It’s 2016 – just how far has the performance Commodore come? At just under $76K, is the Redline an alternative to a much more expensive Euro performance car, or even a high-performance American car?
Drive Life took one for a week-long test to find out if the new, bigger LS3 engine and suspension mods have transformed this car into a Euro-beater.
While the Redline looks like so many other Commodores, it does have its own distinctive touches. A small ‘LS3’ badge on the front bumper, some sexy little louvres in the bonnet, a nice little lip spoiler on the boot. It’s not a bad looker by any means, and side-on those black rims make it stand out more. But if you bought a grey/silver one (and I expect most of them will be) then it’s going to look even less different – and I expect some people will like that.
There are some nicely integrated DRLs on the front set it off, and those bright red Brembo brakes on all wheels give it a focal point when looking at the side of the Redline, and the SS badge on the rear doors is a dead giveaway.
The boot is surprisingly deep, and seems to go back a mile. Lifting the spare wheel cover shows a full-size spare – yes! No pumps or repair kits, here, just a good ‘ole spare. Even so the boot is still bordering on deep.
A nice, leather-trimmed interior looks inviting, and in fact is a really nice place to spend a good amount of time. With the power tilt/slide sunroof blind back, it’s reasonably light and pretty spacious too. The suede touches on the dash and front doors are a nice feature, and give it an air of quality and sportiness at the same time.
At $75,900, it’s surprising what you don’t get as far as equipment goes. You get a power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjust, but no power passenger’s seat and no power steering wheel adjust. No heated front seats either – you need to go to the Calais for that. You get cruise control, but no radar assist.
But hey, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of goodies There’s remote start from the key fob (not available with the manual gearbox version), a Heads-Up Display, Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, paddle shifters (auto only of course), keyless start, dual zone AC, projection headlamps, and a 9-speaker Bose audio system with ‘Pandora’ internet music streaming service.
You also get a reversing camera of course, and Park Assist with is sensors front and rear, as well as Advanced Parking Assist, which is Holden’s self-parking feature. Safety wise, you get a 5-star ANCAP rating, Side Blind Zone Alert for people trying to come into your lane, an electric parking brake (with auto-release on acceleration), Hill Start Assist, Forward Collision Alert, and Lane Departure Warning (passive).
If you buy the manual gearbox, you also get Launch Control to bring out your inner-racer.
Mechanically is the Redline really shines, and it makes the car. The Redline is fitted with the new LS3 6.2L, 304Kw engine (the LS2 had just 6.0 litres).
Actually the SS ($62,990) and SSV ($70,490) models have same engine, but the Redline is at the top of the Commodore range before you get to the Calais.
The lovely LS3 OHV motor puts out maximum power at 6,000 rpm, and maximum torque of 570Nm at 4,400 rpm. This is put onto the road via a 6-speed auto and thankfully a limited slip diff. The engine is fitted with the Bi-Modal exhaust feature, which I feel may be the only reason some people buy this car – and I can’t blame them for that. There are butterfly valves in the exhausts that open up fully after you get to a certain point of throttle opening. At that point, it’s all on noise-wise, out the quad exhaust.
Actually the Redline has another noise-trick up its sleeve. It’s fitted with a ‘Mechanical Sound Enhancer’. What is that? In basic terms, it’s a pipe that runs from the front of the engine and sends engine noise into the cabin. I kid you not. Does it work? Oh yes, and it works very well thank you.
Third addition to the “let’s make it sound good” engineering is the ‘Baillie Exhaust Tip’, designed by a Holden Engineer. The tip consists of a unique opening in the exhaust that reverberates sound back through the exhaust towards the cabin, increasing the overall sound level up to 10 percent. You might ask why, but then why not?
Putting this power on the road is 19” rims all round, 8.5” on the front and 9” on the rear, with 20” alloys an option. Very low profile Bridgestone Potenza 245/40 tyres are fitted, and are nicely tuned to work with the suspension.
What’s it like to live with?
