A NEW DAWN
TESTED: HOLDEN’S IMPORTED COMMODORE
Anew Holden Commodore arrives less frequently than a solar eclipse. The latest, only the fifth generation in 40 years, is the first completely new model in more than a decade. Adding to the suspense for car enthusiasts and fleet managers, this Commodore is like no other. It’s imported from Germany, smaller than the homegrown model it replaces, and has four-cylinder petrol or diesel power, or V6 allwheel drive.
This is the first time Holden has been without a V8 since 1968. The Chevrolet Camaro arrives in selected Holden dealers later this year, and the Corvette joins it in 2020.
The Holden heartland now has to contemplate the Commodore joining the likes of Toyota Camry, Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Mondeo, all previously dismissed as rivals. The starting price is sharper than the previous Commodore but dearer than most of its new competitors.
As we have reported previously, this is the car Holden would have built had it continued local manufacturing, so V8 diehards would be in mourning either way.
Times have changed and so too have buyer tastes. V8s have represented more than onethird of Commodore sales over the life of the car but Australians weren’t buying enough to sustain a local variant, let alone a factory.
This new Commodore is sold elsewhere as a Buick, an Opel and a Vauxhall. Holden engineers have been all over it, fine-tuning the steering, suspension and transmission calibrations over the past 18 months. A V6 was squeezed under the bonnet just for Australia but there’s no room — engineering-wise, not in terms of physical space — for twin turbos.
This is the first Commodore without the option of a manual transmission; instead there is a nine-speed auto for the petrol engines and an eight-speed auto for the diesel.
It’s the most hi-tech Holden to wear a Commodore badge.
More expensive models come with heated and cooled front seats with massage function, radar cruise control, blind zone warning, rear cross traffic alert, 360-degree camera, wireless phone charging and intelligent multi-LED high-beams that don’t dazzle oncoming cars while still illuminating the road around them.
Most versions have just a space-saver spare (fitted locally rather than ex-factory) and the flagship comes with an inflation kit. Ford, Subaru, Toyota, Hyundai and VW have full-size spares on certain models.
Service intervals are 12 months/12,000km, which means more frequent servicing for drivers who do big distances; the previous interval was nine months/15,000km.
ON THE ROAD
First impression at the wheel? The dash looks like an Astra. It’s a pleasing design, it just doesn’t look as if you’re in a premium interior.
Only the most expensive Commodores get the digital instrument display; lesser models get analog dials and a small digital screen that will look familiar to Cruze and Astra drivers.
Holden’s tape measure shows that while the exterior dimensions are smaller, the new
Commodore is almost as roomy as before. Based on what we’ve seen, at the very least the Camry and VW Passat are roomier.
Key differences: the roofline is lower, so taller drivers will need to stoop or bang their heads, and it has a noticeably narrower “couple distance” — the driver and front passenger sit closer together.
The rear seat has two Isofix child seat mounting points; when they’re not in use it’s more suitable for two adults rather than three.
The boot is a fraction smaller than before but has the convenience of a hatchback and splitfolding rear seats, so larger loads fit more easily. However the boot is not very deep.
Holden says the Commodore can afford to be smaller because the sedan is no longer tasked with doing everything. Today, two-car households might also have a hatchback, an SUV or a ute.
A welcome Commodore trait that has been retained: plenty of length and height adjustment for the driver’s seat. Other good news: Holden has done an admirable job of tuning the Commodore to local conditions.
To illustrate the point, Holden had media also sample the Commodore with German suspension. Surprise, surprise, the Aussie-tune was superior, settling quickly after big bumps.
The steering is direct and the V6 all-wheel drive has more cornering grip than most buyers will ever explore, let alone need.
Straight-line performance will be met with disbelief by some of the Holden heartland.
Using our GPS timing equipment inside Holden’s test track. the turbo front-driver with nine-speed auto is, astonishingly, half a second quicker to 100km/h than the old Commodore SV6 — 6.7 seconds versus 7.2.
The V6 AWD with nine-speed auto is just over a second slower than the previous V8 (6.2 versus 5.1 seconds). The European turbo four AWD would be almost as quick.
It may like a drink and insist on premium unleaded but I prefer the turbo petrol, which is more responsive on the move.
The V6 AWD sounds coarse and is almost 200kg heaver than the petrol four.
The turbo diesel trails the others by some margin but it’s no slouch — it’s more than a second quicker to the speed limit than the new Toyota Camry four (8.8 secs versus 10.1).