the new look is too subtle, too minimal to warrant an all-new designation, take a look beyond the revised sheet metal and you'll discover that this is no mid-life refresh.

While the big 5.7-litre V8 has undergone minor changes to up the range-topping SS Commodore's peak power to an XR8-rivalling 250kW, it's the new V6 Alloytec engines that have been generating the most buzz.

Coupled with Holden's new slick shifting 5-speed automatic gearbox, the high power 190kW 3.6-litre quad-cam motor finally puts the Commodore on equal footing with the popular BA Falcon, which has proved to be a hit for Ford.

The scenario wasn't good for Holden when the new 182kW 6-cylinder Falcon launched in 2002, which made the equivalent 152kW pushrod V6 in the VY Commodore look very long in the tooth.

But now the Ford vs Holden battle has kicked up a gear as Holden implements its long-awaited, high revving 3.6-litre V6 in a smarter-looking package, and together with new features such as an electronic stability program (ESP), team Holden is clearly chuffed.

GM Holden chairman and MD, Denny Mooney, said the improvements made to the 2004 VZ sedan and WL model series at a total development cost of $189 million represented the most substantial upgrade since the VT Commodore in 1997.

Holden's commander-in-chief also said that the new Alloytec V6 powertrains were major contributors and they brought many associated modifications.

"The six-cylinder engine has been the heartbeat of the Holden brand for more than 50 years, and the launch of a new generation Holden six has always been a great catalyst for change.

"Apart from the direct benefits of increased power and mid-range torque responsiveness, Alloytec VZ and WL models also bring new electronic systems that offer even more confidence-inspiring driver control and greater safety," Mr Mooney said.

The new electronic stability system gives Holden a decisive edge over its main competitor, the Ford Falcon, which only offers traction control, and no ESP.

In retrospect, such a feature makes a lot of sense in Australia's most popular type of car - after all they are large, powerful, rear wheel drive and quite heavy vehicles (1600 - 2000kg), and this feature will surely rank highly in the minds of new car buyers.

That said, only V6 models offer the new ESP, as it comes as part of the Alloytec engine's new software, so V8 drivers will have to wait until the 6.0-litre Gen IV engine arrives in time for the Series II VZ.

According to Holden, ESP greatly improves vehicle safety performance in situations where the driver takes emergency action to avoid a collision.

It does this by electronically correcting vehicle paths through brake application to individual wheels and engine torque management.

Holden is so confident of its new safety control system that it claims it "operates so smoothly that in most situations the driver will not be aware it has been activated."

We'll have to reserve judgement on the new electronic stability program until we road test the new VZ Commodore, so stay tuned for the in-depth reviews.

ESP is specified as standard on VZ Commodore Acclaim, Calais and Alloytec-powered WL Caprice and Statesman, while the entry-level Executive misses out, which is a bit of shame considering it has the capacity to run such a program.

Interestingly however, all Alloytec models with ESP feature Corner Brake Control as well, which helps to maintain optimum vehicle stability during heavy braking on curves and corners.

Holden has also included Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) on all Alloytec-powered sedans and wagons, and all new models also benefit from upgraded braking systems with a new brake booster/master cylinder combination that invokes a very fast brake pressure response.

Other chassis refinements include changes to the front suspension rig, which Holden says will help deliver a sharper, more direct steering response, and all models now feature a new lightweight power steering pump.

Arguably the most important feature of the new VZ Commodore's are the new lightweight, all-aluminium 3.6-litre V6's, where entry-level models now boast 175kW of power.

Belonging to a new family of GM Global V6 engines that incorporate state-of-the-art features and premium performance characteristics, the locally produced 6-cylinder powerplants are built at Holden's $400 million Global V6 plant in Port Melbourne, Victoria.

The Alloytec engines operate with advanced double overhead camshafts (per cylinder bank) and 4-valves per cylinder, finally bringing them inline with Ford's 4.0-litre straight six mill. A combination of high feature technologies allows them to extract more power from less fuel, with fewer emissions, which is another aspect that Holden will be pushing.

Thanks to the new 60° cylinder bank configuration, the balance shafts are no longer needed as was the case with the 3.8-litre Ecotec V6. The new V6 motor gets another boost thanks to the variable valve timing, which increases power at higher revs, and reduces fuel consumption at lower revs.

