Australia's Best Cars

The imports replacing our home-grown heroes

By the end of 2017 the mainstream manufacturing and assembly arm of the Australian automotive industry will be finished, taking with it almost a century of innovation, dreams and machines that have created cars not only crucial to our way of life but also ones that have shaped Australian
culture.

With the shutdown of the two remaining production lines – Holden’s Elizabeth plant in Adelaide and Toyota’s Altona plant in Melbourne – we’ll also see the end of vehicles that are still bought by tens of thousands of Australians each year, from the Commodore and Ute to the Camry and
Falcon.

Despite what is the end of an era, most Australian models will be replaced by imported alternatives, many of them continuing existing nameplates.

Here’s what to expect by 2018 as the automotive industry prepares to wind down.

Holden Commodore

The Australian Commodore may soon be dead, but the name will live on.

In February 2018 Holden will launch an all-new Commodore. But for the first time since it appeared on the scene almost 40 years ago, it won’t be one produced in Australia – it will come from Germany. Plus, it will be smaller than the one it replaces and not have the option of a V8 engine. The
Commodore also won’t have the traditional rear-drive layout that has characterised the big Aussie car since that original Holden in 1948.

Instead the new Commodore will be a rebadged version of the Opel Insignia, a car produced predominantly for Europe. It will have four-cylinder engines (including a diesel) driving the front wheels, as well as a V6 option which will be paired to a clever all-wheel drive system.

But the biggest change to the Commodore will be its design and body. There are more swoops and curves, and instead of a traditional sedan there’s a five-door hatch for easier loading and flexibility. Joining the hatch will be a more traditional wagon, something that will spawn a high-riding crossover designed for light gravel tracks and trips to the snow.

The focus with the imported Commodore will shift from sporty to luxury, although it will still very much place the emphasis on driving enjoyment as much as it does keeping kids and their parents content.

Also expect Holden to load the Commodore with advanced technology, including auto braking functionality, a head-up display, matrix LED headlights and adjustable suspension.

Holden Cruze

The Cruze nameplate has already been killed off, with the last of the Australian-made models currently trickling through dealerships.

But Holden isn’t giving up on the small car class, a market segment that still accounts for almost one in five sales and some of the big players in the market, including Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.

Enter the latest Holden Astra, a car tasked with facing off against some impressive entrants.

The Astra hatch arrived in Australia late last year and a sedan will follow soon, providing Holden with a more convincing small car lineup than it’s had for years.

Yet there are more differences between sedan and hatch than the way you access the luggage area. That’s because the hatch is sourced from the UK, while the sedan will come out of South Korea – the same factory that was also producing Cruzes until recently.

So as well as possible pricing differences between the two model styles, expect some variations in equipment levels and presentation.

Ford Falcon

It’s a nameplate that ran from 1960 until 2016, but as it approached its half century Ford made the decision to retire the iconic badge on the company’s Australian-made large car. So there will be no more Falcons – nor cars that directly replace them.

The closest thing Ford has to a car that did what Falcon did is Mondeo, a made-in-Spain mid-sizer that’s been growing over two decades of understated service in Australia.

However, Mondeo is a very different car to the Falcon. It drives the front wheels rather than the rears and does without the big-capacity engines – including a V8 option – once considered essential for big cars for a big country.

Ford Territory

When it went on sale in early 2004, the Territory was a game changer – and, arguably, one of the most Australian cars ever developed. It was designed for the families that were increasingly demanding a different type of wagon.

From this year, though, Ford is without a direct replacement for the much-loved Territory – and there’s nothing on the new-model horizon. Those wanting seven seats can choose the Ford Everest, which is a fine machine but one with very different intentions to a Territory. Everest is based on the truck-like architecture of the Ranger ute, for example, whereas Territory used the underpinnings of the Falcon.

That means Everest is more towing machine and off-roader than school-run king. Those planning on confining it to the suburbs will notice more bulk and less agility with Everest, something that negatively impacts driving enjoyment and comfort.

If you are chasing something more car-like, Ford will have a solution of sorts in 2018 – the Edge. The global SUV uses a car platform, for example. However, that Edge has only five seats, ruling it out for so many Territory buyers who needed that third row.

Toyota Camry/Aurion

Toyota has long wanted to muscle in on the large car game dominated by Ford and Holden – and the Aurion was the most recent play. But with the imminent shutdown of local manufacturing, Aurion is set to disappear.

Not that it will be missed much. Aurion has only been around since 2006 and sales have been sliding.

Aurion will still be around in spirit; it’s just that it will again be known as the Camry V6, with Toyota set to put all its marketing muscle behind the more popular mid-sizer.

Speaking of which, Toyota will continue with its Camry, the latest iteration of which was revealed at the Detroit motor show in January. The new model will be imported from one of the numerous plants producing the sizeable five-seater.

Expect it to arrive in Australia as early as late 2017, bringing with it Toyota Safety Sense, a new active safety suite that includes auto emergency braking.

As with the current car it will get the option of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, a petrol-electric hybrid and that V6.

Ford Falcon Ute/Holden Ute

It was way back in 1934 when Ford Australia invented the car-based ute. Since then Aussies have loved the practicality of an easy-to-drive car paired with a versatile tray.

But sales of traditional Falcon and Commodore utes have been flagging for a decade, swallowed by the dual-cab four-wheel drive models, all of which are imported.

No surprises, then, that Ford and Holden have no plans to replace their respective car-based utes, instead focusing their efforts on Ranger and Colorado respectively, each of which comes from Thailand.

Written by Toby Hagon
February 21, 2017