Holden VY Commodore SS

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

Till Holden adopted it for the factory hot rod version of the Commodore, it was a Chevrolet icon, starting with the Impala SS in 1961.

It seems difficult to imagine the Impala land yacht as a sporting car, yet those early SSs were fast cars and quickly made their mark in drag racing.

The chief motor in 1961 was a 409 cubic inch V8. With a low 4.56:1 diff, an Impala 409 SS could cut out the standing quarter in 14 seconds, hit 60mph (96km/h) in seven seconds and reach a top speed of 98mph (157km/h).

With a more street-friendly 3.36:1 diff, acceleration suffered a little but top speed improved to more than 120mph (192km/h). Chevy built Impala SSs through 1967 and also used the SS (Super Sport) tag on Camaro pony cars, Nova compacts and full-size Monte Carlos.

But it’s the gorgeous 1969 Chevelle SS coupe that perhaps best evokes the Super Sport image.

Bruce Springsteen immortalised the Chevelle SS – at least I’ve always thought of the car in his song as a Chevelle two-door – in his bittersweet hot rodder/street racer anthem, Racing in the Street.

The Boss didn’t name the car as an SS, but he was singing about it with his line: “I’ve got a ’69 Chevy with a 396, fuellie heads and a Hurst on the floor.”

The protagonist uses it to race “all the action we can meet, from the fire roads to the Interstate,” to beat a Camaro-driving Dude from LA and drive away with the beaten guy’s girl.

Rich, emotive words and music, building the image of a car that is the stuff that dreams are made on.

Which means that for many a V8 fan Holden’s Commodore SS has a big reputation – even if for many people it’s a reputation of the imagination – to live up to.

We’ve been driving the new incarnation of Holden’s Commodore SS, the VY, and it definitely makes the grade.

Holden got serious about its SS with the VX, producing a bolder look that cocked a snook at HSV’s Clubsport.

The VY gets more serious still with a crisply-styled bodykit that is very much in the HSV mould, but without the rather dubious-looking “Formula 1” style front spoiler of the Holden Special Vehicle-modified VY Commodore.

The SS gets a 235kW version of the Chevrolet-designed 5.7-litre GEN III V8. Holden calls the motor the High Output V8 to distinguish it from regular 225kW versions.

Peak torque is a chunky 465Nm developed at 4400rpm, though it’s there in spades from much lower in the rev range.

The HSV Clubsport’s version of the GEN III outguns the SS’s: 260kW at 5600rpm (the SS develops its maximum output at 5200rpm) and 475Nm at 4000rpm.

I’m sure there are detectable differences if you drive the cars back-to-back, but few people will complain about the SS’s power.

There’s plenty of it and it’s offered up smoothly and willingly.

The best thing about the VY SS’s engine compared with its predecessors is that Holden has retuned the exhaust to deliver a gorgeous, give-me-more V8 beat. It’s not loud like the aftermarket kits so beloved of HSV buyers, but there’s now a real V8 sound as well as real V8 power available whenever you floor the throttle.

The sprint to 100km/h can be achieved in a shade under seven seconds but who does that many standing-start sprints?

More important is the effortless and potent acceleration at highway speeds.

That makes the SS a superb cross-country car, the V8’s massive torque quickly regaining any lost momentum.

The test car ran the four-speed automatic gearbox, and that’s the version we’d recommend. Not just because we’re getting older or because we spend a lot of time in Auckland’s nightmare commuter traffic.

It’s just that the six-speed manual is ponderous, heavyish and its two top ratios useful only on the highway. Acceleration is leisurely in fifth, tardy in sixth. The auto, on the other hand, accelerates strongly whenever you hit the gas, kicking down to a lower ratio if it needs to.

And the Holden auto can be shifted manually with greater smoothness and more quickly than the bona fide six-speed.

Steering is nicely firm and suspension revisions have improved turn-in crispness and reduced dramatically the traditional VT/VX initial understeer on turn-in.

It’s not as crisp as Ford’s Falcon BA steering and turn-in, but it’s much better than it was on the VT/VX.

The Holden will tackle a demanding winding road with ease, the chassis remaining poised and balanced, with body roll well-controlled.

The 18-inch diameter, eight-inch wide alloy wheels are shod with 235/40 R18 tyres which provide excellent grip.

Ride is firmish but never uncomfortable.

Creature comforts include well-shaped sports-style seats which provide good lateral support; air-conditioning; a Compact Disc sound system with six-disc in dash stacker; ABS anti-skid braking; traction control which can be switched off; electrically-wound windows and power door mirrors.

Passive safety gear includes front and side airbags for driver and front passenger and three-point seatbelts for all occupants.

The VY SS is an attractive car with sparkling performance, predictable and good handling, and reasonable ride comfort. It’s spacious with plenty of room for front and rear occupants and has a capacious boot with a flat floor.

It can also be reasonably economical for such a high-performance car, especially on the open road. Average round town/some motorway consumption can be as high as 17 or 18 litres/100km but that can go as low as the high 10 litres/100km bracket on open road trips.

The HSV Clubsport will always be an aspirational car for V8 fans, but the SS will do just as nicely and leave you with $10,000 to buy something for the house (or whatever other square-off you need to make so you can have your big boy’s toy).

The SS, manual or auto, costs $62,400 (the Clubsport is $73,000).

We’d probably opt nowadays for an auto SS over a similarly-equipped Clubsport. We’re less impressed by the VY Clubbie than we were by the VX I which remains one of our favourite high-performance V8s.

The VY SS makes a compelling argument for saving yourself $10,000 even if you don’t get the added cachet of the HSV badge.

Story by Mike Stock. Holden Australia photographs