You’re looking at the new Holden Commodore, and if you’re a Holden fan, or even a casual motoring enthusiast you’ll have been monitoring the progress of this particular model for months.
You already know that this is the first imported car to wear the Commodore name, and you probably already know that this generation comes from Opel, where is sells as the Insignia.
That means the traditional Commodore V8 engine and rear wheel drive format has been retired, as too four-door sedans and two door utes, replaced by a large hatch (and wagon) with front or all wheel drive, turbo four cylinder and V6 engines, and a roar of complaints from died in the wool Holden fans.
It’s not the first time the lion brand has shaken up its large car strategy. Last time things changed to dramatically was when Holden introduced the Commodore name itself, and while it carries plenty of Aussie pride, the first Commodore simply wouldn't have happened were it not for the Opel Rekord that car was built from.
Much like the outside forces that led to the first Commodore, this generation signifies a changing market - a more global one where Aussie manufacturing has fallen to overseas competition and one where big, strong sedans have taken a back seat to small cars, SUVs, dual-cab utes, and just about anything other than the what the Commodore used to represent.
Vehicle Style: Large hatch and wagon
Price: from $33.690 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 191kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 235kW/381Nm 3.6-litre V6 |9spd automatic or 125kW/400Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.4 l/100km (petrol), 5.6 l/100km (diesel), 8.9 l/100km (V6)
In a case of history repeating the all-new 2018 ZB Commodore is lighter, smaller and packed with more technology than the car it replaces - echoing the VB Commodore of 1978 and its superiority over the Kingswood it replaced at the time.
Like that first Commodore the latest version may be european in origin (this time based on the Opel Insignia), but with significant modifications by Holden’s engineering division to meet our conditions.
For Holden enthusiasts the most obvious and painful changes include country of origin; the Commodore is no longer built in Australia, nor does it offer a muscular V8 option but Holden’s Managing Director and Chairman, Mark Bernhard, has challenged those one-eyed enthusiasts to try it first.
“The nameplate synonymous with our heartland is Commodore. Few cars stir the emotion like Commodore does. Any car company around the world would love that passion,” Bernhard said.
“There are plenty of strong opinions out there on how this car will perform. Will our heartland customers buy the next generation Commodore? I challenge any of them to drive the car and then have an opinion.”
There is no point denying the new Commodore is a different car than the popular VF Commodore it replaces, but it also warrants mentioning that even if it had continued as before, the Commodore may never have matched its past glory as traditional passenger cars take a back seat to new family alternatives.
- LT: Cloth seat trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless entry and start, cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning as well as a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors, 17-inch alloy wheels
- RS: Sports front seats and steering wheel, rear lip spoiler, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, powered tailgate (wagon only), 18-inch alloy wheels
- RS-V and Calais: Leather seat trim, heated front seats, ambient interior lighting, wireless phone charging, sports bumpers, colour head-up display
- Calais-V: LED matrix headlights, sunroof, 360-degree parking camera, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, massaging driver’s seat, 20-inch alloy wheels
- RSV: Adaptive cruise control, VXR floor mats and sill plates, adjustable front seat bolsters, Brembo front brakes, adaptive dampers
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, six-speaker audio (LT, RS) 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, satellite navigation, digital radio (RS-V and above) Bose premium audio (Calais-V, RSV)
- Cargo Volume: 552 litres minimum, 1450 litres maximum (hatch) 793 litres minimum 1665 litre maximum
Because of the dimensional changes to the new Commodore, and its new engineering layout, the cabin becomes marginally smaller than before.
From either of the front seats, there is an almost identical amount of headroom and space in the footwell, although the occupants are sitting closer together due to the narrower centre console. In the back, there is actually more knee room than the VF, but headroom is 13mm lower as a result of its tapered roof line.
When you do get behind the wheel, the cabin doesn’t stand out from the mid-size pack. It feels well built, the driving position is great with good adjustment and there is plenty of practical touches with good small item storage, the latest in connectivity gadgets, rear vents and USB outlets, plenty of space up front and enough room in the back for adults (at least those less than six-foot tall) to travel comfortably.
The part digital dash in the high-grade models offers plenty of information, the multimedia unit is comprehensive with features such as Apple Carplay and sat nav across the range, and the sports seats in the VXR have heating, cooling and massage functions as well as electrically-adjustable side bolsters.
Overall, it is fairly conservative in its layout, the materials are a bit chintzy and the predominantly black palette doesn’t make it feel as airy as it is – and will make it hot in warm weather. The sloping roofline also limits rear visibility and the rear glass doesn't have a wiper.
The hatchback body style makes the Commodore more practical than before too. While the volume of the cargo area is 5L less to the parcel shelf, it can accommodate more – up to 552L – to the glass, and has a 60:40 split fold rear bench (something the Commodore sedan never offered) that expands the space to a generous 1450L.
The Sportwagon and Tourer have even more space, with upto 793L with the rear seats in place and 1665L with them down.
So the all-new Commodore stacks up on paper but the burning question is does it live up the legend from behind the wheel?
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, 191kW @5500rpm, 350Nm, 3.6-litre V6, 235kW @6800rpm, 381Nm, 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, 125kW @3750rpm, 400Nm
- Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, front wheel drive (4ctl) all wheel drive (V6)
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, four-link independent rear (4cyl) HiPer strut front, five-link independent rear (V6)
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc
- Steering: Electric power steering, 11.1m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1800kg braked (4cyl) 2100kg braked (V6), 750kg unbraked, 90kg towball load
The drivetrain layout has switched from a longitudinal to transverse configuration, meaning the engine choice is limited to a 2.0-litre turbo petrol four cylinder, a 2.0-litre turbo diesel four cylinder and a 3.6-litre naturally-aspirated V6. There is no manual gearbox either, as all variants come equipped with a high-tech nine-speed automatic.
