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Anyone who frequents our comments will know readers don't always agree with the expert reviews published on CarAdvice. Our team of road testers and journalists are lucky to drive lots of cars, but that also means we approach things from a certain angle.
Rather than hogging the keys, we're slinging them to frequent site visitors, commenters and members of owner groups. The idea is to get a range of perspectives on a certain car, and pull them together in one place.
Danny Joseph is a long-time Holden fan, and a current-generation Commodore wagon owner. That makes him the perfect person to spend some time behind the wheel of the ZB Commodore Calais V Tourer. Here are his thoughts on the car.
When my time came to pick a set of wheels, I went firmly into the Lion’s camp and stayed there.
I’ve had a number of V6 and V8 Commodores over the journey, starting at the VS and running through to our current family-friendly VF SS Sportwagon. I love the practicality and versatility of it. What more could you ask for than a V8, great looks, sweet handling and a boot that fits just about anything you want to throw at it?
Don’t forget value for money, either, especially compared to the imported German equivalent. The feeling you get when you unleash all the ponies is pretty amazing.
Plus, something about buying a locally-made car sat well with me. Australian made, and designed for Australian conditions. There's also something satisfying about the ingenuity bred into these cars from Holden engineers.
Like many others, I was disappointed when Holden shut its plant and ended Commodore production. The question I was asking, along with a lot of other people of course, is simple: Would an imported Holden Commodore be any good?
Imagine my trepidation when the team at CarAdvice offered to put me in a new ZB Commodore Calais V Tourer for a week. Would the new kid on the block be up to the task? The VF is a terrific car and a tough act to follow, after all.
How was it? Straight off the bat, let's start with what it isn't... It’s not a rear-drive V8 and there’s no manual transmission.
Now that's out of the way, what is it? The Calais-V is a perky naturally-aspirated 235kW V6 with all-wheel drive and a nine-speed auto. It’s the best V6 ever squeezed under a Commodore bonnet, and the smooth nine-speeder really takes advantage of it. But for the diehards, there’s a couple of cylinders missing.
What I’ve always loved about Commodores is that they’re an all-round package. They’ve got stacks of room, easily hold a bunch of people in comfort, and provide a driving experience that can't be matched in an SUV for similar money.
They’re equally at home sitting lazily on minimal revs doing 110km/h smoothing out country roads, or fighting peak hour on the Monash Freeway during the commute. This one is no different. It easily soaks up all the bumps on our substandard roads.
Braked-towing capacity is the same at 2100kg, great for people like me who tow but don't want an SUV. The steering is light but the car feels firmly planted on the road, with solid and predictable handling.
The all-wheel drive system is great, and matches nicely with the V6. Gear changes are smooth, but if you prefer to play with the paddles there are sportier changes on offer – and you're able to hear the engine better. This is the first Holden V6 that has a decent sound to it, plus a nice note on startup.
It’s no V8, don't get me wrong, but it's miles better than previous SV6s.
CarAdvice’s tested 100km/h sprint time of 6.2s puts it somewhere between the old SV6 and SS for performance. That's not a cracking pace, but it’s no slouch by any stretch of the imagination, and it's a lot more enjoyable to drive than the average SUV. This car can still tackle windy country roads with ease, thanks to its well-balanced suspension and chassis.
In the cabin there’s a whole lot to like, and a lot of familiarity with the VF. All the Commodores I’ve owned have come with brilliant seats, and Tourer is no exception. They’re marginally tighter than those in VF, but they're still very comfortable and, pleasingly, you very much sit 'in' a Commodore rather than 'on' it. The Calais V has heated seats in the front and rear, plus a massage function for the driver.
It’s got plenty of space, with storage everywhere, and an easy-to-use touchscreen. Pairing your phone, playing music, setting up the GPS and tweaking settings is a cinch.
It’s very intuitive without being complicated – German marques take note. Apple CarPlay and wireless charging are welcome additions. The list of standard features built into the new Commodore is impressive. This car has tech and features galore, far more than previous models, which is a nice step forward.
With that said, the dash on the ZB is a little bland and oddly, it has two temperature gauges which reading different figures while it warms up. Boot space is down only slightly on the VF, but the load bay is still very large and practical, just like its predecessor.
Safety is top-notch with all the expected systems, plus some you may not have expected. Like all Commodores, there’s plenty of space for the driver and passengers. Legroom has always been (and continues to be) a hallmark of Commodores.
The ZB gives you a nice solid thud when you close the door, but one of things letting it down is the quality of the plastics. To my touch, they're not quite as good as those in the outgoing car.
Looks? Well they're very subjective. There’s a 'grown-up' look to this car that’s quite refined. In my humble opinion, the non-sporting ZB models have sharper, more sophisticated styling than the outgoing VF equivalents.
However, the sporty ZB models don’t have the striking looks or presence of the SS/SV variants from the VF line-up.
Overall I feel the styling of the ZB is quite a departure from the muscular look of its predecessor. There's something very Mazda-ish about the front end and the rear of the wagon doesn’t have the sharp lines of the sedan. I do think the sedan (or liftback) has better lines than the wagon.
Looks can be polarising but a quick straw poll of dads at my kids' soccer club revealed a majority vote in favour of the ZB’s styling.
I might be biased here, being a Holden man, but if you were to slap a four-ringed badge or a Mercedes-Benz star on this, it'd sell and you’d be paying a lot more. This is a great car and it deserves fair consideration.
It’s not the Australian-made Commodore we're used to, but even if Holden kept the plant open this was the Commodore we were going to get.
The ZB mightn't suit the one-third of Commodore buyers who previously bought a V8. I’m ruled out as a buyer. The difference in performance between this model and the SS is simply too much for me.
I just wish HSV would get their hands on this and weave their magic. Guys, there’s room under that bonnet for a turbo or two (nudge, nudge).
But I’m in the minority of Commodore buyers, and there’s a larger group of people who bought a Commodore the ZB could (and should) appeal to. This car has a lot to offer.
Bottom line is, go and drive it before you make up your mind – you might be surprised.
I wonder if our forefathers were having a similar debate when Holden announced it was ditching the Kingswood to make a smaller, German-designed vehicle from Opel?
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