OMMODORE is going out with a bang. Or, in the V8’s case at least, a crackle and a pop. Holden’s new VF Series II range might look suspiciously similar to the 2013 VF that sired it, but all it takes is the press of a start button in anything wearing an SS badge to quickly discover the final Aussie Commodore’s beauty is in the details.
“Harder, better, faster, stronger.” That’s what buyers wanted.
Beyond its little-changed exterior, VF II is the first Commodore since 1985’s HDTfettled VK SS range to take sporting credentials so seriously. For the last four years, sports variants – meaning SV6, SS, SS-V and SS-V Redline – have made up almost 50 percent of the big Holden’s model mix, the V8 powering more than 30 percent of all Commodores. But not with the muscle and machismo V8 aficionados wanted it to.
Holden is likely to keep the odd surprise up its sleeve for deployment before reality finally bites in late 2017, but the VF II represents GM’s last serious lunge to the finish line Down Under before the Holden brand goes international.
What it means for buyers is two years of the greatest Commodore (and Calais and Caprice) ever produced, developed with passion by Holden’s all-Aussie design, engineering and manufacturing teams.
This time it’s for the petrolheads, and that means us.
IT TAKES a few moments to drink in the visual changes to VF II because they’re all subtle, or in some cases almost invisible.
The entry-level 3.0-litre Evoke sedan sneaks through wearing merely a stylised ‘Series II’ badge on its bootlid, but the Sportwagon receives the first visual change to its back end since it launched in 2008. New LED tail-lamps in a C shape hook around strip indicators that continue the horizontal line from the chrome tailgate applique, making the handsome wagon look even wider and tougher.
Calais and Calais V are the first VF II variants to appear noticeably different.
Each gets new wheels – polished thinspoke 18s with a charcoal base on Calais, and chunkier polished-spoke 19s with a lighter background on Calais V – while the sedans score new clear-lens tail-lights and broad ‘C-A-L-A-I-S’ lettering across their bootlids, like various ‘Premier’ models from Holden’s distant past.
If you want the folks in the beer garden to really notice your VF II, however, you’ll need a badge starting with an ‘S’.
Given the long-held buyer preference for sports models – the SV6 has been the top-selling Commodore variant since the VE in 2006 – Holden has focused heavily on the tougher stuff.
Headlights, grille and overall bonnet shape remain the same, but the entire front fascia is new. Neatly inset air ducts, embellished by a chrome blade highlighting their shape, reduce drag slightly and direct air towards the front brakes, while a reshaped lower grille opening increases cooling airflow for the SS models’ new V8 – signified by an ‘LS3 6.2-litre V8’ badge in the lower grille.
Of course, Calais V and Caprice also get the new LS3 V8, so clearly the engine doesn’t need the additional cooling efforts Holden has gone to. But given the likelihood of racetrack use with the range-topping SS-V Redline, the prevailing attitude was clearly “the more cooling, the better”.
Literally capping off the new sports look is a pair of bonnet vents, mounted near the back of the engine bay beyond the strut towers. While they are functional in extracting some hot air from the engine bay, the size of the openings mean it’s more about visually signifying the LS3’s extra mumbo, rather than needing to keep it from getting overly hot under the collar.
SS models get a luscious V8 crackle from quad rear pipes.
All sedans share the Calais’s clear-lens lights, while the lower garnish panel between the sedan’s exhaust has been painted gloss black. An optional glossblack roof is available on Redline sedan too, just like last year’s Craig Lowndes special (though only on Red Hot, Heron White or Jungle Green examples), as well as a larger rear wing than the classy standard item.
Black 20-inch wheels are also on the options menu, wearing split-width tyres (245/35R20 front, 275/30R20 rear) but all sports variants get new wheel designs.
SV6 and SS get chunky five-spoke 18s with brushed-alloy spokes, while SS-V features the same 19-inch wheel design as Calais V, but gets a shadow-chrome and darker inner colouring. SS-V Redline gets its own 19-inch wheel design, all in black.
Two new colour choices debut on VF II, one called Empire (pictured left), described as “a rich, olivey bronze”, available only on Calais, Calais V and Caprice V – and a new blue called Slipstream, “a chromatic sports colour” that adds some masculine flair to S-badged Commodores.
“Anything related to the exterior fell under my brief. We worked with engineering to make it more performance-oriented.
