Holden VZ Monaro Test

A truly desirable muscle car.

By Michael Knowling

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • Awesome real-world performance
  • Great throttle control and balanced handling
  • Good accommodation
  • Comfortable
  • Looks great
  • Consumes PULP at an alarming rate

It doesn’t matter if you love traditional style muscle cars or you hate ‘em - the new VZ Holden Monaro demands admiration. It looks tough, sounds bloody incredible, goes around corners, stops and, yep, she’ll get up an’ go.

Boy, does it go!

The Monaro’s newly-tweaked LS1 5.7 litre V8 offers great throttle response and mind-blowing torque across the normal rev range. It doesn’t matter what gear you’re in or if you’re driving half asleep, you only need squeeze the throttle and – bang – you’re off. You can see the front passenger’s head flung back on almost every throttle application...

The sheer accessibility of this performance makes the Monaro very flexible and rewarding to drive. The only time you can catch it off-torque is when cruising in top gear (6th) at anything less than about 80 km/h. The engine is happy and docile enough to maintain a steady 60 km/h cruise in top gear (at a mere 1000 rpm) but it doesn’t really respond when you squeeze the pedal. But drop it back a gear and you’re romping away.

And, speaking of romping away, the Monaro is a car that can slaughter other ‘performance’ cars at the lights. No need for a tyre-frying launch – just floor it off the line and you’ll reach 100 km/h in around 7 seconds dead. With the traction control switched off for a big launch, the best 0 – 100 km/h time we recorded was in the low 6s.

That’s seriously fast.

The VZ update sees the Monaro’s pushrod LS1 bumped up to 260kW and a massive 500Nm (at 5600 and 4000 rpm respectively). Note that these are the highest power and torque figures we’ve seen from the LS1 with the exception of HSV’s 285kW and C4B 300kW engines. The newly Monaro engine also offers a massive 93 percent of peak torque from 2300 to 5300 rpm – no wonder it’s always ready an’ raring to go!

Changes to the engine include a revised camshaft, free-flow induction system, new ECU calibration (to suit high-octane fuel), electronic throttle control and a split dual exhaust that reduces backpressure by around 25 percent. Ahhh, the exhaust... The Monaro burbles and pops through its dual 95mm tips and is sure to put a smile on the face of any petrol head. But in light driving conditions, there’s only a distant murmur from the system so it’s not a constant annoyance.

The VZ Monaro can be purchased with a 4 speed auto or a 6 speed manual (as tested). The updated T56 manual ‘box receives shorter ratios, which are partially responsible for the car’s improved driving flexibility and response. Unfortunately, the shifter has a relatively long throw – a short-shift would be a nice touch. The LSD rear-end maintains the previous model’s 3.46:1 ratio.

The 1692kg Monaro is a relatively large car but drive it on a narrow, twisting road and is shrinks around you – the suspension, steering and overall feel come together very well. Our only criticism is the sports-spec suspension can be a tad harsh at times – there’s an occasional crash-bang into the cabin.

The Monaro exhibits a mild amount of turn-in understeer but the chassis is wonderfully throttle-responsive through the mid and late section of a corner. It also feels slightly more tail-happy than a Commodore sedan, but it’s never unnerving. The traction control system – which no longer kicks back through the accelerator pedal – is smooth and effective.

Under its skin, the Monaro is largely unchanged - the biggest change is the relocation of the fuel tank to between the rear seat and axle (to satisfy US safety standards). Relocating the 70 litre tank provides space for the fitment of a dual split exhaust and rear undertray which is said to reduce rear aero lift by 16 percent. The downside is significantly reduced boot space which is exacerbated by the relatively intrusive hinge mechanism – it’s a shame gas struts haven’t been installed to help maximise existing space.

The brakes instil the sort of confidence you want given the Monaro’s straight-line speed and point-to-point pace. The VZ Monaro has the biggest brake set-up of any Holden - 320 x 32mm ventilated fronts and 286 x 188 ventilated rear discs. The new Corvette C6 twin-pot calipers are also a stand-out from behind the front wheels. These come in addition to the other brake system changes found in the VZ update – there’s a new brake booster and master cylinder, standard EBD, ABS and brake assist.

Our only criticism is the slight oversensitivity of our test car’s ABS system – in one instance the pedal could be felt pulsing while braking with a front wheel over a manhole cover. Mind you, this was entering a corner at a fair click...

The downside of all these antics is a fuel bill that is nothing short of scary. Drive it so you can hear the exhaust and you will pay for it – we recorded over 18 litres per 100km during our test! Holden claim 15.3 litres per 100km (ADR 81/01) for the Monaro 6 speed.

And don’t forget the new engine tune is optimised to suit the expensive Premium Unleaded brew.

Despite the rorty nature of the car, the Monaro is remarkably pleasant, comfortable and easy to drive. The cabin offers roomy seating for four and all seating positions are comfortable enough to be used over long distances. The deep, heavily contoured front seats attract praise from everyone but – equally - access to the front and rear seats drew criticism. The first time you step into the Monaro there’s a high probability you’ll crack your head on its sloping A-pillar. Access to the rear seats is also made difficult by the bulky front seats and their slow single-action tilt/slide mechanism.

And what about interior gizmos? Well, you get dual-zone climate control, front and side airbags, a comprehensive trip computer, electric seats (with memory settings on the driver’s side), a punchy 6-stack CD system and cruise control. A handy parking distance beeper is also included in the deal.  

The instrumentation markings are attractive in an old-school sort of way and there’s an add-on binnacle on the centre of the dash containing an oil pressure gauge and volt meter. Unfortunately, these are not angled toward the driver – they’re aimed straight down the centreline of the car. The cabin is fully leather-lined and comes with highlight stitching on the steering wheel, gear knob and park brake lever. There are also glossy ‘piano black’ trims, which show dust and finger prints.

The VZ Monaro attracts more attention than almost any other stock-standard car we’ve driven. The Monaro shape is well proportioned, smooth and attractive and the VZ update adds a bit of extra sex appeal. The bulging bonnet features Pontiac-style scoops (which don’t feed air to anything), there’s a revised grille and headlights plus a deep front facia with a vertical slots containing the park and projector-type fog lights. The rear is distinguished by aftermarket-looking 95mm chrome exhaust tips and a black mesh lower skirt. Rims are attractive 5 spoke 18 x 8s wearing 235/40 Bridgestone Potenzas.

In one admirer’s word, “it’s pure horn.”

With a retail price of AUD$60,490 the VZ Monaro is one of the most expensive Holdens you can buy. But compare it against cars like the Nissan 350Z, Chrysler Crossfire and the big-power Euros costing more than twice as much and it starts to show its value. Ask yourself this; with the exception of the Holden-based HSV GTO, what other big performance coupe can you buy for anywhere near the price of a Monaro?

There’s nothing.

The Monaro is a car we’ve absolutely loved during our test. It scores very well in all areas with the exception of its oh-so-slightly too firm ride, reduced boot capacity and its dunce-hat rate of fuel consumption.

But nobody can deny its character and capabilities.

The VZ Monaro 6 speed was provided for this test by Holden Australia. www.holden.com.au

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