Build quality, V8 smoothness and refinement, six-speed shifter, positive medium-weighted clutch, steering feedback, ride quality
We Don't Like:
Runs on 91RON but 98RON fuel for best results, over-stuffed leather sports seats, bogans
As so often happens in life, it’s the incidental things that etch themselves into your memory. Like Holden’s vivid blue SS V8 test car, numberplate VZSS05. We’d spent a week tooling around in the muscular beast, resplendent with its smart bodykit, thunderous exhaust note, 18-inch alloys and marvelling at the fluid ease of the six-speed manual transmission and the lazy grunt of the 6.0-litre V8 under the bonnet as we navigated city traffic. All was sailing well.
The VZ Commodore SS, we opined, was the last of the lineage that started with the VT back in 1997 and over the years the core car had been tweaked, refined and polished to the point that the VZ represented the last of a thoroughly well-sorted breed. As they say in car land, V8 Commodores have become great steerers, not withstanding some of the oil usage problems with the previous Gen III V8. With the arrival of the VE in a few months, we felt it important to reacquaint ourselves with the Commodore, now in its eighth year, particularly given the latest addition of the Gen IV 6.0-litre V8, which is standard in the SS. However, unlike the same engine available in the US, local versions do not offer variable valve timing or displacement-on-demand. Perhaps the VE will. Never mind. We were happy to dine out on the SS’s sublime acceleration, in any gear, and the echo of that 6.0-litre bent eight as it burbled along city streets.
The new car will be heavier but will it be as quick and agile and have the fulsome character of the VZ SS? Will the last of the breed become recognised as one of the best? The SS was to be a glorious memory. The 6.0-litre V8 SS the headline act for the 2006 Commodore. Then some bogan stole the front number plate. This unleashed a volley of phone calls backwards and forwards with the kind folk at Holden as well as the boys in blue, who subsequently took more than a passing interest in the loss of just one numberplate. The black enamel plate, VZSS05, turns out to have been used in a petrol station drive-through. A formal stolen report was filed and now it’s up to the good guys to catch the bad guy/s. Great. Our lasting memory of the VZ SS V8 would be sullied by some half-wit’s intention to avoid paying $10 for some fuel. But we digress.
For lovers of V8s, the VZ SS is without doubt a wonderful piece of engineering work. Because the previous 250kW/470Nm 5.7-litre Gen III V8 failed to meet emission requirements, Holden decided that for 2006 it would introduce the Gen IV engine, called the L76, which gained a healthy dose of extra power and torque - 260kW at 5600rpm and 510Nm at 4400rpm – to be exact. The new V8 was introduced in GM’s North American SUV line-up last year and originally expected to make its local debut in September’s all-new VE Commodore. Apart from meeting emission targets it was said to be a smooth operator, offering better acceleration and low-speed response. Economy too was expected to be as good, or better, than the Gen III, a fact born out by the 14.5L/100km of mostly city running we achieved in the SS, with the promise of better highway economy on a long run.
What surprised us was the very un-V8 way the Gen IV behaved. At idle the motor’s gentle rocking motion would silence a recalcitrant baby but what really impressed was the impressive low-down flexibility, ease of driving and what good all-round fun the V8 could be. If you so desired, it would doddle around town in fifth without complaint, but shift a gear of two down, plant the accelerator and the V8 would roar into life, rocketing the Impulse Metallic blue sedan to three-digit speed territory. The 6.0-litre is more than enough, and then some. Even the mass of the bent eight over the front wheels – it’s an all-alloy design - had little effect on the car’s steering or handling. The sports suspension offers the right balance between a firm, controlled ride and a reasonable degree of compliance to smooth out rough roads. Some initial bump harshness was to be expected but the SS rode surprisingly well for a car with a big footprint on the road.
Like many large sedans, the SS errs towards safe understeer when pushed. The tail can be flicked out at will before the traction control system harnesses the wayward energy and steers you back on course. The car’s limited-slip differential also plays a part in keeping the rear in check. With the ride and handling sorted, attention swings to the sharper steering, which is an improvement over previous Commodores we’ve driven, a change introduced with the previous VZ SS update. It is by no means sportscar-like, nor offers the outright precision of a Falcon XR, but the feedback is better than what we remember. Apart from traction control, the SS comes with ABS, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, as well as a progressive, yet sure-footed performance brake package.
Visually VZSS05 offers little differentiation between the previous VZ SS, except for the badging and some minor changes. The faux vented front mudguards are there but the alloys are bolder – from the VZ Monaro CV8 – and the performance exhaust system delivers a credible rubbly exhaust note. Carryovers also include the sports bodykit, rear boot-mounted spoiler and front foglights, while inside there are heavily bolstered leather-faced sports seats, satin chrome/leather gearshift, a six-disc in-dash CD player, climate control and electric windows and mirrors. The cabin ergonomics remain good and the Saab-derived pop-out cupholders continue to delight with their form and function. The interior safety kit consists of the expected dual front and side airbags as well as front pretensioner seatbelts. Like all Commodores there is a big boot but no split-fold rear seat, and the SS makes do with a central, albeit wide, load-through armrest.
All the goodies notwithstanding, the soul of this car is the V8. And what a soul. Holden says that last year 15 per cent of all Commodore buyers opted for a V8. Given what will be a relatively short production run of the last of the VZ SS, in years to come this will be a car to rejoice over. And to our bogan friend... Mate. All law-abiding folk will take solace in the fact that the only time you’re ever likely to get close to a 6.0-litre Commodore is when the constabulary is chasing you. It’ll outrun you every time. For me, VZSS05 will remain a wonderful, if now slightly tarnished, memory.