Large cars

With Com­modore pro­duc­tion end­ing, does it still de­liver and who else is chal­leng­ing the large car king? Damien O’car­roll in­ves­ti­gates.

New Zealand Company Vehicle - - CONTENTS -

On the 20th of Oc­to­ber this year Aus­tralian man­u­fac­ture of cars will fin­ish as the fi­nal Com­modore rolls down the as­sem­bly line of Holden’s El­iz­a­beth as­sem­bly plant in Ade­laide. While there will be a new, fully-im­ported, Com­modore com­ing early next year, it will not be a RWD car with V6 or V8 power, but rather a FWD and AWD car with a choice of 2.0-litre or V6 en­gines, which makes a lot of sense, be­cause ever since the Ford Fal­con’s demise ear­lier this year, that is ex­actly what the Com­modore’s op­po­si­tion has of­fered. While the large, lo­cal RWD car is dead come Oc­to­ber 20, the large car seg­ment in gen­eral has been shrink­ing dras­ti­cally at the heads of both the medium SUV and pick up truck seg­ments as both have be­come more re­fined, de­sir­able and car-like. In­creas­ingly “car-like” they may be, but “like” is the op­er­a­tive word here, and nei­ther – although par­tic­u­larly pick­ups – of­fer quite the same driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as a large sedan – so for those who still want that par­tic­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence, what ex­actly are your op­tions? While the next Com­modore is not far off, there are op­tions cur­rently avail­able in the mar­ket, all of which are eerily sim­i­lar to what the NG Com­modore will be, so here we take a look at two of them, with a cur­rent (and still cur­rently avail­able, re­mem­ber) Com­modore SV6 along for the ride.

Subaru Le­gacy 3.6 RS

Subaru started push­ing the RS as the log­i­cal suc­ces­sor to the Com­modore’s large six-cylin­der crown pretty much as soon as it be­came known that Aus­tralian man­u­fac­ture would cease. And it makes a lot of sense too. After all, the Le­gacy is a large car pow­ered by a 191kw/350nm 3.6-litre six, al­beit in Subaru’s tra­di­tional horizontally-op­posed lay­out, rather than the Holden’s V6. Com­ing in slightly cheaper than an SV6 at $49,990, the Le­gacy RS would cer­tainly seem, on pa­per at least, to be an ex­tremely con­vinc­ing al­ter­na­tive. And our judges cer­tainly seemed to agree with that, with all feel­ing that the Le­gacy of­fered ex­cel­lent in­te­rior space up front, sur­pris­ing some of them who still thought of the Le­gacy as a mid-sized car. While the front seats were praised as com­fort­able, all judges felt that they did lack lat­eral sup­port. How­ever, things weren’t quite so happy up the back, where the Le­gacy was crit­i­cised for its poor rear head­room and flat, un­sup­port­ive seats. Out on the road the Le­gacy at­tracted noth­ing but praise for its 3.6-litre boxer en­gine and the way it de­liv­ers its 350Nm of torque. One judge com­mented that it had the best torque spread of the three, while an­other gave par­tic­u­lar praise to Subaru’s Si-drive pro­gramme that al­lows the driver to se­lect dif­fer­ent throt­tle maps for spir­ited or re­laxed driv­ing. All judges also ap­pre­ci­ated the RS’S poise and grip over pretty much any sur­face, with its AWD sys­tem prov­ing to be much ap­pre­ci­ated in the wet con­di­tions of our test, thanks to its quick and con­fi­den­cein­spir­ing op­er­a­tion. One thing that all of the judges com­mented on was the Le­gacy’s weight and how it could be felt on the road. Given that the Le­gacy and Com­modore both weigh roughly the same (1,645kg for the Le­gacy and 1,690kg for the Com­modore) this says more about holden’s abil­ity to dis­guise the Com­modore’s weight than any par­tic­u­lar chub­bi­ness on the Subaru’s part. Over­all the judges all felt that the Le­gacy

RS was the clos­est in char­ac­ter to the Com­modore and a thor­oughly con­vinc­ing all-rounder that of­fered ex­cel­lent value for money. Yet all also felt that the Le­gacy was miss­ing that spe­cial Subaru DNA that al­ways made them some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent and spe­cial. Per­haps that is why the Le­gacy makes a con­vinc­ingly good al­ter­na­tive to a Com­modore and it cer­tainly broaden’s its ap­peal, but still…

