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Old 07-22-2007, 10:09 AM   #1
Drives: MINI Cooper S
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 284 review of Holden Commodore... good info.

For those that don't know, the Holden Commodore will form the foundation of the new Pontiac G8 sedan. This review has some interesting technical details that apply to both the G8 and _probably_ the new Camaro.


I've highlighted interesting tidbits that I think apply to the 5th gen...

Full Test: 2007 Holden Commodore SS
Coming soon: GM's rear-drive V8 sedan from Down Under

By Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
Date posted: 05-03-2007

Here's what Americans know about the automotive scene in Australia: nothing.

We imagine horizon-bending roads and rear-drive cars powered by big supercharged V8s, as if Mad Max-style vigilantes were still running amok. Lies. The 2007 Holden Commodore SS isn't supercharged at all. Not to worry. The car that will become the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT does just fine without it.

Back in January, GM's Bob Lutz let the world know that Australia's Holden Commodore SS will be transformed into the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT. Details subsequently released at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show confirmed that the Holden-developed, rear-drive Zeta chassis that underpins the newest Commodore will become the core of not only the Pontiac G8 but also the 2009 Chevy Camaro.

In fact, the specifications of the Pontiac G8 are virtually a photocopy of the Holden Commodore SS's specs, right down to the 6.0-liter V8 and six-speed manual transmission. So there was nothing to do but pack up our test gear and head to Australia to wring the neck of a Commodore SS. Let's see what kind of rear-wheel-drive sedan is coming our way.

What's a Commodore?
Holden has been in the automobile business for nearly 100 years. In 1931 the successful coachbuilder was absorbed by GM, and under the name GM Holden Ltd., it's been one of the dominant players Down Under, squaring off against perennial rival Ford and, more recently, Toyota. Sound familiar?

Introduced in 1978, Holden's bread-and-butter Commodore sedan grew from rear-wheel-drive architecture provided by Opel, and Holden modified the chassis to accommodate V8 engines and added extra beef to handle the miles of unpaved roads in the Australian outback. But for the fourth-generation Commodore, Holden had been commissioned by GM to do a clean-sheet design.

Introduced in 2006, the fourth-generation Holden Commodore (code-named VE) is the product of one of the most expensive and thorough automotive engineering programs in Australian history.

Alpha-Dog Zeta
The heart of the Commodore is GM's new Zeta platform, a strong, stiff chassis with a big American-style V8 under the hood. Australian cars have been built around this combination for decades, but now it's been taken to a new level.

The BMW-style front suspension features twin-pivot MacPherson struts, and the steering geometry is set up with lots of castor for excellent straight-line stability. A hydraulically damped tension rod bush is there to improve ride isolation from longitudinal bumps, while the lateral link has a stiff, spherical, rubber inner pivot to improve lateral precision for good handling just the combination you'd expect from a fine performance sedan.

The innovation lies in a four-link independent rear suspension with coil-over springs and dampers, a major step forward for Australian cars. Here again, the Holden engineers have tried to balance longitudinal compliance for a good ride with lateral stiffness for good handling. The Commodore SS gets a handling-oriented spring-and-damper calibration and 245/45R18 performance tires. Optional 19- and 20-inch rubber can be fitted the latter available on the very same wheels featured on the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT that appeared at the Chicago auto show.

Holden engineers have done their best to achieve a weight distribution of 50 percent front/50 percent rear, partly by positioning the engine low and to the rear of the engine bay and partly by locating the battery in the trunk.

Right on track
We drove our Commodore SS around Melbourne and the car was steady and precise on the freeway, despite the notorious local crosswinds. While careening along the surprisingly sinuous roads through the mountains east of Melbourne to the site of the famous Lake Mountain Hillclimb, the Commodore SS was an absolute hoot. We found it easy to place the SS on the line we desired through the corners and keep it there, even when the lumpy lanes tried to pitch us off. No steering kickback or tramlining on the steeply cambered Australian secondary roads either. And the standard stability control never once fired prematurely.

While the 18-inch Bridgestone RE050a tires keep the 3,902-pound car firmly planted on the road, these are not the run-flat tries with hyper-rigid sidewalls found on a BMW 3 Series. As a result, they retain sufficient sidewall flex to help keep our backsides appropriately isolated from the pavement.

