At risk of igniting the 'Is it a Commodore?' debate in the comments section, I decided to write this review. But first, some context.
I am a Holden fan through and through. Sitting in the garage now is a 2017 Commodore Redline alongside a 1973 GTR Torana. In the driveway, a 2008 VE Commodore. Before the VE Commodore, I owned a Commodore. Before that, a Commodore. To say I am acquainted with the Commodore plate is an understatement.
So, when I had to hire a car for my trip to Adelaide, I thought I may as well choose a Commodore. And when I saw the ZB wagon sitting in bay 17 at AVIS, I was happy to take perhaps the most contentious car of the year on an extended test drive.
The car I hired was the RS model with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. I’ve never owned a four-cylinder or driven a front-wheel drive before and was eager to try it out.
In 11 days, I drove over 2700km on a variety of paved and unpaved surfaces. The car sits on 110km/h without breaking a sweat and has more than enough get up and go for overtaking. The auto works well and the engine never really revs out, apart from when you are trying to fang it onto on-ramps. It’s good that it doesn’t rev out too, because I hate the sound of a four-cylinder revving. I was very, very impressed by the drivetrain, and before the critics condemn it as a piece of junk, make sure you drive it. I’m sure the majority of the Australian population would be surprised.
The new engine is just as good as the old six in terms of performance, but notably better on fuel (I averaged 8L/100km). On those twisty mountain roads, the car has a proverbial ton of grip – I can only imagine what the AWD variant would feel like. It never felt uncomposed, body roll was kept to a minimum, and I didn’t feel like I would fling off the road into a small forest – which was reassuring with the family on board. As past reviews have stated, the steering is definitely light, but it gets heavier and sharper in Sports mode.
I've only ever owned sedans, and the boot space in a station wagon shocked me. There was heaps. Four full-sized bags, an esky, other stuff I probably didn't need – it all fitted well and the ZB didn't sink in the rear end.
The interior is reasonable for mid-spec, but lacks the head-up display and inbuilt sat-nav that the Redline has. The leg room isn’t there like it is in the VF and the seats get a bit stiff after hours of driving. Or is that just my back? The steering wheel is really nice to hold and the dash is well laid out. The actual driver’s seat and surrounds are a lot more premium than I expected. Can’t fault it there. I also like the gimmicks such as the automatic tailgate and the projected Holden logo on the ground.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found the rear of the new ZB design to be polarising. It looks as though you have gotten someone’s face, stuck a brick on their head, and given them a double chin and two silver sideburns. I like the front, though. It looks about as angry as any European car can get, and it does resemble the 'I want to rip your face off' and 'I will destroy you' façade of the VF and VE series. It just doesn’t have the noise. The LED blinkers look really good too.
My favourite angle is from the side, though. It looks a lot like a Levorg. The side skirts are nicely shaped and some of the lines down the side are properly spectacular. It's really nicely proportioned and I don't mind the rims either, despite looking like daisies. It comes with a space-saver spare too, which is nice given most new cars come with a tube of Clag glue and a bit of sticky tape for punctures.
I mentioned I drove the car on some unpaved roads too, and it also performs decently there. Ground clearance is sufficient, so you don't have to worry about scraping out all the time; although, it is no greater than the past Commodore. You can easily sit at 80km/h and feel as though you have traction to burn. As is the case with most cars, it does hate corrugations, though. If I were driving unpaved roads more often than not, I'd have to recommend an Outback or XV. I feel like they are better suited to that kind of travel.
The biggest problem with the ZB is street cred. Driving the long straights through the Flinders Ranges, it's as though you can see the spittle coming out of people's mouths, and the disgust of the truckies as you overtake them in what must appear as a feral pest on Australian roads. And I've figured out why.
Nobody actually knows what this vehicle achieves. I don’t think Holden knows either. It satisfies all categories but is a master of none.
Is it a sports car? No. A high-riding tourer? No. What about a four-wheel drive? No. A first car? Not with a $30K price tag. The kind of car you can take to the snow without putting chains on? Um, no. It’s front-wheel drive. Something you can take camping? Well, I guess so, but spend an extra $10K on an Isuzu MU-X or something similar that can properly go off-road and is going to be more reliable and durable in the long run.
People want to like this car, I know I do, but with its Australian heritage as a drawcard for many buyers of the old Commodore, it is simply the case that people are forced to look at other brands for cars that are arguably better – and cheaper.
The lady at reception at one of my hotels asked me for the make and model of my car so I could access parking. I had to think about it for a second, and when I told her it was a Commodore it just felt weird. Like it almost wasn’t right.
So, is it a good car? Yes. Would I drive one? Yes. Would I buy one new? No. Given how fast it is depreciating and the fact that there are many more options out that are more feature-packed and only a stone's throw away in terms of pricing, I think I’d be forced to look elsewhere. I fear Holden will have the same problem with the Acadia.