Skoda Su­perb Sport­line TSI

The first thing we need to make clear here is that the Sport­line ver­sion of the Su­perb is a con­sid­er­ably higher equipped and more ex­pen­sive car than ei­ther the Com­modore SV6 or Le­gacy RS. How­ever, strip away the Sport­line ex­tras and price ($69,990 as you see it here) and you have a Su­perb 2.0 TSI that has the same en­gine and driv­e­train and re­tails for $62,490. This still makes it the most ex­pen­sive, but also the most well-equipped and new­est car here. It’s 206kw/350nm 2.0-litre turbo in­line four-cylin­der petrol en­gine and AWD driv­e­train also makes it the clos­est car to the NG Com­modore when it ar­rives next year as well… The Skoda in­stantly im­pressed with its sharp looks and high qual­ity in­te­rior that all judges ranked the best of the lot, de­spite one feel­ing that it felt a lit­tle plain in­side. Up the back the Skoda ut­terly dom­i­nated the other two by of­fer­ing sim­ply in­cred­i­ble rear leg room, ad­mirable head­room and a cav­ernous boot. Be­cause the Su­perb is also a lift back (although you prob­a­bly would never guess it from the styling, which is strongly sedan-ish), it also of­fers the best boot open­ing of the lot, with sim­ply re­mark­able amounts of room and prac­ti­cal­ity avail­able. On the road the Skoda con­tin­ued to im­press with a uni­ver­sally praised ride, while the sharp han­dling and in­stant re­sponses were de­scribed by one judge as “sub­lime”. The Su­perb’s DSG trans­mis­sion also came in for praise, with all agree­ing that it was the quick­est and smoothest here, although one did point out that the Skoda does still some­times be­tray the tra­di­tional dual clutch in­de­ci­sion at very low speeds and on hills. While it is the small­est ca­pac­ity here, the Skoda’s en­gine also im­pressed the judges, not only with its power and torque, but also with its crisp, ag­gres­sive sound. One judge even de­clined to make com­ment on the au­dio sys­tem (which is also the best of the lot, by the way) be­cause he was en­joy­ing

lis­ten­ing to the growly en­gine. While all three cars here have the same amount of torque (350Nm) the Skoda de­liv­ers its lower down (1,750rpm) and spreads it out wider, so never has the same feel as the peakier, more laid back torque de­liv­ery of the larger en­gined cars. Some judges liked this, some didn’t, but it was largely down to per­sonal pref­er­ences. All judges agreed, how­ever, that the Su­perb was a very ap­pro­pri­ately named car that im­pressed ev­ery­one with its abil­i­ties.

Holden Com­modore SV6

Pretty much ev­ery­one who drives the lat­est Holden Com­modore SS Red­line agrees that it is eas­ily the best car to ever wear the Com­modore name, but how does the the lat­est ver­sion fare fur­ther down the food chain, shorn of the bril­liant sports sus­pen­sion and bel­liger­ent, howling V8 en­gine? Still sur­pris­ingly well, ac­tu­ally. The SV6 im­me­di­ately sur­prised one judge who hadn’t been in a Com­modore for a while and wasn’t ex­pect­ing great things, con­firm­ing the fact that the last of the line is truly a word-class car ca­pa­ble of dis­miss­ing tra­di­tional crit­i­cisms lev­elled at Aus­tralian­made cars. That said, it was ob­vi­ous that the Com­modore was the old­est of the bunch, par­tic­u­larly on the in­side. While the in­te­rior was still at­trac­tive and well laid out, it was dated, par­tic­u­larly when com­pared to the Skoda. The SV6’S seats looked fan­tas­tic and one judge felt they of­fered the best driv­ing po­si­tion here, but an­other of the judges found them to be too ag­gres­sively bol­stered and re­stric­tive. But the seats were also one of the things that high­lighted the Com­modore’s age, with man­ual ad­just­ment, while the lack of shift paddles on the steer­ing wheel was also noted. While the Com­modore gets Holden’s ex­cel­lent Mylink touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, it isn’t the lat­est gen­er­a­tion and lacks phone mir­ror­ing, which was just an­other re­minder of age. The Holden still of­fers the best shoul­der room across the rear seat, but leg and head room weren’t any­where near the Skoda’s stan­dards. On the road the Com­modore still im­presses, with all three judges prais­ing the Com­modore’s com­posed, sta­ble han­dling and com­fort­able ride. How­ever, while the RWD han­dling was fun, it sim­ply couldn’t keep up with the two AWD cars over a wind­ing road. Ride com­fort, how­ever, was bril­liant, with the Com­modore’s supple chas­sis ef­fort­lessly ab­sorb­ing even the worst road im­per­fec­tions, tes­ta­ment to the ad­van­tage a lo­cally de­vel­oped sus­pen­sions set up will have over an over­seas one any day. While the 210kw/350nm 3.6-litre V6 packed the most power of the lot, its peaky de­liv­ery meant it was the least im­pres­sive en­gine of the three, only re­ally com­ing into its own higher up in the revs, where it ar­guably beat out the other two for re­spon­sive­ness. But down low it lacked the ex­pected punch, a fact not helped by the trans­mis­sion’s some­times slug­gish be­hav­iour. While the Com­modore is start­ing to show its age, it has still kept pace re­mark­ably well and re­mains a won­der­fully com­pe­tent and com­fort­able large car that at least one of our judges still ranked as his first choice.

