Holden ZB Commodore 2018 review

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

Hatchback and sedan Holden Commodore Calais

Snapshot

Holden Commodore Calais
Price:
$40,990 + $4224 ORC.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol, 9spd auto
Safety: 6 airbags, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts.
Economy: 7.8L/100km
Value: ****

Holden’s 2018 ZB Commodore, replacing the locally built VF II, is facing more than the usual amount of scrutiny, such is Australia’s passion for this iconic nameplate.

For instance, when Holden proclaims that the new entry-level model is $1800 cheaper than its predecessor, it’s not exactly comparing apples with apples. The new Commodore is built in Germany and is essentially a globally developed Opel Insignia.

The entry-level LT and the higher-spec Calais (our test car) are 2.0-litre turbo, front-wheel-drive models in Liftback body design, nothing like the six-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive, trailer-towing sedan that Australian rural communities fell in love with over four decades. That space is now filled with SUVs and dual-cab utes.

Instead, the ZB Commodores are elegant family saloons and wagons, featuring smart if conservative design and presentation and with the necessary driveline refinement to compete with the current crop of high-class cars from Asia.


An eye on the future

While Holden has felt compelled to remain focused on the core Commodore buyer, with the new 12-model line-up providing a good selection of V6 sedans and wagons, it clearly has an eye on the future by confidently handing over a 2.0-litre version for our first test.

The Calais appears well constructed, in terms of fundamental German build quality and in its smart set-up at the wheel. Although new to Australia, this Insignia is well into its model cycle, and some internal trim, fittings and fixtures look dated or feel flimsy. Overall, though, the cabin is suitably elegant, comfortable and notably accommodating.

But the real eye-opener is the way this 2.0-litre car drives. Refining the driving dynamics for local conditions has been the job of local Holden engineers, who have developed unique steering, damper and stability control tuning, together with revised suspension hardware.

The desire to ensure this Commodore feels and performs as it should was initially focused on the 3.6-litre V6 all-wheel-drive models, but it has since flowed on to all variants. The 2.0-litre turbo engine offers excellent performance and mid-range response, thanks to its impressive 191kW and 350Nm, delivered exclusively by a conventional nine-speed auto. That’s the same torque and just 19kW less than the outgoing SV6 but with three extra gear ratios.

The Commodore range starts with the 2.0-litre LT, in Liftback at $33,690 plus on-road costs or as a Sportwagon from $35,890. Special drive-away pricing is offered on some models at launch.

Interior features of Holden Calais Commodore

Interior features

The LT’s standard active safety features include Holden Eye, a forward-facing camera set-up with autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist and distance/collision warnings, plus semi-automated parking with rear camera and front and rear parking sensors.

In conjunction with the usual six airbag arrangement, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and ISOFIX childseat points, all models have a five-star ANCAP safety rating. Auto-locking rear seatbelts also provide added security when fitting childseats.

The LT has Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and iPod integration on a seven-inch colour touch-screen. Remote entry and start, cruise control, leather steering wheel, an eight-way powered driver’s seat and 17-inch alloys are also nice to have at this price.

Our Calais, from $40,990, adds 18-inch alloys, leather-appointed and heated front seats, wireless phone charging, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert and satellite navigation on an eight-inch touch-screen. A 2.0-litre diesel option ($3000) is available on LT and Calais. Rounding out the 2.0-litre line-up is the sporting RS, in Liftback ($37,290) and Sportwagon ($39,490).

The V6 models are AWD-only, starting with the RS Liftback from $40,790 and RS-V Liftback and Sportwagon from $46,990 and $49,190 respectively. A V6 Calais Liftback is $51,990 while the top sports model, the VXR V6 Liftback, is $55,990. There are no V8s and the SS badge is on hold, further reinforcing the ZB’s mature buyer target and European flavour.

One of the biggest changes for Commodore is the Liftback body architecture. In typical European style, it’s long rather than wide but provides massive space and great load flexibility, given the lack of a rear wall and parcel shelf. The 60/40-split rear seat, with handy childseat anchor points, does not fold completely flat, but the load length is sufficient for an adult to lie stretched out.

