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 Three–years/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.
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.
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).
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!”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?