Blaze of glory

FIRST FANG Commodore SSV Redline

by DAVID MORLEY pics CRISTIAN BRUNELLI

6.2 litres of LS3 V8 means the VF II Commodore SS is going out with a bang

BOUT THIS time a month ago, MOTOR kicked its way into Holdenís design studios, nailed a couple of engineers to the wall and grilled them on the upcoming VF Series II Commodore. Specifically the SS range. They sang like birds, too, but before Holden would let us out of the building, we had to swear, hand on heart, that weíd only tell you lot part of the story.

The rest would have to wait.

As it was, our little raid netted a bunch of information on what Holden has done to the VF platform to breathe life into it for the very last time. I even managed to talk my way into the seat of a prototype to listen to it start up. Hell, I got to rev it up. But now, with the Series II hitting showrooms, we can finally tell MOTOR readers not only whatís been done, but how they did it. And rather than just tell you how it sounds in a car park, we can finally lift the lid on what itís like to drive.

We covered the visual stuff on the new SS and SSV last time, but itís fair to say that the changes to the front fascia are as much about managing airflow as they are to differentiate the Series II from the Series I.

Mainly, that amounts to bonnet vents that extract hot air (and are carefully designed not to allow rainwater to get anywhere sensitive under the lid) and vents that channel air through the front at each side and out through the wheel-arch vents to reduce turbulence and, therefore, aero drag.

The Redline model now gets a Brembo rear brake package, which has allowed the engineers to fiddle with the rear end. See, where the location of the stock calipers limits exactly where the sway-bar can attach, the Brembos allow for a bar-mounting point much A farther outboard. So that means the bar can be shrunk from 28 to 25mm in diameter for better ride, yet still make for effective roll control because it now attaches to the lower control arm much further out from the fulcrum point. Itís the difference between having a fat kid sitting about a foot from the balance point of a see-saw, versus a skinny kid sitting way out on the tip at the other end. She still balances.

Under the lid, itís the noise that has changed most dramatically, but even then, the LS3 in the SS Commodore is a different animal to the one powering HSVís cars. Over the old L77, the differences amount to a bit more bore, a 10.7:1 compression ratio and a redline of 6600rpm, but mainly, the 304kW and 570Nm are obtained by a completely different set of exhaust parts to the HSV stuff, including the new intermediate mufflers and the active bits that gives the SS its new bi-modal yodel. Thatís a pair of valves on each side at the rear that look at throttle position, engine speeds, road speed and maybe even other stuff, and then open the valves when you goose that V8. You can turn the active exhaust off in the options menu, but why youíd do that is a mystery to me.

Thereís also a pair of very clever exhaust tips that come into play whenever the bi-modal valve opens. Called Baillie tips (after their inventor, Holden engineer Dave Baillie, who has sadly left the building) these feature a sleeved hole that allows noise to filter back into the car from underneath. Simple, but brilliant.

Then thereís a length of plastic tubing that looks like it might have been left over from a robotís autopsy. Itís fitted to the engine bay where it picks up those good vibrations and passes them into the cabin via the firewall. The trick is the rubber diaphragm half way along the tubing which damps out the high-frequency fizz and buzz and lets only the bass notes through to the cabin. Again, so simple it hurts.

Driving the SS Redline is about as bittersweet as it gets

Shorter overall gearing magnifi es the increased torque. Five seconds to 100 will be the order of the day

Love íní Loathe

Holden's 10 hits and misses

5 things we love

1. The noise

I canít remember a lairier sounding stock Holden. It proves that exhaust noise is like money or shelves in the shed: some is good, more is better.

2. The white, black, red combo

No, not the national flag of Yemen, but the SSV Redline in white with the black roof and red calipers. Tasty.

3. The brakes

Those Brembos on the Redline are some marvellous stoppers. Staying power galore and a great pedal feel.

4. The collectability factor

Youíre unlikely to lose money on a Series II SS over the longer term.

5. The passion

The people who built this car, love this car. And you can feel that depth of enthusiasm when you drive the SS.

5 things we loathe

1. It's got a drinking problem

I know it wonít bother the faithful, but an extra litre per 100km for the new car kind of grates a bit. No new model Commodore has ever gone backwards on fuel economy.

2. That blind spot

That thick A-pillar remains to hide anything smaller than a Airbus A380 when youíre turning right.

3. Chrome, everywhere

When itís applied to flat surfaces in and around the centre console to reflect every stray ray of sunlight.

4. Bit heavy

Canít help but wonder what a dead-set weapon this thing would be with 300kg lopped off its weighbridge ticket.

5. Sayin' seeya

Yep, this is the last Aussie-designed, Aussie-made big Holden weíll ever see. And there wonít be a V8 sedan after 2017. Sob.

So, how does it go then? Well, driving the new Redline is about as bittersweet as it gets. The sweet bit is pretty much everything the car does as a car.

It steers and handles remarkably well for such a big fella, yet never loses that suppleness weíve come to expect from the VF platform. The enlarged engine not only revs like crazy, it also has more torque, and that effect is magnified even further by the shorter overall gearing in the diff. Five-second dashes to 100km/h will be the order of the day, for sure.

But itís the noise that really grabs you by the whatsits.

Wail into it and it growls all the way to redline with the front and rear aspects of noise generation ensuring youíre getting a surround-sound experience. But even better is the down-low rumble when youíre using tall gears and big throttle openings. Holden admits it used stuff like the old atmo C63 AMG for its sound check, and it shows. It is at once muscular yet sophisticated and it will never get old, despite being just over twice as loud as the VF Series I.

Yet, cruise along on a whiff of juice and itís as subtle as any modern driveline with absolutely zilch in the way of booming or resonance at any constant-throttle speed. Thereís even a burpy pop on the over-run, which is a function of injecting a small amount of fuel even with a fully closed throttle. Cheeky, but we love it.

So whatís the bitter bit? Only that this is as good as it will get. Not that I believe for a moment that the Holden engineering team couldnít improve on it over time, but they wonít get the chance. This is the last hurrah. The final chapter. The last shout. Thatís all she wrote. Cue fat ladyÖ on a see-saw, probably. M

VF II SSV REDLINE

Interior is more or less carryover, but it's what's under the skin that counts BODY 4-door, 5-seat sedan DRIVE rear-wheel ENGINE 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v BORE/STROKE 103.25 x 92.0mm COMPRESSION 10.7:1 POWER 304kW @ 6000rpm TORQUE 570Nm @ 4400rpm POWER/WEIGHT 170kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1793kg FRONT SUSPENSION struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar REAR SUSPENSION multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar L/W/H 4966/1898/1471mm WHEELBASE 2670mm TRACKS 1593/1590mm (f/r) STEERING electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion FRONT BRAKES 355mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers REAR BRAKES 360mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers WHEELS 19.0 x 8.5-inch (f); 19 x 9.0-inch (r) TYRES 245/40 R19 (f); 275/35 R19 (r) Bridgestone Potenza RE050A PRICE AS TESTED $53,990 PROS Brilliant noise; lotsa grunt; great handling CONS Still a big girl; gotta say goodbye STAR RATING . . . . .