The Holden Commodore range has always had a "Hero" car in the line-up, and when the VE range was launched mid 2006 the VE SS V8 was part of the model mix. More aggressive in appearance - a prominent rear spoiler and a lower, deeper front grille plus eighteen inch wheels set the SS apart from other models in the stable. It has been developed in conjunction with the V6 range and some of that development work was carried out in the spiritual home of the V8 - the USA.
Value for Money
When the VE range was released the pricing points on new models were revised. Compared to the older VZ, the VE SS (tested), has dropped dramatically. A six speed manual SS starts at $44,990 (old model VZ SS $51,790), and the SS six speed automatic tested is an additional $2,000 - $46,990 (VZ auto was $51,790). The higher specked SS V models are more expensive. They start at $51,990 for the manual, and the auto $53,990. Looking at the V8 competition locally and overseas, the new SS sits competitively with Ford's V8 XR8. Their manual models are $44990 and the auto - $46490. To get similar V8 power from Chrysler you need to spend $59,990 for a V8 300C Hemi and there's no manual option.
The SS auto tested comes equipped with the following, the latest 270kW Gen 4 all alloy V8, that is Euro 4 emission compliant. It's matched to the excellent new six speed automatic transmission that has been used by General Motors in their Corvettes in the States.
Electronic Stability Program (ESP), ABS braking, Brake-assist and traction control form part of an impressive safety package.
Inside, the steering wheel is adjustable for height and reach. As well, the usual features are there - air conditioning, power steering, power windows with express down function for driver and front seat passengers, sports contoured front bucket seats with four way electric adjustment, dual stage front airbags, side impact airbags and cruise control. A six disc in-dash CD player with seven speakers and an AM/FM radio - round out the bulk of the standard features list.
Design and function
Space and practicality
All the new VE Commodores including SS have grown. Wheelbase has increased by 126 mm over the previous model and has given designers the opportunity to increase interior space. Headroom for front and rear passengers is generous, and a revised rear boot hinge design reduces intrusion into the boot space. Rather than having a split fold rear seat, there is a large ski hatch in the centre of the rear seats that fold down to provide over 1.9 metres of length. Glove box size is generous and has a horizontal divider to stop items from sliding around. Mesh nets in the rear of the front seats will hold maps and other shallow items. There are map pockets in the doors which also have cup holders moulded into their design for drinks etc.
Additional bolstering in the seat base and backrest provide a secure, sporty seating position. For front seat occupants, four-way seat adjustment, tilt and reach steering ensure it's comfortable for most shapes and sizes. Rear seat passengers are also provided with a nicely sculptured seat although it feels a little low when stepping through the door opening. The middle position in the rear is a little more upright and lacks padding.
Ahead of the driver the major instruments for the SS are red and at night I found them hard to read and difficult to distinguish the graduations. The base Omega tested earlier was much easier on the eye.
Inside the SS all the driver interaction points like the steering wheel, transmission shift lever and major switchgear have an improved quality and feel to them. Gone from the dash are the stiff controls for air conditioning and ventilation - replaced with more tactile rotary dials. I prefer the window switchgear in the arm rest rather than the centre console, perhaps because most cars have them residing there. Like the previous VZ, the ignition key is a one touch design, no need to hold it to crank the engine over - a nice feature.
The SS is no different to the rest of the range. Thick A pillars are part of a super rigid body structure but can restrict forward vision slightly when turning through tighter corners, and the purposeful rear boot spoiler hinders rearward vision when parking.
The handbrake was the only other concern. I found it positioned too close to the body for comfortable operation especially when pulled on hard. When not in use, it keeps the interior console looking clean design-wise - less so when pulled up. Probably just me, but I found when I put an electric door opener in the recess next to the handbrake that it slipped through to the floor.
The SS is equipped with front and side airbags. Side curtain airbags are available only if leather trim is specified. Front seat belts have load limiters and pretensioners. All seating positions have lap sash belts. The SS has ESP, ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Force as standard.
Build quality and finish
The huge dollar investment in the new engineering processes to build the new range is evident in many ways. The SS' visual appearance, especially the panel fit and finish, has improved markedly and is amongst the best going around. Door openings have a much smoother contour and integrated appearance. The test vehicle was finished in red and it looked as though it was dipped in paint - from all angles it looked world class.
Inside the cabin, front seats have the SS motif embossed onto the fabric, like the Omega tested earlier, it is essentially the same interior combination - mainly dark tones broken up by the various surface textures. In a first for Commodore the passenger side aperture for the airbag is incorporated into the crash pad - and it gives the dashboard a much more sophisticated look and feel. In fact the whole dash design has a flow and integrated look from door to door that is as good as any European make.
The SS Commodore has keyless entry, remote central locking with deadlocking, and an engine immobiliser. Security has improved over the old model. The SS gets an NRMA Insurance security rating of 75 out of 120.
On the Road
The 270kW power plant uses regular unleaded fuel, and has a useable capacity of 73 litres. Around town the six litre auto was thirsty - we recorded a figure of 17.2 litres per 100kms. Out on the highway it was a different story with a best figure of 11.4 litres per 100kms.
The Gen 4 alloy V8 develops 270kW of power - 10kW more than its predecessor and 530Nm of torque at 4,400 rpm. This power unit made its debut in early 2006, and the slight power increase comes from a throaty large bore dual exhaust with quad outlets.
Cruising out on the highway the 6.0 litre engine ticks over at just on 1500 rpm at 100 km. The large amount of torque available really makes the SS a superb tourer - it's quiet inside the cabin and it gobbles up the kilometres with effortless ease.
The SS is also a deceptively quick vehicle, when you need to overtake use the sequential shift gearlever to extract the best performance and maximise the enjoyment.
The SS sits on eighteen inch 45 series tyres, a recipe for a potentially harsh ride. The SS shows no signs of this though, with the huge engineering investment paying dividends. The ride quality for the sports model was firmer but with plenty of travel to soak up the vagaries of our roads.
Handling and steering
Totally new suspension design that was installed in 'mule' or test vehicles back as far as 2003 has brought on the most noticeable improvements over the old model. Wider front and rear track and a longer wheelbase by 126 mm transform the VESS into one of the front runners when it comes to the handling stakes. The variable ratio power assisted steering is much more communicative and provides more precision compared to the older models and it's matched to a chassis that glues the SS to the road in all situations.
For the V8's, a seventeen inch performance brake package is fitted, up one inch over the six cylinder version. Front rotor size for the SS is 321mm and the rear are 324 mm - both ventilated. Clamping the pads to the rotors are aluminium twin piston callipers for the front and single piston alloy units for the rear rotors. On test they were good performers, when worked hard they have a solid reassuring feel. In light applications they lacked some initial feel and the pedal travel felt too long before they started to bite.
Smoothness and quietness
Even with six litres of V8 under the bonnet the SS remains a civilised beast. When accelerating hard it delivers what most enthusiast want - a purposeful rumble from the dual quad chrome tipped exhaust. Around town some tyre noise was noticed and it was noisier than the Omega tested earlier. It's most likely due to the larger, more open tread design eighteen inch tyres. The six speed auto is flexible and smooth in operation; the whole engine/drivetrain package has a refined feel.
If you can live with its high thirst for fuel around town, the new V8 SS Commodore has little if anything to compain about. It has a mountain of power and torque and chassis dynamics befitting vehicles twice its price. On the test vehicle, evidence of top class build quality all starting at under $50k, makes for a compelling argument if you are looking at purchasing a large capacity sports sedan.