The new Holden-iQ system is a standard fit throughout the updated Commodore and Caprice ranges, although the amount of goodies loaded on-board varies from model to model.
All versions are controlled via a 6.5-inch touchscreen, the physical buttons that flank it and a suite of buttons and dials on the steering wheel. Regardless of the car's spec-level, a single CD slot and USB and auxiliary ports are included. Bluetooth is also standard, allowing for hands-free phone calls as well as wireless streaming audio. Unless you opt for the base model Omega, iQ comes fitted with internal flash memory to store ripped audio CDs. Backseat drivers in the top-of-the-range, long wheelbase Caprice V can be distracted by that car's standard DVD rear-seat entertainment package.
Satellite navigation and a reversing camera are standard on the Commodore SS-V, Calais V, Caprice and Caprice V. For models where sat nav isn't included, it's an AU$990 option. An extra AU$300 will buy you a reversing camera, unless you're buying a ute, in which case the reversing camera isn't available either as standard or as an option.
On the Commodore, from the base-level Omega through to the range-topping Calais V, the 6.5-inch touchscreen is well situated high up on the dashboard. Step up to the long wheelbase Caprice, though, and the screen is placed further down the dash, making it hard to read in a hurry.
The screen itself is a bit low-resolution for our liking, and probably could do with a bit more vertical space. There's no home-screen, so all of the functions are accessed via the physical buttons that flank the display. All models feature dials and buttons on the steering wheel that allow the driver to adjust the volume, change media source, skip tracks/stations and answer or hang up on calls. The on-screen interface is quite easy to master, although some buttons and menu items are on the small side, making them hard to hit accurately in a rush.
Although it's operated by its own set of physical controls, the display for the standard climate-control air-conditioning system is on the iQ screen. Unfortunately, discerning the set temperature, fan speed, in-use vents or outside temperature is difficult, as there's no dedicated screen for all of this information; rather, a simple summary strip along the top that's cluttered with icons, gauges, acronyms and numbers.
Naturally, sound quality varies between different models, with higher spec (and higher priced) editions sporting more speakers and greater fidelity.
All models feature a CD drive, although on some models the slot's design is a little too cute. On the Commodore SS-V, for instance, we weren't able to locate the slot until our second day with the car, because the unit's piano black bezel and the dashboard's dark grey plastic contrived to hide the damn thing. Also standard is an auxiliary jack and a USB port. While the latter is compatible with iPods and iPhones, WMA and MP3 files that are stored on flash memory drives may be a better bet. That's because scrolling through long lists of albums, artists or songs on devices running iOS 4 or higher is slower than swimming in molasses.
On every model — bar the base Commodore Omega — there's 1GB of internal flash memory that can be used to store up to 15 ripped CDs. A good deal of patience is required as an average CD takes upwards of 15 minutes to rip, with the CD drive and virtual changer out of commission during that period. Users can enter album and track names for discs stored in iQ, but titles are limited to 18 characters in length.
Radio reception is decent, and there's station ID and track information displayed on FM stations that support the RDS standard.
Even if you've been prodding around on the iQ system for a little while, say selecting your tunes for a long drive, the navigation system doesn't seem to start up until it's first called upon. This means that you'll have to sit patiently through another lull as you wait for it to gather its thoughts. Even when you've waltzed past the obligatory legal warning and are shown the destination entry screen, the system's response to your inputs will still lag behind for a while longer.
Thanks to the unit's on-screen QWERTY keyboard and predictive text, destination-entry is straightforward. Route calculation times are on the long side, and while the routes themselves aren't any worse than those offered up by other sat nav systems, iQ does have a small habit of freaking out on long routes, unilaterally declaring that there's no way of getting to B. Another annoying oddity that occurs on long journeys is the sometimes oft-repeated instruction, "stay on this road for a long time".
Features-wise, iQ's sat nav system might be missing text-to-speech for spoken street names, but it more than makes up for this with a whole host of other goodies. The best of these is speed limit information that's present for most roads; this is displayed as either a small, hard-to-read icon in the bottom-left corner of the touchscreen or, should you so configure it, on the LCD screen in the middle of the instrument cluster. This screen can also display next turn instructions and a digital speedo in a convenient location.
Unusually for a factory-fit system, iQ also has speed and red light camera alerts. On the downside, the alert message on the instrument display obscures the digital speedo, a slight issue when you're rushing headlong towards a speed camera. There are also alerts for school zones, but unfortunately these warnings occur whenever you enter within a certain radius of a school. So you can be zipping happily along a freeway or driving well below ground, only to be rudely (and incorrectly) informed that you're entering a school zone. At least these warnings are time-of-day-dependent, ruling out incorrect alerts at midnight.
Lane-guidance is present, too, but it's limited to intersections and exits on freeways and highways, and appears as a set of small red and green bars on the main display that's hard to discern at speed. Other features include 3D map-view and a lifetime Suna traffic messaging subscription. As we've mentioned in other GPS reviews, the usefulness of the traffic system varies wildly. On some days, it will save you valuable time; on others, it will alert you to traffic delays that have long since cleared up, or not even have the jam that you're stuck in on its records. As the iQ system is a text-to-speech-free zone, it will either inform you of an "incident in X kilometres" or just re-route you. Traffic delays are highlighted on the map screen with pink arrows, and the driver can also call up a list of traffic incidents with full-page descriptions, although it won't let you easily jump to a map-view of said event.
With its quiet cabin, holding long phone conversations in either a Commodore or a Caprice is an enjoyable thing to do. Unfortunately, like music-filled iPods, navigating through a phonebook via the iQ's touchscreen is about as slow and enjoyable as lodging a council planning application in Swahili. Without any form of voice recognition to help us out, our phone usage was limited to receiving calls and phoning recent callers, unless we were willing to pull over to use our phone's interface instead.
All of the iQ system's configuration options outside of nav system are housed under the Config button. This makes simple tasks, like adjusting the audio system's bass or balance, a bit trickier than they should be, but should be a boon to anyone who wants to allow their co-pilot to use the on-screen keyboard whilst the car's on-the-move.
It has its share of annoying quirks and faults, but iQ is admirable for its impressive feature set and unique inclusions, and is a huge step forward for Holden's locally made vehicles. Hopefully, the company sets about quietly refining the system and squishing the bugs.