Friday, March 4, 2011

Holden Commodore SS & SS V Redline

The SS Commodore has been a stalwart performer for GM's Australian arm, having been a part of the Commodore range for 28 years. It all started with the VH and VK SS back in 1983 when the SS moniker brought with it improved suspension, a sonorous V8 engine and eye-catching body work that left no guessing as to the car's intent.
That the sporty SS was based on a popular family car ensured it still had the practicality of seating for five and plenty of luggage besides.
Fast forward to 2011 and we're looking at the VE Series 'SS', which builds on the original's pragmatic performance ethos and adds a raft of high tech features, with a touch-screen infotainment system (called iQ) and electronic stability control just two of the model's highlights.
We've probably tested more Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores than any other car here at the Carsales Network, and there's something comforting about settling into the large driver's seat of an Australian made car. Being the high-performance model, the SS also benefits from lateral seat bolstering, which comes in handy when you decide to give the car's chassis and powertrain a workout.
Before we took the SS out to our favourite stretch of winding asphalt, we spent a few days commuting in the big beast, and it should come as no surprise that a great big V8, stiff clutch pedal, six-speed manual cog swapper and stop-start traffic do not make for a pleasant combo. Yet unlike some performance cars it wasn't impossible to live with.
The Series II SS features a shorter throw clutch than its predecessor, which we appreciated, and the shift mechanism feels a little lighter than before; also good news.
The latest iQ touch-screen system adds a level of sophistication to the Commodore that has never been there before, and makes everyday driving more enjoyable, from tapping the screen to set up Bluetooth streaming audio from your smart phone to fiddling with the radio presets. It has easy-to-use menus and a surprisingly helpful sat nav system that provides warning of all speed and red light cameras.
Like all Commodores, cargo and passenger space is copious and a tight turning circle makes it surprisingly easy to park; getting in and out of tight spaces is easier than in some mid-sized cars (though if you want reversing sensors you'll have to upgrade to an SS V).
It's also got a pleasant driving position that won't wear you out on longer journeys and the light steering encourages relaxed urban driving.
The car's hulking Gen IV 6.0-litre V8 engine wasn't custom made for commuting or town driving, but after a couple of days in the saddle the car becomes much easier to punt around at slow speeds. The engine note seems to have been given a tweak since we tested the Series I VE Commodore SS and it sounds great, with more bass from the engine's uneven firing order making its way into the cabin than previously.
Where it really matters, out on the open road, the Series II SS can make for an edifying experience; the V8's raw muscle matched by a chassis that can be pushed around relatively easily despite its size and weight.
Tighter, sharper corners tend to upset the car's balance, with the weight of the 16-valve pushrod V8 often upsetting its intended path without careful finessing (read: slowing down) but for the most part it's a rewarding large car to drive fast.
The steering feels direct and it's easy to point the car where you want it, but at times I wished the steering had more weight and less power assistance, as the latter can conceal what the front wheels are doing.
On the Redline Edition of the SS (also tested -- pictured) we found no such qualms. Ignoring the gaudy 19-inch chrome rims, Redline's FE3 suspension and bigger (355mm front) brakes – both leftovers from HSV's limited edition GXP models – offered far better mid-corner balance and better bite upon turn in.
Braking, too, is far stronger than the 'adequate' arrangement under the standard SS, its slotted rotors and meatier Brembo calipers providing noticeably shorter stopping distances and improved pedal feel. (It's also worth noting they proved less susceptible to heat fade).
Holden's SS Commodore is a rewarding car to drive when the road opens up and the speed limits allow, and slower cars in its path are overtaken with effortless ease thanks to the V8 engine's 270kW/530Nm which, incidentally, is more poke than the automatic models' 260kW/517Nm.
From what owners have told us however, and together with the odd letter/comment from readers, it's fair to say that clutches on manual SS Commodores get chewed through relatively quickly. But if this test vehicle was anything to go by it would seem that Holden is aware of the issue - this particular third pedal felt far more robust than previous vehicles we've tested.
The only major complaint to make about the way the car performs when driven in anger comes down to deceleration. To be blunt, the brakes are inadequate. They have sloppy pedal feel, poor response and a lack of bite. This makes it difficult to confidently push the car hard into unknown territory. Thankfully for serious performance aficionados, the Redline Edition addresses this shortcoming.
The potency (and addictiveness) of the engine means that clutch and tyres can take a beating, as does the fuel economy, though at least fuel consumption has been reduced by six per cent. Not that it really matters when the throttle is wide open...
The 18-inch alloy rims look good -- better than the 19-inchers on the Redline im my opinion -- and the 245/45 tyres provide above average levels of grip but the fact that the engine can overpower rear wheel traction without any problem, and give the stability control a fair bit of grief at the same time, suggests the car needs less power or more rubber. And I know which I'd prefer...
Holden's Commodore SS is certainly not the most sophisticated sports sedan on the market, but for the price it represents excellent value and now delivers a more complete package that should appeal to a wider range of buyers.


Automotive Car. Powered by Blogger.
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More