First drive of the 2018 European ZB Holden Commodore
THE biggest challenge Holden faces is getting potential buyers to test its new family car. Those who drive it are in for a pleasant shock.
Convincing buyers it is a Commodore will be nigh-on-impossible, given the fundamental changes between the current car and the new model that goes on sale in February. This is not an evolution of the nameplate, it's genetic manipulation.
For a start, the new "ZB Commodore” - a rebadged and reworked Opel Insignia - will send power through the front wheels or all four wheels instead of the rear.
The car has also morphed in dimensions. Large sedans aren't selling so the new model is a mid-sized rival to compete with the Toyota Camry and Mazda6.
Get beyond that and there's much to like about the new car. The 2.0-litre turbo versions are more than a match for the current V6-powered Commodores while the V6 AWD adds more potency and handling that makes the rear-driver feel cumbersome through corners.
Holden communications head Sean Poppitt concedes sales of the new car won't match the outgoing Commodore but also says the company is working hard to avoid being seen as a one-car player.
"We're not going to be reliant on just one model. We've played that game,” Poppitt says.
"Commodore is going to be a key model for us but we've got to have strength across the range. Colorado is doing well, Trailblazer and Barina are OK - the Astra needs to do better - but we're focusing on having quality, competitive models in all segments.”
How the car is priced will be the key to getting shoppers to consider taking the keys - as Holden should have learned from its marketing misfire with the Astra early this year. In response to slow sales, the company had to shave off up to $1700 soon after launch.
Holden won't talk pricing but the 2.0-litre will need to be about $33,000 before on-roads to match its rivals. Poppitt is confident the base car will appeal to fleet and private buyers, with the V6 versions aimed at families looking for luxury and performance.
To that end the new Commodore has a nine-speed auto (the turbo diesel will use an eight-speed), heated front and rear seats, eight-inch configurable LCD driver's display, the latest smartphone connectivity and the full range of electronic aids, from adaptive cruise control to lane departure and blind-spot warnings.
The interior also uses the latest soft-touch plastics on the dash and key contact points. The overall presentation is classy and well-conceived, highlighted by the infotainment screen being slightly angled towards the driver.
ON THE ROAD
The fixed grin on lead dynamics engineer Rob Trubiani's face reflects the fact I'm throwing one of two prototype V6s into corners with far more aggression than ability - and also highlights just how well the Nurburgring-rated driver and the team of engineers at the Lang Lang proving ground have fettled this car. It mightn't match an SS Commodore for pace but it has the balance to embarrass V8s around corners. It nails the brief to be a true "driver's car”.
The V6, an evolution of the Commodore's, cranks out 230kW/370Nm. Holden says it will hit 100km/h in the low six-seconds. Engineers are aiming for less than 9.0L/100km.
The "twinster” rear differential uses clutches on each drive shaft to shift torque to the outside wheel, effectively pushing the car into the corner. Up to 50 per cent of torque can be sent to the rear wheels, though in normal driving it's a front-biased set-up.
Get too excited and the stability control software will brake the inside front wheel to drag the car back on line.
The dampers are stiffer than the donor Opel vehicle and the steering is faster to respond to movements off centre, as demanded by Australian road conditions and driving styles.
Driven back-to-back are two 2.0-litre turbo (191kW/350Nm) wagons, one in "as delivered” guise and the other the Holden tweaked version. The latter rides firmer, dramatically improving the way it rides over bumps and through corrugated corners.
The new car has the measure of the VF Calais (210kW/350Nm), both in off-the-line and mid-range acceleration. There's a touch of front-wheel scrabble under hard acceleration off the line or out of ti ght corners but it's not trying to torque-steer off the road.
In every measure beyond physical size, the ZB Commodore is a dramatic improvement. All Holden has to do is sell the idea.
Holden won't talk prices yet but to be competitive the 2.0-litre car will need to start about $33,000 and the top-spec V6 can't afford to be much above $45K. The homegrown version, still being built in Adelaide until October, starts at $35,500 and the V6 Calais tops out at $42,500.
The outgoing Commodore has an eight-inch touchscreen and head-up display on top-spec versions. The new car adds the latest driving aids, from rear cross-traffic assist to AEB and adaptive cruise control.
The SV6 Commodore hit 100km/h in the low seven-second bracket. The base 2.0 turbo matches it on paper and betters it on the road, thanks largely to less weight and nine-speed auto. Expect low six-second times for the V6.
This is a Commodore but not as we know it. Instead of rear-drive, the 2.0 turbo turns the front wheels; the V6 powers all four and is destined to be the best car to drive with a Red Lion badge - at least until the arrival of sportier Holdens, widely tipped to be the Camaro and Corvette.
Those hefty teenagers you've been hauling around in the rear of a VF Commodore will have to cosy up in the new car. There's less rear headroom and less space for posteriors, though the space looks comparable to a Mazda6 or Toyota Camry. The car will be sold as a sedan, wagon and high-riding Tourer wagon.
AT A GLANCE
HOLDEN ZB COMMODORE
PRICE $33,000 (est)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 191kW/350Nm; 3.6-litre V6, 230kW/350Nm
SAFETY Not tested, 6 airbags. AEB, adaptive cruise control
THIRST From 8-9L/100km