I’m especially proud of the fact that we didn’t have any conflicts with engineering; we actually collaborated with them right from the start.
“We’re hugely satisfied with what we’ve achieved with VF II, but they are always things you’d like to have done to go a step further – I’d have loved to have seen the track width pulled out further to get a wider offset on the wheels. It was never going to happen, but, hey, it would have looked great!
“As for working on the last Australian-made Holden; there’s a @wheelsaustralia 63 sense of sadness … but it quickly turned to a sense of celebration and pride; a sense of responsibility to do a really decent job of the last car coming out of Elizabeth.
“But we’ve got some exciting new domestic programs that we’ll be kicking off soon. There are some great stories to come over the next five to ten years.”
VF SERIES II is a car Holden refers to as the “ultimate Commodore”. Yet it was always about “getting the Lion roaring” again, according to lead development engineer Amelinda Watt. She was adamant the last major update to the Commodore would include a V8 with the meat and muscle it once stood for.
Says Ben Lasry, general manager of marketing: “One of the biggest dis-satisfiers … has been around the noise of the V8,” he admits. “We’ve been copping flack about sound for a while now.” Watt was insistent VF II would not have a “droney” note: “We just wanted it to sound good.”
First step was choosing the engine. The existing 6.0-litre Gen IV V8 was ruled out due to its lower outputs, and issues extracting the desired V8 sound from an engine with cylinder deactivation (Active Fuel Management, on 260kW automatic versions) as part of its fuel-saving measures.
The LS3 that ended up beneath the now-vented bonnet was the obvious choice.
HSV had extensively used the 6.2-litre once reserved for the Chevrolet Corvette, and Holden had been fitting them to export Pontiacs – the G8 – since 2008. The same V8 engine was later used in the Chevrolet SS that Holden began exporting from late 2013. It was a known quantity already engineered for the Zeta architecture.
But the LS3 wasn’t the only option.
Engineers also considered the L99 (a 6.2-litre used in the Chevrolet Camaro) and there was even discussion about the 7.0-litre LS7 – used in HSV’s W427 – but the additional development work and expensive dry-sump plumbing ruled it out.
So it was the LS3, an engine with which HSV has years of experience. From the outset the LS3 made a claimed 317kW in the upgraded E-Series range of 2008. Keep in mind, though, that HSV favours the DIN measurement that gives a higher reading rather than the ECE method used by
“My role on VF II is a broad one – it involves coordinating and bringing the team together; asking the right questions, pushing development, getting the right people focused in the key areas. It’s been a fantastic experience. We just all love this car. Everyone has put their heart and soul into it. We wanted to get it right.
“We’re proud of the the way the whole package has come together … and it sounds just right. I think we’ve nailed it!
From here, it’s a case of more of the same; my job is to make the cars I look after exactly right.”
HOLDEN is adamant the 304kW power figure – matching the cubic-inch measurement of the 5.0-litre V8 developed for Group A racing and used in various Holdens from 1985 to 2000 – is a coincidence and not a carefully concocted marketing ploy to celebrate the brand’s performance heritage.
Chief engineer Andrew Holmes instructed his team to extract the biggest number possible from the 6.2-litre LS3 and “make sure it doesn’t start with a two”.
The engine was tested to the ECE standard and easily made it beyond the 300kW target. By the end of the two-year development cycle “there was nothing left”; fitting extractors was out of the question due to assembly complexities.
“We couldn’t get anything more [out of the engine].”
FOR the first time in a Commodore, fuel use has increased. The V8 models now use 12.9L/100km when fitted with a manual and 12.6L/100km in auto form. That’s an increase of 12 percent and 10 percent respectively over the VF models they replace.
You have to go back to 2010 to find a Commodore that used more petrol than the current V8 crop. But Holden made the call that performance and noise were more important than saving fuel. “We’re responding to what the customers are after,” says chief engineer Andrew Holmes. “If you buy the V6, fuel economy is very much part of what we do. When it comes to the V8, people are telling us, ‘give us more grunt’.”
As well as the more powerful LS3 engine, the shorter final-drive ratio makes for higher fuel use.
But Holden says that, despite what the official ADR fuel label says, customers shouldn’t notice a big step up in real-world fuel use. And for the record, the performance figures were achieved using 98-octane premium unleaded. Holden says the V8 will run happily on regular unleaded, but prefers at least 95RON premium.
