Holden ZB Commodore Review

The new Holden ZB Commodore has certainly divided opinions among the Australian motoring public.  The locally built Commodore has now been replaced by a German built car known widely as the Opel Insignia.  Is the new car an adequate replacement for the Commodore that has been so popular amongst Australian’s for the last 30 years? I was fortunate enough to spend a day driving most variants of the new Commodore at Holden’s Lang Lang Proving Ground to find out.  I’m hoping to provide an unbiased and fair opinion on the new car.

The first part consisted of a drivers briefing with an introduction from Holden staff about the new Commodore.  Holden engineers have spent some 100,000km rigorously testing the new car on all types of road in Australia.  The engineering team has also spent time over the last few years fine tuning everything from suspension set-up to the electric power steering system.  Contrary to popular belief, the new Commodore is far from a simple badge replacement.

I was able to sample all the new models apart from the 2.0 Litre Turbo Diesel 4 cylinder engine, optional on the LT and Calais models.  This car has 125kW and 400Nm with an 8 speed automatic gearbox.

The line up included:

LT, RS and Calais – featuring the 2.0L Turbo Petrol 4 cylinder with 191kW and 350Nm, front wheel drive, 9 speed automatic transmission as standard.

Calais-V, RS-V and VXR – featuring the 3.6L V6 with 235kW and 381Nm, AWD, 9 speed automatic  transmission as standard.  The V6 is optional in the RS model.

Liftback, Sportwagon and Tourer models are offered throughout the range.

Some of these cars came with the Opel tuned suspension while others had the local tune.  The day consisted of different driving tests including a high speed road loop, lower speed dirt course and a wet slalom.  On the road loop, the first car to drive was the RS 2.0L Turbo.  I found the car to accelerate well through the gears although there was some minor torque steer under full acceleration.  Nine gears doesn’t feel like too many, and no matter what corner I was in I felt like the right gear was selected.  Change of direction was good through the slower speed chicanes.  I switched to the all wheel drive RS-V and it actually felt slower on acceleration than the 4 cylinder.  The V6 sounded a lot nicer however it didn’t really pick up speed until about 4000-5000rpm.

There were two real highlights of both cars, the first being the electric steering and the second was the noticeable difference between cars tuned with Opel suspension compared to the Australian suspension tune.  Holden engineers have really done a great job of giving the electric steering plenty of feel on par with serious performance cars.  The difference in suspension tune was like night and day, with the locally tuned suspension offering more composure over high speed bumps.  Towards the end of the road loop, there was a noticeable dip in the road and the Aussie spec car felt like it had much better rebound damping than the equivalent Opel.  The main take home message was that the cars with local engineering felt safer and more composed at all speeds.

Next up was a drive in the Calais-V Tourer on the dirt course.  The AWD is mostly front wheel drive with power pushed to the rear when extra grip is required.  The car handled all sorts of bumps well and offered good traction out of slow speed low grip hairpins.  The car’s clever torque vectoring system helped to transfer and control torque to all wheels.  It’s by no means a car that you can use for serious off road work, but again was impressive off the tarmac.  I’m not a fan of the car’s styling however and I can’t really see much of a difference between it and a current Mazda 6 wagon.

The final test was the wet slalom run and it was the main highlight of the day.  For the first run, I was passenger with Rob Trubiani at the wheel.  Rob, who in 2013 set a commercial vehicle record for a lap of the Nurburgring in a VF SS-V Redline Ute has played a pivotal role in the electric steering systems of modern Commodore’s.  We were out in the performance orientated VXR with Rob negotiating the course with so much ease he could’ve done it with his eyes closed! He was seriously quick through the slalom and made it look easy.  When it was my turn in the VXR Rod was in the passenger seat.  The course had a very wet hairpin to negotiate and I found that the car’s AWD system really pulled through here with a minimum of fuss.  Change of direction and steering were also a highlight and there was never any wheel-spin at full throttle.  Sticky Michelin Pilot Sport rubber also helped to put the power down.  Braking was good with the four-piston Brembo’s up front and single piston at the rear.  The VXR however lacks in straight line speed and wouldn’t hold a candle to the outgoing SS Commodore or the Stinger V6 in the 0-100km/h run.  Other things that disappointed me about the VXR was the lack of a manual gearbox and the instrument cluster being underwhelming.  However I liked the supportive seats, good driving position and leg and head room.

I think that the new Commodore is a good car that really needs to be driven before you can base an opinion on it.  Yes it’s not really the Commodore that us Australian’s think of but the only other alternative is no Commodore at all.  I wonder what people would rather?

Special thanks go to Holden and CarAdvice for the invitation to this event and the photographs.


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