Sum­mary

While there is sim­ply no di­rect re­place­ment avail­able for the large RWD Aussie six, the most ob­vi­ous re­place­ment for the out­go­ing Com­modore is the new one. That cer­tainly is what Holden will want you to think. But after driv­ing all three cars back to back, we would have to say that the Subaru Le­gacy 3.6 RS is in­deed that clos­est thing you will soon be able to get to a cur­rent Com­modore, and that it does it con­vinc­ingly well too. Big, pow­er­ful and ath­letic, the Le­gacy RS is con­ser­va­tively hand­some, well equipped and feels ever-so-slightly dated, which should suit tra­di­tional Com­modore buy­ers per­fectly. But it is not the best car here by a long shot – that honour goes to the Skoda Su­perb. Fast, re­mark­ably sharp and in­volv­ing and su­perbly (sorry) com­fort­able, the Su­perb is sim­ply a stag­ger­ing good car for the money. Even for Sport­line money, but more so for the $62,900 of the 2.0 TSI. It may cost more than the other two (and quite bit more than the Subaru), but you cer­tainly do get what you pay for. How­ever, in­ter­est­ingly, while two of our

judges ranked it as their favourite, the one judge that picked the Com­modore as his favourite ranked the Skoda last (he still lav­ished praise on the Skoda, how­ever), sup­port­ing our claim that the Le­gacy is still the clos­est Com­modore sub­sti­tute cur­rently avail­able. But what of the cur­rent Com­modore? Well, it still man­ages to re­main a strong and con­vinc­ing com­peti­tor in the dras­ti­cally shrink­ing seg­ment and if you truly can’t stand to see the back of it, then rush­ing out and grab­bing one be­fore they dis­ap­pear for­ever isn’t the worst thing in the world you could do. But you re­ally don’t need to, be­cause there are some very con­vinc­ing al­ter­na­tives, it just de­pends on how “dif­fer­ent” you are pre­pared to go.

Test Team – Damien O’car­roll; As­so­ciate Ed­i­tor Ross Mackay; NZ4WD Ed­i­tor Nick Auld; AA Driver Train­ing

What about the new Com­modore?

Of course, the ob­vi­ous re­place­ment for the old Com­modore is the new Com­modore, so what will that be like? We re­cently had a chance to drive some pre-pro­duc­tion en­gi­neer­ing cars and came away ex­tremely im­pressed, de­spite the fact that they were only “65 per­cent” cars. If that sounds quite com­plete, then you need to know that 63 per­cent is the first time the car has ac­tu­ally phys­i­cally ex­isted. The NG (for Next Gen­er­a­tion) Com­modore will be avail­able as a lift back and wagon, with ei­ther 2.0-litre, four­cylin­der petrol and diesel en­gines, or a 3.6-litre V6. While the 2.0-litre cars will be FWD, the V6 will be AWD and Holden has just re­vealed the VXR ver­sion of the new Com­modore pow­ered by a 235kw/381nm ver­sion of the V6. Although the NG Com­modore is based on Gen­eral Mo­tor’s new E2 ar­chi­tec­ture that the Euro­pean Open In­signia sits on, Holden en­gi­neers in Aus­tralia have been in­volved in its en­gi­neer­ing since the be­gin­ning, with the pre-pro­duc­tion cars we drove be­ing sent to Holden’s Lang Lang prov­ing grounds for sus­pen­sion and elec­tronic set up. Given that the new­est, most com­pa­ra­ble car in our com­par­i­son was the Skoda Su­perb, a Holden de­vel­oped lo­cal set up on a high-tech Euro with pow­er­ful four-cylin­der and V6 en­gines sounds very much like it could be an ab­so­lute win­ner. Pro­vided you aren’t still stuck on a big RWD six, that is…

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