Once we reached Holden's Lang Lang proving ground, the Commodore SS also shined on the smooth pavement of the test track. With only a hint of body roll, it pulled off a run through the slalom at 67.6 mph. That's a few ticks faster than the 2007 Infiniti G35 Sport and 2006 BMW 330i, although slower than BMW's killer 335i. It was much the same story on the skid pad, where our Commodore SS's run at 0.87g nearly matched the 335i's effort of 0.88g.

The Commodore gets brakes with ventilated discs all around. Two-pot calipers squeeze the front, with single-piston pinchers in back. Not only does the pedal feel firm and offer good modulation, but also the brakes hauled down our SS from 60 mph in just 117 feet with no drama or fade.

For Your Hooning Pleasure...
The most familiar part of the Commodore SS is the GM Generation IV small-block V8 lurking under the hood. The Aussie L98 motor's lack of cylinder deactivation is the only significant mechanical difference from the L76 V8 we'll get in the 2008 Pontiac G8. With 6.0 liters of displacement, this pushrod V8 cranks out 362 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. This is more than enough power for Aussies to tag their local back roads with signatures of melted rubber, a practice known locally as "hooning."

Australians can choose between manual or automatic transmissions, each with six speeds. The manual is a T56 Tremec gearbox built in Mexico, while the optional 6L80E autobox comes from GM's homeland in Michigan.

The six-speed manual's precise shift linkage, well-spaced gear ratios and thoroughly sorted clutch action made it easy to get the most from this engine. And the standard ZF limited-slip differential put the power down with little drama, even when we disabled the standard traction control.

Still, we didn't expect our Holden's blazing 5.3-second run to 60 mph. The quarter-mile streaked past in 14.1 seconds at 99.1 mph. But we swear there's more on the table, as left-handed shifts from 2nd gear to 3rd are difficult for U.S.-trained drivers.

Symmetrical Style
The Commodore's interior features a kind of symmetrical style, and this makes it easy to envision it with the steering wheel on the Pontiac side of the car. The window switches reside on the center console, another measure to simplify adaptation to both left- and right-hand drive cockpits. The parking brake is on the center console as well.

But there is more to this interior than symmetry. All of the knobs and switchgear are located logically and work easily and intuitively. Our tall, 6-foot-2 frame found plenty of room behind the steering wheel, which telescopes through lots of travel to accommodate the oversize Australians. And even with the front seat set to our liking, we also fit well in back, with knee and headroom to spare.

Outside, the Commodore SS shapes up into a taut, muscular wedge with short overhangs and a sense of purpose. A pinched front fender line with huge wheel flares emphasizes a wide-track look that is perfect for Pontiac. Australians apparently aren't afraid of bright colors, as our car's Redhot paint attests. Also available are Ignition (metallic orange-red), Morpheus (metallic purple), Impulse (metallic blue) and, of course, the requisite black, silver and white.

Good on Ya, Mates
The 2007 Holden Commodore SS is a legitimate rear-drive performance sedan that stands up well to comparisons with fine European cars. It hauls butt, rides and handles well, is a blast to drive and has killer looks. The lads from Oz are to be commended. Too bad Mad Max fled the country.

In the coming months, the Commodore will be released in several variants: a two-door coupe, a wagon and the ever-popular Ute that's unique to Australia. Lots of rumors link the coupe to the Stateside return of the Chevrolet Camaro. Less-certain talk surrounds the Ute, but it does look invitingly like a ready-made El Camino. Write your congressman.

What About U.S.?
What does all of this mean for the 2008 Pontiac G8? Lookswise, only the Commodore SS's hood, grille and front bumper are assuredly different from those of the G8. A V8 with fuel-saving displacement-on-demand is a certainty for the G8 GT. We fully expect all-season tires to be fitted, especially for the 18-inch size. Sophisticated Magna-ride dampers are a long shot for the Pontiac, but we should note that they are already fitted to certain special-edition, high-performance HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) examples of the Commodore.

The price of our Commodore SS test car comes to $48,328 AUD, about $37,500 U.S. When it debuts early next year, we expect a Pontiac G8 GT equipped like our Commodore SS to be priced closer to a lightly optioned Dodge Charger R/T around $33,000.

If the essence of the 2007 Holden Commodore SS remains intact, we have a shot at buying a world-class, rear-drive performance sedan from a Pontiac dealer. With G8 production limited to between 30,000 and 50,000 units at the Holden assembly plant in Elizabeth, Australia, many of which will be equipped with a V6 engine, you might actually have to stand in line to get a V8-powered 2008 Pontiac G8.

We'll know more by year's end. Cross your fingers. If a certain Mel G. gets in line, we'll know it's good.

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