The standard 175kW Alloytec engine gets continuously variable camshaft phasing for the inlet camshafts only, while the more powerful Alloytec190 benefits from continuously variable camshaft phasing for both inlet and exhaust camshafts, and a variable intake manifold also contributes to peak power. Click here for the specs.

Reiterating the benefits of the new V6 engines, Denny Mooney said that they are "... the culmination of years of intensive development by Holden engineers who are quite rightly recognised within the GM organisation as world-class in rear wheel drive powertrain application.

"The high-feature Alloytec V6 will help us maintain the momentum we need to remain competitive in domestic and export markets and reactive to our customers' needs," Mr Mooney concluded.

Holden is also introducing a new model designation with the VZ Commodore, called the SV6.

It will replace the Commodore S and is priced at $38,990 for both the 6-speed manual and new 5-speed automatic.

The SV6 sports the 190kW Alloytec engine and will go head-to-head with one of Ford's best-performing models, the nat atmo XR6, which boasts 182kW of power and 380Nm of torque.

In what appears to be a direct response to the XR6's success, the SV6 gets attractive 17-inch alloy wheels, a deep bodykit and a rear spoiler, and together with sports suspension

While the XR6 has some 40 extra Newton metres over the brand-spanking SV6, the Holden tips the scales @ 1592kg, while the torquey XR6 weighs 1672kg.

All told, it should be a very close fight indeed, as it's good to see that Holden can finally offer a well-priced, high-powered V6 sports sedan.

As far as transmissions go, VZ and WL models powered by the Alloytec 190 will be offered with a slick-shifting new five-speed automatic transmission with 'Active Select' paddle-shifters on the steering wheel, for those who want to change gears like Mark Webber.

Furthermore, a new premium application six-speed manual transmission is available as an option on the sports performance Commodore SV6.

VZ models powered by the 175kW Alloytec engine makes use of the old four-speed automatic transmission that powered VT-VY models, but has been comprehensively upgraded to provide much smoother shifts and less painful kickbacks.

The 5.7-litre V8 engine isn't forgotten either, and gets improvements to throttle control, engine calibration, induction and exhaust that helps bring increased power and torque outputs for Commodore SS, SV8 and Caprice.

These models now produce 250kW of power @ 5600rpm (up by 5kW) and 470Nm of torque @ 4800rpm (up 5Nm).

The Statesman V8 increases peak figures to 245kW (a rise of 10kW) and 465Nm and V8 Calais and Berlina figures are unchanged @ 235kW and 460Nm.

In addition to all the mechanical changes, Holden has also revised the Commodore's styling to better integrate it into the global General Motors family.

Take a look at the image where the grilles of the new Australian-built SS Commodore and the British-built Vectra are compared (pictured), and you'll see some distinct similarities.

VZ Commodore (above) compared to ZC Vectra (below)Simply put, the VZ Commodore is the stepping stone for Holden's VE Commodore in 2006, which has a good chance of being exported to Europe, and will integrate even more closely with GM's worldwide design philosophy.

Looking at the new VZ models - including Commodore, Calais and Berlina - it's fair to say that the new look and feel has been focussed on the front end (hence the profusion of frontal photos).

The new styling, which includes changes to the grilles (with a single sports bar, a la Vectra), a larger front air dam, textured mesh inserts, a more compact headlamp design, larger Holden Lion symbol and a powerful new bonnet combine to give the VZ a much bolder and more sophisticated look.

Calais, Berlina and Commodore SS are gifted with xenon headlamps, while at the rear, things haven't changed an awful lot across the range.

New brake light covers for the entry-level Executive add a touch more style than the outgoing lenses too, and seeing as the Executive model sells more than any other Commodore variant, it makes sense to give it a good re-jigging, and the 175kW V6 will please many, particularly fleet buyers as it should help keep the resale price from dropping as much as in the past.

The tuned and tinkered sports models (SV6, SV8 and SS) get a new brake light design, with three circular lamps covered by a transparent lens, giving the rear end a much-needed visual boost. Up front, the SV6 and SS get aggressively styled bodykits, complete with deep front bumpers and enlarged air dams, side skirts.

