Car Reviews

2018 Holden Commodore Review

Dave Morley’s 2018 Holden Commodore Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell The new ZB Commodore represents a lot of firsts. It’s the first imported Commodore, the first front-wheel-drive Commodore and the first to offer all-wheel-drive as well. It’s the first with an east-west engine, the first with a diesel engine, the first without a manual transmission or V8 engine option and, controversially, the first Commodore that doesn’t pander to the Holden faithful.

2018 Holden Commodore

Pricing From $33,690 to $55,990+ORC Warranty Threeyears/100,000km Safety Five star ANCAP Engines 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo/3.6-litre V6 Power/Torque 191kW350Nm/235kW/381Nm Transmission Nine-speed automatic Body 4897mm (long) 1971mm (wide) 1544mm (high) Weight From 1515kg Fuel tank 62 litres Thirst 7.7 l/100km combined (2.0)/9.1 l/100km combined (V6)

THE DEATH OF local manufacturing in Australia has meant a huge upheaval for those who were once employed by it. But it also means all change for the cars that we once recognised as our home grown heroes. Chief among them is the Holden Commodore which becomes a fully-imported model based on a European design and built in Germany.

2018 Holden Commodore Review

Gone is the V8 engine option of the previous local version, and gone too is rear-wheel-drive. Of course, had local production not ceased, it was probably this very car that would have eventually replaced the VF Commodore anyway. But, imported status aside, is it a real Commodore?

What is the 2018 Holden Commodore?

The Opel-designed Holden is available as a five-door liftback (but no conventional sedan) and a station-wagon (Sportwagon) that can also be had in a (slightly) higher-riding, all-wheel-drive, plastic-clad version dubbed the Tourer. The four-cylinder variants all feature turbocharging and front-wheel-drive, while a just-for-Australia V6 gets all-wheel-drive. All engines can be had in both body styles, with the exception of the Tourer which is V6-only. There’s also a two-litre turbo-diesel version which we’re yet to sample.

2018 Holden Commodore Review

Pull up a chair, because this next bit gets complicated. Holden’s traditional model strategy has been thrown out the window, with the new entry-level Liftback fitted with the two-litre engine (with the diesel optional) and called LT. From there, the Liftback moves through the Calais 2.0 and the Calais-V with the V6 engine and all-wheel-drive. But wait, there’s more. There’s also a three-model sportier side to the Liftback line-up, starting with the RS (2.0 and V6 optional) the RSV (V6) and the VXR (range-topping V6).

2018 Holden Commodore Review

The Sportwagon starts with the LT version with optional diesel then moves through the RS (2.0) and the RS-V (V6). And the Tourer caps all that off with versions starting with Calais and Calais-V both of which get the V6.

Executive, Berlina and SS? Don’t think so.

What’s the interior like?

It seems strange to step into a Holden Calais and not be in the top-shelf version. The fact is that the Calais-V and VXR get all the bells and whistles including a dashboard with an oil-temperature gauge (which has got to be a Holden first). But even the lower spec cars get plenty of comfort with good, supportive seats across the board and leather-clad touch-points. Some of the plastics look and feel a bit brittle, though. The layout seems a bit derivative and while it’s crisp and fresh enough, the one thing it doesn’t scream is “I’m a Holden!”.

2018 Holden Commodore Review

The big question being asked is how the smaller new ZB Commodore can be as roomy inside as Aussie families expect. Well, consider this: While the ZB is, in fact, a little smaller than the VE and VF that immediately preceded it, the new car is actually bigger than the old VT to VZ Commodores that sold here from 1997 to 2006. And we don’t ever recall anybody complaining that a VT Commodore was cramped inside. The slimmer girth of the new car means the front-seat passengers sit a few millimetres closer together at the shoulder, but the narrower transmission tunnel means the footwells and hip-room are as big as ever. Rear legroom is as close as doesn’t matter to the VF and headroom in the back is about 11mm shy of the earlier car, but is still plentiful for even big people.

