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The under $50,000 luxury segment in which the Holden Statesman competes is crowded with good cars suited to many different tastes and requirements.
Buyers have the choice of European, Japanese or Australian makes in a variety of body styles and sizes, with a range of engines from 1.8 litre four cylinder, through to six cylinder and even V8s, if you want them.
Compared to the Statesman, some of these cars have more agile handling, some look better and some can claim higher standards of finish.
But where the Statesman really stands out from its opposition is the amount of car you get for your money. I'm not just talking about sheet metal; rather the space and comfort it provides occupants, the performance it has to handle Australia's long distances and demanding conditions, and the extensive array of safety, security and luxury equipment that comes as standard.
There has been a push from some quarters to downsize car fleets as an answer to environmental and congestion problems, however there are still plenty of buyers who want the space and performance that a bigger car offers. For many, the old adage of "a big car for a big country" still holds true.
At the time of writing, the six cylinder version of the Holden Statesman was priced at $44,450, while the V8 version cost $47,600. The Statesman's only local competitor, the Ford Fairlane, carries a price of $45,139 for the six and $48,091 for the V8. It's due for replacement by a new model shortly.
This current series Statesman incorporates most of the technical improvements introduced in the VR series Commodores. These include V6 engine refinements for smoother running and a whisker more power, the preciseness of electronic control for the four-speed automatic transmission, and revised suspension and wider tracks for better handling and stability. Independent rear suspension is standard and the power steering is road speed sensitive.
The V6 engine (as tested) is standard fitment in the Statesman, with the 5.0 litre V8 available as an option. The reverse situation applies to the more upmarket Caprice models. All Statesman and Caprice models come with automatic transmission only.
The Statesman is outstandingly well equipped for a car of its price. Standard items include a specifically-designed driver's airbag, anti-lock brakes, climate control air conditioning plus glovebox cooler, power mirrors, power windows, cruise control, multi function trip computer, steering wheel adjustable for height and reach, eight speaker stereo system, adjustable driver's footrest, all four outer seat belts height adjustable, webbing clamps on the front seat belts, road speed sensitive variable wipers and a programmable auto-off headlight function.
The Caprice gets metallic tone-on-tone paint, body side skirts, chromed dual exhaust, fog lamps, a 12-speaker stereo with 10 stack CD player plus outlets and headphones for rear passengers, electrically adjustable front seats with three memories, extra interior lights and vanity mirrors, and black-bean wood panelling on the dash and doors.
Both the Statesman and the Caprice score highly in the NRMA's New Car Security Rating exercise. With 81 points out of a possible 100, they are currently at the top of our list of just on a hundred cars inspected, and equal with the Holden Calais and Berlina, and Ford Falcon/Fairmont/Fairlane and LTD.
Statesman security features include key-operated deadlocks, power door locks (by remote or by key manually), automatic disabling of the ignition after switching off, an alarm, flashing interior warning light and security-coded radio.
The new VR series Statesman is longer and taller than the previous VQ model. However, it's still not as long or wide as the Fairlane, which can be a welcome feature when you're trying to park.
Whereas the VR Commodore range has been made to look smaller and more European, Holden has gone for an "Americanised" style for the Statesman/Caprice. While it's not the prettiest car around, the Statesman does present a commanding appearance and successfully differentiates itself from the more mundane Commodore range.
Holden has been working hard on improving quality of finish and the company's new $150 million paint facility at Elizabeth in South Australia has given the exterior a lift in terms of paint quality and appearance.
Where the Statesman still doesn't match imports of similar pricing is in detail finish. Examples on the test car included rough paint finish in the roof gutters and inside the boot, door sealing rubbers fitting untidily and some body moulds not fitting as well as they should. To be fair, the test car was an early production car and quality usually improves after the initial model start-up.
The Statesman scores top marks on both these aspects. Interior space for both front and rear occupants is vast, with plenty of leg and head room.
The front seats are soft and inviting, yet locate and support very well. Excellent comfort is also provided for two of the rear seat passengers. The centre rear occupant is the unlucky one as they have to perch on a hump and straddle the fairly large floor hump.
Complementing the comfortable seating is the Statesman's excellent ride over all types of surfaces. This combination, along with the car's very quiet operation, pampers occupants in a blissful aura of luxury that smaller cars just can't match.
The capacious boot compartment looks well able to swallow the family's luggage for a holiday trip, with the only criticism being the way the hinges protrude into the load area when the lid is closed - you need to be careful not to store anything in the path of these hinges as it could get damaged.
