RE-EN­TRY SHUT­TLE

Holden’s spa­cious Sport­wagon fits more and drives bet­ter than com­pa­ra­ble SUVs

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - MOTORING - BILL McKIN­NON SKODA SU­PERB 162TSI, $45,390 D/A

These are des­per­ate days for Holden. The core ap­peal and iden­tity of the brand – its Aus­tralian en­gi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing her­itage – va­por­ised when the VFII se­ries Com­modore ceased pro­duc­tion in Oc­to­ber. In March, its mar­ket share dropped to

4.8 per cent, its worst ever re­sult. Holden faces a mon­u­men­tal task just to stay alive, let alone rein­vent it­self, sim­ply be­cause it had so much in­vested in its “Aus­tralian­ness”.

“Let’s Go There” is Holden’s new slo­gan. The ob­vi­ous, but unan­swered, ques­tion is “Where?”

It’s early days but the new ZB Com­modore, built by Euro­pean brand Opel (off­loaded by Gen­eral Mo­tors last year to the French PSA group, which makes Citroen and Peu­geot) is sell­ing at less than half the rate of the VFII.

I’m not go­ing to com­pare the two cars. That’s point­less – the home­grown Com­modore is dead and there is no af­ter­life in the car busi­ness, only a sad shuf­fle through used car lots, then a date with the crusher. It’s time to drive on.

VALUE

Drive-away prices for the ZB Com­modore kick off at $39,955 for the LT Lift­back and $35,990 for the LT Sport­wagon. We’re in the mid-spec RS Sport­wagon, at $43,800.

It’s pow­ered by a 2.0-litre four-cylin­der turbo that drives the front wheels via a nine­speed au­to­matic.

In ad­di­tion to the LT spec, the pseudo-sporty RS has stylish 18-inch al­loys and a body kit, plus more sup­port­ive, power-ad­justable front seats, leather-wrapped steer­ing wheel and power tail­gate with hands-free foot swipe oper­a­tion.

Starter kit in­cludes a seven-inch screen, Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto, semi­au­to­matic per­pen­dic­u­lar and par­al­lel park­ing, re­mote start­ing, key­less en­try, cruise con­trol, rain-sens­ing wipers and au­to­matic head­lights.

Holden is try­ing to give ZB sales a rev up with a seven-year/un­lim­ited kilo­me­tre war­ranty deal. Ser­vic­ing – for the first three years at least – is cheap but gets more ex­pen­sive from year four.

So run­ning costs should be low, apart from the 2.0-litre’s pref­er­ence for 95 oc­tane premium fuel. Ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try val­uer Red­book, re­sale val­ues – never a strong point on Com­modores – will be low too.

Red­book reck­ons on the RS Sport­wagon pulling just 35 per cent of its new price as a trade-in af­ter three years/60,000km and in av­er­age con­di­tion. Af­ter five years/100,000km, it’s a worst-in-in­dus­try rate of 18 per cent – a Mazda6 Tour­ing wagon gets 36 per cent.

COM­FORT

The sports driver’s seat in the RS, with a firm, ex­tend­able cush­ion and sup­port­ive side bol­ster­ing, is ex­cep­tion­ally com­fort­able for tall driv­ers on a long jour­ney. You sit low, in quite a sporty po­si­tion, with plenty of room to move in the twin cock­pit.

The test car was squeak and rat­tle free, apart from ex­ces­sive wind noise around an im­per­fectly sealed driver’s door. Tyre noise on coarse coun­try bi­tu­men was also ex­ces­sive.

MyLink has lim­ited func­tion­al­ity in the RS. It does with­out stand-alone voice con­trol, nav­i­ga­tion, dig­i­tal ra­dio, traf­fic up­dates and speed limit in­for­ma­tion.

Rear legroom is vast, head­room is fine and the firm, high bench will suit kids in re­straints. Vents and two USB charge ports are pro­vided.

A low, long boot floor eas­ily ex­tends via the 60-40 split-fold­ing rear seat back to a flat two me­tres, and even in five-seater mode you get greater load ca­pac­ity than many SUVs.

SAFETY

The LT has au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing, ef­fec­tive lane-keep­ing as­sist, dis­tance in­di­ca­tor to the car in front plus au­di­ble and vis­ual for­ward col­li­sion alerts. The RS adds blind spot mon­i­tor­ing and rear cross-traf­fic alert.

DRIV­ING

Peak torque of 350Nm kicks in at a high (by turbo stan­dards) 3000rpm. This lack of bot­tom end grunt is ef­fec­tively masked by tightly packed lower trans­mis­sion ra­tios, so re­spon­sive­ness is rea­son­able and, in the main, the nine-speed works un­ob­tru­sively and ef­fi­ciently.

The ZB is not a sporty car – de­spite 191kW of peak power at 5500rpm, the top end is a non­event. All you get is an an­guished whine and slurred shifts, al­most like a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion. No pad­dle-shifters are fit­ted.

Even with au­to­matic stop-start, the 2.0-litre can use up to 14L/100km in city traf­fic. Av­er­age con­sump­tion in sub­ur­bia is 9-11L/100km. On the high­way, where tall gear­ing keeps revs at an ab­so­lute min­i­mum, the RS re­turns 6-7L/100km.

Holden’s lo­cal en­gi­neer­ing in­put and the rel­a­tively light weight of the four-cylin­der mod­els (a trim 1569kg for the RS Sport­wagon) show in its rock-solid road­hold­ing, con­fi­dent, ag­ile han­dling, light, pre­cise steer­ing and firm, yet com­pli­ant and com­fort­able ride.

It’s a lot more en­joy­able to drive at speed than any com­pa­ra­bly sized SUV.

HEART SAYS

OK, I know they don’t make the Com­modore here any more but I’ve had a few. They’ve been hon­est, re­li­able cars and this one has a lot of 21st-cen­tury tech in a good value pack­age.

HEAD SAYS

I’m not sen­ti­men­tal but I know a good car when I see one. I’m tempted to wait a bit for the in­evitable drive-away dis­count deals, though. Holden’s pain will surely be my gain.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES

Out­stand­ing qual­ity and de­sign, with a re­fined, fuel-ef­fi­cient 138kW 2.5-litre/six-speed auto. Small (506L) boot and high ser­vic­ing costs.

The best value wagon on the mar­ket. Punchy, fru­gal 162kW 2.0-litre turbo/six-speed auto, huge (660L) boot, all the safety gear and par­ent-friendly de­sign through­out.

VER­DICT

Ca­pa­ble, com­fort­able, spa­cious and prac­ti­cal, the RS Sport­wagon is com­pet­i­tive but hardly com­pelling.

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