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Driven: First imported Commodore officially launched

New beginnings: The all-new Commodore will finally roll into Holden showrooms later this month.

Chairman says Holden wouldn’t use Commodore name if it didn’t live up to nameplate


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9 Feb 2018

“IS IT a true Commodore? Absolutely.”

With these determined words from Holden chairman and managing director, Mark Bernhard, nearly 70 years of Australia’s Own family car gave way to the new global era of full importation, five doors, front- or all-wheel drive and no V8s in the shape of the ZB Commodore.

On sale now from $33,690 plus on-road costs, the fifth-generation Holden to wear the nameplate since 1978 takes over from the locally designed, engineered and built VF Series II range, which ceased production in October last year, taking Australian vehicle manufacturing with it.

Mr Bernhard said that Holden is not shying away from what previous Commodores meant nor what the now-German built, Opel Insignia-based liftback and wagon must achieve in the face of monumental expectation, challenging traditional and new-to-brand buyers to maintain an open mind.

“The Commodore has been an acclaimed vehicle in Australia’s automotive industry, and the all-new vehicle continues the tradition of what the Commodore has always been,” he told journalists at the ZB launch in Melbourne. “It’s a family car, with more performance, more space, more technology, and of course, a great driving experience.

“Is it a true Commodore? Absolutely. We wouldn’t call it one if we didn’t think it could live up to the nameplate… it truly is the next generation of Commodore. Now, we know it is going to be different, being the first imported Commodore, but it still has our unique Australian DNA… with (the Holden engineering team’s) fingerprints all over this car.

“The nameplate is synonymous with our heartland. Few cars stir the emotions like Commodore does. Any car company around the world would love that passion.

Now it’s not rear-wheel drive (it comes with front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive), it’s not a V8 (it’s a V6 and a 2.0-litre turbo with a diesel option).

“We’re not hiding from any of that. But what this vehicle is, it is a Commodore. Space, performance, technology, sophistication, exceptional driving performance for Australian drivers and Australian conditions, honed by our globally talented team.

“Our heartland customers are going to be key to the future success of the brand. These are the people who have driven our cars for a lifetime, and they wear it as a badge of honour. We want to keep those loyal customers we also want to attract more customers to our brand.

“Now, there are plenty of strong opinions out there on how this car will perform. Will our heartland customers buy the next-generation Commodore? I challenge any of them to drive the car and then make an opinion.”

That said, Mr Bernhard admitted that the ZB will not be able to achieve 23,676 registrations the VFII managed last year – a record-low result despite the fact that the latter ended up commanding 83.6 per cent of the contracting large car market during 2017 (in part due to the decline and demise of its rival, the locally made Ford Falcon).

“We expect that we’ll sell a lot less than we have with the locally made Commodore, as we basically own the large car segment today,” he said. “We’ll think of it more together with the large and medium segments combined.”

This year Commodore must also face the Kia Stinger rear-drive sports sedan – a model much more in tune with VF SS buyers – and the Volkswagen Arteon.

Due to its slightly smaller overall proportions (Holden says the ZB sits in size between the 1997 VT and 2006 VE in length, width and wheelbase), the newcomer will straddle the also-shrinking mid-size class as well, taking on the dominating Toyota Camry as well as the Mazda6, Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and Subaru Liberty. Victims of surging SUV sales, both segments contracted by 20 per cent last year.

To help counteract the erosion of passenger car sales, the Tourer is considered an important addition for the range, as its 20mm-higher ground clearance and lifestyle-focused packaging could snare new-to-Commodore buyers away from the leading Subaru Outback and Volkswagen Passat Alltrack. The same thinking applies to the diesel versions of the Liftback and Sportback (wagon).

Styled at Opel’s design centre at Russelsheim near Frankfurt in Germany (like the original VB released here 40 years ago this November), Holden says it became involved in the second-generation Insignia mid-sized liftback and wagon project when it was still “on paper” in 2012, and even slated to build a longer-wheelbase and reskinned version at the now-defunct Elizabeth plant in Adelaide.

Dimensionally, the Liftback is only 50mm shorter and 36mm narrower than the VFII sedan at 4897mm and 1863mm respectively, sits on an 86mm shorter wheelbase at 2829mm (as do the wagons) and offers a 16mm lower roofline with a height of 1544mm.

Holden says the inherently more efficient transverse powertrain packaging results in barely discernible interior-space shortfalls the 1mm narrower couple distance, 13mm less rear headroom in the Liftback (but 3mm more in the wagons) and 57mm of reduced shoulder room are offset by roomier footwells, 2mm more rear-seat knee room and no change in front headroom.

Being a five-door hatchback, the Liftback can overcome its five-litre cargo capacity stumble (at 490L) since folding the two-piece seats (three-piece in V6s) increases the area to 1450L. Wagons range from 560L to 1665L. Space-saver or puncture kits abound in place of the old spare wheel.

At the other end of the Commodore is a trio of all-new or heavily revised direct-injection powertrains.

The best seller is expected to be the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, producing 191kW of power at 5500rpm and 350Nm of torque between 3000-4000rpm. Driving only the front wheels via the GM-developed GF9 nine-speed torque-converter automatic, it needs around 7.2 seconds to reach 100km/h, average between 7.4 litres per 100km and 7.9L/100km, for a carbon dioxide emissions average between 169-181 grams/km. Note this engine requires 95 RON or above premium unleaded, though it can be run on standard 91 RON with an efficiency shortfall.

