Holden Monaro

You won’t be wrong calling it a Commodore coupe. Everybody knows it is a coupe version of Commodore, just like the relationship between Peugeot 406 sedan and coupe. However, Holden would rather name it after a 1968 coupe which is unheard to most of us - and ladies in their 40s will deny knowing it.  

Monaro’s chassis is purely Commodore, even without shortening wheelbase. However, Holden replaces nearly all body panels and windows, lowering the roof by 40mm, shortening the rear overhang and lowering the windscreen and fastback angle. The car looks particularly handsome from side and rear, although the nose is quite ordinary. Compare with Peugeot 406 Coupe, it looks big and less elegant.  

The interior is disappointing for looks and build quality. Once again, the hard-plastic dashboard is carried over from Commodore, just adding fake aluminium decoration. In the positive side, it has plenty of space front and rear, because the car is actually very big.  

If you expect a sportier handling and performance, you will be disappointed. The Monaro not only shares the same engines with Commodore, but the suspension setting is even softer than Commodore SS. It seems that Holden wants to make it a comfortable tourer like 406 Coupe or 3-series Coupe, but then again its semi-trailing arm suspensions prevent it from offering true supple and quiet ride quality. Strangely, steering ratio is tuned slower than the sedan to make it more progressive and less nervous. Push the car hard, it is really more composed. It will understeer safely at the limit, it will power slide under hard throttle, but something seemed missing: agility and sharpness. By coupe standard, it feels too big and heavy. 

There are two familiar engines - 230hp supercharged 3.8-litre V6 and 315hp 5.7-litre V8. The latter is definitely the better one, being powerful, torquey, good to ears while adding little weight. The Monaro is slightly heavier than Commodore, but given so much cubic-inches it should do 0-60 in under 6 seconds. That said, you need a M3 to beat it.  

Performance and space are what the Monaro excels, but it has too many flaws - a sticky 6-speed manual, an old 4-speed auto, weak brakes and poor brake feel, undesirable interior, poor quality ... most disappointing, it does not offer more excitement than the Commodore, which is a fatal fault for a coupe. 

The above report was last updated on 25 Nov 2001. All Rights Reserved.

HSV Coupe - see 2005 update

The conversion from Monaro to HSV Coupe is every bit predictable. Firstly, HSV transplanted its 342hp version of the GM LS1 V8 into the Monaro body. It comes with the same 6-speed gearbox and limited slip differential as a package. Then HSV replaced the Monaro’s slow and much-criticized steering rack with the original Commodore one, quickened steering response. Stiffer suspension setup, bigger brakes and a set of clothes designed by TWR (HSV’s mother company)’s Neil Simpson complete the package.  

That’s the HSV Coupe GTO. Priced lower than a BMW 330Ci, the HSV Coupe GTO is unique in the coupe world. No one else offers so much grunt for so little. Not even Nissan 350Z can match it in this respect. However, the Australian car is not as quick as the Z, blame to its 1.67 ton weight. According to company figures, it takes 6.3 seconds from rest to 60mph.  

To be honest, Coupe GTO offers no advantage over the equivalent HSV sedans. Its coupe bodyshell might be a little stiffer, but no lighter. They share the same engine, gearbox, steering and brakes. Even the suspension setting is no stiffer. On the contrary, you may be disappointed that it is set a little softer than HSV Commodore SS. However, cleverer damping eliminates the harshness experienced in the standard Monaro. 

For a 4-door sedan, its performance and handling are adequate. Unfortunately, for a 2-door coupe, we expect more. We hope it could be more agile in the twisty roads, but its sheer size and weight denies that. We hope it could be pushed towards the limit without loosing composure, but it understeers like a performance sedan. It does not encourage you to drive it towards the last two-tenth. We admire the rich and linear output of its 5.7-litre V8, what a pity the brakes of the GTO fade quickly after hard use. The steering, while more responsive than Monaro’s, needs more feel. The 6-speed gearbox has shorter throw than the Monaro’s, but shift action is still slow and rubbery. Lastly, we would like more performance to reinforce its giant-killer role. The fact that 350Z and Mustang Cobra offer higher performance for less money is not amusing to HSV’s fans. 

At least the performance and braking issue can be solved by the flagship GTS model. GTS employs the 402hp Callaway-enhanced V8 (first used in the Commodore GTS 300) and a set of huge brakes - 362mm disc with 6-pot calipers up front, 343mm with 4-pot at the rear. It might not challenge BMW M3 for performance and quality, but it is cheaper. 

Anyway, if I insist to have a HSV, I would choose the 4-door sedans instead. They feel as exciting to drive as the best European rivals while costing a fraction, that is the point. In contrast, the Coupe’s identity is less clear. It is neither the cheapest nor the best to drive. 