Holden (in government documentation claims its 340kW-marketed engine makes only 326kW).
Holden attributes most of the additional grunt in HSVs to the extractors that simply can’t be fitted to V8 Commodores on Elizabeth production line.
Peak power outputs weren’t the main goal however (see breakout), providing a minimum 300kW number could be achieved.
The VF II V8’s torque peak of 570Nm matches that of HSV’s most powerful LS3.
Changes to the rear axle’s final-drive ratio promised to hasten the V8’s acceleration and performance through the gears. The manual gets lowered from 3.45 to 3.73:1, while the auto drops from 2.92 to 3.27.
Engineers say they would’ve loved to have used those ratios in VE and VF generations, but in the manual in particular the gearing didn’t work. It would have necessitated another gearchange (from second to third) for the 0-100km/h sprint. The LS3’s higher rev limit – the electronic limiter kicks in at 6600rpm, up on the 6.0-litre’s 6000rpm – allows the manual to hit 100km/h in second.
As for performance figures, after many years of secrecy, Holden is finally claiming official numbers. One-up, the engineers achieved 4.9sec to 100km/h in the six-speed manual and 5.0sec for the six-speed auto, with 400m times of 13.0 and 13.1. They’re all a good half-second clear of what the 6.0-litre was capable of.
With performance sorted, the focus was then on the sound. “Sound was more important to us than kilowatts,” admits chief engineer Andrew Holmes. At least once the 300kW goal was achieved.
Hol HSV mak H LS3 simp the Pe Holden considered all manner of methods to bolster the sound, including amplifying it through the speakers (ala BMW M3/M5 and Ford Mustang Ecoboost). But it was decided the noise needed to be natural. Engineers looked at the two obvious sources of sound – induction and exhaust. Both received attention to enhance its newfound lungs.
Up front the induction uses piping running from the front of the air intake to the firewall, with a baffle in the centre to amplify it to the right note and volume.
It’s then attached to the firewall, where it bellows the V8’s growl into the cabin.
Otherwise, under the bonnet of the Series II is identical to the original VF, right down to the dull black plastic engine cover.
Out back crackles a bi-modal exhaust, which uses a flap to divert sound through the quad pipes according to throttle position and whether the driver has it set in Sport mode through the colour touchscreen.
Rather than using HSV’s bi-modal exhaust, Holden chose a unique set-up. Again, it was all about building the character.
Just as much effort went into chasing aural quality. The blip on start-up costs a fraction of fuel on the official fuel cycle, but the delicious burble and crackle reminds us of Jaguar’s F-Type V8, and that’s a huge compliment. LS3-engined Calais V and Caprice V V8s receive neither the induction piping, nor the bi-modal exhaust, but their outputs mirror the SS models, and Holden’s engineers claim they still sound significantly meatier than before.
The result is the fastest, most aggressive Commodore ever. And it’s likely to stay that way for some time.
“As you’d figure from my title, I was tasked with overseeing the engineering of VF II and injecting more flavour into the V8.
“I was delighted that the company gave me enough freedom to build a bit of a polarising car. In the past we had tried to be everything to everyone and we were always scared of having a polarising car.
This time around we’ve built a polarising car and it’s aggressive – it’s more aggressive than we would have ever done before.
“That’s not to say I wouldn’t have quietly loved to see even more – like the LS7 [7.0-litre V8].
I really would have liked another 100 horsepower! But there’s some other stuff to come [before production finishes in 2017] and it’s really interesting; it’s not just faffing around with stickers.
“Beyond that, we are still planning to have a proving ground. There will still be a Commodore; it will just come from somewhere else. I’m really positive about it. This is as cool as it gets. It’s the job of a lifetime.”
WITH the exception of the V8 engine, most of the Commodore family drives as it did following an MY15 update that tweaked the steering in FE1-suspended cars late last year. Same suspension, same tyres and same feel.
But the FE3 suspension reserved for Redline versions of the SS-V sedan, wagon and ute has been modified for better performance, control and comfort.
Peer under the rear of the Redline and there’s a significantly broader anti-roll bar that now sits closer to the edge of the wheels. While it’s slightly thinner than the carryover component on regular SS variants, it’s said to offer better stiffness and control, allowing the rear springs to be softened slightly without upsetting handling. It also allows the car to squat better, in turn improving traction out of corners. It’s all about making the most of the extra grunt of the LS3 V8.
