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