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Holden Commodore: A DriveWays Review . . .

by Frank A. Aukofer

To drive a Holden Commodore in Australia means learning about a comfortable and welcoming culture as well as witnessing the end of a nostalgic era some Americans still dream about.

This is a story about a car that is both familiar and unfamiliar, as well as an experience in a foreign country that in many ways is not foreign at all.

We traveled to Sydney, Australia, on a vacation trip and the folks at Holden loaned us a new Commodore — the last of a popular and endearing model that dates back to 1978. The company, which is part of General Motors, has stopped production in Australia and will switch to importing cars from Opel in Germany, and SUVs and trucks built in Thailand and South Korea.

MY16 VFII_Range Static_HRThe Commodore is the type of car many Americans embraced back as far as the end of World War II in the last century. Here it would be described as a full-size four-door sedan with rear-wheel drive and eight-cylinder power.

It is 16 feet four inches long with 107 cubic feet of space for passengers and a trunk of 19 cubic feet. Power is delivered by a 415-horsepower, 6.2-liter pushrod V8 engine with 415 pound-feet of torque—a configuration used by many General Motors, Ford and Chrysler models over decades, even recently in the Chevrolet Corvette sports car. The transmission is a silky six-speed automatic.

This Australian car has been — and is — sold in the U.S. At various times in recent years, it has appeared as a Pontiac GTO, Pontiac G8 and, currently, Chevrolet SS. To see a near clone of the Holden Commodore, check out an SS at your Chevy store.

MY16 VFII_SS-V Redline Ute_F3Q Dynamic 4_HRDriving comfortably in a foreign country requires an understanding of the people and the culture. The driver needs to have a knowledge not only of the rules of the road but also a feel for the mindset of other drivers and how they react in different circumstances. There are countries—India is one example—where even very experienced drivers should not drive without a long and careful learning curve.

That is not the case in Australia. Though it follows the mother country of Great Britain in driving on the left (or correct side, as some say), there are no surprises for Americans except for adapting to the mirror image on turns and roundabouts. The rules of the road, traffic signs, motoring courtesy and highway markings are all familiar. As in Canada, the speed limits and distances are in kilometers, not miles.

MY16 VFII_Hood Vents and Fascia Ducts_HRCanada, it is safe to say, is the country most familiar to U.S. Americans, and Australia and New Zealand are a close second. However, you do have to get used to the local accents, which can be charming if sometimes unfathomable.

We drove the Holden on a trip south from Sydney toward places with names that included Wollongong, Austinmer and Stanwell Tops. It included terrific views of the Tasman Sea and a long stretch through the scenic forestland of the Royal National Park. Comfort and visibility were outstanding, especially in the back seat.

The Commodore was as competent as any big sedan in negotiating the park’s twisting road — not unlike driving in Vermont. It cornered flat, with little body lean, and delivered generous power for passing and brakes that, as the old saying goes, would stop the car on a dime and give you nine cents change. However, the road did make an enthusiast pine for a Mazda Miata two-seater.

MY16 VFII_Sportwagon LED tail lamp_HRWe stopped for beers at Ryans Hotel in Thirroul, New South Wales —appropriate because my traveling companions were Richard and Dorothy Ryan of Rockville, MD, along with wife Sharlene. After a turnaround in Bulli we headed back to Sydney by an inland route.

Overall, the experience reminded me of a more innocent and less divisive time in the U.S., where we drove big cars with big engines and Americans were like Australians are today—folks who go out of their way to help, and where cab drivers, waitresses and other service people amazingly refuse tips because they just don’t do things that way.

MY16 VFII_Brembo brake_HRIt’s where, in a city with a metro population of five million, you can buy a transportation pass for $10 and ride the ferries, trains and buses all day Sunday, essentially for free, and end up with $7 on the card to be used another time.

In today’s confrontational political climate, some Americans have vowed to move to Australia or New Zealand. They’d be happy.

MY16 VFII_SS-V Redline sedan_side Dynamic_HRSpecifications

  • Model: Holden Commodore SS four-door sedan.
  • Engine:2-liter V8, 415 hp and 415 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Passenger/trunk volume: 107/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,000 pounds.
  • Fuel consumption: Estimated 18 mpg combined city/highway.
  • Price as tested: $47,190 (Australian dollars), $36,250 (U.S.)

