According to a recent survey, sixteen percent of kiwi drivers have downsized their cars in the last year with another 30 percent giving it serious consideration. The number one reason for this trend was fuel economy followed by a realisation for many that they don’t actually require a large car. Is the kiwi love affair with large rear-wheel-drive cars finally finished? Holden doesn’t think so and it has a new trick to tempt punters back into the showroom.
As an integral part of Holden’s new Ecoline innovations, the Australian carmaker has released AFM (Active Fuel Management) technology across all V8 models at no additional cost. Only available with the automatic transmission it’s designed to improve fuel efficiency when high output isn’t required. It achieves this with a rather simplistic solution, by shutting down four of the V8’s cylinders during cruising. In the case of the tested Commodore SS-V when fuel is cut to half the engine it effectively changes it from a 6.0-litre V8 to a 3.0-litre V4. The system only engages on light throttle openings when the vehicle is in third through to sixth gear. It’s completely automatic in its operation and feels seamless when shifting between V8 and V4 modes. The trip computer screen lets the driver know of the change in operating mode.
To cut to the chase and ask the tough question, does the AFM system actually result in improved fuel efficiency during everyday driving?
It does, but only just. Holden stance is that “in a combination of town and highway driving, the technology can deliver fuel savings of up to one litre per 100 kilometers, with potential for even better results at constant cruising speeds.” This is a realistic assessment of the AFM system’s potential.
During a week with our Commodore test vehicle we achieved a 15.5l/100km economy. It was a combination of mostly suburban driving with some short stints on Auckland’s motorways while using a usually conservative driving style. Fuel savings will largely depend on what type of driving you do regularly. If you mostly drive around town it’s unlikely you will see much difference over a non-AFM equipped car. If you often cruise long stretches of motorway or open road the results will be more significant.
During the road test there were some moments when the AFM system seemed temperamental in its mode changes, at times refusing to drop to 4-cylinders even when conditions seemed optimal (100kph in sixth gear). It also took very little throttle input for the engine to shift itself back into V8 mode. The AFM tech has an overall feeling of being undeveloped and while it’s a necessary and welcome feature does require further fine-tuning.
Away from under-bonnet intricacies the Commodore SS-V is a solid all rounder. Typically muscular in exterior appearance it boasts pumped up wheel arches, a rear spoiler, chunky 19-inch alloys and quad exhaust pipes that signal true go-fast intent. Small AFM badges on the car’s exterior are the only visible representation of the new equipment.
Inside the SS-V has a modern techno styled cockpit that includes a large multi-function colour screen and a bright-red readout for oil pressure and battery voltage. Black plastics work in with silver trim and switchgear is easy to use but slightly crowded in the centre control stack. There is a luxurious amount of space for all occupants with the front seats being particularly wide and offering leather-trimmed comfort. The cabin does have some drawbacks, the exterior-colour-coded instruments can be tricky to read and some of the hard interior plastics don’t have a quality feel to them. Generally, it’s a spacious and usable interior that offers fair visibility and some character too.
On road the Commodore SS-V is impressively well mannered, it stays poised and stable but can still excite when pushed. Over-steer is a definite possibility but only when the SS-V is provoked and rarely under normal driving conditions. The gas pedal provides quick if not totally instant response and the brakes have real bite.
The suspension feels sporty and advanced with a multi-link set-up front and back combining with a tight chassis to offer good levels of grip and very little body roll. What’s really admirable is the SS-V’s ability to be focused and direct during spirited driving while remaining comfortable and livable during general daily use.
The throbbing 6.0-litre V8 is no toy and with 260kW of grunt under your right foot thoughts of fuel economy can be easily forgotten. It’s also a very flexible power plant and with 517Nm of torque on offer it can surge ahead in most gears. Feeling most comfortable at cruising speeds the motor can sound refined but still offers brutish, squatting acceleration when directed.
Safety bases are well covered and standard equipment includes 6 airbags (front, side and curtains) Electronic Stability Control with ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Traction Control and Electronic Brake Assist.
Overall, the Commodore SS-V is spacious and well-equipped, it’s a good handler with a comfortable ride quality and plenty of raw power to get the juices flowing. ¨The new AFM technology doesn’t offer any massive benefits at this stage but it’s a feature that comes at no extra cost and works independently and unnoticeably behind the scenes.
With fuel frugality becoming vital to the future success of carmakers, AFM is a clear signal of intent from Holden. With further development and testing the AFM system could potentially yield more significant results and possibly keep the large-capacity V8 off the endangered species list.
In terms of V8 fuel economy can you have your cake and eat it too? Not right now, but with Holden wearing the baker’s hat it may yet prove possible.
Click through to the next page for a list of specifications
What we like:
- Fuel saving technology without price increase
- Handling and ride quality
- Spacious interior
What we don’t like:
- AFM requires further development
- Interior quality
- Hard to read instrumentation
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
Holden Commodore SS-V AFM (2009) – Specifications
6.0L 90-degree OHV V8. Cross flow cylinder heads.
Twin knock control sensors.
Active Fuel Management (AFM)
Continuously variable camshaft phasing for inlet and exhaust cams. Variable Intake Manifold (VIM) Central plenum with individual symmetrical runners.
Capacity (cc) 5967
Compression ratio (:1) 10.4
Power (ECE, kW)# 260kW* @ 5700rpm
Torque (ECE, Nm)# 517Nm* @ 4400rpm
Exhaust system — stainless steel Quad exhaust outlets
Petrol tank capacity (L) 73
Brakes Four wheel disc. Ventilated discs — front and rear. Twin piston alloy front caliper, single piston alloy rear caliper
Safety Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Incorporating: Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Electronic Brake Assist (EBA), Traction Control System (TCS)
Suspension Front: Direct acting stabiliser bar. Coil spring Rear: Multi-Link Independent Rear Suspension (IRS). Coil spring. Stabiliser bar
Steering Variable ratio rack and pinion