A quick note before I jump into the review. In case you haven’t read my other Owner Reviews, I’m a 14 year old from Sydney with a passion for cars.
The Holden Commodore is to Australia what the Volkswagen Beetle is to Germany - it’s the car that defines the nation. First introduced in 1978, the Commodore was the hero of the Holden lineup - a large V6 and V8 rear-wheel-drive sedan, wagon and ute was designed by Aussies, for Aussies... built right here in Australia.
So, when Holden closed local production of the Commodore and switched to a fully imported, front and all-wheel-drive model you can imagine the public outrage.
Since then, there’s still one burning question on everyone’s minds: is this new imported Commodore really deserving of its iconic nameplate? With this review, I intend to answer that.
Back in December, I subscribed to a mailing list created specifically for news about the new Commodore. To my delight, in January, I received an email from Holden - inviting my dad and I to an exclusive drive day of the new ZB Commodore at Sydney Motorsport Park on February 5.
Without further ado, let’s begin my review of the all new, 2018 Holden Commodore ZB.
Let’s start with the looks. It looks great in the photos, but the ZB is one of those cars that looks better in the flesh. In my opinion, in VXR spec with Absolute Red paint, it’s probably the most beautiful car Holden has ever sold. I’m serious.
The ‘shark nose’ front end and metallic intakes look so aggressive but yet so stunning, while the lines that run around the car make it look extremely modern. The ZB is just such a handsome car. It looks better than any VF Commodore, Monaro, Torana or 48-215. Mark Adams, take a bow.
But how does it drive? The drive day itself was split up into two parts. First a slalom test, where you drive a new ZB back to back with a VF II SV6 - the idea of this is to show the stability and traction of the new AWD system. This was followed by a ‘range drive’ - where you do a lap of the short circuit, change cars in the pits and repeat.
Let’s begin with the slalom test. First up was the rear wheel drive, VF II SV6. You could feel the drivetrain in that car - it wanted to slide, but was constantly stopped by traction control and ESC.
Then we moved over to the ZB, in this case a V6-powered RS-V liftback. Most of the differences were muffled by TC and ESC, but dad says the ZB felt a bit more planted and stable – that was all down to the complex AWD system and Twinster rear diff.
From the back seat, the most noticeable thing was the way the ZB transfers its weight - it’s so stable and feels as if there is little to no body-roll.
Following the slalom test was the range drive. Dad and I started in the hero variant of the ZB range, the VXR liftback. My dad says this was the best variant to drive, for good reason.
When he had the opportunity to push the car a beyond a 60km/h cruise, it behaved well - it didn’t lack grunt, handled well, had stacks of cornering grip and overall was a great performer. Of course when driven at full speed on the track it’s not going to keep up with a VF II SS-V Redline or a Stinger GT, but on a twisty road that may well be a different story.
The next car up was an RS Sportwagon. The 191kW, 2.0-litre 4-pot still felt pretty potent, and on such a short and low-speed drive it was hard to tell the difference between it and the VXR.
However, that’s not the most surprising thing about the RS. With the 2.0-litre engine, the car doesn’t feel like a FWD whatsoever - it doesn’t torque steer or bear any of the key FWD traits. It’s really surprising.
After the RS Sportwagon was a V6-powered Calais Tourer. There’s not much to say about it, apart from the fact you could (barely) feel the extra ride height and weight - it basically drives like the VXR.
However, the real surprise of the afternoon was the diesel Calais liftback. This car was staggering, it didn’t feel like a FWD diesel at all - it didn’t sound like a tractor, was as fast as the 2.0-litre petrol and gripped well enough to take Turn 2 of Sydney Motorsports Park flat out at 85km/h. The only real giveaway was the rev counter – last time I checked four-cylinder turbo petrols aren't redlined at 5,000 RPM…
Let’s move on to technology and features. The ZB Commodore is very well equipped for its class. Even the base LT comes as standard with AEB, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, a 7.0-inch MyLink infotainment system and much, much more.
By the time you reach the top spec VXR, you get features like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, an 8.0-inch MyLink infotainment system, heated, ventilated and massaging seats, a 360-degree camera, a head-up display and an absolutely spectacular 8.0-inch driver display.
The amount of tech and features the ZB has is just insane - it’s great to see, once again, Holden has built a car with a spec sheet that reigns supreme over the competition.
Pricing for the ZB Commodore lineup begins with the LT liftback at $33,690 plus on-road costs, while at the top of the range there is the VXR at $55,990 plus on-road costs. Kudos to Holden - despite being imported from the Opel factory in Russelsheim, Germany, the ZB actually starts at $1800 less than the base VF II.
Inside, the ZB feels more upmarket than its badge implies. The cabin feels premium and luxurious, with very few hard plastics - the same goes for the seats, which are comfortable and supportive enough to be sufficient on a long drive. Infotainment wise, both the 7.0- and 8.0-inch systems are really good.
The 8.0-inch system available on the RS-V, VXR, Calais and Calais-V seems very intuitive and modern, and is a big step up over the VF II - especially in the connectivity department, as the ZB features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Unfortunately I didn’t get much of an opportunity to play with the 7-inch system so I can’t say too much about it, however it still appears to be a solid system with modern visuals.
Comfort and practicality wise, the ZB does really well. It may be smaller in dimensions, but still feels very spacious - knee-room and head-room is respectable. While shoulder-room is reduced from the outgoing VF II, it's still adequate for its segment. In the Liftback, boot space is 5 litres less than the VF II at 490L, which opens up to 1450L with the seats down. Further, the hatch makes that boot space considerably more usable.
There are a few more things I’d like to touch on. The sound - it’s pretty mediocre at lower RPMs, but once you get above 4000rpm it really starts to sing.
Of course, there are still some things than can be improved and changed. Firstly, the seats in the VXR - you can change the bolstering, but no matter where you set it it’s either too loose or too tight. Secondly, the infotainment - the 8-inch system is perfect, so why not just include it on all variants and charge $500 more for the base models? Simple.
Finally, the elephant in the room - the V6 needs more power! It’s a solid car on its own, but needs 25 to 35kW more to really become a true SS replacement and a car that can stick it to the Stinger. A great way to start adding power would be with a new bi-modal exhaust - it would also really improve the sound of the car. Of course, the enthusiast’s dream would be to add two turbos and have a 300kW VXR, but we all know that’s never going to happen.
In summary, the 2018 ZB Commodore is a fantastic car. In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful Holdens of all time. It offers new engines never seen on a Commodore that perform better than they appear on paper.
It handles like a dream, thanks mostly to Holden’s local tuning and complex all-wheel-drive system. It has the space and practicality you expect from a Commodore. Finally, it is packed with all of the technology and features that you would ever want.
So, let’s return to that original question: is the ZB Commodore deserving of its iconic nameplate? I believe so. However, if I haven’t convinced you yet, there’s only one thing I can say to bring you back to the light side.
Pop down to your local Holden dealer, and drive it. If that doesn’t change your mind, nothing will.