That engine…it burbles along all docile and quiet, like it wouldn’t hurt a fly, then a small jab of the go pedal, the Bi-Modal exhaust comes in and it sings. Well, more like shouts. Loudly. It sounds bloody fantastic. Put it this way; I carry a pad and pen with me in test cars, and jot down notes about the car while I’m using it, basically so I don’t forget. At one point after using the throttle a little too much, I stopped and wrote down, “there is thunder coming out of the exhaust pipes”. Grin inducing or what! You can turn off the Bi-Modal exhaust, but I don’t expect many people will.
When cold, the engine actually shakes a little like an old school highly-tuned, lumpy V8, but this just adds to the experience. Once warm, I think you could almost balance a 20 cent piece on the engine, it’s that smooth.
It really is one of those cars with a Jekyll and Hyde personality. When tottering around, you could easily be driving the V6 model, but it doesn’t take that much gas pedal for those exhausts to open up, and you hear that engine loud and clear.
The 6-speed auto is perfect, and is a great match for the engine. It would have been interesting to drive the manual, I expect you could almost leave it in top gear everywhere with that much torque. Flicking the shift lever over to manual automatically puts the transmission settings into Sport Mode, which is handy. You can of course use the lever or the paddle shifters to change gear in manual mode, and these will reward you with a little throttle blip as it changes down. Nice.
Even with those 19” rims, the Redline has quite a compliant ride, a little bumpy at times but no where near as bad as I expected it to be. Does the handling suffer? Not at all – in fact on my Favourite Handling Road, the Redline did very well. The brakes were excellent, the grip bordering on excellent – to be expected with those wide, low profile tyres. There was a bit more body roll than I had expected, but the road I took it on really pushes a car with some 10 and 20km/h corners. I did find I had to concentrate hard to get around corners quickly – this is a car that demands your full attention when pushing hard. Still fun though, and with an added bonus of lots of crackling from the exhaust when you are on the twisty bits.
The steering feeling was excellent – you really get a sense of what the front wheels are doing when pushing on. Holden engineers have spent lots of time tuning the rear multi-link suspension, and it’s paid off Big Time. For a big car, this car does very well as a sports sedan.
I drove the Redline in torrential rain at one point, for about 50 kilometres. I will admit to being a little nervous. All that power and water across the motorway? I needn’t have worried, even with those 9” wide rear rims, there was zero sign of aquaplaning, and the Redline just sat firm on the motorway.
In the dry, you would think with 304Kw there would be issues with grip in a straight line, if you give it the gas. Well I can report that on a private road (naturally), full-throttle and traction control on, straight-line acceleration sees well controlled wheelspin – mainly acceleration, and plenty of it. No doubt the LSD plays a major part here as well. Of course if you are turning and accelerating, you will lose traction, but it’s all very controllable and dare I say quite a bit of fun?
Brakes as you would expect, are superb with big rotors and chunky Brembos all round. In fact I felt the Holden’s brakes were a highlight. Holden sets the standard here for pedal feel; it’s spot on. You can modulate the brakes perfectly and always know just how much pressure you are giving them. The downside? They squeak a lot when they are cold, and sometimes when warm too. According to Holden New Zealand, this is not a common problem and two people I spoke to who drive Redlines said this wasn’t an issue with their cars, so probably just a one-off, or it needed new pads. In any case the brakes were much better than compared the recent test of the Chrysler 300 SRT, which also had Brembo brakes, but were super-touchy.
The paddle shifters are handy when you want some more noise; just cruise down a hill and use them for engine braking, and wait for the crackle pop crackle of the exhaust. Sounds just so good.
So the driving experience overall is excellent. What about the rest of the car?
Overall the Holden totally surprised me with just how refined it really is. No squeaks or rattles, everything put together well…it’s not that other cars aren’t made as well and you sure don’t expect a new car to rattle, but the overall sense of the car is a refined quality.
Problems in day to day use? There is an information display between the speedo and rev counter, as is pretty normal these days, but the Menu button to cycle between items is on the indicator stalk, behind the paddle shifter. Awkward is one word for it; just plain difficult to use and I wonder how someone with much bigger fingers than me would get on.
