“It’s not a real Commodore, mate!”
A statement enthusiastically communicated to me in a predominantly negative fashion. It was delivered by a gentleman in his late 20s, wrapped in hi-vis yellow and I suspect loyal to the lion of old. This was apparent due to his choice of transport – a horrifically modified six-cylinder VT Commodore with the obligatory Chevrolet badges.
Now, I’m not saying all Commodore owners fit the above stereotype, but it’s fair to say the Holden Commodore has a loyal, passionate and vocal following, and apparently they’re not exactly enthusiastic with the change of direction their hero car has taken.
A Commodore loyalist, I’m certainly not. To be perfectly frank, my enthusiasm for the iconic Aussie family hauler has been right up there with my enthusiasm for root canal therapy or applying Chevrolet badges to cars not actually produced by Chevrolet. Give me ‘Holden Commodore’ in a word-association test and my response will be ‘Meh’.
I’m in a unique position at the Sydney CarAdvice office, as I live in Newcastle and travel the 2.5 hours of M1 Motorway multiple times a week (my record is nine times in five days), and while handing me the keys to our long-term Commodore didn’t exactly light up my eyes, I was keen to see if this all-new ZB iteration could float my boat more than a plethora of other Commodore variants I’ve tested on the familiar route.
If you haven’t travelled the Sydney to Newcastle (and back) M1, let me set the scene. It’s 127km of patchy surfaces interspersed with billiard-table-smooth smatterings of tarmac, harsh concrete joins, snaking corners rising and falling over and through hills and valleys, two sections of seemingly never-ending roadworks with surfaces that change on an hourly basis, and long straights that tempt you to sink your right foot (commonsense and the boys in blue soon extinguish that temptation). It’s a superb journey to test any car’s long-distance chops.
So how’d the ZB go? In a word, brilliantly. With my almost genetically indifferent attitude towards previous Commodores, the ZB is the best Commodore I’ve driven on this stretch of road. Possibly any stretch of road for that matter.
The ride quality is excellent. The M1’s concrete sections have the ability to turn some longer-wheelbased cars into vehicular seesaws, but the Commodore sits flat and absorbs high-frequency road joins just as well as the peaks and troughs that cause the tipping forward and back seesaw motions.
Changes in road surface are dealt with easily, both physically and audibly. Some cars I’ve driven on this stretch may physically handle the gamut of different conditions, but the Commodore seems to hide the audible changes these surfaces often produce. It’s not Rolls-Royce silent in the cabin, but it’s far better than some cars at even three times the price.
The seats are supportive, comfortable and finally, in a Commodore, I can find a driving position I like. All the control points are predictable and nicely balanced. The steering isn’t the most communicative, but it’s direct, void of play, and never busy or vague. Brake pedal feel is good with none of the grabby, overly sensitive characteristics that sometimes can manifest themselves.
Our long-termer was a mid-spec RS model with a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine powering the front wheels, and while I am one to prefer more power than less, the 191kW and 350Nm unit never felt underpowered or out of its depth, even when having to overtake on the steep uphill sections coming off either side of the Mooney Mooney Bridge.
The only real long-distance faults I could find aren’t relegated to just long distances, but are foibles of the new Commodore in general. The infotainment system either didn’t like my phone, or my phone has taken the same attitude as some diehard Commodore fans and refuses to play ball with the ZB. Either way, Apple CarPlay would sometimes refuse to be recognised, would drop out or pause whatever it was I was listening to. And before you suggest it was the cable connecting my phone to the car, three different cables produced the same result.
Besides the interruption to my in-car entertainment, my apologies to the loyalists, but the ZB Commodore completed the multiple M1 trips with flying colours.
“It’s not a real Commodore, mate!”
You’re right, mate, it’s far better.
The ZB has changed what a Commodore fundamentally is, and this is a good thing. It’s disappointing it’s no longer made in Australia, but it does what’s required in Australia better than ever before.
2018 Holden Commodore RS
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