Holden Commodore Executive Sedan Mar 1990 to Nov 1991 Buying Guide
Holden's half-baked 1988 VN Commodore was spared the public basting its Ford EA Falcon received in its first year, yet both cars suffered similar quality and durability problems. It was just that the big Ford was first. Nevertheless the VN gained a Wheel's Car of the Year award, a decision the magazine said in 2003 that it would not have made in hindsight (the Honda EF Civic was more deserving). Over the outgoing VL, the VN was almost all-new, with a new body, interior and drivetrain. But new didn't mean better: the US-made 3.8 V6 (which replaced the smooth and strong RB30 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine and electronic four-speed auto that Holden purchased from Nissan in Japan until currency fluctuations made that unviable) was already dated as well as noisy, vibratory and unrefined. Its four-speed auto was clunky. And that new wide body draped a noticably narrow track, for Holden used the 1978-vintage VB Commodore underpinnings. So the result was an awkward-looking car, a situation not really rectified until the beautifully proportioned VT arrived in 1997. Holden worked hard to right the early VN wrongs, with the Series II of 1990 gaining minor mechanical updates and a few trim changes to address these. But in the end, the VN has gone down in history as not one of Holden's better efforts, despite its success against the equally flawed - but far more handsome - Falcon of the day.
Space, V6 power and economy, cheap to run and maintain, big boot
We Don't Like:
No fold down rear seat, noisy and unrefined mechanicals, diabolical tail swings in the wet under hard acceleration, poor quality and some durability issues
The VN was the first new Commodore for 10 years and the first time since 1948 that Holden released a new body and engine in the same model. The VN is larger than the previous VB-VL models, making the interior space competitive with the EA Falcon which was similarly released in 1988. The styling is based on the European Opel Omega with a stretched floor pan from the VL while the engine and transmission were developed from US designs. This amalgamation came together surprisingly well and the VN won a car of the year award in 1988.
The Executive is the entry level model and power steering was standard equipment along with an AM/FM radio, tinted windows, intermittent wipers and driver's seat height adjustment. Air-conditioning and automatic transmission were popular options, particularly with fleet buyers. The initial quality glitches with the Commodore spurred GMH into introducing a program of running changes and improvements, most of which were in place by 1990. The 3.8-litre V6 did not follow the multi-valve fad and used pushrod operated valves and cast iron for the major engine components. The power output is 125kW with very strong low down torque. The engine had major revisions in 1990 which reduced engine noise and vibration and improved fuel economy. A five-speed manual transmission was standard but most buyers opted for the four-speed automatic which has a lock-up torque converter. The suspension uses MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front with a live rear axle and coil springs at the rear. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear.
Driver technique is the big influence on fuel consumption with large cars like the VN. Reasonable drivers can expect between 13.0L/100km and 15.0L/100km around town and 9.0L/100km to 10.0L/100km on the highway. The suspension provides a compliant ride and competent handling. Combined with the engine's strong low speed torque and a smooth automatic transmission, the Commodore has very good all round performance.
The VN is a tough and reliable car and most of the early assembly faults were rectified under warranty. Long life and low running costs are one of the reasons the Commodore is popular with fleet operators. There are some points to watch out for when buying a VN Commodore. Like the Ford Falcon, they were popular as taxis so make sure you are not buying a worn out former taxi. LP gas conversions should be checked to make sure they are correctly installed and meet state regulations. Service and spare parts costs are an area where the Commodore has its imported rivals at a disadvantage. Spare parts are comparatively cheap and there is lots of competition from alternative parts suppliers. A well preserved VN Commodore should provide years of reliable transport with very reasonable running costs.
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