“That’s not a real Commodore, what a POS!”... hmmm, how many times have we read those words written about the new ZB Commodore by both Holden loyalists and those that are just Holden haters and want to kick the company while its down?
I understand the Holden diehards' apprehension. Because I’m one of them.
I have had 12 Holdens/HSVs and have also had eight Commodores as company cars. I’ve also had a Mercedes-Benz C Class, three Land Rover Discoveries, a Camry, an Epica (company car thank you very much, as if I would spend my own money on that) and a Daewoo Cielo (a truly awful car, I did buy that one though – nothing to see here move along). But I digress.
Here I was standing in my local Holden dealer waiting for my Clubsport to be serviced and was having a bit of a 'discussion' with the salesman regarding the new Commodore.
“It’s not a real one mate, I’ll be looking at an AMG Merc as my next car."
Well, mortgages, school fees and general living meant the AMG is going to have to wait; I’ll take a C43 if anyone’s offering? No? Okay back to the new Commodore.
At the time I was driving a VY V8 Adventra AWD wagon as my daily driver, very practical, loved the security of AWD but the running costs and never-ending fuel bills meant it had to go. Plus, my mechanic was edging closer to retirement as the Adventra was starting to cost plenty in ongoing maintenance and repairs, he affectionately called it “the money pit”.
What to buy next? My garage has a CV8 Monaro, two 1983 VH SL/Es plus my VF Clubsport R8, all V8s and all rear-wheel drive. Notice any theme here? I told you I was a Holden diehard with a few indiscretions along the way.
I looked at the new Camry and test drove a ZB VXR and well. I was hooked on the ZB, I was surprised how the car handled and performed, with the seven-year unlimited km warranty and roadside assist I thought I’d give it a go.
Unfortunately, I wanted a colour called Darkmoon Blue. 'No mate, you can’t get it in a VXR', so I bought a ZB Calais V instead. I shopped around and got a changeover price I was more than happy with and bought the car. I’m happy I got this dark blue colour. It looks awesome when the car is washed, until you breathe on it, touch it or drive the car. Then it’s a magnet for dust, birds and anything else – it's cursed like a black car showing up everything.
I’ve had my ZB Calais V for seven months and have done 19,000km. Fuel economy has been okay, well it's friggin' awesome after trading in a 5.7-litre V8 AWD Adventra wagon.
So far in 19,000km I have an overall average of 11.1L/100km. Best I have got was a trip from Adelaide to Melbourne where it averaged 6.1L. On the highway the engine ticks over at 1500 rpm.
Okay, so now for the elephant in the room regarding handling. My ZB Calais V loves a corner, the AWD grip is very reassuring and it handles the twisty bits better than my RWD VF Clubsport. There I said it. I have the new one and the superseded model so can do a back-to-back comparisons. How many gurus or keyboard warriors that have bagged the crap out of this car can say that or can say that they have even driven the new ZB model? I think we know the answer to both of those questions.
Funny thing is my ZB Calais V has more profile hits than my VF Clubsport on my profile for the car club I’m a member of. Plenty of closet admirers I think. If I take any of my five cars to do the school run, it’s the ZB Calais V that has generated the most discussion. Common feedback has been that the shape looks good, very European and they are surprised that it is a Holden.
The 3.6-litre V6 loves a rev with 235kW (same as what my 5.7-litre V8 powered Adventra had) and has a nice exhaust note. No seriously, the V6 sounds good with some revs on board and with the nine-speed auto, gear changes are seamless and acceleration is more than acceptable. Tows my 16-foot boat with ease with plenty left to overtake safely on the highway.
The braking power is very good too as I managed to stop in time from 100km/h to zero when a B-double pulled out on me on the highway last Thursday.
Give it some beans and it squats and goes. I have surprised two VF SS drivers who were expecting to just dismiss my ZB at the traffic lights coz' as we know 'she ain't a real Commodore maaaate'. Yeah well, they now know how hard my ZB Calais V accelerates from the lights.
Hmmm, I wonder how many of their mates they confessed to that when they tried to cut in on a long line of traffic at a set of lights, their V8-powered Commodores came second to a V6 ZB Commodore?
The auto stop-start is annoying, it can’t be turned off permanently, however it is very quick to start the car again when lifting off the brake pedal if the driver chooses to leave stop-start on. I have just made it a habit of turning it off every time I start the car.