Fitting such a bigger anti-roll bar was enabled by adding new four-piston Brembo rear calipers (now painted red to match the four-pistons up front). It’s the
FOR the first time, Holden will offer a factory-fitted 20-inch splitwheel option for the Commodore, allowing an easy step up from the 19-inch split-tyre package that’s been standard on the VF SS-V Redline and continues with Series II. Running 245/35R20 tyres up front and 275/30R20s at the rear, the 20-inch set-up is designed to make the most of the 304kW/570Nm V8’s grunt while better filling the bold wheelarches that have long been a styling signature of the VE/VF Commodore.
Holden collaborated with Bridgestone on the new 20-inch tyre package, tweaking the compound of the Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber. The goal was to mimic the grip and control of the 19s.
With the optional 20s now factory fitted, rather than at dealer level, the cost of stepping up to a larger wheel and tyre package is significantly reduced.
same brake package engineered for the limited-edition Lowndes Commodore sold late in 2014. As well as the bigger calipers, the Brembos clamp larger discs intended to significantly improve heat dissipation, ensuring that repeated high speed stops don’t lead to pedal fade. The previous Redline was already strong in the braking department, but the VF II should take that to a new level.
The SS and SS-V still make do with the regular Commodore brake package that was already challenged with 270kW of grunt. But for the first time Holden will offer the front brake set-up from the export Chevrolet PPV (police patrol vehicle) as an option. It only gets a single-piston front caliper (down from twins in the standard set-up), but the discs increase from 321mm to 345mm to provide almost three times the fade resistance on repeated stops from 170km/h.
As well as the Lang Lang Proving Ground in Victoria, engineers embarked on extensive test programs that covered the Alpine Ranges, the Great Ocean Road and plenty of flying laps of Phillip Island.
Lead dynamics engineer Rob Trubiani says the Zeta architecture has “always been incredibly capable” and that “the chassis is still not stretched” with the 304kW 6.2-litre LS3.
More impressively, engineers claim the new architecture for the rear anti-roll bar has enabled a rare sweet spot to be achieved – better handling combined with a more supple ride, even wearing optional 20s.
“I started in 1996 in the chassis group, then moved on to tuning vehicle dynamics. For VF Series II, my role involved tuning all of the suspension; we redid the FE3 tune for sedan, wagon and ute. We also developed a new 20-inch tyre with Bridgestone.
“I’m especially proud of the fact we’ve been able to get even more comfort in the Redline models without degrading any of the handling characteristics.
“It’s been an especially exciting project because of the LS3 engine. We’re very familiar with the bigger V8 because of the export program; everyone has been excited to finally get that engine into a Holden for Australians, rather than just overseas customers.
“Of course I’ll miss the Australian Commodore when it’s gone; it’s nice knowing the assembly plant is not far away. And when you see them on the road, you know that’s the car you developed and it was built locally.
“But there’s lots more in store for my department; local dynamics tuning as well as input into global programs.”
“The VR Commodore of 1990 was where I began at Holden. I also did design work for the Monaro and was the lead exterior designer on the VE Commodore.”
“I started in 1988 and initially worked on the Toyota version of the VN Commodore. I was lead exterior designer for VT Commodore and chief designer for WH Statesman/Caprice. I worked in Detroit in the mid-1990s and now head the Australian design team.”
“I was originally a suspension engineer working on VT Commodore in 1995.
I then looked after brakes before becoming the vehicle system engineer on Camaro. I went on to become engineering manager for VF before becoming chief engineer in 2013.”
“I started in 1997 as a foundry metallurgist then moved on to facilities engineer, looking after the 3800 engine then the Alloytec HFV6. I moved to engineering and validation in 2006.”
“My background was in sales; I started in 1998. I went on to become Victorian fleet manager and later moved into sales operations. As of 2015, I’m in charge of marketing.”
“It was back in 1996, working on the VT Commodore program, that I started at Holden. I’ve been tuning the Commodore’s chassis ever since. My role now encompasses tuning of all vehicle dynamics.”
AS WITH the engineering and design work, the emphasis for the sales pitch of VF Series II is the sports models – SV6, SS, SS-V and SS-V Redline. They’re the models with the bulk of the changes.
