Holden Commodore Executive LPG Sedan Aug 2001 to Oct 2002 Buying Guide
Holden management are the first to admit the VXII Commodore upgrade had a mechanical orientation rather than a visual one. As a result, it will take a keen eye to spot the differences on the base-model Executive. New plastic wheel covers, a small revision to the grille and a new range of colours (including a vibrant chromatic metallic yellow) are the most obvious clues.
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Dash & Controls
Dash & Controls
The Commodore dash aims to create a wrap-around feel. It is driver-oriented, with a five-degree tilt on everything facing the driver, however the centre console controls are still accessible to the front passenger. Large gauges are used in the instrument cluster for the speedometer, tachometer, temperature and fuel readings. A trip computer is also fitted and shows information such a distance-to-empty estimate, trip distance and time to go and an audible and visual speed warning (four adjustable settings). A service reminder will also appear in the instrument binnacle 1000km before the next service is due.
Improved controls for the right-hand indicator stalk and the left-hand wiper stalk debuted on the VXII Commodore. Functionality of the optional cruise control has also improved. The rest of the Commodore cockpit is familiar, with steering wheel reach and height adjustment, audio controls on the steering wheel, electric driver's seat height adjustment, electric mirror switchgear on the driver's door, an internal fuel release on the driver's door and a boot release button inside the (lockable) glovebox. Windows on the Executive must be wound manually. The headlights, operated with a dial on the right-hand side of the dash, have an automatic switch-off function if the car ignition is turned off for more than one hour.
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Stand Out Features
With every upgrade, Holden builds some additional value into the base-model Commodore Executive - and VXII was no exception. There's little to report in terms of standard equipment (standard fitment of an alarm is the one exception) or change in appearance. And, enthusiastic drivers aside, most people will not notice much difference in the way the car drives. Yet little (and long-overdue) items such as improved indicator and cruise control stalks leave a strong impression. It still lacks a few important features such as a passenger's airbag, however, Executive is still an excellent all-rounder.
Air-conditioning is available as an option on Commodore Executive. Vents are provided for both front and rear occupants and the climate controls are mounted high on the dash fascia to make adjustment a relatively simple task. The major switchgear comprises three rotary dials for the usual functions of fan speed, temperature and air distribution. Buttons for the air-conditioning on/off (if fitted) and rear demist are on the far left-hand side. Testing of the system was carried out in Western Australia, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Dubai, Arizona and the Holden climate tunnel at Fishermens Bend. The air-conditioning system is designed to reduce a cabin temperature of 80 degrees Celsius (achieved with an hour of full sun) to a comfortable level after 20 minutes of driving at a steady speed of 50km/h.
Commodore Executive has an electronic-tune AM/FM radio with a single-disc CD player fitted standard. Six speakers with a total of 80 watts are provided throughout the cabin. Adjustment is made via the large user-friendly head unit in the dash, which is supported with basic controls on the steering wheel. The radio has a local/distant selector switch and automatic station store memory. A power antenna with automatic up/down is also provided. A higher-grade 160-watt sound system with a 10-disc CD changer is available as an option.
The security rating of lower-grade Commodores gained a boost with the VXII upgrade when an alarm became standard across the range. This system is operated via the remote central locking keypad and sounds the vehicle's horn when triggered. The so-called "power key" also operates the interior lighting (with delayed fade), engages door deadlocks when pressed twice, will unlock the driver's door only (all doors unlock when the unlock button is kept pressed) and has a rolling security code. The audio system has PIN security electronics, the steering wheel has a slip-type steering lock (if the steering wheel is forced, the front wheels will not turn), and the lock cylinder in the driver's door will freewheel if anything other than the correct key is inserted.
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Improved handling and stability, new steering column stalks, alarm now fitted
We Don't Like:
No passenger airbag standard, stubborn automatic transmission, no split-fold rear seat
The Australian large-car market is so dog-eat-dog that not even the all-conquering Holden can afford to ease up. Never mind that its Commodore continues to dominate the Ford Falcon in the sales race. Or that since the current generation was introduced four years ago, Holden's share of the large-car segment has remained rock solid above 40 per cent while Ford has slipped from those same heights to around 30 per cent. The fact is Ford has gained momentum in recent months and expectations of a comeback are beginning to surface as both manufacturers draw nearer to their respective mid-life model improvements late in 2002.