The above report was last updated on 9 Feb 2003. All Rights Reserved.

Pontiac GTO - see 2005 update

Pontiac GTO is a moral victory to Australian motor industry. For decades, Holden relied on American design and technology from its parent company in Detroit. But time has changed. Today, General Motors can no longer build a rear-drive coupe as good and as cost-effectively as its Australian subsidiary. While GM was shutting the production line of its F-body cars (Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro), Holden launched its first-ever self-developed coupe, Monaro. What a contrast. 

Bob Lutz, GM's product director, tried the Monaro and thought it has the right ingredients to fill the space left by Camaro and Firebird. The Monaro has V8 grunt (it actually shares the LS1 engine with Corvette), rear-drive layout and an affordable price tag, matches exactly the taste of American buyers. Yes, it is low on refinement and quality, but American doesn't care. Lutz decided to bring it to the United States and sell it in the name of Pontiac GTO. Strangely, the Monaro looks and drives nothing like the original GTO, which was a famous muscle car in the 60s. But that doesn't matter. The most important is that GM now has a weapon to attract 18,000 units of sales a year. 

The GTO is produced by Holden in Australia. It has a number of differences from the Monaro however. Firstly, it gets a subtle restyle, most obviously is a Pontiac corporate grille. Secondly, the LS1 V8 is tuned to deliver more power and torque (350hp and 365 lbft) compare with its Australian sister. This is done by using the high-lift camshaft from Corvette and larger diameter intake and exhaust manifolds. Thirdly, in response to the criticism that the Monaro's suspensions are too soft, the GTO employs stiffer springs and dampers, but ride quality is compensated by higher profile tires. Finally, the GTO gets better noise insulation and a relocated fuel tank to deal with Federal safety regulations. 

On the road, Pontiac GTO is quicker in acceleration. Although it weighs 1710kg, both Car & Driver and Road & Track found it took just 5.3 seconds to hit 60mph from standstill. 0-100mph was done in 13.4 sec and 12.9 sec respectively. The chassis is also better sorted. Handling is more responsive and accurate than the Monaro, although it is no Corvette. The only criticism it gets is the styling - isn't it too civilized for a Pontiac? 

The above report was last updated on 28 Nov 2003. All Rights Reserved.

Monaro 2005 update

VZ Monaro

In late 2004 Holden updated the Monaro to VZ iteration. To observers, the most obvious change is the additional air scoops over the bonnet. This modification was driven by Pontiac GTO, whose fans complained that it lacked an aggressive styling. In fact, they are pseudo scoops, drawing no air into the engine compartment.

Inside, the Monaro also got a resurfaced dashboard and console. Unfortunately, that doesn't hide its outdated architecture. Besides, the build quality and materials continue to reflect its budget price. At the boot, luggage volume is horribly reduced from 370 to 245 litres because the fuel tank is relocated to between the rear seat and rear axle to satisfy US Federal laws - a modification made to align with Pontiac GTO. By the way, this free up the space at the rear overhang to fit a diffuser to cut aerodynamic lift.

The Monaro's V6 base model has been deleted due to unpopularity. This means it is now offered with only the  5.7-litre, Chevrolet-sourced LS1 V8. The V8 has received a power boost, from 315 hp to 348 hp, while torque increased from 343 lbft to 369 lbft. Modifications major on reduced exhaust back pressure and the conversion to drink higher Octane fuel. It sends power to the familiar Tremec T56 gearbox and rear LSD. Sadly, the manual gearbox has only revised ratios but not shift quality – Holden leave this to HSV to improve – thus the long-throw and rubbery shift action remains unchanged.

The updated V8 feels noticeably more powerful and responsive on the road. It should launch the 1700kg coupe to 60 mph in just under 6 seconds. But nowadays many coupes and roadsters are already capable to do that. And, assuming without the protection by means of import duty, the Holden's advantage in price could be slim or even reversed.

HSV GTO / Vauxhall Monaro VXR

While the standard Monaro uses the outgoing Corvette C5's 5.7-litre LS1 V8, the HSV GTO and its European equivalent – Vauxhall Monaro VXR – employs the latest C6's 6.0-litre LS2 engine. The engine produces about 403 SAE horsepower or 409 DIN horsepower, and 391 lbft of torque. Both figures are more or less the same as Chevrolet Corvette, implying HSV did only the slightest revision to its ECU in order to comply with European emission regulation. It powers the car from rest to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds and arrive 100 mph in 12 seconds. That's the territory of BMW M3.

The new V8 is not only more powerful, but also smoother and lighter than the LS1. Its cut-off point is stretched from 6000 rpm to 6700 rpm. As a result, it feels more eager and enjoyable to exploit rev.