They’re also the models now accounting for the bulk of Commodore sales – more than 50 percent in 2015, up from 18 percent when VE arrived in 2006. The drop in fleet sales of base Commodores would have some impact on the model split, but SV6 has been Australia’s favourite big Holden for close to a decade.
“People want a sports sedan,” says general manager of marketing Ben Lasry.
“Not just private buyers … we’ve seen a shift with fleets.”
And it’s the V8 that’s the focus of the marketing campaign. As well as the design tweaks, expect the focus to be on the character and thrill of driving a V8. “The V8 will get a fair bit of attention,” admits Lasry.
The TV and online ads will focus on the efforts gone into beefing up the sound, or making “the Lion roar again”, referencing the model’s mix. “It could potentially at launch.”
Commodore owners will be hit list. Fishermans Bend V8 customers are happy Aussie muscle car once The thinking is that tempted by more power and about 1.5 million Commodore database … we’re going these people lust after the says Lasry. “We want them this car. This is not a want, the challenge will be respectable sales until the closed in late 2017. typically throw more car as it reaches its run-out Holden’s VF II Commodore will quantity. Its replacement and that could be faithful to argue it won’t Commodore.
as Holden describes it. Lasry also says those V8s could make up more than half of Commodore sales, especially at the beginning and end of the VF II’s life.
In 2014, 35 percent of all Commodores, Caprices and Utes sold had the muscle of a V8 engine. Lasry is expecting that strong percentage to grow even further, and for the first time in Holden’s history its V8 models could account for more than half of its large car sales.
“We’d be expecting it to go a bit north of AS WITH the engineering work, the emphasis for the VF Series II is the sports SS-V and SS-V Redline. They’re with the bulk of the changes.
They’re also the models for the bulk of Commodore than 50 percent in 2015, 18 percent when VE arrived drop in fleet sales of base would have some impact split, but SV6 has been Australia’s favourite big Holden for “People want a sports general manager of marketing “Not just private buyers shift with fleets.”
And it’s the V8 that’s the marketing campaign. As well tweaks, expect the focus to character and thrill of driving will get a fair bit of attention,” The TV and online ads the efforts gone into beefing sound, or making “the Lion that,” Lasry says, referencing the model’s current high V8 mix. “It could potentially be around 50-50 at launch.”
Existing Commodore owners will be high on Holden’s hit list. Fishermans Bend knows many of its V8 customers are happy and will miss the Aussie muscle car once it’s gone for good. The thinking is that many will be tempted by more power and more noise.
“We’ve got about 1.5 million Commodore customers on our database … we’re going to make sure these people lust after the VF Series II,” says Lasry. “We want them to have to have this car. This is not a want, it’s a need.” But the challenge will be maintaining respectable sales until the production line is closed in late 2017.
Car makers typically throw more incentives at a car as it reaches its run-out phase, but Holden’s VF II Commodore will be an unknown quantity. Its replacement will be imported, and that could be enough for the faithful to argue it won’t be a real Commodore.
THE VF Series II is the last major change to the Commodore before local production ceases in 2017. But there’s more to come over the remaining two and a bit years, including limited editions and celebratory models closer to the production closure. (Holden has registered the names Bathurst and Panorama, giving an idea of what might be in the pipeline.)
There’s also likely to be equipment upgrades as Series II nears the end.
One thing locked into the engineering slate is development work for the V6 engine to prepare it for stricter Euro 5 emissions standards in November 2016.
Given the engineering resources and costs required, it’s likely only the 3.6-litre will be upgraded while the 3.0-litre version will be quietly shelved.
The 3.6 is expected to maintain similar 210kW/350Nm outputs, but receive changes to its exhaust and engine control systems to meet a 25 percent reduction in nitrous oxide and limit the amount of non-methane hydrocarbons.
72 wheelsmag.com.au “My work with VF Series II only started recently; to oversee the car’s launch, get dealers enthused, make sure they understand the product. And it’s been an absolute honour to be involved with the last Australian-made Holden. They call me Mr Commodore internally. It’s all I drive; it’s all I ever will drive.
“I feel we’ve struck a great balance between refinement and technology versus driving excitement … and value for money.
“As for the end of local manufacturing, of course I’ll miss the fact we have a big control over what we’re doing, that it’s built in our backyard. But beyond this, we’re looking at all sorts of stuff have a big celebration at the end [of local manufacturing].
Don’t worry; there will be something special.”