Holden’s new hero

The SS badge is out and VXR is in, but don’t abandon hope. Hotter GM models are coming

ANDY ENRIGHT

HOLDEN’S announcement that the flagship of its next-gen Commodore range will wear a VXR badge signals the end of the line for the much-loved SS moniker. This clean break with the past appears a clear signal of intent, underscoring the change in focus from rear-wheel drive V8s to something very different.

In repositioning the Commodore, it also opens the door for ever higher performance models to slot into GM-Holden showrooms.

“It was a really natural decision for us,” said Holden spokesperson Sean Poppitt of the decision to choose the VXR badge.

“This is not a direct V8 or SS replacement. There’s no question of us reusing that name, so we can retire it gracefully.

“It’s been an amazing nameplate for us for a number of years, but this is about moving forward. We’ve had Astra VXR and Insignia VXR. What it means is a performance-orientated variant; not the performance halo,” he explained.

The much-rumoured hero cars at the top of the Holden range are coming, though. “Don’t forget, we still have the sports car – or cars – coming to the market, which will really fill that performance halo for us,” confirmed Poppitt.

In other words, the 235kW Commodore VXR isn’t going to be the alpha male in the lion pride for too long, fuelling speculation that right-hand drive Camaro and Corvette are certainties.

While the Commodore VXR offers a new focus, there remains a continuity in the local tuning of this model. Rob Trubiani, Holden’s chassis guru, is keen to stress local input. “We’ve got 40 years of experience in developing Commodore, so we have a strong understanding of what the Australian public wants out of our large car,” he said. “The team that is working on next-gen is the team that has worked on previous Commodores.”

Development work is still ongoing, with the calibration of the VXR’s three drive modes being a big part of the Aussie tuning process. “There’s a standard or default mode, and then a sports and a track mode,” said Trubiani.

“I certainly don’t look to try to get extremes out of them,” he admitted. “I don’t want the first mode to be really soft. It’s still a VXR. It’s got to be a sporty, capable car and I didn’t want to make track mode a boneshattering ride either,” he said.

“Torque vectoring has given us some really fun and interesting things we can do with the car.”

Enough to make it feel rear-wheel drive? “You can apply more torque on the outside wheel and get the car to rotate into the corner. The sports mode allows that aggressive turn-in because the vectoring gives you that freedom in the tuning.”

Trubiani’s clearly enthused about the new chassis.

Poppitt, meanwhile, is nothing if not realistic about the fact that Holden needs the biggest bang for its buck in terms of breadth of offering. “We’ll have the wagon and the hatchback obviously, in 2.0-litre turbo as well as V6 format,” he said, in effect rubberstamping a forthcoming 3.6-litre VXR wagon.

Six sells

While V8 models fire the passion of enthusiasts, over the 10 years nearly 80 percent Commodore sales have been V6s. And of those, the sportstuned SV6 has been far and away Holden’s biggest seller. assion past nt of een ortsaway .