’Dore with four is the ZB with more, as lo­cal hero comes full cir­cle

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - BY­RON MATHIOUDAKIS

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

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