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Road Test


Holden Commodore Omega

by Ian Barrett

7th November, 2007


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For most of its history, Holden's Commodore has been Australia's top selling passenger vehicle. With good handling, muscular performance, durability, low maintenance costs and lots of room for mum, dad and three kids, it has certainly stood the test of time. But in the past two years, fuel costs have jumped and sales of the Commodore and other large passenger vehicles have slumped significantly.

Despite this trend, large cars still have plenty to offer. In the future, there will continue to be considerable demand for the comfort and effortless mobility provided by large sedans. It's making this kind of mobility sustainable and economical that will be a major challenge and responsibility for car makers worldwide.

We recently spent a week with the entry level Commodore, known as the Commodore Omega. What does it have to offer, over its increasingly popular medium sized competitors? As it turns out, quite a bit.

Making regular trips between the NSW central coast and Sydney's upper north shore makes me interested in a comfortable travelling method. And I can vouch for the fact that when it comes to comfort, there is no substitute for cubic metres! And passengers agree. They just enjoy Holden Commodore's spaciousness. Space almost to rival a London taxi - legroom, shoulder room, room for the laptop or even the occasional newspaper. And not to forget a cavernous and well-shaped boot for their luggage.

And then there's the safety consideration. Safety commentators indicate, like it or not, bigger is usually better, especially when mixing it with the growing legions of SUVs and B-doubles on our roads. All other factors being equal, more sheet metal equals more mass and more generous crumple zones to absorb impacts, in the event of a mishap. Naturally, Omega comes with seat belt pretensioners and dual-stage airbags for the driver and the front seat passenger. Side and curtain airbags are extra, however.

We've been speaking about secondary safety, the ability of a vehicle to protect its occupants in the event of a serious impact. But the new Commodore also raises the bar a few notches when it comes to primary safety. There's no substitute for actually avoiding the collision in the first place. Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) is now standard across the Commodore range and includes ABS, EBD, EBA and TCS. There's also Emergency Shutdown following a serious collision, which automatically turns off the engine and fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and activates the hazard lights.

Effective handling and steering are also hallmarks of the new Commodore range. Benchmarked against the previous model BMW 5-series saloons, Holden reportedly spent $1.2 billion to develop this all-new VE series and suspension is one area where it really shines. And there's ride comfort to match. We found that it takes rough gravel, patchwork and cobblestones all in its stride.

Beauty is always going to be rather subjective, but from our experience, most people rate the new Commodore's styling fair highly. The only complaint we have concerns the front guard flares, which are a little overdone for some tastes, though we certainly think they look the part on sportier variants such as the SS. The interior also sports a fresh new look to bring Commodore right up there with its major competitors. It's even more spacious than before and the entry level Omega is well equipped with such niceties as power windows, auto-on lights, height/reach adjustable steering wheel, multi function wheel controls for audio and 8-function trip computer, 4-way electric driver's seat adjustment and Blaupunkt single CD/AM/FM audio system with 6 speakers.

Fit and finish were top-rate on the test car. However, for our taste, there are a lot of grey tonings inside and a few items, notably door armrests, do look a bit low-budget compared to the outgoing model. Ergonomics are generally very good, with one notable exception. The newly designed cruise control stalk virtually requires a hand off the wheel to avoid activating the turn indicators. Holden need to take a leaf out of rival makers' books and move this function to the steering wheel hub or spokes.

The Omega comes with the 180 kW/330 Nm version of Holden's new Alloytech 3.6 litre V6, in combination with the older 4-speed auto transmission. Given the increased weight over the previous model series, performance is more than adequate, rather than startling. Although smoother and more powerful than the old OHV models, we felt that the engine noise was quite intrusive at full throttle compared to the old models and the current V8. Perhaps the base models would benefit by a few dollars worth of additional soundproofing. The lack of an extra ratio (or two) compared to immediate rivals Falcon and Mitsubishi's 380, also impacts the performance/economy equation. The transmission is generally smooth and quiet, but can get a bit clunky when using manual override.

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The weight penalty of the VE also makes it thirstier than the older series. Our fuel consumption on test ran well into double figures, whereas under 10L/100km was quite achievable with the last of the OHV powerplants. Remember though, there's much more to vehicle running costs than the fuel consumption figures alone, which contribute only about 15% of the total annual outlay. Holden's low spare parts and service costs have always been one of their strong points.

As always, Holden's big one has the performance needed for carrying a big family and their gear, or for towing boats or caravans (up to a 2,100 kg limit). Cars of this size still have few peers when it comes to effortlessly gobbling up the country miles and particularly in dealing with the worst of our country roads. Whilst on this topic, we consider the Omega's space-saver spare wheel unsuitable for this big country, especially if travelling outside metropolitan areas. A full-sized steel spare costs $100. It's the first option box you need to tick.

In spite of concerns over fuel costs, the Holden Commodore Omega, at $34,490 (RRP) still represents great value. It's a lot of car for the money. If effortless performance, strong primary and secondary safety, together with plenty of space is what you require, then vehicles like the Omega are still a serious option for family travel. And an excellent choice for high-mileage business vehicles.

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