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2018 “New” Holden Commodore

Holden's Australian-built family car is just eight weeks away from extinction.

Holden’s Australian-built family car is just eight weeks away from extinction.

It’s a concept – a big car with a big engine created for a big country – that has been the mainstay of the Lion brand for more than 70 years, with iconic models like the Kingswood and Commodore often being the uncontested best-selling car across Australia.
Times have changed though, and on October 20, 2017, Holden will become the last fully-fledged Aussie car maker when it pulls the shutters down on its Elizabeth plant in the northern suburbs of Adelaide.
But, contrary to many public perceptions, Holden is not going anywhere and nor is the Commodore nameplate. Having now driven a selection of pre-production validation (PPV) models of the New Generation Commodore in and around Holden’s Lang Lang Proving Ground this week, the concept of a big family car tailored to our tastes and conditions won’t disappear either.
Based on the European Opel Insignia, there are a lot of fundamental changes between the old and new Commodore – it’ll be offered in either front- or all-wheel drive with four or six-cylinder engines and in hatch and wagon body styles only, meaning there will no Utes or V8-powered muscle cars – but it still comfortably continues the role of an affordable, spacious family car, just as it has done for hundreds of thousands of Aussie families since the original Commodore (which was coincidentally based on an Opel sedan) arrived in 1978.
Holden has yet to provide all the details of the new Commodore, including how much it will cost, how many models there will to be choose from and exact specifications, but during our most recent prototype drive we had the chance to compare a base-level European-spec four-cylinder Insignia against an equivalent Holden variant as well as two levels with the V6 and all-wheel drive powertrain – one with a more luxury focus that was clearly intended as a replacement for the Calais while the other was more sporty, like today’s SV6, that will sit below the flagship VXR.
Holden’s intention was to highlight the localised tuning its engineering team has conducted over the last 18 months to refine the steering, ride and handling characteristics compared to the European model.
The end result is, using Holden’s previous work on cars as varied as the Spark, Astra sedan and Trax baby SUV as a gauge, not all that surprising – in a positive way.


With a mandate to ensure there is a consistent thread of Holden’s dynamic DNA transferred from today’s Commodore into the new machine – despite the significant differences in its mechanical makeup – and continue to offer a family car that is “great to drive”, Holden’s engineering team has succeeded to nail the brief.

First of all, where the Opel-tuned model feels soft, wallowing over big bumps and leaning through the corners, the four-cylinder Commodore is just as compliant over road irregularities but has better body control, sits flatter in the bends and has a more positive and linear feel through the steering.
While not much has been done to tune the power train specifically for Australia, the 2.0-litre turbo charged four-cylinder petrol engine, which produces healthy outputs of 191kW and 350Nm, offers the kind of flexibility and efficiency that modern families demand, and yet could never have been achieved in the current Commodore.
The four-potter is smooth and refined, has plenty of mid-range punch and is exceptionally quiet, even when revved hard during heavy acceleration. It is nicely mated to a silky nine-speed automatic transmission that manages to keep it revving the sweet spot, whether it’s cruising at highway speeds or charging around the suburbs.

One thing that Holden hasn’t been able to completely eliminate is torque steer (when the steering wheel tugs in your hands when you floor the throttle), but otherwise the base-level car appears to be a dynamic match for the benchmark Mazda6 it will now line up against.

The V6 models are both less and more convincing in different ways. Powered by the latest-generation High Feature 3.6-litre V6, producing 230kW and 370Nm and with the ability to shut down two cylinders to save fuel, it drives all four wheels though a proactive but part-time all-wheel drive transmission with a torque-vectoring rear differential. The end result is they are heavier, thirstier and, with less low-down pulling power, the nine-speed gearbox is constantly rowing through the cogs to keep it on the boil.
As an everyday machine the four-cylinder makes more sense, but – and encouragingly for those that enjoy driving – it is surprisingly fun to pedal enthusiastically.
It’s a wildly different beast to a rear-drive, V8-powered SS Commodore, as it won’t burn the rear tyres or hang the tail out, but, riding on 20-inch wheels with 245/35 Continental tyres and with Brembo brakes as standard, it feels more agile, points quicker into the apex and has significantly more mid-corner grip thanks in part to the unique five-link rear suspension but mostly due to the pre-emptive all-wheel drive system that apportions torque to outside rear wheel while cornering.

The V6 even sounds great at the top of its rev range, with the closely-stacked middle ratios in the gearbox keeping it right in the meat of its power curve for maximum acceleration.
As for the rest of the car, there’s no point judging the quality of materials in these pre-production vehicles and Holden has yet to confirm final safety specifications and connectivity functions, but the cabin looks modern with good small item storage, the seats are comfy and the driving position is good. And it doesn’t feel much smaller than a current Commodore either in terms of occupant space, with huge amounts of rear legroom and a generous boot under the hatch (and an even larger cargo carrying area in the wagon). The sloping roofline in the hatch does, however, restrict rear headroom to those under 185cm tall, but overall it is more than adequate for families… just as the Commodore has done for generations.

Ultimately, the New Generation Commodore isn’t as loveable as the car it replaces and the reality of it entering a segment of the market that has some well-established competitors with loyal followings – like the Mazda6 and Subaru Liberty – means it will have a tougher task convincing Aussie families than ever before.
But, truth be told, this is exactly the kind of car the Commodore would have evolved into over time anyway. And, taking any rose-coloured glasses off, it still continues the concept of being a great Aussie family car. It just won’t be an Aussie-built family car for much longer.

2018 Holden Commodore Price and Specifications
On-sale: February 2018
Price: From $30,000 (estimated)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol / 3.6-litre V6 petrol
Power: 191kW / 230kW
Torque: 350Nm / 370Nm
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, FWD / AWD

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