My ZB Calais V rides on 20-inch tyres, the ride is firm but no worse than my Clubsport. I enjoy that level of ride, others may not. It has Continental tyres which is an expense I won’t be repeating when it's time for new tyres.
Exterior wind and engine noise are supremely hushed, too quiet in fact as the road speed doesn’t always reflect the noises coming from outside and I find it is very easy to be going faster than expected, which for those that live in Victoria isn’t wise. I constantly use the head-up display to keep my speed in check.
The cabin quality is a step up from my VF Clubsport, although the ZB has piano black trim on the console which is a bastard to keep clean and the chrome that surrounds the gear lever can at times shine right into your eyes on a very sunny day when heading east. But overall, the cabin in the ZB is a nicer place to be.
The steering wheel is smaller than my VF and you feel more surrounded with the console. I have found a really comfortable driving position, I’m 6-feet tall and can easily sit in the rear passenger seat behind my driving position and still have adequate room. The front seats are heated and cooled, the driver’s seat also has a massage function and adjustable side bolsters. Being “big boned” which is how my mother used to describe me whereas my brother simply called me a fat bastard, means I leave the bolsters open at their widest point and don’t touch them again. The cabin is really a four-seater, the middle row seat isn’t for long trips and I like the sloping cabin, others don’t.
I love the digital radio the Bose sound is really good, plus the sub-menus contained in the digital instrument cluster have lots of information. I can even have a poor man’s version of Audi’s virtual cockpit where the sat-nav is embedded in mini form right in front of my eyes on the dash.
Comparing it to the graphics and menus with the VF Clubbie it’s a generation ahead and it shows. Smartphone pairing is a breeze and I’ve never had any issues connecting in the ZB. The sound quality of the hands-free has had no complaints from people on the other end of the call, something that's hit and miss in my VF with my two iPhones.
The electronic driving/safety aids are great. I find the pedestrian detection is remarkably accurate and the radar cruise control is great on the highway, and lane keep assist is quite forceful if the car detects you are drifting out of your lane. The rear-view camera has a split screen on the dash which shows an overhead view too and has been very handy when reversing to connect my boat trailer.
Other things I don’t like about the interior: the head-up display doesn’t show speed zones whereas in my Clubbie it does, plus if you are using the sat-nav it dominates the view in the head up display when a turn is imminent. Umm, that’s great but where has my digital speedo gone? I curse it every time it takes the speedo away as I’ve become so accustomed to using the speedo in the head-up display only, but I can overcome that by adjusting my view.
The rear air vents can’t be turned off, I spend the majority of my driving on my own or with my daughter in the car so the back seats are hardly used. On a hot day I like to close off the rear vents to direct more air power to the front; well not in a ZB 'cause that’s not an option. The heater works incredibly well though, you can tell the Europeans love a warm car.
The hatch is very practical and to fold the rear seats electronically with a touch of a button is very handy too. However, when dropping off my daughter at school, she can’t hop out and pop the hatch, the proximity key must be next to the hatch to open it. So, she hops out of the car, I give her the key, she opens the hatch, takes out her school bag and then she gives me back the key. Pain in the arse to be honest and a bit short sighted, I think.
The final jab people use when bagging the crap out of this car is resale. Well for me it will become the hand-me down first car for my daughter so it doesn’t affect me. As you can see above, I travel around 35,000km per annum so any car I buy and hang onto (for the usual five years in my case) will have plenty of kilometres on it and will affect its resale regardless of make.
I love my V8 RWD Holdens, but it’s the past, the glory days of where the brand has been. The ZB range is where it is at presently in the passenger car segment and a worthy successor for the majority of previous Commodore buyers, I am incredibly happy with my ZB Calais V.
The ZB is a very good car regardless of the keyboard warriors constant hate. It’s been widely reported this was the car Holden was going to build anyway if Holden was going to continue local manufacturing.
As for the future and my car purchases, well who knows? This time last year no way was I going to buy a ZB Commodore but I am a total convert and will gladly keep my ZB in the family and in the stable with my other Holdens and HSV.
I think my next purchase in five years may even be some form of hybrid. Once again, no way did I think I would say that. Things change, times change and its time to move with the times. My VF Clubsport is a good car but my ZB Calais V is a simply better car overall.