Best to think of this 2018 Holden Commodore RS 2.0T as the new Commodore SV6.
Tipped to become the top-seller in the radically changed ZB generation now hailing from Germany – replacing the acclaimed Australian-made VF Series II that ended production in October – this RS 2.0T is certainly an intriguing proposition.
Yes, for the first time this nameplate uses front-wheel rather than rear-wheel drive in entry-level format. Also for the first time, it becomes smaller in size and debuts a five-door liftback bodystyle as tested here. Not since the early 1980s has a four-cylinder been available, but this time it’s a 2.0-litre turbo not a weedy 1.9-litre non-turbo unit.
For family buyers spending $40,000 or less, forget the fact that there’s no V8 engine, too. Frankly, they were never priced under that barrier in the last generation anyway.
So can a Commodore turbo four-cylinder, with front-drive, really work for sub-$40K?
Vehicle Style: Large car
Price: $37,290 plus on-road costs, or $38,990 driveaway
Engine/trans: 191kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 9sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.9 l/100km | Tested: 11.3 l/100km
The outgoing Commodore SV6 cost $40,490 plus on-road costs – although it was often pegged at $39,990 driveaway. Its 3.6-litre non-turbo V6 engine made 210kW of power and 350Nm of torque, but the large sedan also weighed 1688kg and claimed 9.0 litres per 100 kilometres of regular unleaded in combined-cycle laboratory tests.
Today’s Commodore RS 2.0T asks $37,290 plus on-road costs, with a permanent national $38,990 driveaway offer.
The 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder takes a slight step back with 191kW, but it matches the old V6 for torque, now has a nine-speed automatic (up from six gears) and has shed 153kg, with a kerb weight of 1535kg. Meanwhile combined-cycle lab tests claim consumption of 7.9L/100km.
The ZB generation is, however, a slightly smaller car than the outgoing VF Series II. On the flipside, it’s better equipped, with the RS 2.0T first matching the old SV6’s 18-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors with automatic reverse-park assistance, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, part-leather sports seats and more.
But it now further adds an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, plus forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assistance and a blind-spot monitor. On the face of it, the new Commodore is lighter, cheaper, more frugal, better equipped and it should be at least as fast as before…
- Standard Equipment: Power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, part-leather trim with electrically adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, LED daytime running lights, and automatic on/off headlights and wipers.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, single front USB input, twin rear USB charging points, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
There is little point dithering about exterior dimension differences between the VF Series II and ZB Commodore, because all that matters is the packaging inside.
With a 490-litre boot, capacity in the new liftback falls by just 5L over the old sedan. However, there are more major upsides, starting with the practicality of having the glass raise up with the bootlid to help squeeze in bulkier items in, and ending with the 60:40 split-fold rear seat that replaces a narrow centre ‘ski port’ hole.
The tables turn in the rear seat, however. Few large cars boast the long, tilted and plush back bench of the VF Series II. There was lounging room to spare, above heads and for stretched legs, plus acres of middle rider room.
Now, however, the head of this 178cm-tall tester brushes the roofline in the back seat. Legroom is quite similar, but the seat base is notably shorter and both outboard passengers sit closer together – to the detriment of the middle rider shoulder room.
At least with the continued inclusion of rear air-vents, plus the new addition of twin rear USB charging points, the RS 2.0T is competitive with medium-to-large segment rivals. It is ahead of a Mazda6, on par with a Ford Mondeo, but falls behind the new Toyota Camry.
Of course, the headroom problem is solved by spending $2200 extra on the Commodore RS 2.0T Sportwagon – and that would be a fine decision anyway.
Right up front and the differences between ZB and VF Series II are least obvious. The front chairs are slightly narrower, but they needed to be, and if anything they have become more supportive. Plastics quality is impressive and ergonomics are very similar to the old model – though it certainly doesn’t push any boundaries.
The RS’ addition of ambient lighting is a nice touch, though, even if the touchscreen has regressed from an 8.0-inch unit to a 7.0-inch – and it still lacks sat-nav, as well as digital radio.