Aiding this space, regrettably, is a horrid little spare wheel and the dilemma of where to stow and secure a punctured road wheel. The rear seat is shaped for two adults and is a little more upright than most, leaving the centre rear seat as a cramped and uncomfortable option.

Rear headroom in the Liftback is just adequate, and you also sit low to the floor, so access is not as easy and with knees up there’s less leg support. Centre-console air vents, overhead lighting, USB charging and handy storage pockets are provided for rear occupants.

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Up front it’s a different story. Good access, generous head and leg room, particularly with the powered driver’s seat range, and a stylish cockpit welcome drivers. That said, the presentation continues the European flavour with small dials, some unfamiliar switches and difficult-to-read controls.

A saving grace is the large central screen for all secondary functions, a centre instrument screen for all driving information, logical steering-wheel buttons, excellent vanity mirrors and handy centre-console storage compartments. However for a car with the prestige Calais badge, we were disappointed by the lack of expected features, such as a powered passenger seat or adaptive cruise control, and firm rather than plush leather.

Fast moving white Holden Commodore Calais

Impressive performance

Our 2.0-litre turbo Calais delivered exceptional performance and economy, both in its impressive recorded times – 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds, and 400 metres in just over 15 seconds – and in how the silky nine-speed auto provided enjoyable everyday driving flexibility and responsiveness.

Electronics ensured control during off-the-line launches and we were never aware of any unwanted front-wheel-drive foibles. In true Commodore fashion, however, its forte lies in open road touring where, apart from some tyre noise, the Calais glided effortlessly at speed over less-than-perfect back roads. In the country, we averaged around 7.4L/100km and in the city 8.6L/100km, on the required 95-RON fuel.

The local suspension tuning is also very good, with an accurate steering feel and surefooted ride and handling over all manner of roads. It’s firm at slow speeds with a thump over short, sharp bumps, and while the steering is light, the long wheelbase means a large turning circle.

The new Commodore retains a traditional three-year/100,000km warranty and 12,000km service intervals, along with Holden’s extended test drive offer.

The verdict

The ZB Commodore is a significant shift away from the traditional large six-cylinder sedan and is now a conservatively elegant and practical saloon sourced from Europe. Excellent 2.0-litre performance and economy will appeal to the less image-conscious, but its appeal over many exceptional mid-size cars is questionable.

These comments are from RACV’s experienced team of vehicle testers. Check out the full range of RoyalAuto car reviews, news and other motoring information at royalauto.com.au.

Holden Commodore Calais

Price

$40,990 + $4224 ORC.
Premium paint: $550.
Model range: $33,690-$55,990.

Safety

ESC. ABS. 6 airbags. Autonomous emergency braking. Blind-spot, lane-departure and rear cross-traffic systems. Reversing camera. Front/rear parking sensors. Auto lights/wipers. ISOFIX childseat points. Five-star ANCAP rating.

Connectivity

8” touch-screen. Sat-nav. Bluetooth. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto. Digital radio. Wireless phone charger.

Vehicle features

Dual-zone climate control. Leather trim. Heated front seats.

Driver features

Eight-way powered seat with memory. Remote entry/start.  Semi-auto parking.

Specifications

Drivetrain: 1998cc 4cyl-turbo petrol engine. Front-wheel drive. 9spd auto. 191kW@5500rpm, 350Nm@3000rpm.
Performance: 0-60km/h, 3.6sec. 0-80, 5.2. 0-100, 6.9. 50-80, 2.8. 60-100, 4.3. 0-400m, 15.1. Stopping from 80km/h, 22.8m.
Fuel: 7.8L/100km (RACV test); 7.6L/100km (govt test). 62L tank. 95-RON petrol. Wheels: 18” alloy, 245/45 R18 tyres. Space-saver spare. Environment: 173g/km CO2.
Service/repairs: 12-month/12,000km services. 3yr/100,000km warranty.

Category ratings 

Pricing: ****
Features & equipment:
***½
Presentation: ***½
Seating comfort: ****
Space: ****½
Noise: ***
Performance: ****½
Economy: ****
Handling & braking: ****
Safety (ANCAP): *****

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Written by Ernest Litera
February 15, 2018