The audio controls on the steering wheel had me a bit frustrated; for changing tracks, they use a wheel than you spin up and down, as some other manufacturers do. The problem with this is – and I’ve struck this with the other cars too – is that it’s really hard while you are driving to scroll the wheel up to change tracks. It either doesn’t change tracks because you haven’t pushed it far enough, or you accidentally push the wheel in without knowing it and it changes to the radio, and that then blares out loudly. Just give me track up/down buttons please Mr Holden.
The colour Heads-Up Display is brilliant. Perfectly placed (adjustable of course) and having your speed right there in front of you can’t be beat. You can cycle through a few different display options here, like G forces, the gear you are in if in manual mode, or a rev counter. Each one still shows you the posted speed limit, which is nice. Having your turns show up in the HUD when using the SatNav is great too. But one thing I wish Holden would change for the HUD though is the outside air temperature which shows on all the displays. I’m not sure that’s something I care enough about to want to see it all the time on the windscreen. It would be better to show the time, or probably better again with 304Kw, the distance to empty.
This is a comfy interior though, plenty of legroom in the rear and all the seats are built for long-distance comfort. I thought the MyLink system was ok, but felt a bit antiquated. Still it did the job, and the sound from the Bose audio system was excellent. The boot really is massive, being wide, deep and long.
When you are running a 400 horse-power V8, you are going to use some gas. With the bi-modal exhaust and Mechanical Sound Enhancer, even more so. I averaged 12.9 l/100km, which is pretty high compared to your average highly-tuned euro.
Amazingly, this is Holden’s exact combined usage figure – the first time ever I’ve managed to get it spot on.
What it’s up against
If you want a V8 car under $100K, your options are limited. As far as Commodores go, I think someone will either buy a Commodore or a Falcon and that’s it. But there are other options, they just cost more…except the Falcon. I think it’s time to knock on Ford’s door and see if they are up for the challenge.
|Make/Model||Engine||Power, Kw||Torque, NM||Fuel Economy, combined, L/100KM||0-100 km/h, seconds||Price, highest to lowest|
|HSV R8||6.2L OHV V8||400||671||15||4.6||$102,490|
|Chrysler 300 SRT||6.4L OHV V8||350||631||13||5.0||$98,990|
|Holden Commodore VFII SSV Redline||6.2L OHV V8||304||570||12.9||4.9||$75,990|
|Ford Falcon XR8||5.0L DOHC VVT V8||335||570||13.7||5.5||$69,990|
The Good and the Bad
What do we think of it?
It looks like ‘just another Commodore’. On the other hand, with 304Kw under the bonnet, this could be a good thing for some people, who like to know no one will take a second look at that Commodore going past, but the driver knows what’s under the bonnet – and can let it be known with a short stab on the gas. Is this the ultimate Q-Car? Probably not with those rims and bright-red Brembos. But buy a grey one and melt into the other traffic, if that’s what you want.
For $76K this car is still great value. Yes the XR8 is $6k less and has 30 more Kw, but the sound this engine makes with its enhancers is entrancing, and the build quality is excellent. Is it a great all-rounder? Is it a Euro-beater? Yes, I believe so. Huge boot, 5 seats and 4 doors, and great performance, good price. But I’m just not sure how many people it will draw away from the Euro performance sedans.
Hey keep in mind if you don’t want a sedan, get the Redline Ute or the Redline Wagon…something for everyone with that engine.
There was little to dislike on the Redline. Most of the things I didn’t like faded once you start driving the Redline. It’s a worthy 4.0 Chevron car.
Many thanks to Brendan Foot Motors for supplying us with the Commodore Redline.
Read more about the Redline on Holden New Zealand’s website.
|Vehicle Type||Front Engined, RWD Luxury Sports Sedan|
|Starting Price||$62,990 NZD|
|Tested Price||$ 75,990 NZD|
|Engine||Petrol 6.2-lite OHV V8|
|Transmission||6-speed automatic (6-speed manual option)|
|Length x Width x Height||4947 x 1898 x 1471 mm|
|Fuel Efficiency||Combined – 12.9 L/100km|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5-Star|