Holden VE Commodore SS V

words - Ken Gratton
AFM provides another string to the bow for Holden's competent SS V

Holden VE Commodore SS V Sedan auto

Road Test

RRP: $54,290
Price as tested: $57,140
(includes: Metallic Paint $500, Full size spare wheel and tyre $350)
Crash rating: four-star (ANCAP)
Fuel: 91 RON ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 12.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 334
Also consider: Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo, Ford Falcon XR8 (more here)

Overall rating: 2.5/5.0
Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 3.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 2.5/5.0
Safety: 2.5/5.0
Behind the wheel: 2.5/5.0
X-factor: 3.5/5.0

About our ratings

It's been our observation that people buying V8-powered sports sedans can find the money to pay for petrol. When Holden introduced the Active Fuel Management system (AFM) to its V8-powered locally-manufactured large cars from the beginning of this year, it was probably aimed more at those owners who occasionally tow boats and caravans, but don't specifically need V8 power all year round.

Whatever, along with the Calais and the Berlina, automatic trannie versions of Holden's sporty V8 sedans (and the premium-grade SS V tested here specifically) now benefit from what computer geeks might call 'a kludge' -- an inelegant solution for an easy fix.

See, the AFM system merely stops firing four cylinders of the eight for those occasions when the driver is not demanding truck-loads of torque. If it seems a rather simplistic solution, it should be noted that it's not unlike Honda's more sophisticated Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) featured in the V6 Accord. Honda's system has to be more sophisticated, in part because the V6 engine lacks the V8's natural 'aptitude' for this type of operation.

In the Commodore SS V tested, AFM drops the engine into four-cylinder mode from around 40km/h in third through to sixth gears on (very) light throttle openings. The system does not operate in first or second gear.

If you watch the trip computer display the change in mode, you will learn to pick the different operating modes from the change in engine vibration. At lower road speeds, when the engine is running at between 1000 and 1500rpm, there's quite a distinctive (but subtle) change in vibration, with the engine taking on a sort of 'fluttering' quality of vibration. This can be felt through the steering wheel and accelerator pedal, but we stress, it's fairly hard to pick until you become familiar with the car.

Would that barely discernible vibration lead to drivers wearying of the car? Doubt it. Most drivers will live with minor vibration once in a while if the car's substantially more economical over the course of its life.

It's interesting to note that the engine will not run in four-cylinder mode at idle. One of our auto industry insiders reckons that the V8 can run at a slower idle speed and consume less fuel if left firing on all eight cylinders. That sounds plausible.

At a steady speed of 100km/h -- the Commodore will use just 7.0L/100km or thereabouts, according to the instantaneous fuel consumption readout from the trip computer. During the week we drove the car, it only averaged as low as 17.2L/100km, but that was a week in which the car did very little in the way of open-road driving.

Holden claims 9.5L/100km for the AFM V8 on the open road and 18.7L/100km in town. The new combined fuel economy figure for the car is 12.9L/100km. This compares to the non-AFM V8's combined number of 14.1L/100km. Holden is unable to supply the Carsales Network with urban and extra-urban figures for the previous (non-AFM) V8 variants, which were introduced to the market ahead of legislation compelling car companies to supply all three fuel consumption figures.

We would draw the conclusion however, that the AFM car's urban figures are probably not a major improvement over the previous engine's result, since the AFM doesn't operate in first and second gear. As for open road touring, a careful driver could probably come within striking distance of the extra-urban figure for the AFM car in a car not equipped with AFM (see our earlier report here).

For that reason, we're not convinced that V8 drivers will get any real benefit from the AFM system most of the time. In many ways Holden would be much better served fitting an auto idle stop-start facility to the powerplant. But, and it's a big but, at least local GM V8 buyers are not being treated as second class citizens and can benefit from the technology that's been fitted to the US market Pontiac G8s from day one.

The V8 engine's never going to provide Prius levels of frugality, but with its 73-litre tank, it could theoretically get you 942km -- or from Sydney to Melbourne without refueling and about 60km to spare. That's actually more than 'theoretically', given the chaps at Wheels magazine recently managed that run in the same car on just the one tank of fuel -- more here.

Arguably more important to V8 buyers, the Commodore SS V delivers the benefits of AFM for a 'mere' 10kW and 13Nm deficit over the non-AFM counterpart without detriment to the conventional but stirring bellow.

As for the rest of the car, there's nothing much new to report. In our recent Omega review (more here), A-pillars and the handbrake remain a point of concern, though less so in the case of the latter.

There were NVH issues on our test car that appeared to revolve around the drivetrain and a loose exhaust hanger, but otherwise the Commodore SS V remains a strong package... Just not as strong as it once was -- in the days before the FG Falcon...


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Published : Wednesday, 15 April 2009
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