Roar deal: Latest Redline best of a special breed

The last of the lion-hearted Commodore SS-V Redlines is a true beast that deserves total respect.


For: Vitality and vigour, tons of torque, entertaining soundtrack, well-sorted chassis, Holden’s best V8 VF.

Against: Thirsty, auto lazier than engine, how about a better-looking rocker cover?

Score: 4.5/5

NEWS just in … we’re saved. Well, sort of.

The world needs to start to thinking about using what oil is remaining more prudently, that’s a fact.

However – and here’s the bit that might seem relevant given today’s subject car is the hottest Commodore Holden has ever made – those predictions, offered by the oil industry 15 years ago but still lingering today, about how some areas presently producing the black stuff will soon be starting to dry up and that it will be exorbitantly expensive by 2040?

Don’t sweat it. Today the industry is telling a different story. There’s no change to the big picture: The Earth is no longer making oil. On the other, fossil fuels are becoming easier and cheaper to extract. Moreover, the industry is not hot about the abundance of ‘oil equivalent’ energy – oil and gas – that was too hard to get at with drills and derricks but is now accessible through new discoveries and improved technology. On top of this, there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening with synthetic liquid fuels made from natural gas and, of course, biomass.

Which means what? Well, that maybe you needn’t lose sleep about whether buying into the superstar V8 car now means having to face putting it up on blocks, or converting it to sugar cane ethanol, in a decade’s time. Assuming that was a concern.

Maybe it just isn’t. While the VF II range now out is more evolution than revolution, it comes with one particularly tasty treat insofar that this SS-V Redline is the most powerful Commodore Holden itself has ever produced. And, of course, also it’s a case of the best being served last.

Everyone now knows that when Holden stops building cars in Australia, it’s not just a curtain drop on 67 years of Holden carmaking in Australia, of which 37 were dedicated to this model line, but also the pin pull on a long-standing eight-cylinder habit.

So perhaps that alone surely provides a ‘now or never’ impetus for buying into the $75,990 sedan.

Disregarding those factors, there’s also something to consider: The final edition car that Holden built to remind it has no intention fading away quietly is, quite simply, the best performance Commodore, in terms of kiloWatts for cash, I’ve ever known. That makes it a future classic, if not a highly-valued collectible.

Styling, image:

Cars like this need to make an impact. For Commodore, because its been around so a while now that comes down to the detailing rather than the general shape per se.

Fortunately, two factors play positively. First, while this current shell has been around for 10 years now, it still has yet to reach tipping point; there’s no whiff it it having surpassed any use-by date.

Also, it’s one of those shapes that has real strength: Even base editions seem to have a certain attitude. Bringing out the muscle car persona requires some degree of consideration; however: While this shape looks good hunkered and on big wheels, I’ve always thought Holden Special Vehicles have taken things a bit too far with its additional aero enhancements. Big wings are all very well for the track, but there’s a limit to how far you need to go with a roadcar before it just becomes impractical and looks stupid.

That’s why I prefer the in-house Redline treatment to the HSV recipe. The car test car gets it just right – those 20-inch alloys, wider at the rear than at the front for better rear-end grip, the big brakes, various body armour bits and a set of big exhausts make it special but not too shouty. The end result is that the air of menace and malevolence avoids madness; it’s bold but not overly bogan.

It’s not too hard to pick out a VF II Redline from its forebear, but bear in mind that every extra touch is an engineering necessity rather than simply something to enhance the styling statement.

For instance, the most obvious tell-tale, the now-slatted bonnet, came about because of the LS3 engine. The bonnet vents are certainly a visually cool touch, but they are there simply to allow hot air to escape easier.

Likewise, the redesigned front bumper has a wider intake to feed more air into the engine bay and the outer sections feature functional intakes that direct air flow through to the inside of the wheel arches to lower its wind resistance.