There’s plenty of connectivity via CarPlay and Android and the seven-inch screen incorporates Holden’s MyLink system. The more expensive models get a bigger screen, wireless phone charging and heated front and rear seats. The cheaper models miss out on steering wheel paddles for the transmission while the more expensive variants get active LED headlights.

2018 Holden Commodore Review

Powered front seats are standard across the board and the steering column has lots of adjustment. The front doors open wide and are long enough and the only real gripe is that the falling roofline makes getting in and out of the rear pew a little awkward if you’re taller. A nice touch is he automatic tailgate on all wagons bar the entry-level LT which requires a simple wave of the foot under the bumper to open it.

2018 Holden Commodore Review

Bootspace is typically Commodore huge and the liftback and split-fold rear seat makes for extra practicality. The wagon’s load-space is slightly smaller than the outgoing VF wagon, but only by a tiny amount. The one-touch seat-fold function in the Sportwagon is another handy touch.

What’s it like to drive?

Holden is quick to assure us that the latest Commodore definitely has its ‘local engineers’ fingerprints all over it’. And fair enough, too, because the local version of this European car has, indeed, been extensively Australianised to tailor it to local tastes. Those changes affect mainly the steering and suspension tune, but it’s arguably those elements that make that all-important first impression.

2018 Holden Commodore Review

In fact, even though the mechanical layout and driveline owes precisely nothing to the earlier Commodore’s, the initial impression is that this really is a big Holden. The steering has a little less weight than the European Opel as well as more self-centring and a greater sense of accuracy and feedback. Fundamentally, it maintains the Commodore’s recent reputation of having a particularly sweet helm.

The V6 engine remains a naturally-aspirated unit (there physically wasn’t room under the bonnet for a turbocharger) and while it feels strong, it needs to be revved to really deliver the goods. There’s a nice snarl from the tail-pipes and plenty of flexibility, but it will never replace the traditional Commodore V8. Of course, nobody is trying to convince us that it could or would, but the reality is that the turbocharged two-litre is, in terms of its low-speed thrust and mid-range stomp, actually the engine that comes closest to fulfilling a V8 buyer’s wish-list.

2018 Holden Commodore Review

The four-cylinder has an urgency and a spritzy feel that endows it with a huge punch when you drop the hammer at the lights and is certain to satisfy those who can ignore the V8 dogma and embrace the reality. It’s smooth and refined and about the only thing missing is a rousing exhaust note.

The nine-speed automatic seems intelligent and well calibrated and allows for exceptionally long legs with the Commodore’s tacho reading just 1400rpm or so at a legal 100km/h in top gear. And in between, there’s truly a ratio for every situation. In fact, if anything, the gears are a little too closely stacked and shifting manually from second to third reveals a drop of barely a couple of hundred rpm. In the real world when the transmission is doing its own shifting, the normal course of things is for the gearbox to skip third altogether and go from second straight to fourth. You won’t notice it.

2018 Holden Commodore Review

Higher-specification versions of the Commodore have what’s called the HyPer Strut which aims to give an effective pivot-point on the lower control arm that minimises camber and caster-angle changes as the suspension moves through its arc. To be honest, though, the basic MacPherson strut front end of the more basic cars is so well resolved that even the instant torque of the two-litre turbomotor can’t force the Commodore into anything unruly. The V6-powered VRX model also gets adaptive dampers. Again, though, the benefits are less stark than they might be thanks to the poise of the standard passive damping set-up.

The big selling point of the V6 version beyond its cylinder-count will be the addition of all-wheel-drive. The centre-differential function is pretty standard, but the rear differential abandons the conventional diff unit in favour of a simpler, cheaper, lighter set of bevel gears with a clutch-pack on either axle to apportion the drive. The grip is impressive on all surfaces and enables the driver to get on the power earlier thanks to the active torque distribution function that sends the power to the wheels with the greatest grip.