The petrol four cylinder produces 191kW of power and 350Nm of torque making it the most powerful entry-level engine in a Commodore ever, while the diesel generates 125kW and 400Nm, with either engine choice driving the front wheels only.
The V6, which only exists because Holden demanded it early in the planning stages of the program, has 235kW and 381Nm and is mated exclusively to a high-tech all-wheel drive transmission that features torque vectoring across the rear axle.
All up, there is still a wide variety of models to choose from, and a cheaper entry point with the base-level LT Liftback powered by a petrol engine starting at $33,690 (plus on-road costs) despite the fact it comes equipped with more standard features including the latest safety systems such as automated emergency braking, lane keeping assistance and forward collision warning.
The diesel engine option comes with a $3000 premium, but is the most efficient choice with a claimed average consumption of just 5.6L/100km, while a sportier looking RS, with larger 18-inch wheels, a body kit, sports seats and more, costs from $37,290 with a four-cylinder engine and $40,790 with the V6 and all-wheel drive configuration.
Buyers can then be split-off towards luxury with the Calais, which can be had with any of the three engine options and in two grades of equipment, or performance with the RS-V and flagship VXR which are exclusively offered only with the V6 powertrain.
The Sportwagon, on the other hand, is limited to just four variants – LT petrol and diesel, RS petrol and RS-V V6 – and costs an extra $2200 over the equivalent Liftback models while the Tourer can only be had as a Calais or Calais V with the V6 and cost $45,990 and $53,990 respectively.
Underneath, there are some key differences in mechanical elements between models. The front-wheel drive variants have a MacPherson front strut and four-link independent rear suspension while the all-wheel drive versions have a five-link rear set-up with the VXR uniquely featuring a HiPer Strut front end that creates a virtual pivot point and multi-mode adaptive dampers for sharper handling. It also comes with larger Brembo brakes and 19-inch alloys with sticky Michelin tyres.
Holden’s engineering team has spent considerable time over the last few years fine-tuning the different suspension setups, and the electric power steering system, to give the Commodore a local flavour and ensuring they meet local tastes and conditions.
Even before you slide inside, it’s obvious this isn’t a Commodore as we’ve known it.
Gone is the chunky, masculine appearance of a muscle car and, in its place, is a slimmer, more delicate car, that, while good looking in isolation – particularly the sportier versions – ultimately blends into the conservative mid-size segment.
It certainly didn’t help that Holden only had a monochromatic mix of cars in black, white or silver during our preview drive at and around its Lang Lang Proving Ground in Victoria.
Design elements aside, and if you take the rose-coloured glasses off and strip the Commodore back to the core of being a family car first, there is a lot to like about the way it drives.
The 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine is a real gem, with an effortless character that can be easily punctuated by a strong surge of mid-range torque for quick overtakes or rapid getaways. Being only offered in a front-drive configuration, it is prone to tugging through the steering wheel under heavy acceleration though.
We didn’t get the chance to sample the diesel engine during the launch, but the V6 is the most charming option in that it produces a better sound track (which is digitally enhanced through the audio system) at high revs but, considering it has only marginally more torque and its peak pulling power isn’t produced until 5200rpm, it needs to be worked harder to get the best from it. In doing so, it feels more engaging in the sports variants but it will also love a drink.
The all-wheel drive transmission that it is hooked up to is a clever system that not only makes it feel super stable in the corners and in slippery conditions it actually makes it, but the VXR in particular with its sharper front end, gripper tyres and adaptive suspension, a fun, and fast, car to drive.
Sure, it won’t do smokey burnouts or lurid power slides like an SS Commodore, but on a tight and twisty backroad it would be just as quick – and much easier to keep out of the hedges.
The high-riding Tourer is Holden’s biggest opportunity and the most convincing family car alternative in the range, especially considering the shift towards crossovers and SUVs, but it would almost certainly be more appealing with either of the four-cylinder engines rather than the V6.
In any case, and in any model, whether you’re tootling around the city, hitting the highway or belting through the mountains, it helps that the nine-speed automatic is one of the best self-shifters going around, ensuring that the engines remain in their sweet spots at all times.
Unlike some others with more than six forward ratios, the brain behind it is never confused as it shifts with imperceptible smoothness and doesn’t hunt around the gearbox as soon as the car hits an incline and, in the RS and VXR models, its sports mode intuitively holds gears when cornering for maximum acceleration out of the bends.
In all the Commodore variants, the work Holden has done to calibrate the suspension and steering ensures they are comfortable and compliant in any environment. The steering is well weighted and positive with good feedback and the cars handle Australia’s pockmarked road network with a level of compliance and control that is up there with the best in the class.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
In the end, this is a new breed of Holden Commodore that harks back to its roots as a family car rather than continuing its most recent focus on being a muscle car. Because of that, it won’t win the hearts of the V8 brethren that have sung its praises – and kept the Commodore somewhat unique – for generations, but ultimately this is what the nameplate would’ve have naturally evolved into no matter whether it was built in Australia, or not.
In many ways, the Commodore has come full circle. The new one is smaller, lighter, safer, right up to date with technology, still a great car to drive and based on an Opel that has been tweaked and tuned for Australian conditions.
It’s just that times have changed, and its biggest hurdle will be convincing families it’s a better alternative to an SUV.
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