Completely. This is a muscle car, Australian style, and it’s a genre Holden has a bit of a history with, the company having produced Monaros past that did the smokey pony car bit with that tyre-ripping lack of subtlety that is so appealing.
The ’68-’70 Monaro, an antipodean facsimile of the muscle-bound American coupes, makes this modern version look modest. Actually, it’s not. Especially if it comes painted Devil Yellow. That’s because it’s big – almost as big as the Bentley Continental GT – and sizeable enough to seat four adults in real comfort, along with a fair haul of luggage.
The combination of this and that fat V8 make the £28,650 Monaro a unique package here in the UK. Perhaps its closest rivals are the Nissan 350Z, though that is two seats and two cylinders down – or MG’s ZT 260, which comes with two extra doors, but 70 horses fewer from its Ford V8. Or you could spend tens of thousands more and get yourself a German coupé from Mercedes or BMW.
It’s hard to imagine this Holden matching the sophistication of any of those cars with such a red-neck spec. Surprise number one, however, is that the cabin is a comfortable and contemporary-looking habitat, if not truly special. Mock stippled aluminium decorates a centre stack from which a pair of Saab 9-5 cupholders perform their dance, the instruments include LCD displays, the gearlever and handbrake are fashioned from a pleasingly tactile mix of leather and faux aluminium, and the pedals are metal-faced to boot.
The big, squashily supportive seats are electrically adjusted. You may even find the lumbar knob too, stuffed tight as it is between backrest and B-pillar. So we’re not driving a piece of pre-history here, even if the Monaro is looking a bit dated.
This, then, is our weapon for the Great Ocean Road, and I find myself wondering what kind of car it will be. Blind assumption suggests a somewhat raw device that’s long on power and short on subtlety. However, the drive from the Holden headquarters in Melbourne to the dual carriageway that will take us to the Southern Ocean demolishes those thoughts. The Holden proves a quiet, comfortable, almost soothing machine with which to cut clear of the city.
The only thing you have to concentrate on is the transmission, because the clutch can make a clean, brisk getaway a hard-won outcome, and because the shift itself is a little slow-witted. We tried the ’box in several Monaros, and wondered whether some of the Mexican Tremec-made transmissions were assembled the morning after a Tequila sunrise. Some shifted ponderously but with great accuracy, others resisted the thrust of your wrist, while a third would allow you to brush reverse when you had intended a 90mph rendezvous with fifth. Ouch.
Once you’re ambling at 68mph in top – the limit on Australian freeways – with the engine turning lazily, such inconveniences are forgotten. The Monaro feels like a big saloon, its sporting pretensions betrayed only by the odd abruptly handled bump from a suspension that works with admirable quiet. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the steering, whose reactions seem dulled given the car’s purported athleticism. But that does mean you can drive it in relaxed manner along arrow-straight black-top, of which there is much in Australia. A wet roundabout provokes a brief slither from the back end, though nothing too dramatic, the traction control intervening tidily.
The road is dry now – though far from free of traffic – but with 330 horsepower on standby, vaulting past is easy. It’s easier still if you’re in the right gear. At first I let the torque do the work, and there’s plenty, but in time I realise that to get a whole lot more, to make the Monaro behave like the seriously fast car that it is, you must stretch that 5.7-litre V8. It glories in a long stretch of revving, even if it doesn’t go banshee-ballistic like a Honda motor. In the Vauxhall-ised version of the Monaro we get a tamer exhaust, our drive-by noise regulations outlawing the more burbly item the Holden comes with. A louder sports item will be a £2000 option.