2018 Holden ZB Commodore review

The all-new and fully-imported 2018 Holden Commodore has some mighty big wheels to fill. But is it up to the task? Paul Maric drives a pre-production version to find out.

It wasn't that long ago when a rear-wheel drive Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon was the default mode of transport for families and fleet buyers.

Those wanting a bit more poke opted for V8 or turbocharged six-cylinder variants to increase the smile factor. But today, that's all changed.

People have fallen out of love with big cars and in love with SUVs. In fact, over 50 per cent of cars sold now are SUVs.

Holden's decision to stick with the Commodore name for its next generation of large car hasn't fallen on deaf ears. In fact, most of you have been scathing of Holden's decision to use the Commodore name on a fully imported model.

We've brushed that to one side today, and hit the road for Holden's top secret proving ground in Lang Lang, Victoria, to see whether the new Opel Insignia-based Holden Commodore stacks up as a Commodore and lives up to that famous name.

The drive day included a chance to test both petrol engine variants of Holden's new Commodore, back-to-back with the current-generation V6-powered VFII Commodore.

Holden will launch the next generation Commodore in Australia early next year with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, a 3.6-litre six-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel.

The 2.0-litre unit will produce 191kW of power and 350Nm of torque. It'll sprint from 0-100km/h in around 7.0 seconds and will use less than 8.0-litres of fuel per 100km. It will be offered exclusively in front-wheel drive, with a nine-speed automatic gearbox, and will be available in both hatchback and wagon.

The 3.6-litre V6 steps it up a notch, producing 230kW of power and 370Nm of torque. It moves from standstill to 100km/h in around 6.0-seconds and will use around 9.0-litres of fuel per 100km. It too uses a nine-speed automatic transmission, but will only be available as a hatchback.

Power outputs for the 2.0-litre diesel haven't been confirmed yet, but we know it will use an eight-speed automatic gearbox, rather than the nine-speed. And, it's likely to be offered in both hatchback and wagon versions.

Similar to Holden's current setup, both the hatchback and wagon will be offered in three grades – an entry-, mid- and luxury-specification.

Again, while Holden is yet to confirm line-up pricing or specifications, one vehicle we drove had cloth seats, single-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch colour MyLink infotainment system and analogue gauges with a small LCD screen between the speedometer and tachometer.

The mid-spec model stepped it up with leather seats, dual-zone climate control and a larger 8.0-inch MyLink infotainment screen. It retained the analogue gauges, like the entry-level specification.

The luxury-specification went further, with heated and massage seats, plus a huge LCD screen in place of analogue gauges for the driver information cluster. It also had an awesome looking head-up display, offering a huge amount of detail.

We believe the sport grade will be offered in a base and upper level. The base sport model will get fixed dampers with a Sport button that adjusts steering feel and transmission calibration, along with a 'luxury' grade exhaust note. Both will feature steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters.

The upper-specification sport grade will get a head-up display, larger LCD screen in place of analogue gauges, front Brembo brakes and adjustable dampers, plus the bells and whistles offered in the luxury-specification, along with a 'sport' grade exhaust note.

Before we talk about how these cars drive, it's important to recap the specifications. In most dimensions this thing is close to par with the current-generation Commodore.

2018 Holden Commodore Hatchback dimensions (compared to current Commodore):

Length: 4899mm (74mm shorter)
Width: 1863mm (36mm narrower)
Wheelbase:
2829mm (86mm shorter)
Knee-room:
Identical to current Commodore
Headroom: 952mm (13mm less)
Shoulder-room:
1444mm (58mm less)
Hip-room:
1410mm (44mm less)
Cargo volume:
490 litres (five litres less, but hatchback seats fold to offer more room)
Centreline: 375mm (18mm less)

Front row passengers won't notice any difference. While you sit lower than in the VFII Commodore, all the controls are easy to reach and are displayed in a more simplified fashion. There is a cupholder up front, with a decent sized, padded glovebox in the centre with phone storage and USB connectivity. Both versions of the infotainment system offer built-in satellite navigation, plus Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and DAB+ digital radio.

It's in the second row where diehard Commodore fans are potentially going to feel unsettled. There's less headroom in the hatchback thanks to the sloping roof line (13mm less) and you'll sit slightly closer to your mate if you are positioned three abreast.

We also found that with the driver or front passenger's seat in the lowest setting, it was hard to get your toes under the seat. That was easily solved by lifting the seat slightly.

With the seat in its furthest back position, I found I still had plenty of knee-room.

