Space, performance, economy, comfort, cheap to run and maintain
We Don't Like:
Engine and auto gearbox unrefined, build quality inconsistent
When the Commodore was introduced in 1978 to eventually replace the HQ-based HZ Kingswood range, it represented a brave attempt by General Motors to "downsize" the traditional Aussie six. Pitching the German-designed Commodore against the "full-sized" Falcon, the General hoped the public would accept the benefits of a lighter, more economical - if less roomy - car. The gamble failed and GM had to bring the Commodore back to full size to compete with Ford, which has never wavered in its concept of the big Aussie six.
The introduction of the wide-bodied VN model in 1988 brought the Commodore back into direct size competition with the Falcon. The VN body style was maintained through the VP, VPII, VR and VS models before being replaced by the all-new VT. The series introduced a new American-designed V6 engine which replaced the transitional but popular Nissan straight six of the VL model. The VR represented a major revamp of the VN/VP range, introducing safety features including a driver's side airbag (an Australian- made first), revisions to engine calibration and suspension geometry, and an electronic module which controls both engine and automatic transmission operation.
The model range covers the base model Executive, the Acclaim, the Berlina and the Calais, in ascending order of price and standard equipment. A 5.0-litre V8 engine is an option throughout. The 3.8-litre V6 engine which powers the VR is upgraded from the previous VP model with an extra 3kW of power and 2Nm of torque. Increased compression ratio and a better engine management system give improved fuel economy over the already good VP. An electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission or five-speed manual box drives the rear wheels. Suspension is by MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front, and live rear axle sprung on coils and located by four trailing arms and Watts linkage. A good independent coil spring rear suspension is available as an option. The front suspension was heavily redesigned from the VP with wider track and revised settings, resulting in a better handling package. Brakes are discs all round, ventilated at the front, with vacuum power-assistance. Anti-lock brakes were an option.
VR styling is wedge shaped with a low bonnet line and high boot line. The front and rear bumpers are plastic, single moulded pieces. Inside, the trim combinations are pleasant shades of grey with comfortable bucket seats, stalk wiper control and a chunky steering wheel with bulky centre boss to house the airbag. Interior room is generous as is the luggage space in the high boot. Standard equipment includes an alarm system, central locking, power mirrors, power steering, four-speaker radio/cassette, adjustable steering column and front seatbelt webbing clamps. Driver's airbag, independent rear suspension and air-conditioning were major options.
Fuel economy is a high point of the VR Commodore. The high gearing and sleek shape combine to give surprisingly good highway economy of 9.5L/100km. City economy varies according to driving conditions and habits. In service, the VR has had problems with engine oil leaks from the rear main bearing seal and sump gasket, and automatic transmission oil cooler hoses coming loose. The latter problem should have been rectified under warranty by a GM dealer.
The VR Commodore Executive shows marked improvements in handling and performance over the previous VP model. It is a roomy, comfortable, full-sized family car, well finished and economical on a trip but with a few niggling quality problems. The GMH service back-up is excellent and the VR is good value for money.