The first-ever diesel-powered Commodore in Australia employs a 2.0-litre four-pot single-turbo (bi-turbos are available elsewhere), making 125kW at 3750rpm and 400Nm between 1750-2500rpm, channelled to the front wheels via an Aisin AF50 eight-speed torque-converter auto. It covers 0-100km/h in 8.9s and can manage 223km/h in Insignia guise, and average between 5.6-5.8L/100km for a CO2 figure of between 148-152g/km. This is the most economical full-sized passenger car Holden has ever offered.

Switching to the V6 AWD nets buyers a 3.6-litre naturally aspirated V6 delivering either 230kW or 235kW (VXR) at 6800rpm, and 370Nm or 381Nm (VXR) at 5200rpm. Driving all four wheels via the nine-speed auto, it is capable of around 6.2s to 100km/h, drinks between 8.9 and 9.3L/100km of standard 91 RON unleaded, and pumps out between 206-212g/km of pollution.

There was no V6 prior to Holden becoming involved, according to Holden vehicle development manager, Jeremy Tassone. “We had to get in there and fight our case because a V6 is very important to Australian consumers.”

Transmission calibration was a key part of the ZB program, with the nine-speed autos providing multiple modes – including uphill, downhill, shift stabilisation, performance mode lift foot and a Sports/VXR mode.

Further underneath, the ZB follows Insignia B in most key areas. Class convention abounds in the four-cylinder variants with MacPherson strut-style suspension up front, a four-link IRS independent rear and electric variable-assistance rack and pinion power steering. These run Holden’s FE1 comfort-tuned suspension tune.

Holden made a lot of noise about how involved it’s been in the E2 program over the last five years, saying that there was much dialogue between Opel/Vauxhall and Buick (for its North American-market Regal) to express needs, wants and desires. Over 100,000km of real-world testing has since been undertaken. Unique suspension and chassis control tuning was key, with the VXR developed at the Nurburgring circuit in Germany, co-developed with the Opel Performance Centre team.

Holden’s participation also ran to key global buy-off rides in both Europe and Australia, local verification work, accessories engineering and a captured test fleet program, with over 30 cars tested using a wider local team of employees and associates at Holden. This sort of thing was helpful in shaking out unique problem areas such as unsealed roads, tram tracks and bad digital radio reception.

However, core platform components remain the same, with the Lion-badged Commodore four-pots switching to different dampers featuring uniquely tuned internal valving. Similarly, the steering hardware is the same but the software calibration has altered to better-suit local roads and conditions.

All else, including roll bars, springs and spring rates, are pure Insignia.

Still, the differences “all give a Commodore feel”, according to Holden’s lead dynamics engineer, Rob Trubiani.

With no Insignia equivalent to work from, V6 ZBs (which are all AWD) brandish unique Holden tunes to the suspension, which gains Opel’s Hi Per strut front end featuring redesigned componentry designed to cut torque steer, cushion shocks and improve tyre-to-road contact, as well as a five-link IRS.

While the Calais variants stick with FE1, the RS and RS-V gain the sportier FE2 suspension tune while the range-topping VXR goes a step further with adjustable adaptive dampers dubbed CDC Active in Holden-speak, ESE sound enhancements and a Competition Mode (which allows for more yaw and attitude, reduces traction control interference).

The AWD system is the Twinster advanced all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring and twin-clutch differential. The rear differential has been replaced by a lighter and smarter system that’s pre-emptive.

There’s also ‘sports’ steering with more heft offered on RS, RS-V, Calais-V and Tourer, with the VXR gaining an additional ‘performance’ tune. All are fixed ratio. Four-wheel disc brakes varying from 300mm (LT 2.0T) to 345mm (VXR) up front and 288mm (2.0T) and 315mm (all others) are fitted. Four tyre sizes are available, from the LT’s 225/55R17 to the VXR and Calais V’s 245/35 ZR20s. The rest ride on 245/45R18s except for the Tourer’s 235/50R18.

Weighing up to 180kg less than the previous Insignia thanks to the ground-up platform rethink using lighter materials, the LT 2.0T is the ZB featherweight at 1515kg (kerb), going diesel adds nearly 80kg, while the V6/AWD combo boosts mass up from 1672kg (RS) to 1737kg (VXR). Wagons lift that by between about 30kg to 50kg depending on variant. Towing capacity is 1800kg (2.0T) and 2100kg (V6 AWD). Unique ADR requirements has also called for a specific Australian towbar.

There are the other technologies that’s never been seen on any Commodore-badged vehicle in Australia – including AEB Autonomous Emergency Braking, adaptive cruise control, Audi-style Adaptive LED Matrix headlights (IntelliLux LED Matrix headlights with 32 LED module segments), a 360-degree camera, a handsfree powered tailgate, vented and heated front massaging seats, heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof and wireless phone charging.

There is also a pedestrian protection active bonnet and two Isofix anchorage points in the rear. ANCAP has issued a five-star crash-test safety rating for all ZBs.

Finally, Holden has changed the Commodore’s service intervals – down from 15,000km to 12,000km but also has shifted up from nine months to 12 months.

The Liftback is expected to account for up to 80 per cent of all volume, with the RS 2.0T petrol variant from $37,290 expected to be the best seller.

2018 Holden Commodore pricing*

LT 2.0-litre petrol (a) $33,690
LT 2.0-litre diesel (a) $36,690
RS 2.0-litre petrol (a) $37,290
RS V6 (a) $40,790
Calais 2.0-litre petrol (a) $40,990
Calais 2.0-litre diesel (a) $43,990
RS-V V6 (a) $46,990
Calais-V V6 (a) $51,990
VXR V6 (a) $55,990
LT 2.0-litre petrol (a) $35,890
LT 2.0-litre diesel (a) $38,890
RS 2.0-litre petrol $39,490
RS-V V6 (a) $49,190
Calais V6 (a) $45,990
Calais-V V6 (a) $53,990

*Excludes on-road costs

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