When dressed in something less glaring than our car's canary yellow, the Commodore is a smartly designed large family sedan. By pushing the front wheels as far to the front of the car as possible, the Commodore proudly advertises its rear-wheel drive layout. It's only on the high-end models, though, with their fat tyres and big wheels, that the aggression of the flared wheel arches is sufficiently realised.
The SS-V's 19-inch alloy wheels, quad tailpipes, body kit, 10mm lower suspension and large boot spoiler are essential parts of the car's boy-racer looks. The spoiler is functionally debatable, but worse, it horribly obstructs vision rearwards, fuelling our paranoia to the point where we began suspecting that any white car behind us was a police vehicle.
Late in 2010, Holden updated the Commodore range, with the shift from VE Series I to II marked by a series of mild cosmetic changes. Only the most ardent Commodore fan will notice the lightly redesigned bumpers, new alloy wheel designs and more pronounced aero lip on the sedan's boot. For many, the most obvious alternations are the Series II badges and less rectangular headlights.
At 4.9m long from bumper to bumper there's no denying that the Commodore is a big car. The boot isn't quite as capacious as we were hoping for, partly because our review vehicle was fitted with the optional full-size spare wheel instead of the standard inflation kit and can of sealant — without the spare wheel boot space is rated at 498-litres. Unless you opt for the wagon, the rear seats can't be folded down; boot-expansion on the sedan is limited to a supersized ski port for long items. There's no internal handle or grip on the inside of the boot lid, either, so prepare to get your hands dirty every time you close the trunk.
It mightn't have Audi quaking its boots, but generally speaking the Commodore's cabin is nicely designed and a comfortable place to be. That is, of course, unless you opt for a red or light or dark grey SS-V, in which case your eyes will be assaulted by splashes red on the seats, lower dashboard and various other locales.
The cockpit's materials feel quite hardy, especially the leather seats, and there's even soft plastic on the dashboard top and a rubberised bin in the centre console that's a perfect fit for most smartphones. On the down-side, the cup-holders aren't well placed, the plastic cover for the instrument panel reflects quite badly — making it almost impossible to read the analog instruments without the interior illumination on and the handbrake design can easily trap your thumb if you're not careful. There are also some rough edges on the underside of the plastic that lines the centre console, and the centrally located electric window switches feel a bit flimsy.
Given the car's dimensions, it's no surprise that the Commodore is spacious, with plenty of room for all five passengers. As the steering wheel is adjustable for both height and reach, finding a comfortable driving position should be possible for all, although the seat adjustment ratchets can be tiring and for down-sized individuals (such as this writer) the seats don't feel as grippy as they look. The rear seats are quite vertical, although occupants do get their own air conditioning vents. Lowering the rear armrest is quite a chore as there's no pull latch attached and, oddly, the rear seat's cup-holders can only be accessed when the ski port is folded down.
Given the retail price of $55,290 after GST but before dealer and statutory charges, the SS-V isn't creaking under the weight of its tech-gear. On the flip side, it does offer acres of space, a wonderful driving and riding experience (more on that later) and plenty of tyre-frying V8 action.
Standard features on the SS-V include leather seats, steering wheel and gear knob, automatic headlights, front fog lights, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, cruise control, electric height adjustment on the driver's seat, alloy pedals and a flip-out key as standard. On the performance and safety front there are 19-inch alloy wheels, 10mm lower sports suspension, a limited slip differential and stability and traction control.
Other nice features — such as auto-dimming rear view mirror, xenon headlights, rain sensing wipers, fully electric seats and a separate rear seat entertainment module — are only available on the luxury-themed Calais and Caprice models.
Entertainment and navigation
As part of the Series II upgrade, all Commodore and Caprice models now come fitted with the Holden-iQ system. Driven by a 6.5-inch touchscreen, it has dragged the Commodore entertainment and navigation offering from near the bottom of the class to a position where it can vie for dux. Sound quality is decent, as is the bass-thumping, when the loudness feature is switched on.
Placed nice and high on the dashboard, the 6.5-inch screen is easy to view when on the move, but we do wish that the screen had a higher resolution. Flanked by buttons for iQ's various functions and music sources, the interface is easy to use, although list items are on the small side, so tapping the right one on the go is a lottery. Complementing the touchscreen are steering controls that allow the driver to switch sources and tracks, as well as adjust the volume and access their phone.
Although the SS-V's system can't play DVDs (either video or audio), the list of music options is pretty comprehensive. Bluetooth is present and not only handles hands-free calling, but also allows for wireless music streaming. The USB port is compatible with both flash memory drives and iPods/iPhones, although scrolling through a large music library on an iPod/iPhone requires the patience of a hundred Gandhis; an auxiliary jack is also included. An almost-impossible-to-find CD slot can play audio discs straight. Alternatively, there's 1GB of internal flash memory that can store up to 15 ripped CDs — bring your patience though, as ripping a CD can take upwards of 15 minutes.
Like many factory-fit nav systems, Holden-iQ misses out on text-to-speech. It is, however, one of the few such systems to feature speed limit info; available for most roads, it appears as a small icon in the bottom left-hand corner of the 6.5-inch display and, rather more usefully, in the LCD screen in the instrument cluster. That screen can also display fuel economy stats, a digital speedo and next turn instructions. Other features include live traffic information from Suna and lane guidance, although this is primarily limited to freeways.
For more on the Holden-iQ system, check back soon for our full review.
On the road
Mated to the standard six-speed manual transmission, the 6-litre V8 generates 270kW of power and 330Nm of torque. Pay AU$2000 for the convenience of the six-speed auto, and power and torque drop to 260kW and 317Nm respectively. Either way, when you sink your slipper into the go pedal, the authoritative urge of all that torque will make you grin from ear to ear. Acoustically, though, the V8 lacks the bad-ass soundtrack that we had hoped for.
Even though the engine is able switch seamlessly and automatically between running on four or eight cylinders, the SS-V drinks like a school of fish. Our heavy feet in the inner city meant that the SS-V consumed refined dinosaur remains at an alarming rate of between 24.6 and 26.3L/100km. Out in the 'burbs, consumption fell to a less heartbreaking 15.3L/100km, while on the highway we recorded an average figure of 10.11L/100km. To offset some of the damage it might wreak on the environment, the 6-litre V8 is capable of drinking unleaded fuel blends that are up to 85 per cent ethanol, although finding servos that sell E85 fuel is difficult.
Good thing, then, that the SS-V handles like a dream. The power steering lightens up just enough at speed to make the car feel nimble and pointy, and the cornering is commendably flat. The only time you really feel the car's weight is when it floats over undulations at high speed. Just as impressive as the handling is the ride, which, despite the sports suspension and low profile tyres, isn't like a Muhammad Ali punch to the jaw followed by a kick in the lower spine. Rather, it soaks up everything from smallest bump to the largest pothole with ease. Despite its sporting intent, the SS-V's cabin is almost as a quiet as a regular Commodore's, with tyre noise well quelled on all but the coarsest of roads.
Our only complaints with the driving experience are that the brakes aren't a match for the car's mass and performance. To get the necessary braking performance, buyers will have to shell out AU$2500 for the Redline package that also comes with even sportier FE2 suspension. Vision out of the car is compromised by the thick windscreen pillar that can swallow up entire roundabouts and sidewalks. For such a large car, the wing mirrors are on the small side, and only the passenger's side has convex glass. Although the pictures from the rear-view are grainy and low res, we're glad that it's fitted to the SS-V.
If you're willing to pay for its drinking habit, the SS-V is a fine car. It handles excellently, rides just as well, offers acres of space and now has an entertainment and navigation system that's fully featured and generally easy to use.