2018 Holden Commodore Review

In ride quality terms, the base-models with their 45-series 18-inch tyres offer a smoother, less frenetic ride than the 19s or 20s offered on the sportier models with their 35-series tyres. That’s nothing new, of course, but it does mean, everything else considered, that the cheapest models arguably offer a driving experience that makes you wonder about the value in spending more money on flash wheels or a V6 engine.

What about safety features?

Some controversy here, with Holden electing not to supply independent crash-lab ANCAP with a V6 Commodore to test. There’s a view that, since the V6 is an Australian-only fitment, it needed to be tested separately from the two-litre version which, in European testing, scored the maximum five stars. For its part, Holden says the cost of hurling a V6 Commodore at the wall was the sticking point, so until the V6 is crunched in the name of science, the five-star rating is somewhat academic.

Beyond that, the ZB Commodore boasts plenty of safety tech with every version getting autonomous braking, an active bonnet, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, forward-collision alert, head-up display, rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors and rain-sensing wipers. You’ll need to ante up to the RS or Calais model to gain rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring while the VXR adds Brembo brakes, 360-degree camera and adaptive cruise-control.

So what do we think?

It’s difficult to see that traditional Holden Commodore buyers will instinctively flock to the ZB Commodore. But Holden isn’t kidding itself in the first place and is happy to acknowledge that the ZB is very unlikely to sell as many units per year as the old-school VF Commodore with its rear-drive and optional V8. Not to mention the lack of an immediately identifiable target audience.

With the onward march of the SUV showing no signs of slackening and the large and medium sedan segment shrinking in direct proportion, Holden will have an uphill battle to get bums on seats. But if it can, there’s every chance that people will be tempted by the Commodore’s rather obvious dynamic charms.

 

2018 Holden Commodore Review

For our money, the V6 is a bit of a distraction with the turbocharged four-cylinder the one to buy for its superior value and arguably more relaxed feel. Even then, there’s plenty of competition out there, all bidding for the same, shrinking consumer dollar.

So, yes, the new Commodore feels like a Commodore in some important areas and is nothing like its forebears in many others. But the bigger question remains: Who’s going to buy it?

Editor's Rating

What's the interior like?
What's it like to drive?
What about safety features?
Practical Motoring Says: This could have been another me-too car. But it isn’t. The local input shines through in important areas and the Commodore deserves to sell better than it probably will. But let’s hope the ANCAP testing debate can be cleared up sooner rather than later.

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Ben Tate
Ben Tate
2 years ago

Yes I used to be a Holden Motor Sport fan. Much more of a fan before racing went to spaceframed tace cars with very little if any mechanical connection to street cars.
Over the years Holden has taught me to love RWD V8’s. Compromise? Yes I’d buy a V6 turbo RWD but not an east-west non turbo V6.

The new Commodore looks nice. It’s a shame it’s not made here and reengineered as a RWD with the LS3 and 3.6L V6 turbo as options.

Options are appearing for enthusiasts. The Kia Stinger V6 twin turbo is already available. The Hyundai G70 is on the way. Both are RWD. Both are V6 twin turbos.

PM. Can you run a comparison between the Stinger GT and the VXR?

Peter Gaskin
Peter Gaskin
2 years ago

If manufacture continued in Australia – guess what – they would have built a fwd zb Commodore in turbo 4 or v6. The v8 died in 2011. This is the successor to the vf!!

Theo
Theo
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Gaskin

true however they would still be able to make Zeta based VF RWD V8 as a standalone vehicle in sedan and wagon (ditching the Opel based wagon), they could of made it work.

Dave you are technically wrong about AWD being a 1st for Commodore, of course that is if you don’t count the Adventra or the GMH Holden Crewman ute as Commodore variants.

Peter Gaskin
Peter Gaskin
2 years ago
Reply to  Theo

But where would Holden get the money to develop a v8 only successor to the vf2? How would they recover the $500million invested?

Theo
Theo
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Gaskin

what investment? they could of easily got another 3 years out of the current VF II design, what I am saying is they could of built the new one side by side withe old one as they did way back in the VB Commodore & HZ Kingswood era, lol they even built the LWD version of Kingswood right up until 1984, so there is precedent there.