Both nav and DAB+ are standard on an identically priced Camry SX V6, which further scores a colour trip computer screen, full leather trim, wireless phone charging and adaptive cruise control missing here (although it lacks auto park assistance, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitor standard) on this Holden.
Either way, the Commodore RS 2.0T could be more fully featured for the price inside, if only because the base Commodore LT 2.0T is so well-equipped. For the $3600 extra spend to this sportier model, you only get 18s (replacing 17s), a spoiler, sports seats with part leather, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, plus that blind-spot monitor. More, arguably, should be included.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 191kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Can a front-drive Commodore really feel like a traditional Commodore? Yes, and no.
The fact remains that in most-popular Commodore SV6 specification a driver could rarely indulge in the rear- drive configuration in the same way as a V8-powered SS driver could. Any VF Series II was renowned for being fluent in ride and handling, though, and that remains the case here.
With light, sharp and precise steering guiding a chassis that feels lighter on its tyres than before, the spring and damper rates of the Commodore RS 2.0T feel born at Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground in Victoria, and that’s because they are.
Holden – or Opel, which builds the ZB in Germany for them – cleverly chose Continental SportContact5 tyres for this model grade, and they excel at delivering both wet and dry grip.
It’s a clever choice because it disguises to a sizeable degree that this Commodore drives only the front wheels. In rivals such as the Skoda Superb 162TSI and Toyota Camry V6, wheelspin off the line can regularly be a concern. Not here, though.
Maximum torque arrives at 3000rpm and holds strong until 4000rpm, before peak power tops out at 5500rpm. This doesn’t mean that the 2.0-litre turbo is ‘laggy’ in the low range, because the nine-speed automatic is superbly calibrated to pick lower gears silently and serenely, without flaring the tachometer needle like the V6 can.
The carry-over 3.6-litre, priced from $40,790 (plus orc) in RS form, not only weighs 137kg more than this RS 2.0T owing to the further inclusion of all-wheel drive, but the V6 now makes its peak 381Nm of torque at a screaming 5200rpm. And the nine-speed goes berserk as a result.
The fact is, the traditional V6 feels overpriced and irrelevant next to this turbo four-cylinder that revs sweetly, feels silky and is genuinely quick and responsive in all circumstances. For under $40K it’s a better drivetrain than in Camry, Mazda6, Mondeo, Passat or Superb – and with sweeter steering, ride and handling, too.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars – the Holden Commodore achieved 35.5 out of 38 points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2017.
Safety features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, ABS, two-stage ESC, rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors with rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assistance and forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Average annual or 12,000km intervals at a semi-affordable capped-price charge of $259/$299/$259 for the first three respectively.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Mondeo feels dated and dowdy inside, and its turbo four-cylinder is thrashy, while the Mazda6 sedan is cramped though more overtly dynamic.
The Superb is enormous, like a Camry, and as fast as this Commodore – but it sorely lacks suspension finesse and is expensive at $40,690 (plus orc).
The closest rival in ability to this RS 2.0T includes the Camry SX V6, which is a better family car in terms of space, but the 3.5-litre ultimately outruns the chassis and frankly the nameplate does work better as a hybrid costing under $35,000.
A Passat, meanwhile, is fantastically polished, preened, enthusiastic, roomy and well finished all from $35,490 (plus orc). Only a back-to-back test could ultimately separate Holden from Volkswagen.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Holden Commodore RS 2.0T is not as convincing in value terms as the base Commodore LT 2.0T – let us be clear. And the liftback does not offer the expected rear space of a large Holden that the extra-cost Sportwagon would.
But either way, and in any case, all of the abovementioned model grades slide in under $40,000 before on-road costs, and all are now class leading to drive. There seems little point in extending to a heavier, thirstier V6 engine anymore, because this turbo four-cylinder is the best base model Holden engine in years.
Spending more also reinforces the fact that the ZB is smaller, yet with all-wheel drive it’s just as heavy as the roomier VF Series. And adding all the equipment in the world can’t remove the fact that there’s no performance advantage higher up anymore.
Put the most powerful VF Series II model grades to one side for a moment, because they were pricey but brilliant. With this new Commodore, base is absolutely best.
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