Holden Commodore SS review

Behind the wheel of the endangered V8

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Holden Commodore SS
  • Holden Commodore SS
  • Holden Commodore SS
  • Holden Commodore SS
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • V8 engine produces 260kw
  • Spacious interior and boot
  • Well equipped with driver aids and connectivity technologies

Cons

  • Uses a lot of petrol
  • Interior is mediocre

Would you buy this?

Driving a V8 Commodore is about as Australian as it gets. The rumble, burble and gargle of the engine is behind one of Australia’s great pastimes, the V8 supercars, and it has helped birth national icons from the late Peter Brock to Mark Skaife.

Today’s rendition of the V8 engine could be the last in a long line of Commodores. Most car companies are shifting to turbocharged 4-cylinder engines because they’re economical. Holden remains tight lipped on whether it will manufacture V8 engines after 2016.

This means the V8 engine in the Commodore SS Storm being reviewed by Good Gear Guide could be the last chapter in a 36-year saga.

Powering the 5-door SS Storm is a 6.0L V8 engine delivering 260 kilowatts. It tumbles along at a sedentary 1000 revs per minute (rpm), cruising quietly in slow moving traffic, no matter if the car’s transmission is set to Drive or Sport.

Only when leaden feet begin to weigh the throttle down does the V8 engine scream. Bury it and the engine roars into life, savagely eating up tarmac until it's time for the brakes to reign in the 1744kg car. This V8 has a baritone sound that climbs in pitch as it nears the 5600rpm redline, and it’s a shame it can’t be heard unless the SS is being handled roughly. Only once, on a quiet Sunday, could we feel the faint burble of the engine at a set of lights. It sent chills down our spine.

A week refuelling the 71 litre tank in the Commodore SS provides crude insight into why large engines are endangered. Holden claims the SS will drink 11.5L of fuel every 100 kilometres. It’s achievable driving on a highway, but on the streets of Sydney, the figure we averaged was an inefficient 21L.

The Commodore is a large, cumbersome 5-seater. You’re always aware of the car’s size as you lurch between gaps in traffic. Other performance vehicles cling to the road with a low centre of gravity. The SS stands tall enough to tower over other sedans.

We are impressed by how manageable it feels in the bends. The heavy V8 upfront causes some understeer, though there’s the sense the engine churns enough power to correct it with oversteer. Much like its forefathers, the power of the Commodore SS is best saved for motorway straights.

The sedan’s enormity bodes well for the interior. Generous seats are upholstered in suede and with select accents dressed in leather. The two-tone of faux carbon fibre is thematically worked into the dash, along with an embroidered badge that reads ‘Storm’. Three grown men could be seated in the rear and they’d have room to spare. Then there’s the boot.

One of the gifts on our Christmas list was the making of a garden bed. After a trip to the hardware store, we easily filled the boot with seven bags of compost, enough timber for the framework, gardening tools and a roll of mesh, all with space to spare. The Commodore’s generous size is a noteworthy luxury feature in itself.

Some racing paraphernalia and extras separate the Storm edition from the run-of-the-mill SS. It packs a decent satellite navigation system and front fog lamps, with cosmetic additions including 18-inch alloy wheels and red stitching in the interior.

This kit is on top of the long list of tech features. Centred in the console is an 8-inch touchscreen used to manage Holden’s MyLink infotainment system. The screen displays footage from the rear view camera, plays DVDs, works with your smartphone over Bluetooth, or over USB and auxiliary for other mp3 devices.

Good Gear Guide found MyLink worked well with mainstream smartphone brands, such as those from Apple and Samsung, although we did have trouble holding calls and streaming music to the Xiaomi Mi4 we were testing. (In Holden’s defence, this is not a smartphone sold in Australia.)

There was no need to re-establish the Bluetooth connection with our Galaxy Note Edge during short breaks; however, each day we needed to cue the system to pair with the smartphone.

The well-equipped tech gear in the Holden lacks the refinement characterising European rivals. The screens have a lower resolution, the tech is less intuitive and less pride has been taken with the appearance of the software.

Compensating is the fact this car comes with technologies previously unavailable at its price. Aiding drivers is an assisted parking mode, a rear view camera and an alert for cars lingering in blind spots, of which the latter works by illuminating an icon in side mirrors. The tech might be lacking in finesse, but it is all there, and for under $50,000.

Holden’s SS has long been the champion of the blue-collar man, and the 2014 VF Storm nobly continues the tradition. The spacious interior brims with features, while the ride is comfortable during everyday commutes. Come to an open road and the car will belt out more than enough power. And yet we understand why the future of the V8 engine is in doubt.

Turbocharged 4-cylinders are delivering comparable power at half the petrol consumption. No doubt the legendary V8 engine is a part of Australian history, but it just might be a part we must let go.

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Read more on these topics: MyLink, storm, v8, Commodore, SS, Holden
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