HSV GTO and its Vauxhall version has also received C6's manual gearbox, with triple-cone synchromesh  to improve shift quality and a reduced throw. The result is a crisper and shorter shift, far more enjoyable than the truck-like standard gearbox but still not as slick as we hope for. Moreover, top speed is reached at 5th instead of 6th gear, implying the T56 gearbox is actually a 5-speeder with an additional overdrive rather than a close-ratio 6-speeder.

The chassis has sportier tuning than the standard Monaro of course, such as stiffer suspension setup, quicker steering, bigger brakes, 19-inch alloy wheels (compare to 18-in), wider and lower profile tires. On demanding roads, the GTO has none of the bulky feel as the standard Monaro. It belies its size very well, capable to attack B-roads like BMW M3. It suspensions have enough compliance to deal with B-roads while maintaining body control excellent. Its steering is full of feel, once again proving the Commodore chassis is fundamentally so right.

There is one problem though – braking. HSV might have upgraded the brake discs to 330 mm front and 315 mm rear, but the braking power is still very poor for a sports coupe doing 0-60 mph in sub-5 seconds. Look at M3: its brake discs are similar in size (325 mm front / 326 mm rear), but the car weighs 200 kilograms less than the HSV GTO. This means buyers must tick the optional AP brakes with 362 mm front and 343mm rear.

At its home market, HSV GTO is usually seen as a half-price M3. In UK, without national protection, the price gap is reduced to just over 10%. When you consider the GTO's appalling fuel consumption and faster depreciation against the M3, any advantage will be converted to disadvantage. Then taking image, quality, mechanical refinement and boost space into consideration, the answer is no clearer. That's why Vauxhall Monaro VXR will not be a big seller.

To get out of the shadow of M3, HSV has to get even more power. What about a 500 horsepower 7.0 V8 from Corvette Z06 ? I guess it will form the basis for the next HSV GTS.

Pontiac GTO

The 2004 Pontiac GTO was selling disappointingly in the USA, putting Bob Lutz in embarrassment (and eventually lost his post as the boss of GM North America). People criticized the Australian-built coupe for looking too civilized. More excitement must be injected to save it from termination. Therefore the 2005 GTO has got a new bonnet with a pair of pseudo air scoops, more pronounced chin spoiler, side skirts and rear spoiler. Overall, it looks slightly more aggressive than the past, but probably not enough for the American's taste, especially it is now facing the stylish new Mustang. It should have copied the aggressive bumper intakes from HSV.

The new Mustang really puts a lot of pressure on Pontiac GTO. It is not only as quick as the outgoing GTO but also undercut it significantly (US$25,000 vs US$33,000). Therefore this time Pontiac has to fight back with a new engine – the new Corvette's 6.0-litre LS2 V8. With 400 horsepower and 400 lbft of torque, the GTO is capable to finish 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds and 100 mph in less than 12 seconds. That put it comfortably ahead of Mustang GT.

However, the GTO's gearbox and brakes are stock items from the Australian Monaro, unlike HSV GTO (Vauxhall Monaro VXR). Moreover, the suspension setting is closer to Monaro than HSV GTO. Furthermore, its 17-inch alloy wheels and 45% profile tires look too civilized compare with the HSV's 19-inch and 35%. That means the Pontiac is not as exciting to drive as the HSV. Yes, it still leads Ford Mustang in speed and handling, but doing that only is not enough to ensure its long term future.
The above report was last updated on 16 Apr 2005. All Rights Reserved.


Monaro CV8
Vauxhall Monaro VXR
Pontiac GTO
Front-engined, Rwd.
Front-engined, Rwd.
Front-engined, Rwd.
L / W / H / WB (mm)
4798 / 1841 / 1397 / 2788
4790 / 1841 / 1397 / 2788
4820 / 1841 / 1397 / 2788
V8, ohv, 2v/cyl
V8, ohv, 2v/cyl
V8, ohv, 2v/cyl
5665 cc
5967 cc
5967 cc
348 hp
409 hp (DIN)
400 hp (SAE)
369 lbft
391 lbft
400 lbft
Suspension (F/R)
strut / semi-trailing arm + 
control link
strut / semi-trailing arm +
control link
strut / semi-trailing arm +
control link
Tyres (F/R)
All: 235/40VR18
All: 245/35 ZR19
All: 245/45 ZR17
1692 kg
1677 kg
1690 kg
Top speed
155 mph (est)
168 mph (c)
168 mph (est)
0-60 mph
5.9 sec (est)
5.0 sec (c)
4.8* / 5.2** sec
0-100 mph
11.7* / 12.7 sec**
Figures tested by: * C&D, ** R&T

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