To counter these winds of change, Holden has given its mild VX Series II update more substance with a mechanical upgrade originally intended for release with the VY Commodore due some 12 months further down the track. Whether the engineering improvements, which are headlined by the so-called "control link" rear suspension, make much difference to the average driver is a moot point. Most important is the ability for the marketing machine to crank out the message of greater confidence, control and more responsive handling.
For the base-model Executive, VX Series II has brought these under-skin modifications and not much else. Exterior details are restricted to a revised grille and new plastic wheel covers, while the interior now has a new cut of cloth trim and long-overdue new wands mounted on the steering column. Gone are the wonky old stalks for indicators and wipers and in their place are more user-friendly and precise instruments. Cruise control function has also improved, though it remains in the options basket along with air-conditioning and an airbag for the front passenger. These omissions do the Executive no favours. An alarm is now fitted, adding some weight to a list of standard features which includes ABS brakes, electric seat height adjustment, remote central locking with deadlocking, electric mirrors, trip computer and a CD stereo with a power aerial and steering-mounted controls. But in other respects, the Executive remains a bit of a raw deal. Apart from the aforementioned items, also absent without leave are electric windows, traction control, variable intermittent wipers, tilt-adjustable front head restraints, lumbar and seat height adjustment for the front passenger and seatbelt sash height adjustment for either front occupant, to name a few basic items other Commodores are seen with. There's no cassette deck or split-fold rear seat, either. Were the Commodore's appearance not so appealing and the cockpit not such a cosseting and functional place to be, these omissions would be insurmountable.
The trouble for the knockers is that the dash presentation is as modern and appealing as it was with the VT Commodore back in 1997. The vital instruments are large and legible, all switchgear is simple to operate, the huge front armchairs are snug and a perfect driving position is never in doubt with such excellent seat and (reach and rake) steering wheel adjustment. Room in the rear compartment is generous in all directions, the seats there are an excellent size for adults, rear vents are provided when air-conditioning is specified and all seating positions have a lap/sash seatbelt. All we need now in this area are some door bins, head restraints and cup holders that will not create the means for loose objects to shoot into the cabin from the boot. As we found with our dual-fuel test car, the one exception to the rule on this latter point is when an LPG tank is installed up against the rear seatbacks, rendering the world's largest ski-port useless and allowing the rear passengers to use it as an armrest (and its inbuilt cup holders) without concern for low-flying objects. The boot is similarly big and basic. It will swallow lots of gear but has no storage compartments other than the spare wheel well and no luggage tie-down hooks. Bootlid hinges also intrude on the available space.
On the mechanical front, a "control link" was added to the semi-trailing arm rear suspension and some other minor suspension tweaks were made to improve the handling characteristics, while a new steel belt tyre construction was produced to promote a sharper and more accurate steering feel. For the average driver, the benefits require a good stretch of road to realise but there is no doubt about their existence - or effectiveness. Out on the open road, the rear of the car feels much more tied-down than the previous model and it now tracks through higher-speed corners without the need for repeated steering corrections. Sure, the back-end will still break free under provocation, however, the levels of rear-wheel grip and control are a good deal higher and loss of traction more progressive. All up, this is the most confident-handling cooking-model Commodore we've come across. Moreover, the ride is as compliant as ever, the brakes will cope with a reasonable degree of punishment, noise levels are well contained at speed and the steering, much improved with the VX model, goes up a further small notch in terms of feel and precision - though in this department it's still well behind the Falcon.
The remainder of the driving experience is unchanged. Running on normal unleaded petrol, the ageing 3.8-litre V6 has become a more refined apparatus since the improvements brought with the VX series and it makes light work of hauling big loads. It still prefers to dwell in the lower reaches of the rev range, where it is quiet and smooth, while the opposite remains true when the engine enters higher engine speeds. "Smooth" isn't a word that springs to mind with the optional four-speed automatic, either, which continues to allow abrupt shifts and savage kickdowns on occasion. All of the same applies when running on LPG, which can be accessed either at standstill or on the run (above 2000rpm) via a convenient button on the centre console. Making the switch from petrol to gas takes the edge off performance and there is a discernible loss of power under acceleration. The conversion also adds approximately 100kg to the load, there are obvious space restrictions with a 60-litre tank stuffed in the boot and it's going to take a l-o-t of miles - the best part of 100,000km - to recoup the initial conversion cost. But advantages come with vastly reduced emissions and savings achieved with the lower fuel costs. Running on gas, we averaged 12.3L/100km over our test loop - not as good as the 9.7L/100km we then achieved over a similar distance but with the fuel-cost differential factored in (even our fluctuating fuel prices), the savings with the cheaper-per-litre LPG are clear-cut. There is some discipline required to keep at least a quarter of a tank of petrol in the tank but otherwise living with dual-fuel is a snack. Filling up is unproblematic and the fuel gauge makes the switch between fuels automatically. The trip computer also recalculates the distance to empty.
