When you buy a Holden Monaro, you are buying into a legendary name. The Monaro’s all-Australian heritage, which stretches back to 1968, is defined by a heady mix of elegance, power, beauty, and performance – all cozied up in a sleek Holden wrapper.
Since its re-birth in 2001, the latest generation of Holden Monaro has served only to enhance the badge’s elite status, even if beneath its awesome exterior it is, for all intents and purposes, a two-door VX Commodore coupe.
You see Holden needed a name for its dashing new steed. But instead of extending the Commodore range, they decided to dress it as a Monaro – and it worked. At the 1998 Sydney Motor Show, it stole the limelight as a concept. When it launched in 2001, the waiting list became so long that production was stepped up to deal with demand. Back then it seemed that everyone with enough dollars in their wallets wanted a piece of the Monaro. Today, it’s still true, but with some caveats.
The original supercharged V6 Monaro is the weakest in the line-up. Its 4-speed automatic transmission niggles at the mind, seemingly taking an age to find a gear. When it does, the V6 is pretty harsh and noisy, leaving you questioning whether you can really live with it on a day-to-day basis.
Much smoother is the 5.7L V8 Monaro. Both the 4-speed automatic and 6-speed manual pull through the rev range nicely, but it has to be said that even here there are some issues. The 4-speed automatic is geared high, which could make you think that you’d be better off with a manual for more control over gear shifts. That, of course, you do get with the manual, along with what is quite a heavy and slow gear change compared to the slickness of power transfer in the Ford Falcon XR8. The small brakes seem less than convincing too on the V8, especially if they see some heavy action during a drive.
And then there’s the small matter of build quality deviations. When the Monaro was tested as new, it was widely commented that build quality varied from vehicle to vehicle, with some engines rattling and smoking.
But don’t let these uncertainties put you off. On looks alone, the post-2004 VZ face-lifted version of the Monaro, with its snorting twin bonnet scoops, is the one to fall in love with. The roar from the engine bay is beautiful on start and acceleration, and cruising along at 1500rpm in top gear, the monstrous engine transforms into a quiet and responsive performer. Coupled with the spacious and comfortable sedan-like cabin with enough room to seat four adults, you’ll be hard-pressed to think of reasons why you would you want to choose anything other than a Monaro.
V2 Monaros from 2001 to 2004 give you a choice between a supercharged 3.6L V6 engine pushing out 171kW of power and a 5.7L V8 developing 225kW of power and a lot more torque (460Nm). Post-2004 VZ Monaros are all 5.7L V8s with the ability to move from 0-100km/h in just over 6.5 seconds. As you might expect, they are thirsty beasts taking 12-14L/100km when driven economically, and a lot more when they’re ‘performing.’
Underneath is perhaps where the Monaro impresses the most performance-wise. Muscle cars are widely ridiculed for their handling deficiencies. The Monaro spits that back in your face with its rigid chassis and advanced suspension system featuring front struts and semi-trailing rear arms to give it poise and stability in corners and under braking. Power slides are all but impossible when shod with grippy rubber. The Monaro has strength and balance, and it corners with unfussed elegance.
Inside the cabin, the Monaro is pretty much a VX Commodore with similar equipment levels. The dashboard is well presented, while the sound system is fairly decent and easy to use. Other than that you have your standard 4 airbags, cruise control, climate control, air-conditioning, and reverse parking sensors. Electric seats move at a sedate pace, while in the rear, boot space is nothing to shout about.
The main bones of contention are the small brakes and the absence of the electronic stability control system to help correct slides. Maybe Holden thought that by making the Monaro not so easily swayed from its path of cornering sensibility, including stability control on it would be pointless.
The Ford Falcon XR8 is the Monaro’s arch competitor. Similarly sleek and stylish, the XR8 has more doors and a unique engine spec. It comes from a place with arguably less cachet, so as to which one you’d choose, much comes down to whether you’ve got Holden or Ford tattooed on your heart.