SPY PICS: VF Commodore uncovered

words - Bruce Newton
Evolutionary skin hides significant technical change for VF Commodore

You’re looking at Australian automotive history here folks – the first locally sourced spy shots of Holden's 2013 VF Commodore, perhaps the last significant overhaul of a traditional large Australian car.

With the Ford Falcon’s future hazy beyond 2016 and Toyota’s Camry and Aurion local adaptations of a global family, the VF shapes as potentially the last hurrah for locally-developed and built cars before Holden enters a new phase from 2018, building a model sourced from overseas in its Elizabeth factory (alongside the second-generation Cruze).

That’s bad news for those of us who grew up with and love the local iron. The good news is that VF, which is expected on-sale in May 2013 but will be unveiled months earlier, should be the best Commodore we’ve seen yet and a truly impressive example of the rear-wheel drive breed.

Not that it’s all-new. There was simply not the money in the kitty (given reduced local sales and limited export opportunities) to justify a full-on overhaul -- even if the current car has been around fundamentally unchanged since 2006.

And considering Holden spent $1 billion getting VE to market, it was never likely to throw out the rear-wheel drive Zeta architecture that underpins it after just one generation. That said, Holden would have liked to have got this update to market sooner, but the GFC and parent General Motors’ bankruptcy stalled the development timetable.

Our exclusive shots show two variants of the new VF -- one a mainstream model and the other a sports variant. There's still plenty of camouflage being used but it is clear the new car retains the VE’s roofline, door openings and glasshouse. However, the front and rear-end sheetmetal been reworked substantially. In terms of the new Holden corporate 'graphic', think recent arrivals such as the Cruze and the forthcoming Malibu mid-sizer.

Also look for smaller front guards and fenders, re-sculpting around the rear quarter, C-pillar and decklid. These moves are aimed at improving aerodynamics and therefore fuel economy which is an absolute mantra for the VE’s design and engineering and development team.

What you can’t see are underbody panels that also make the VF shape more efficient. With the best Euro sedans boasting an aerodynamic drag co-efficient (Cd) of close to 0.25, Holden will be looking to do much better than the Commodore sedan's rather brick-like 0.35Cd.

Aided by a $39.8 million grant from the federal government’s now defunct Green Car Innovation Fund, Holden has set itself the task of chopping Commodore average fuel consumption by at least seven per cent, which would mean its leanest models venturing below 8.5L/100km. That would be a mighty achievement for a car that will still be a heavyweight despite a concerted diet.

An aluminium bonnet is expected, and could be joined by an alloy boot lid. Mass savings in these alone could trim at least 10kg. Aluminium and high-strength steel will also be used more widely within the body and componentry to cut weight while retaining strength.

Holden has gone over the car with a fine tooth comb, searching throughout the Zeta underpinning and structure for flab. For instance, we know the headlight assembly will be lighter.

Drivetrains will also have to contribute to the fuel economy savings, but expect to see power and torque climbing too. That combined with lower weights should improve performance appreciably.

However, it’s unlikely a range of new powerplants or transmissions arrive at the same time as VF. That’s not Holden’s engineering style as it prefers to stagger the roll-out of new technology to avoid expensive mistakes. Thus we’ll see more powerful and refined iterations of the locally-manufactured 3.0 and 3.6-litre V6s, the latter possibly in 241kW/377Nm LFXV6 form as already seen in the Chevrolet Camaro – with which, of course, the Commodore shares its underpinning Zeta architecture.

The Gen IV 6.0-litre V8 -- that has served the VE in both L76 (AFM) and L98 variations throughout its life -- is tipped to give way to the LS3 6.2-litre V8. That’s because this is the engine the new US-export Chevrolet SS version of the VF is expected to have. We’ll know soon enough because the ‘Super Sport’ is being unveiled no later than February at Daytona alongside the NASCAR racer that’s based on it.

Transmissions? Six-speed manual and automatics are expected to remain the order of the day for VF at least initially.

Of course, the LS3 is HSV’s current engine, and the F-Series (if it is to be dubbed that) will have to move up if the 6.2 drops into VF, perhaps to the Camaro ZL1’s supercharged 6.2.

But also look to the new C7 Corvette for hints of what might be in HSV’s future. The iconic sportscar is expected to debut at Detroit auto show next January powered by a new Gen V 5.5-litre small block V8 with at least 325kW. This could be backed up by a new turbocharged V6. Transmissions are said to be seven-speed manual and seven or eight-speed auto. HSV would love to get hold of that lot no doubt – and may have already.

VF Commodore will also introduce electric power steering as a fuel saving measure. We can only hope it doesn’t lessen the VE’s sensational feel at the wheel.

Electronics are a big issue for the VF, as it migrates from an earlier generation of General Motors’ ‘GM LAN’ electrical architecture dubbed Common Arc to the more capable, Global A. That brings VF in-line with the likes of Cruze, Malibu and Camaro and means the Aussie large car can now cherry pick from a much wider range of safety and comfort features.

There’s evidence of some of these in our exclusive spy photos. Note the camera mounted adjacent to the rear-view mirror of the high-spec car? That services lane departure and forward collision warning systems that will be available with the new Commodore. Courtesy of Global A, VF will also offer substantially more media interactivity, such as the MyLink telematics system and internet access.

More prosaically, the VF will also shift to keyless entry and start and use an electronic parking brake. The latter means an end to the integrated manual parking brake and controversial central power window switches. These now move into the driver’s door like most mainstream verhicles.

These changes are just small parts of what is another massive VF focus; improvement of interior ergonomics, quality and refinement. The VE interior was never the hit the exterior was, not even after the MY11 upgrade.

So what of the range and what of pricing? Good questions, and ones we can’t answer with any certainty now. Sure, sedan, ute and wagon will continue and the long wheelbase Caprice has a lifeline via the PPV export program.

The Omega and SV6 are big sellers, while the V8s do well. Maybe V6 Berlina and Calais need a rethink? We’ll know soon enough.

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Published : Friday, 24 August 2012
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