The Commodore has landed

2018 Holden Commodore | The NRMA
2018 Holden Commodore | The NRMA

 ‘Australia’s own car’ might be built in Germany now, but it’s more Aussie than it appears

This new Commodore has big shoes to fill and nearly everyone has an opinion on its prospects for success. Yet amid these speculations, the vehicle and its attributes seem to have been overlooked. It’s a very different car to the outgoing VFII, which was based on the VE – the ‘Billion Dollar Baby’ as General Motors executives called it on its 2006 launch.

2018 Holden Commodore | The NRMA

This Commodore descends from the Opel Insignia, which has been warmly received in the northern hemisphere since its launch in 2017. It’s a truly global car, having been built in Rüsselsheim, Germany, and sold as a Vauxhall in the UK and a Buick in the US. Here in Australia, Holden knew a long time ago there wouldn’t be a local replacement for the Commodore. Its Aussie engineers worked alongside their European counterparts during development of the Insignia to ensure our version would suit our unique conditions and roads. To say the Insignia was foisted on Holden isn’t really the case. The V6 AWD was only added to the line-up after Holden’s input, and 200,000km of local testing on various suspension and steering setups were carried out, along with fine-tuning radio and satellite navigation reception.

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The line-up is extensive and, while many will be unhappy there’s no longer a V8 option, the mechanical specification is high-tech. Gone is the old 3.6-litre Alloytec V6, replaced with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo across three grades: the entry level LT, the RS and the Calais. The 3.6-litre AWD V6 is available as an option on the RS and Calais, and standard on the top model VXR. A diesel engine is also available for the LT range. A nine-speed auto is used for the 2.0-litre and V6, where other markets have to make do with an older eight-speed. The diesel, with its extra torque, uses a more rugged eight-speed unit.

The 2.0-litre develops 191kW and 350Nm, making it the most powerful entry-level Commodore ever offered and, at 7.4L/100km, the most economical as well. The only downside is that premium fuel is required. The naturally aspirated V6 puts out 236kW and 380Nm, has a combined fuel consumption figure of 8.9L/100km (RS) using regular unleaded, and the 125kW and 400Nm diesel sips just 5.6L/100km. The V6 powertrain delivers power to the wheels via an adaptive AWD system. It can direct as much as 100 per cent of torque to the front wheels for improved fuel consumption or down to a 50/50 front-rear split, depending on conditions. The rear differential uses two internal electric clutches to control torque from the left to right wheel, negating the need for a traditional limited slip differential. It’ll improve road grip and balance, impeding understeer and oversteer more efficiently.

2018 Holden Commodore | The NRMA

Three body styles are on offer: liftback (sedan), sportwagon and tourer. The tourer is an interesting new variant based on the sportwagon. Popular in Europe, where station wagons still hold sway over SUVs, the AWD tourer has ‘high ride’ suspension providing better ground clearance over the sportwagon, and some body cladding to give it a more rugged, off-road look. The AWD system also includes the electric limited slip differential (LSD). For those seeking an alternative to an SUV, this may well be the ticket.

Pricing for the 12-model range starts at $33,690 for the LT 2.0-litre turbo liftback, with the LT sportwagon $35,890. The RS V6 liftback starts at $40,790 and the higher spec RS-V sportwagon at $49,190. The familiar Calais nameplate has been retained and the 2.0-litre Calais liftback is priced at $40,990, with the V6 Calais-V $51,990. The tourer starts at $45,990 for the Calais and the hero of the range is the VXR at $55,990. Holden is offering introductory drive-away pricing on certain models – the LT liftback is $35,990 drive away, almost $4000 cheaper than the outgoing VFII Evoke sedan.

Visually, the new range has a faint nod to the former Commodore with its flared wheel arches and athletic stance, but that’s about it. While historically most drivers would never mistake a Commodore for anything other than a Commodore, the new range has a definite Euro look. Size-wise, the new car sits between the VT from the 2000s and the old VF sedans. The narrower cabin has slightly less shoulder width and hip space width (57mm and 51mm respectively), but the front seating position provides almost identical space. Cargo volume, at 490 litres, is just five litres less, and the new liftback design, with the rear seats folded down, provides 1450 litres. Front seat comfort in the RS is excellent, supportive and well bolstered without being too firm. Rear seat comfort doesn’t disappoint, either, and while the higher rear waistline and lower roofline make it feel a little cosier, occupant space remains similar and, in the sportwagon and tourer, rear head room is a tad better.

Performance and general driveability from the 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and nine-speed auto will surprise the diehards who believe there’s no substitute for cubic inches. Slightly more powerful than the outgoing Evoke, the turbo four develops 60Nm more torque. The RS is over 100kg lighter, too, and less weight and more torque make for a much more engaging drive. Off the mark, the Commodore has more zip, and the rapid-fire gear changes are almost imperceptible inside the cabin and keep the engine in its ideal torque zone. It’s quiet and refined under hard acceleration towards the 5500rpm limit, something that couldn’t be said about the old unit. Turbocharging also means less fuel consumption – we used 7.9L/100km around town and 7.5L/100km on the open road, comfortably better than the 8.8L/100km recorded on our last VF test.

2018 Holden Commodore | The NRMA

While much of the focus has been on the sporty VX6 and how well it handles, Holden’s engineers have given each model a thorough workover and its own identity. The RS, riding on 18-inch alloys and 245/45 Continental tyres, isn’t too firm or harsh over bumps and corrugations, yet through corners it remains flat with good body control. Steering feel is nicely matched, too; not sharp or nervous off-centre.

Not surprisingly, Holden is looking to the future rather than the past with the latest Commodore – a future that pitches it against some excellent mid-sized sedans from Mazda, Subaru, Toyota and its old nemesis, Ford. Fundamentally a very good car even in base and mid-spec trim, the Commodore has the features and tech to match its rivals. – Tim Pomroy

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: nine-speed automatic
Power: 191kW
Torque: 350Nm
Fuel consumption: 7.6L/100km (claimed)
ANCAP: Five stars
Price: From $33,690 (plus ORC)

Pros: Better spec level; more refined; liftback body provides greater space
Cons: No full-size spare; instrument cluster looks cheap

This article was originally published in the May/June 2018 issue of the Open Road magazine.

The standard features list is more comprehensive than ever, with the LT featuring auto headlamps with daytime running lights, passive keyless entry, remote and push button start, rear-view camera, front and rear parking assistance, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, and Holden’s MyLink infotainment system with a seven-inch touchscreen. On the safety front the LT features a forward-mounted camera, autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning, following-distance indicator and forward collision alert with head-up warning. All variants have a five-star ANCAP rating.

Our RS test car featured larger 18-inch alloys, sports body kit and front seats, leather sports steering wheel, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, and the sportwagon features an electric tailgate.d slip differential (LSD). For those seeking an alternative to an SUV, this may well be the ticket.

2018 Holden Commodore | The NRMA