As before, the more hunkered stance speaks to retuned suspension, but to counter this powerplant’s greater oomph - an extra 34kW and 40Nm than the outgoing manual 6.0-litre LS2 SS variants mustered – it also takes Brembo brakes on the rear to aid those already working the front discs.

One thing you won’t see on Redline’s exterior, though, is that actual word. It’s emblazoned across the dashtop as sewn-in lettering across the leatherette covering, but not represented as a badge. To all extents and purposes, this is an SS with extra.

The broader story about VF2 is that cosmetic changes and equipment enhancements spread through the family. One range-wide tweak involves revised electric power steering tune (Redline getting a Competition option), reversing camera guidelines and a new gloss-black rear valance for sports models to reinforce their feel-good flavour. Paddle shifters (from the Chevrolet SS export model) were a feature of the previous car retained for this one.

The performance flagship also takes sports-look from seats with electrically adjustable lumbar support. The revised centre console houses a touch screen that accesses the sat nav and the MyLink infotainment system that’s a little awkward to use on the move but definitely provides lots of entertainment options.

The Commodore cabin architecture is starting to look a little dated now – and the electronic interface likewise – but it still stands muster as a comfortable and roomy car.  And built quality is solid, too.

Powertrain, performance:

The primary reason for buying the SS-V now is to enjoy the monster engine under its bonnet. Nothing in the GM arsenal offers bigger bang or bore size now than this 6162cc LS3.

That it started out in the Chevrolet Corvette then configured for US-market versions of the Commodore sold as the Pontiac G8 and Chevrolet SS makes for good conversation, but far more brag-able is that it has until now been the exclusive domain of Holden Special Vehicles models for the past seven years, albeit in a higher state of tune.

That’s not to suggest Holden is being wussy is reining the LS3 back to 304kW power, produced at 6000rpm and maximum torque of 570Nm at 4400rpm. That’s three times the power of the original V8 Commodore of 1978 and makes VF2 the most powerful Holden Commodore (as opposed to HSV) engine ever.

You’re probably thinking: 6.0-litres before, 6.2 now … can an extra 200cc make THAT much of a difference?

Well, yes. Yes it can. The previous V8 fell down slightly in two aspects; it wasn’t sharp in its responsiveness and, though there was rumble and some roar, overall it didn’t sound quite brilliant enough; as though someone had shoved some old socks into the muffler or something.

The new mill fixes both issues: Tough it certainly helps if the driver primes the engine with a gear that lands into a sweet spot, essentially the SS-V Redline doesn't feel like its got a lazy V8 in its nose anymore: It’s so much more relentless. And there’s also extra ferocity in its sound to match the more electric actions. It’s simply altogether more special.

Good enough to be measured against an HSV Clubsport? In some ways, yes. While you’d call the car as a whole a friendlier kind of feral, on punch alone there’s enough going on to make you wonder why you need to spend extra.

Certainly, for anyone stepping out a 6.0-litre this is a whole new world. Even though the LS3 only revs out another 600rpm to its now 6600rpm redline, there’s more flexibility in how it enacts. The broader torque and power spread  provides a cleaner delivery than the 6.0-litre which, in hindsight, didn't fully awaken until it was right in the meat of its mid-range. With the LS3 there’s more shove down low and a greater willingness to rev out. That alone adds up to it being more likeable around town, more relaxed at cruising speeds and more engaging when driven with enthusiasm.

The shove and energy is patent enough to convince Holden to u-turn on past reluctance to provide performance data. Cited official 0-100kmh and 0-400 metres times of 4.9 and 13 seconds shave half a second off the old car’s. By the 400m post, it’s up to 182kmh – a 20kmh gain. Phew. And you get to hear all about because it now has a bi-modal exhaust offering a deep-throated bellow and the encore of an evil over-run crackle.

