Holden tunes ZB Com­modore for lo­cal roads

Kapiti Observer - - WHAT’S ON -

We drive next year’s Euro­pean Com­modore in 99-per-cent-fin­ished form. By David Lin­klater.

We’ve learnt quite a lot more about the Euro­pean-sourced 2018 Com­modore af­ter Holden’s sec­ond pre-launch drive for me­dia.

We do at least go into this know­ing what it’s called. Af­ter be­ing dubbed ‘‘next gen­er­a­tion’’ by for so long, many (in­clud­ing us) thought it would be called the NG. Not so: it was con­firmed ear­lier this month that the of­fi­cial des­ig­na­tion will be ZB Com­modore when the new car is launched in New Zealand in the first quar­ter of next year.

We also now know that the 2.0-litre turbo model pro­duces 191kW/350Nm, so it lives up to Holden’s long-stand­ing prom­ise that the new four-cylin­der will be the quick­est en­try-level Com­modore ever (0-100kmh in ‘‘just over’’ seven sec­onds). The cur­rent (at least 200kg-heav­ier) Aus­tralian-built Com­modore Evoke 3.0-litre makes 185kW/ 290Nm, while the 3.6-litre opens at 210kW/350Nm.

Ac­tu­ally, we can do bet­ter than that be­cause Holden’s me­dia drive pro­gramme at the Lang Lang Prov­ing Ground, near Mel­bourne, put us in both four­cylin­der front-drive and 230kW/ 370Nm V6 all-wheel drive ZB Com­modore vari­ants, over some of the com­pany’s own in­ter­nal test routes and ul­ti­mately out on pub­lic roads.

Sud­denly, new Com­modore is French (sort of). Our pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of the ZB last year was in ‘‘65 per cent’’ V6 mod­els only. This time, the cars are more like 99 per cent fin­ished and there was op­por­tu­nity to com­pare Euro­pean-spec­i­fi­ca­tion fours with the Holden-cal­i­brated ver­sion, and new V6 Com­modor­eAWD (in­clud­ing Twin­ster rear dif­fer­en­tial) with cur­rent VF­gen­er­a­tion SV6 and Calais mod­els.

Holden says it has now cov­ered more than 100,000km of Aus­tralian test­ing and cal­i­bra­tion work for ZB. The work has fo­cused on steer­ing, sus­pen­sion and giv­ing the Opel-sourced car a Com­modore ‘‘feel’’, says lead dy­nam­ics en­gi­neer Rob Tru­biani.

The more mo­tor­way-op­ti­mised Opel steer­ing and sus­pen­sion setup has been mod­i­fied to bet­ter han­dle the un­du­lat­ing and some­times-rough sur­faces of Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

‘‘The Opel has been very well re­ceived [in Europe],’’ says Tru­biani. ‘‘There have been good re­ports from me­dia and the car suits that mar­ket well. But we needed to make ad­just­ments for our roads.’’

Key changes in­clude a more pos­i­tive steer­ing feel just of­f­cen­tre and more lin­ear re­sponse over­all. While the Opel steer­ing cal­i­bra­tion is de­signed to load up as wheel-an­gle in­creases, the Holden ver­sion is more con­sis­tent and pre­cise – as suits the more wind­ing and var­ied roads it will be driven on.

Sim­i­larly, the sus­pen­sion of the ZB has been re­cal­i­brated to take full ad­van­tage of wheel travel over large pri­mary bumps, but main­tain bet­ter con­trol to re­duce ‘‘float­ing’’ over un­du­lat­ing roads. Holden claims its setup also ben­e­fits sec­ondary ride on rough roads, as the sus­pen­sion is less in­clined to fid­get over the small rip­ples that are so com­mon on our tar­mac.

It’s not just talk. Back-to-back drives of a pro­duc­tion Euro-spec In­signia 2.0 and the equiv­a­lent 99-per-cent ZB Com­modore re­vealed ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ences in pre­ci­sion and con­trol over some sinewy and bumpy tar­mac.

Tru­biani de­nies there’s been any at­tempt to re­verse-en­gi­neer the dy­namic character of the out­go­ing Aussie Com­modore into the new Euro one. But sim­i­lar­i­ties will be in­evitable, he says: ‘‘One beauty of this process is that the same peo­ple who have been tun­ing Com­modore for 20-plus years are also tun­ing the new one. Sure, this is a whole new ar­chi­tec­ture, but there’s very much a Holden feel to it.’’

That’s a front-drive feel if we’re talk­ing about the four-cylin­der model, of course. The 2.0-litre turbo, nine-speed pow­er­train is very smooth and so­phis­ti­cated, the chas­sis taut and well con­trolled. But hus­tle it around some de­mand­ing roads and there’s no doubt it’s a FWD­car. A very com­posed one that’s sub­stan­tially lighter and more ag­ile than the car it re­places, but FWD none­the­less. That may be the hard­est thing for Com­modore diehards to get their heads around.

Or per­haps that’s just the V6 AWDTwin­ster talk­ing.

The jewel in the ZB’s crown is un­doubt­edly the Twin­ster rear dif­fer­en­tial fit­ted to the V6 mod­els. It’s an im­pres­sive piece of tech­nol­ogy that’s ca­pa­ble of tak­ing a front-drive plat­form into the realm of en­thu­si­ast cor­ner­ing per­for­mance. The same ba­sic sys­tem is al­ready used on the Ford Fo­cus RS.

Twin­ster’s dual clutches con­trol each rear wheel in­de­pen­dently; they’re on a high­speed in­for­ma­tion loop with the rest of the car’s elec­tron­ics to proac­tively feed rear­ward torque left-or-right (or both) for max­i­mum trac­tion or cor­ner­ing sta­bil­ity. Un­like many sim­i­lar brake-ac­tu­ated sys­tems, Twin­ster is the real deal: it has true torquevec­tor­ing and can ap­ply power to the rear axles in­de­pen­dently to main­tain max­i­mum sta­bil­ity.

Twin­ster got a de­cent work­out around Lang Lang’s hill route. The trac­tion of the ZB V6 is phe­nom­e­nal, but more im­pres­sive is the way the car tucks into tight cor­ners and al­lows ex­treme throt­tle on exit. It’s not just fast: the Twin­ster chas­sis has a talk­a­tive na­ture that makes it truly in­volv­ing.

Don’t be fooled by the fa­mil­iar (but now ir­rel­e­vant) body­dis­guises on the ZB V6s pic­tured, by the way. Yes, they’re the same cars wheeled out for us last year. But un­der­neath, they’re now bang up-to-date with the lat­est lo­cal cal­i­bra­tion.

Holden isn’t talk­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tion de­tail yet, but we did glean that the V6AWD­model will come in two states of sus­pen­sion tune for lux­ury and driveror­i­ented mod­els, just as the Aussie Com­modore does now. There will also be a Sport mode for V6 mod­els that livens up the steer­ing, trans­mis­sion and Twin­ster dif­fer­en­tial, mak­ing the the han­dling more play­ful.

We left Lang Lang with the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that there are two dif­fer­ent ZB Com­modores with two very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters.

But there’s more to come. We’ve now sam­pled both petrol en­gines and two body styles, but there’s still a four-pot turbo-diesel on the way and the model that could po­ten­tially be of huge in­ter­est to Kiwi cus­tomers: a high-rid­ing SUV-style ver­sion of the wagon that’s known as the Coun­try Tourer in Europe.

Four-pot pow­er­ful and smooth, with nine-speed auto. Holden claims 0-100kmh in ‘‘just over’’ seven sec­onds.

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