With multiple seat adjustments and a steering wheel that's adjustable for both height and reach, occupants of all sizes should be able to select a comfortable and effective driving position in the Statesman.
The instrument panel and control layout is sensibly arranged for straightforward use, but I'd prefer full circular gauges instead of the semi-circular units - the speedo dial in particular, has a crowded look. I like the position of the clock up high in the centre of the dash where it can be seen by both front and rear occupants.
The Statesman is a relatively big car to park but the chore is helped by the car's light steering effort, its good vision in all directions and a reasonably compact turning circle.
Holden has done a great job with the 3.8 litre V6 engine since it first saw the light of day here in the 1988 VN Commodore. Back then it was a fairly rough running and somewhat noisy performer, but it appealed with its strong, flexible performance; its good fuel economy; and its rugged, simple design.
With each model change since then (and sometimes in between), there has been a programme of continual refinement and improvement. The result today is a much smoother and quieter engine, with even better levels of performance and fuel economy. The V6 is now so good that it just about makes the V8 superfluous unless you have a particular need for maximum power, such as heavy duty towing.
Due also to different gearing, the V6 actually gets away from rest more smartly than the V8. The six cylinder Statesman displays excellent response in traffic and is never short of power for overtaking manoeuvres out on the open road.
With a fairly big engine under the bonnet and over 1.5 tonnes to haul around, fuel consumption is going to depend a lot on driving habits and conditions. The overall test figure of 13.0 litres/100 km is good for this sort of car, but it's not the best or worst you're likely to experience.
In a closely scrutinised fuel consumption test organised by Holden earlier this year, I recorded a fuel figure of 8.5 litres/100 km in a six cylinder Statesman, whilst maintaining an average speed of 96 km/h for a distance of 116 km. On the other side of the coin, you could expect to at least double this consumption rate with a fully loaded car towing a largish caravan.
For a big luxury car that's expected to ride plushly (as it does), the Statesman handles well and covers big distances with consummate ease. In fact, the V6 Statesman rates the pick of the range on handling, as it has less weight up front than the V8 and slightly firmer springs and dampers than the Caprice.
Braking in the Statesman was similar to other current ABS-equipped Holdens I've tested. The brake pedal action felt spongy and the pedal effort required for both normal and emergency braking was higher than average. However, the car pulled up well in emergency stopping tests and showed very good resistance to fade under repeated use.
The compact V6 engine fits easily into the Statesman's engine bay to leave plenty of room for servicing. The ample space between the engine and the front of the car also leaves more crumple space in the unfortunate event of an accident.
Maintenance is at the usual intervals, with the first service due at 1500 km, then every 10,000 km or six months.
Holden has increased the maximum towing capacity of Statesman and Caprice models to 2100 kg, however this would not be legal in NSW where the regulations state that the laden mass of the trailer must not exceed the kerb mass of the towing vehicle. Provided you stick within the regulations and fit approved towing aids as specified in the owner's handbook, the Statesman and the Caprice qualify as being well suited to towing.
A credit to local manufacturing, the Holden VR series Statesman is a true luxury package that represents terrific value. It handles demanding Australian conditions with consummate ease and provides excellent comfort and an abundance of luxury equipment for occupants to enjoy. Safety features are also well to the fore and on security, the Statesman is up with the very best.
Test car supplied by General Motors-Holden's Automotive Ltd.
|Price of vehicle tested||$44,450|
Occupant space and comfort
Brake pedal "feel"
|Country of manufacture||Australia|
|Warranty||2 years/50,000 kilometres|
$44,450 - V6
|Number of cylinders||6|
|Engine size||3.8 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||130 kW @ 295 rpm|
|Wheel size||15 "|
|Dimensions||GA 205/65 R15|
|Type||Power-assisted rack and pinion|
|Turns to lock||2.8 m|
|Turning circle (measured)||11.5 m|
|Width (including mirrors)||1794 mm|
|Fuel capacity||80 litres|
|Max towed mass (trailer plus load)||2100 kg|
NRMA Theft Rating
|Points on scale 0 - 120 (high score is best)||81|
Acceleration - Test results
|50 - 80km/h||4.7 secs|
|60 - 100km/h||6.4 secs|
|0 - 80km/h||6.6 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||9.7 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||12.7 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||13.7 L/100km|
|Average on test||13 L/100km|
|Distance to stop (from 80km/h)||31.4 metres|
|Interior noise at constant 80km/h||64 dB(A)|