Glory in the power and you’ll be on first name terms with every local service station cashier. The outgoing LS2 was already something of a drinker and the replacement is optimally one litre per 100kms worse. Realistically, it can behave really badly: Redlines on our launch drive were averaging 17-18 litres per 100km; the car here during a week of mixed town and country use settled into a 15.5 L/100km average.

Can you live with that? It probably helps that this car’s introduction timed sweetly with a period of falling oil prices that has yet to stop. Of course, history relates how quickly good times can turn bad, but some will surely see this trend as also being a sign that God loves V8s.

Driving appeal:

Absolute power is all well and good, but sheer impetus is wasted unless it is properly controlled, metered and disseminated.

Obviously the Commodore has traction and stability controls acting in this respect, but electronic helps can also become shackles. What a car like this really has to have is good strong fundamentals: Good tyres, a decent chassis, precise steering, reliable brakes.

The previous SS-V Redline did a lot of box-ticking in this respect, but the new one earns even higher scores. It is a truly rewarding drive, with excellent handling and grip and extremely good steering feedback and stopper feel.

What makes it good – great, actually – is precision of the thing. At this level of performance personality you have to anticipate that Holden will have taken most of the body movement out of the suspension during cornering ands over bumps, but what I’ve previously liked about the Redline setup previously still maintains in its retune. With body control being paramount, it’s not comfort with a capital ‘C’ but it is well-damped enough to nonetheless avoid spoiling with undue harshness and hyperactivity. Which, to my mind, separates this car from, and makes it superior to, a certain other product from a company with a Holden-prefixed name.

Actually, in respect to this Redline, it’s potentially superior ride-wide to the last. There’s been a subtle change to the rear suspension that alters the way it drives with a longer but thinner anti-roll bar helping to improve its ride comfort, which also allowed for slightly stiffer spring rates to increase its road holding without compromising its ability to absorbs bumps too much.

The steering is still a little slow and the front-end will push wide in heavy cornering, but the more instantaneous response from the engine means it can be easily balanced on the throttle, particularly in its Sport setting which allows a degree of rear-end slip. Which is another sway of saying that it’s all the easier, then, to obliterate the tyre’s grip: Go deep on the throttle and there’s no end of smoking and sliding.

Which brings us back to the star component. It’s so torque-rich that, away from a winding road, you really don’t have to incite it manually, though that’s not to say the paddle shifters aren’t worth having.

And the sound? For less enthusiastic motoring miles, the bi-modal exhaust can be rendered inactive (through the menu system in the centre touch screen) which makes it more demure, though there’s always a hint of V8 burble.

With it switched on, the accompaniment is wonderfully in tune with the car’s ballistic capabilities and ballsy attitude. It starts by grumbling deeper at idle speeds, but also rumbles louder under acceleration and also chuck in some gargling, crackling and popping of unburnt fuel when you back off the throttle. In every situation, it sounds like a 'real' V8 should which, of course, adds immensely to the enjoyment. And that’s surely the point. Be aware the manual is even better at this, because that gearbox allows deeper penetration into the guts of the engine.

What you hear is what it makes, too – not synthetic mucking about here – and though, to keep things seemly, most of the roar goes into the cabin. Yet enough escapes into the environment that, at full bore it’s twice as loud externally than the old model.

It can be made louder: The sound enhancing resonator includes an innocuous-looking piece of industrial foam lodged in one end that, if removed, apparently makes a huge difference.

How it compares:

You needn’t be any kind of Nostradamus to know where this kind of car is heading, and why it won’t be exact-replicated when Commodore as we currently know it ends production in 2017. 

It’s a pity that, the closer they get to the gallows, the better these ultimate V8 editions seem to get. Well, except in respect to economy. That’s when upsizing patently ignores certain sensibilities.

A $1500 premium over the outgoing cars makes the LS3 an easy aspiration for those already in the V8 mood and the SS-V Redline is the best place to try it. It is a spectacular car, a testimony to what a group of focused engineers can do. It’s perilously single-purpose, but that’s part of the appeal.