With the AUIII Falcon Forte now adding anti-lock brakes to its long list of standard equipment, the Executive will have its work cut out winning customer votes. And on the LPG front, Ford is without doubt a step ahead with its dedicated-gas Falcon. Just as Holden spent $70 million improving the Commodore with the VX series, it had good reason to make VX Series II more than just a cosmetic facelift - and the mechanical improvements should help ensure its continued success. But even outside the performance arena, things are getting interesting again on the Australian large-car scene.
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Wheels: "There is a grab-bag of little surprises"
The Sunday Mail: "Those who drive sensibly, sedately, will probably never even know that the safety envelope has been extended"
The Age: "The VXII upgrade is a softly-softly approach"
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Like all previous Commodores, the VXII Executive employs a longitudinal, front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels only - in this case a dual-fuel pushrod V6
The 3.8-litre Ecotec V6 engine powering the Commodore Executive was first seen on the VS model in 1995 and has since been subjected to a series of improvements. The most recent came with the VX upgrade, which - via a faster and more powerful powertrain control module, larger idle air control valve and a new die-cast inlet manifold - increased power over the VT model 5kW to 152kW at 5200rpm and torque by 1Nm to 305Nm at 3600rpm. Fuel economy was also claimed to have improved, with official figures indicating the automatic Executive will consume 11.0L/100km of normal 91RON unleaded petrol over the (theoretical) city cycle and 6.6L/100km on the highway.
The VXII Commodore upgrade will be remembered for the introduction of the adjustable "Control Link" (pictured above in red) to the semi-trailing arm rear suspension. An additional link-arm was added to either side to control toe (the direction in which the rear wheels are pointed) movement during rear suspension compression and rebound. With better location of the rear wheels throughout their suspension travel, the result is improved handling precision and greater stability. The diameter of front and rear stabiliser bars was also modified - the front increases 1mm, the rear decreases 3mm - to meet with the new suspension parameters. The front suspension continues with MacPherson struts. For customers frequently using gravel roads, Holden offers a Country Pack suspension, which increases the sedan's rear stabiliser bar diameter by 3mm and raises the ride height via increased front and rear spring rates.
Commodore uses a "multiplex communications bus' which facilitates information sharing between all of the car's electronic control modules. The fact that information such as vehicle speed, sun load, engine temperature and airbag status, to name a few, could be shared has allowed Holden engineers an opportunity to introduce more advanced features on higher-spec models such as a twilight sentinel that automatically turns headlights on at dusk and off at dawn.
Executive is available with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. With the latter, the shift pattern was modified with the VX series upgrade for improved driveability and responsiveness to throttle changes, while in the recent VXII update the shift points for V8 models fitted with an automatic transmission were altered to better match the engine's torque curve. The final drive ratio on both manual and automatic transmissions mated to the standard ECOTEC V6 engine is 3.08.
The all-new braking system brought with the VT Commodore in 1997 included a larger brake booster, bigger-diameter and thicker discs at each corner to reduce pedal effort and absorb energy during heavy use, larger callipers and a more effective park brake. Since the VX series, a four-sensor three-channel Bosch 5.3 anti-lock braking system has been fitted as standard across the range. Traction control, fitted standard to all models from Acclaim onward and available as an option on Executive, adds another channel to the ABS system.
Commodore has a variable-ratio power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system fitted standard. Holden has made incremental improvements to the steering since the VT Commodore was launched in 1997. Front suspension modifications with the VX series brought a more progressive steering response, while a revised tyre construction on VXII models combined with an increased-diameter front stabiliser bar aimed to improve a sharper and more accurate steering feel, particularly on-centre. Audio controls are located on the steering wheel and the steering column adjusts both for reach and height. The turning circle is 11.0 metres and 2.8 turns are needed lock-to-lock.
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3.791-litre front-mounted longitudinal 12-valve pushrod V6
Bore x stroke: 97mm x 86mm
Four-speed automatic or five-speed manual
Front: MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear: semi-trailing arms with toe-control link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Power-assisted variable-ratio rack-and-pinion
Turning circle: 11.0 metres
Steering wheel reach and height adjustment
Electric driver's seat height adjustment
Driver's seat lumbar adjustment
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