The station wagon solves the headroom issues, with stacks of space, even for taller passengers. There are two ISOFIX points, plus both the hatchback and wagon have folding armrests with two cupholders and the seat-backs split-fold in a 60:40 fashion to allow extra storage, something the Commodore sedan doesn't offer.

In the sport models with adaptive dampers, there's also a section on the screen that allows switching between performance and suspension modes.

So on the interior front, it's not hard to see that the next-generation Commodore generally stacks up against its Aussie stablemate. In most measures it's about the same and will certainly cater to families wanting more room in their family car. But, what's it like to drive?

One of the main things that has sent Holden fans into a tizzy is that Commodore will remain a two-wheel drive in entry-level trim, but instead of drive being sent to the rear, drive is now going to be sent to the front wheels.

Just in case anybody was worried about a four-cylinder, front-wheel drive Commodore not being masculine enough to keep up with the current-generation V6 Commodore, we belted up a purpose built hillclimb track at Holden's proving ground to put the theory to the test.

Not only did the four-cylinder Commodore keep up with a current-generation V6 Calais, it outperformed it through a slalom and comfortably pulled away from it going up hill.

While there was some torque steer under full throttle with wheel lock, it wasn't any worse than the type of traction loss you would get going full throttle in a rear-wheel drive V6 Commodore.

Brake pedal feel is also far superior to the current Commodore – one of the complaints we've always had with the existing Commodore is that non-Brembo brakes feel too spongy.

Ride has been tuned on the sporty side of comfort, meaning you can really have some fun with the car without it being unsettled by mid-corner bumps. It remains comfortable enough to also cater for long distance drives, which is what the Commodore is all about.

We also drove the 2.0-litre back-to-back with an Insignia running Opel's European tune. It was clear to see that Holden's tune caters for things like continuous undulations at speed and potholed B-roads, which are synonymous with country roads.

Where the proposition really changes is with the V6-powered, all-wheel drive, next-generation Commodore.

Under the rear apron is a Twinster all-wheel drive system, featuring one input shaft and two output shafts controlled by individual clutches.

These clutches can semi- or fully-activate to send varying amounts of torque to each rear wheel. Up to 50 per cent of engine torque can be delivered to the rear axle, with the balance apportioned to one or both wheels.

This 'real' mechanical torque vectoring system works in unison with a similar setup on the front wheels and a brake-driven traction control system.

It's also a preemptive system, which means it doesn't wait for wheel slip at the front axle before it sends torque to the rear.

While the V6 can feel a little asthmatic (like the current generation Commodore), the driver can confidently pin the throttle out of a corner without any traction loss.

In fact, no matter how hard we tried, unsettling the car was quite difficult. What's more is the lower driving position – switching back into a current generation car offers a much higher driving position that doesn't feel as natural as the next-generation car. It gives the car an even sportier feel.

If at this point you're thinking this isn't a fair comparison to the current-generation SS Commodore, you'd be right. For us to really see whether the performance variant stacks up, we'd need to drive it back-to-back with a V8-powered SS Commodore.

While the handling characteristics wouldn't vary greatly (given the extra traction on offer with all-wheel drive), straight line performance certainly would.

Where the SS-V Redline will confidently clock a 4.9-second 0-100km/h time, the next-generation Commodore is unlikely to ever get much below 6.0 seconds in a similar straight line run.

It will also never do the things some people loved doing in the SS Commodore — such as laying down huge amounts of rubber, drifting around racetracks or being heard from two blocks away.

Will that lose Holden some potential sales? Probably. But the addition of a sporty all-wheel drive model with Australian specific tuning will be unique to the segment. The only thing that'll come close is the Kia Stinger, but that's a rear-wheel drive offering.

So, to answer the question on your lips – does the new Commodore live up to the name? Well, it depends on how you remember the Commodore. If you remember a big family car capable of long road trips with the occasional blat through the mountains, this is a Commodore.

If you remember powerslides and wiping the smile off any number of cars at the traffic lights, this isn't the Commodore for you.

Regardless of which way you look at it, declining Commodore sales led to the end of profitable manufacturing for Holden in Australia. The only people allowed to complain or dispute that fact are people that bought a new Commodore.

Any other complains are just white noise.

And even if this car was the definition of automotive perfection, the people complaining now still wouldn't buy it.

So from that point of view – it's a great car if you're after a big family car with a bit of poke, but if you're after a drift demon built around the corner in Elizabeth, you'll need to look elsewhere.

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