The SS Commodore also gets the fancy engine bay ducts or 'fender vents' as Holden terms them, while the rear bumper and boot has been retained from the VY model.Here's the

The new Caprice and Statesman have also seen revisions, and the Caprice in particular looks even more aggressive and athletic than ever what with new 6-spoke 17-inch wheels.

It also now offers the benefits of a tyre pressure monitoring system and ultrasonic Front Park Assist.

New LED tail lamps give the Statesman and Caprice long wheel-base models a more luxury vibe, and are accented by silver highlights and chrome surrounds, while the Caprice has a new front facia with enlarged lower air dam and dominant hexagonal mesh insert, new rocker skirts and bolder rear end.

The Statesman also gets a new grille with vertical chrome highlights, new alloy wheels and is now specified with leather trim as standard.

Holden has also spent some cash on fine tuning interiors, but generally speaking it's likely that only enthusiasts will spot the interior differences.

They include new trim fabrics and patterns, a revised centre stack design with storage compartment (only on Berlina and Calais) and a new tonal beige background for Calais, which now comes with leather trim as standard.

The launch of the upgraded VZ Commodore and WL Caprice and Statesman model series puts Holden back in the drivers seat after fighting Ford with one arm tied behind its back.

Thanks to the new new look and the all-new 3.6-litre V6 engines, it now has a solid foundation to build upon.

More than anything else we're keen as mustard to put the 182kW Ford Falcon XR6 up against the 190kW Holden Commodore SV6 to see who reigns supreme in the under $40k sports sedan fight.

With the advent of the VZ Commodore, the odds are now more even than they've ever been in the Ford vs Holden automotive war, and at the end of a long hard day, it's the consumer who wins out, with two large cars to choose from sporting modern powertrains, modern styling and a plethora of user-friendly features.

Australia's most popular and best selling car has just been improved in some very impressive respects, and we'll have hands-on impressions and head-to-head comparos with Ford's Falcon in the coming months, and also a VY vs VZ Commodore comparo, so stay tuned.



Power: 190kW @ 6500rpm

Power: 175kW @ 6000rpm

Torque: 340Nm @ 3200rpm

Torque: 320Nm @ 2800rpm

Configuration: 3.6-litre, 60-degree DOHC V6

Displacement: 3564cc

Additional features:

Pressure-actuated piston-cooling oil jets
Extended-life sparkplugs, coolant, accessory belts
Cartridge-style, top-access oil filter
Oil-level sensor
Teflon crankshaft oil seal
Wide-range oxygen sensors (Alloytec 190)




Executive Sedan V6 Automatic
Executive Wagon V6 Automatic
(Price shown includes air conditioning, a $2250 option)


Acclaim Sedan V6 Automatic
Acclaim Wagon V6 Automatic


SV6 Sedan V6 Manual
SV6 Sedan V6 Automatic


SV8 Sedan V8 Manual
SV8 Sedan V8 Automatic


SS Sedan V8 Manual
SS Sedan V8 Automatic


Berlina Sedan V6 Automatic
Berlina Sedan V8 Automatic
Berlina Wagon V6 Automatic
Berlina Wagon V8 Automatic


Calais Sedan V6 Automatic
Calais Sedan V8 Automatic


Statesman Sedan V6 Automatic
Statesman Sedan V8 Automatic


Caprice Sedan V6
Caprice Sedan V8 Automatic



Executive Air conditioning: $2,250
Executive Air conditioning, side impact airbags: $2,770
SV8 Side impact airbags, four power windows: $1,140
SV6 Side impact airbags, Anthracite leather trim: $2,570
SS Leather trim in Anthracite, Red Hot or Bermuda, Single zone electronic climate control, Dash-mounted cupholders: $2,490
Berlina Leather trim: $2,050

Option Highlights
Country pack: $330
LPG - V6 auto Executive (+ HBD fitment cost of $2,090): $330
Six stacker CD: $595
Rear park assist (sedans only): $495
Metallic paint: $315
Level ride suspension (Statesman): $495

Holden By Design - Selected Options
Performance brakes
Roof mounted DVD player
Blue Tooth phone kit
Sports profiled leather-covered steering wheel
Leather-covered handbrake and auto/manual shifter
Lip spoiler
Lower body kits
Stainless steel sill plates
Alloy pedals
Satin chrome interior door handles
Wagon cargo safety barrier
Country roo bar

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