On a side note it would of been interesting to see the sales ratio, we can sort of guess it would be like Mondeo v Falcon sales.

Alan
Alan
2 years ago
Reply to  Theo

Total sales of VB + HZ were far more than they were selling by 2017.

And I read somewhere recently that the Holden engineers said that VF was as far developed as it was feasible – and that Holden engineers were involved in design of ZB from the early days – as they knew VF was to become extinct.

Ben Tate
Ben Tate
2 years ago

Yes the ZB may have been a FWD even if had been built here. But who will be in the queue for this imported ZB? Probably not the performance nuts who demand RWD and preferably a V8 … and if not a blown six bare minimum. And probably not those who care more about the size of the infotainment screen and vanity mirrors.

How can GM win back the performance nuts? Compete with the Kia Stinger! Compete with the V8 Mustang! Make the Camaro V8 available as a factory RHD and sell it in Oz for Mustang money.

Theo
Theo
2 years ago
Reply to  Ben Tate

Well HSV are going to convert the LHD Camaro to RHD as a 2nd manuafator status so they won’t have to do crash testing but will have to get emissions compliance certificate which should be easy to obtain.

As for ZB, I am going to get one this weekend as a test vehicle, my local dealer has arranged the VXR, I had a Insigina GS Dynamic 4×4 2L petrol turbo in Germany so it’s not a direct comparison but close enough, should be interesting to find out how good the OPC steering and suspension is. I already know the AWD system is very good with torque vectoring (very stable through sweeping high speed bends) but am keen to find out if the V6 can carry the weight the ZB has, it’s got more top end then the old SV6 but it also has less bottem end torque.

Ben Tate
Ben Tate
2 years ago
Reply to  Theo

Yes I heard that HSV is planning to convert Camaros to RHD. How much? Compare the anticipated price to a Mustang. I’d prefer to see a RHD Camaro imported to Australia at a price similar to the Mustang. And then the HSV add on costs for their product can be reduced or redirected to the inclusion of an LSA V8.

Maggie Dee
Maggie Dee
2 years ago

Tell the truth about the weight!

Jason Queen
Jason Queen
2 years ago

This is good… so is a Camry.

Rye an
Rye an
2 years ago

A large FWD sedan is hardly what Australians have ever wanted.
The Holden badge is worthless.

Faereag
Faereag
2 years ago

It is very hard to become enthused about a Business Name. Because that is all that Holden is these days.

Ronhic
Ronhic
2 years ago

It’s always interesting to read comments from others. People may feel that Holden have betrayed the faith with a move to FWD, smaller engines and full import but as the owner of a Skoda Superb who was looking for a large DIESEL wagon 6 years ago, I would have happily considered the ZB.

It may seem slightly odd that I’m a car enthusiast as I’ve never owned a car that’s had an engine larger than 2.5 litres, only had one RWD car and cut my teeth on Renault 12’s. This car appeals. If it doesn’t appeal to the average Holden driver, well, maybe it’s time for Holden to take the brand up-market to a more discerning buyer who will appreciate the European element of their heritage rather than the V8 side of it.

I certainly do.

Theo
Theo
2 years ago
Reply to  Ronhic

that all depends on your age, I started off in an XB Falcon 500 in the early 80’s, it is a big RWD, 4.1L carby i6 with 4 speed manual, leaf spring rear suspension & no power steering with recirculating ball steering rack, all this talk of BIG RWD V8 is just that, the vast majority of Falcon & Commodore (and Kingswood for that matter to) were 6cyl engine based, a motoring jurno once made the claim of “Australian’s love V8 but drive sixes”, sales back that up, another thing is to remember hard core buyers knew ZB or as it was known as NG that there was no more RWD V8 which explains the up to 50% of VF II sales being V8 based.

David
David
2 years ago

Just not a RWD so will miss a few buyers . Otherwise compare it with all the others and choose what you like .

Dave Morley

Dave Morley