’Dore with four is the ZB with more, as local hero comes full circle
The best cold ZB we’ve cracked open all year
NOTHING says ‘new era’ like a new-gen Commodore.
Back in ’78, the VB original – designed by Opel – was smaller and way more sophisticated than the American-esque HZ it replaced, with Holden promoting it as “a new kind of car for Australia”.
Now, 40 years later, history repeats with the ZB – a rebadged and refettled Opel Insignia. Made in Germany, five doors replace four, four cylinders oust eight while a V6 continues, rear-drive gives way to front or all-wheel drive and manuals are history. There’s even a bloody diesel. Echoing then-pm Ben Chifley in 1948, we can almost hear Angela Merkel declare, “Sie ist eine beauty!”
Deceptively, the ZB sits between VF and the 1997 VT in length and width, so despite an 86mm shorter wheelbase, there’s room to stretch inside. And though shoulder room shrinks 57mm, the Commodore feels wider than a Camry. The dash design promotes a sense of width and the layout’s ergonomics, clarity and functionality are praiseworthy.
Ample tech, too, including AEB in the base $33,690 LT Liftback; a hands-free powered tailgate in wagons from RS ($39,490) up; AWD for all V6s (from $40,790 RS-V); and adaptive cruise and active dampers in the $56K VXR. But the VF’S warmth and texture hasn’t migrated, giving way to smooth, monochromatic homogeny.
Mind you, spirits will soar behind the wheel of the 191kw/ 350Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four, nine-speed auto front-driver, sampled in predicted volume selling $37,290 RS Liftback form.
Rapid off the mark, brawny in the mid-range, this ‘entry-level’ powertrain is both responsive and cultured. We even forgive the auto lever’s back-to-front tip-shifter, for the transmission picks the right ratio every time. Even the 125kw/ 400Nm 2.0-litre eight-speed auto turbo-diesel – muscular yet oh-so cultivated – blitzes expectations.
Furthermore, the 2.0-litre’s handling is defined by light yet involving steering, allowing quick and confident cornering, backed up by unflappable roadholding. Just as outstanding is the comfortable, isolated ride (on 18-inch rubber). The fierce fourcylinder ZBS punch well above their cylinder count.
Things, however, become complicated with the V6 AWD. The naturally aspirated 3.6-litre adds 140kg or so to the kerb weight, sounds energetic enough off the mark, but only really feels racy in the mid to upper reaches (maximum power is at 6800rpm). So, while the VXR makes the right noises, it’s no hi-po flagship. Big Holdens have long been tuned to lunge off the line, so the more measured delivery might irk the church of Commodore. That toey take-off has gone AWOL.
It’s a pity, because the VXR’S chassis poise and grip would respond well to some punch. Still, the AWD ZB is exceptionally agile and controlled at higher speeds; but though the driver is connected to the action, the steering does feel uncharacteristically light. We actually prefer the 2.0L’s set-up.
At least the VXR’S adaptive dampers side-step the hard ride on the other models wearing 20-inch wheels. On one craggy stretch the Calais-v pounded over the bumps. Where’s the suppleness of its predecessor?
Ironically, then, it’s the highflying four-pot turbo front-drivers rather than the favoured V6s that best reflect Holden’s dynamic DNA. Or, in other words, less is more in this new era of imported Commodore.
Model Holden Commodore RS Liftback Engine 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v turbo Max power 191kw @ 5500rpm Max torque 350Nm @ 3000-4000rpm Transmission 9-speed automatic Weight 1534kg 0-100km/h 7.2sec (estimated) Economy 7.6L/100km Price $37,290 On sale Now