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

MY16 VFII_Calais V_R3Q Static_HRPhotos (c) General Motors

2016 Buick Cascada: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer Kaminski

The all-new 2016 Buick Cascada may be a cause for celebration—though maybe not sales—among Polish Americans. It is manufactured in the motherland, but it’s a convertible and most of them live in the snow belt.

The four U.S. cities with the highest Polish-American percentages are New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Of those, Milwaukee leads with 9.6% of the population. Warm, convertible-friendly Los Angeles has but 1.5%.

Probably not many people buy a car based on ethnic origin, though anecdotal evidence suggests, for example, that any number of Korean Americans tilt toward Hyundai and Kia.

The Cascada is the latest entry in the resurgence of Buick, the General Motors brand once considered the domain of conservative country doctors and other professionals who could afford premium cars but eschewed Cadillac ostentation.

2016 Buick Cascada Convertible
2016 Buick Cascada Convertible

Now Buick has become the go-to American luxury nameplate in the world’s biggest car market, China, and the company even is building a new crossover SUV there: the Envision, a vehicle planned for world-wide distribution.

But the Cascada, Buick’s first convertible in 25 years, stands out as an unusual automotive intersection: a unique vehicle for the USA derived from an existing European car and built in a General Motors plant in Gliwice, in southern Poland.

Whatever, it is a high quality, four-passenger premium ragtop with no apologies and solid modern credentials. It is in a class by itself because competing convertibles have abandoned the US market. They include the Volkswagen Eos, Volvo C60 and Chrysler 200.

The Cascada is derived from a European car of the same name sold on the Continent as an Opel and in Great Britain as a Vauxhall. The handsome styling stayed mostly the same but Buick’s engineers redesigned the suspension system and other features to conform to American driving preferences.

One imperative was new 20-inch alloy wheels, which are standard equipment and available in two designs. They fill the wheel cutouts and give the Cascada the appearance of a sleek Hot Wheels miniature racer.

Because of its unusual width of more than six feet, marketers could even co-opt the old Pontiac “wide track” slogan.

The Cascada shares little with any other Buick—or, for that matter, any other General Motors car sold in the US. It is powered by a 200-hp, turbocharged1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 207 lb-ft of torque.

Power passes to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with shifts that are nearly imperceptible. Though there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel, the transmission can be shifted manually with the console-mounted shift lever.

The Cascada’s orientation is toward luxury and serene motoring. With a fabric top that has three layers of acoustic and thermal insulation, the Cascada with the top up is nearly as quiet as a fixed roof coupe, with little intrusion of mechanical, road or wind noise.

There are two Cascada models. The base car, at $33,990 including the destination charge, comes with a long list of standard equipment: Buick IntelliLink communications with a seven-inch touch screen, navigation and a backup camera; dual-zone climate control; GM OnStar 4G LTE with a Wi-Fi hotspot; satellite radio, leather upholstery, heated front seats with power lumbar support, and rear parking assist.

2016 Buick Cascada Convertible
2016 Buick Cascada Convertible

Driven for this review was the Premium 1SP version, with a sticker price of $36,990. It adds lane departure warning, forward collision alert, automatic headlights, front and rear parking assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and front and rear air deflectors.

The Cascada betrays its European roots with a couple of misses. Unlike most modern premium cars, it does not have pushbutton starting. It uses a traditional ignition key, which actually is preferred by some people. And the narrow sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the sides.

Inside, there’s just enough room for four average-sized adults, and easy access to the two back seats. The motorized front seats move back and forth automatically, and cleverly stop and move forward slightly when they bump against a rear passenger’s knees.

Imaginative packaging delivers a trunk of 13 cubic feet with the top up and 10 cubic feet with the top down. Rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo space to double the cargo capacity to 26 cubic feet.

Top down or up, the Cascada delivers a comfortable, pleasant and stress-free driving experience around town or cruising on a freeway. The ride is supple, and handling is accurate and secure. Polish-American country doctors will be pleased, even if they can only put the top down during the Brewers’ season.

2016 Buick Cascada Convertible
2016 Buick Cascada Convertible

Specifications

  • Model: 2016 Buick Cascada 1SP two-door, four-passenger convertible.
  • Engine:6-liter turbo four cylinder, 200 hp, 207 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 82/13 top up; 82/10 top down.
  • Weight: 3,979 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,990.
  • Price as tested: $36,990.

Photos (c) General Motors

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