It wasn’t that long ago when those who wanted a hard performing large sedan simply had to pony up for the eight-cylinder model. But with continuing advancements in V6 engine technology those days are now history. Case and point is Holden’s recently updated Commodore SV6 that flies the flag for sports style and V6 performance within the wider Commodore range. The SV6 has taken some time to step out of the shadow of the more coveted SS Commodore but with an updated design and impressive fuel economy the SV6 isn’t just making up the numbers — it’s come to play. To find out more Car and SUV got into the driver’s seat of the SV6 to do the sums and work out if six can ever be greater than eight.
Previously, Holden’s sports-focused six-cylinder has been little more than a dress up job with some larger rims and a kit borrowed from the SS. That has changed with the Series II updates and although the styling remains suitably aggressive it’s a new powertrain that has made a big difference. Under the SV6’s bonnet lies Holden’s recently developed 3.6-litre SIDI (Spark Ignition Direct Injection) V6 engine. It’s a smooth and powerful unit that delivers 210kW of power and a full 350Nm compliment of torque. These are impressive figures for a naturally aspirated six and have been made possible by the SIDI system. The engine has fuel injectors in the combustion chamber with a high-pressure fuel rail sending transporting the juice. This creates a stronger detonation helping develop more grunt while improving fuel economy. It’s a modern engine that has significantly reduced emissions over its predecessor and can achieve a 9.8l/100km fuel economy figure with 91RON petrol.
While the technical details stack up well, it’s on road performance that equals sales. In this department the SV6 is a solid all rounder. Off the line the SV6 moves smoothly and with strength but lacks the neck-snapping gusto you get in the eight-cylinder SS. That said, it moves away from the lights quicker than most, but feels especially at home on the open road. On motorways or anywhere with a 100kph limit the SV6 can show off its generous dose of torque with rapid pace between 80-120kph. It also feels more nimble at cruising speeds, shedding much of its burly 1729kg kerb weight.
Shifting the cogs is Holden’s six-speed auto gearbox, it’s a fairly competent unit that has a decisive nature when changing gears and will chop down two at a time when the right foot dictates. The shifts can sometimes feel raw-edged with the auto box not always matching the smooth personality of the V6 engine. To really unleash the power of the motor and the engaging nature of the SV6 it’s best to use the ‘Active Select’ manual shift option. This involves a simple click to the side of the gearstick activating a sports mode and allowing sequential up/down changes. With the SV6’s engine spinning between 4000-6000rpm it’s powerful and very responsive letting the driver attack twisted roads with as much aggression as their nerves will allow.
Dynamically there is a lot to like with the SV6, it has a low stance and a tenacious level of grip. The chassis is elegantly balanced and although the suspension is set quite firm it remains comfortable on all but the most uneven of road surfaces. A heavy foot on the accelerator will achieve brief moments of oversteer through the rear driving wheels but the electronic safety aides quickly straighten the sporty Commodore.
Braking comes via four-wheel ventilated discs and while they are firm once engaged, there is lengthy travel through the pedal before they bite in which imparts an unassertive feel. By comparison the steering is very responsive, stable at all speeds and the thick leather-wrapped wheel provides an excellent connection with the road.
In terms of exterior styling the VE Commodore continues to prove evergreen and the Series II updates modernise it further. Subtle changes include a new front fascia with a larger replacement grille and updated headlights. The chunky body kit remains but there’s a new boot spoiler and the front bumper has a possum-gobbling huge lower air intake. It’s all nicely colour-coded and the look is finished with attractive five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels. Overall, the SV6 design is aggressive and athletic, a handsome machine that doesn’t deviate from the bulky aesthetic that has always helped make the Commodore a popular choice.
Inside, the updates are even more noticeable with the big news being the inclusion of Holden’s new IQ vehicle entertainment system. This media unit makes use of a 6.5-inch colour touch screen and can connect to an iPod, USB stick or by Bluetooth to a mobile phone. The screen is mounted high in a new central control stack with all switchgear below, logically laid out. The dashboard is a mix of charcoal plastics with silver trim and some gloss black inserts. It’s an easy to use and well-placed dashboard and although some of the plastics don’t feel of high quality everything appears well screwed together.
Like all Commodores the SV6 has an excess of space with loads of head and legroom for both rows of seats. There’s also a broad gap between driver and passenger with a wide arm rest/storage bin and plenty of cupholders and places to keep small items. The front sports seats are supportive, electrically adjustable and finished in a hardwearing grey cloth. The wide back bench seat has three-point belts for three passengers and has a high level of comfort for long journeys. Visibility remains a niggling issue with wide A-pillars and a high waistline, restricting front and side viewpoints. When it comes to standard equipment the SV6 includes treats like a multifunction steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, sports instrumentation with trip computer, auto headlights and keyless entry. If that’s not enough kit, optional fare includes a sunroof, sat nav, parking sensors, reversing camera and a roof-mounted DVD player.
To cover its safety bases the SV6 has a hard working electronic stability control system (which can be turned off), traction control, ABS brakes, electronic brake assist and pretensioners on the seatbelts. If it all goes wrong there are front, side and curtain airbags ready to fire.
So what’s the verdict on the SV6?
While it can’t offer the same blistering performance as its V8 siblings the SV6 is a performance car in its own right and the fact that it can even be compared against the SS shows just how far its come. There are some valid reasons for choosing the 2011 SV6 over the SS Commodore. It gets significantly better fuel economy by 2.5l/100km, it looks just as good, you receive the same spacious, family-friendly interior and much of the same equipment and its $6k cheaper. The SV6 handles very well, has an engaging drive on the open road and boasts a smooth modern V6 engine. The SV6 will have strong appeal for those wanting six-cylinder power, those who love the sporty looks and don’t need the V8 and even a few hardcore V8 fans that are won over by the SV6’s competent charm. Car and SUV certainly was.
What we like:
- Smooth modern V6 engine
- Looks great with Series II updates
- Handling ability
- Comfortable cruiser
What we don’t like:
- Excessive brake pedal travel
- Gear changes can be a touch raw
- Thick A-pillars affecting visibility
- Some interior plastics don’t feel high quality
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo