Is the ZB a real Holden Commodore?
When Holden decided to keep the Commodore nameplate, Calais V stayed on as top dog.
Whether or not this was a wise decision, only time will tell. Sales have started to pick up after a slow start. Buyers resisted the shift to a front-wheel-drive replacement for rear-while-drive heritage. Many said they would no longer buy Holden because their cars were imported. That is rather a ludicrous argument given there are no cars made in Australia, period.
Front wheel drive isn’t new. Citroen was doing it in the 30’s, but Australians have always associated family cars with an engine at the front driving the wheels at the back. Despite this, the full size affordable family car segment is continuing to shrink as buyers flock to SUVs or premium European brands. So a slightly smaller offering is a good thing, right?
The ZB Commodore is sold as an Insignia in other markets under the Opel, and Vauxhall brand names. In the USA and China, it is sold as a Buick Regal. Gm sold Opel (including Vauxhall) to Peugeot Citroen in 2017 so its future as a supplier to Holden will make for stimulating dinner conversation.
Either way, Calais is as worthy of the Holden car before it.
Holden split the Commodore range into two streams: Sport, and Luxury. Calais sits at the top of the Luxury line with Calais V coming with all the trimmings. VXR tops the sport range.
Commodore is made in Germany at GM’s Rüsselsheim factory which will suit the Euro snobs no doubt.
Commodore is a liftback giving Calais a sleek coupe-style profile highlighted by LED headlamps, day time running lights, and tail lights.
The effect at night is almost mesmerizing.
LED headlights have high beam assist which switches individual cells on and off as needed. It leaves most of the road lit by high beam and only the oncoming traffic in low beam. As the traffic moves through the field of light, the system continues to change configuration. Unlike the more usual type of lamp, there is no fixed high beam.
The exterior design is handsome from most angles.
Despite chrome trim and fancy LED Matrix headlights, the front end looks slightly bland. The lack of crisp, sharp lines, leaves the face looking weak-chinned.
The coupe-style profile is given more interest with deep sculpting along the doors.
The hatch-back rear end gives excellent access to a capacious boot. There is an angle cutting along the tail light down to the wheel arch which looks slightly awkward though. Tail lights have a 3-d effect comprising small high intensity stop lights. Another double line of LEDs forms an angry brow over the indicators and reversing lights. It is unmistakable once the sun goes down.
ABOVE: all models with power tailgates have a light to show you where to kick.
There are 7 colours to choose from. Calais looks best the darker the colours. White and silver make a plain car look even plainer.
My one criticism about Calais has always been that for a car of that price, it didn’t look quite special enough. It desperately needs more bling to shoosh up the exterior.
20” wheels are a 5 split-spoke design which is both simple and elegant. Perhaps there was another missed opportunity to fancy-up the look of the outside with something more spectacular.
A clever touch is the rear boot-unlock button concealed within the Holden badge. It is operated by a gentle push. Some of the previous Commodores lacked an external boot opener so I’m pleased that oversight has been eliminated here.
Calais looks like a crouching cat flicking its tail ready to pounce.
Cabin design is clean and neat but lacks the ambience of Mazda’s 6 or VW’s splendid Arteon. Nonetheless, the spacious look and feel is underlined by decent the quality of plastics and metals.
Soft-feel coverings on the dash and doors, and the solid feel of hard plastic on the console, give Commodore a cosiness previous models lacked.
When the door is shut, the lines don’t quite meet evenly which ruins the look. Most people probably wouldn’t notice the lines though.
The driver instruments use a large LCD screen to display most of the information. Unlike other brands, the a central “virtual bezel” and 2 physical bezels. The two outer rings of chrome cover the left and right flanks of the LCD screen. This means only the outer gauges are analogue. Everything else is part of the readout on the screen. Why not have a screen for all driver information as seen in other brands?
Navigation directions can be displayed in the centre of the screen below the digital speedo, but with only a few inches of real estate is very hard to read. Directions are also shown in the HUD (heads up display) on the windscreen and on the large LCD in the centre stack.
Leather seating is heated all round with the front also being cooled. It is a comfortable saddle even on longer trips. An Australian ride needs to be if it is going to cover thousand kilometre trips in a single go.
Dual zone climate control distributes air through big face level vents which have easy-to-use controls. Air flow can be put exactly where you want it. Some cars freeze your fingers because you can never really point vents completely away. There are vents in the rear and under the dash at floor level.
Dual temperature controls have a sync function which is accessed in the climate menu.
The centre console has a bin with USB sockets inside. There are further covered compartments with 2 cupholders at the front and a larger holder behind the gear lever.
Between the gear selector and cup holders are buttons for parking assist, parking sensors, and sport mode. The electric parking brake is on the righthand side of the console.
Controls are all within easy reach but adjusting the steering wheel for height can be a palaver. When fully released, the adjustment still needs effort to push the wheel through a rachet arrangement. However once complete, the driving position is very comfortable.
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Autonomous Emergency Braking
- 17″ alloy wheels
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Push-button ignition
- Front and rear parking sensors
- LED Taillights
- LED Matrix headlights
- Heated and ventilated front seats
- Heated rear seats
- Massaging driver’s seat
- Leather-appointed seats
- 20″ alloy wheels
- 360 degree camera
- Head-up display
- Adaptive cruise control
If there are any misgivings about Calais prior, they disappear once the brilliant local tuning is felt.
Calais comes with a V6 Turbo Petrol engine putting power to the All-Wheel-Drive through a superb 9-speed automatic.
The second the engine is started, even in the base model 2.0L 4-cylinder models, Commodore feels light and breezy. Gearing makes a reasonably large car feel nippy and eager and only needs gentle prompting to leap into action. Although the V6 has a fairly modest 255kw/381Nm, performance is brisk.
As good as the 4-pot is in the lower spec cars, the 6 cylinder is smoother in its power delivery and is my pick every time.
Calais feels more like the Commodores we know and love. Torque steer is the jerking sensation you feel in the steering wheel under hard acceleration, and the 4-cylinder models do have a little of that. There is no such feeling in the AWD Calais. It scrambles for grip at lights in wet weather but that’s all part of the excitement.
The first thing you’ll notice is how light Calais feels once the wheels start to turn.
It is frisky and playful while managing to feel solid and planted on the road. The body rolls very little even in hard cornering. Commodores stays glued to the road thanks to tuning done by Holden at Lang Lang, their top secret proving ground deep in the heart of bucolic Victoria.
Clever old Holden brought in a European Opel-tuned car for comparison. European tuning is far softer and failed to soak up the bumps the way Australian models do. Suspension components such as dampers (shock absorbers) and springs are unique to our local cars.
When asked how he felt about the end result, Rob Trubiani said, “yeah, we’ve given it a good go. The softness of European handling just won’t cut it here.” And he is right. They’ve done an excellent job
I love the way Calais feels on the open road too.
It is a genuine tourer in every sense of the word. It is as happy scampering through mountain passes as it is on the interstate highways. Most of the time it is happy in normal driving mode. You can use the gear paddles on the steering wheel for added sparkle. Beware of stomping on the go peddle too much if you don’t fancy extra trips to the fossil-fuel outlets.
There is a sport mode to add even more punch to the throttle, and a fully manual mode for the self-shifter. It keeps the revs in that sweet spot where the slightest dab of on the right-hand peddle livens the experience no end. Although Calais doesn’t invoke the visceral yearnings of the old V8, sales of which had slowed to a mere trickle, it certainly gets the job done. Acceleration is brisk. 4-cylinder engines
There is a raspy exhaust note, but the cabin is so quiet you don’t get to enjoy much of it. Don’t expect that raucous V8 roar though or you’ll be disappointed.
Calais corners brilliantly.
My route through the Royal National Park could have been taken at full pelt. The limit through the park is 60kph which makes the scenery pass at a leisurely pace.
It is a favourite with picnickers and motor cyclists and gives views through dense rain forest, scrub bushland, and high coastal cliffs. We did it with the sunroof open for old time sake. Rainforest smells are better coming from an actual rainforest than from a cannister in the glovebox like some of the posh Europeans do.
Sharp corners show up the shortfalls in suspension and steering if there are any to be found. Calais nailed it. Steering in the AWD V6 was responsive and brakes just sharp enough without being lethal. The car went exactly where it was pointed
You can dart in and around city traffic and every Commodore has semi-automated parking to deal with any left-over nerves frayed getting to Coles. Weekly shopping is a task but it doesn’t have to be a chore.
Just as the old model did, ZB could use the HSV touch. I rather fancy more boost from the turbo, and a slightly over-sexed body kit.
- Adaptive cruise control
- LED adaptive automatic dusk sensing headlights
- Heads Up Display (HUD)
- Autonomous emergency braking
- 360 Degree Camera
- Automatic High Beam Assist
- Autonomous Emergency Braking
- Pedestrian Detection
- Forward Collision Alert with Head Up Warning
- Lane Departure Warning
- Lane Keep Assist
- Following Distance Indicator
- Side Blind Zone Alert
- Rear Cross Traffic Alert
- Front and Rear Park Assist
- Rear View Camera
- Automatic Headlamps with Tunnel Detection
- Electric Park Brake
- 6 Airbags
- Dual front, side and curtain airbags
- 4-wheel Disc Brakes
- Front & Rear Seatbelt Pre-tensioners with Load Limiters
- ISOFIX Child Seat Anchorage System for Two Child Seats
Holden has done a great job in a difficult market. The large car market is shrinking as buyers vacate passenger vehicles for SUVs. Sadly for Holden, its market share has dwindled. Several poor choices turned buyers off and turning them back on again is a mammoth task.
Holden has announced a new boss. Dave Buttner is charged with sewing himself a silk purse. See the news story here.
Commodore comes in 4 and 6-cylinder turbo petrol, with a 4-pot turbo diesel. A sweet 9 speed auto on petrol models puts power through the front or all wheels. An 8 speed auto is fitted to the diesel cars. You can choose 3 body styles: hatch, wagon and tourer.
Commodore feels as light as a feather on the road. There is plenty of space with even the base models being well packaged. Calais offers comfortable motoring and the ability to leap large continents in single bound.
The cabin has all the technology you could wish for. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto make handling phone calls and message easy. Connectivity has become is a must-have for modern motorists.
ZB is the best Commodore yet. It is vastly superior to previous models as both technology and manufacturing improve. The design is erring on the side of conservative in order to capture the lost market share. But in doing so, has Holden given buyers sufficient reason to buy? The question is: even with all that choice, will buyers put Holden on their shopping list?
Holden thinks so.
Dealers are currently offering $500 to anyone who test drive a Holden but buy another brand. That is a gutsy promotion which should get “bums on seats” as they put it. Holden has increased warranty since the car was launched earlier in the year from 3 years to 5 years.
Holden says it will never be the cheapest, and will never compete on price. Despite being told their cars cost too much, other Holdens have been discounted to move stock. It sends a very clear message which is that if you can’t snap up buyers with quality, you have to price your products attractively.
Despite being an excellent car, I fear buyers will stay away in droves, but to answer my initial question:Yes, ZB is a real Commodore.
- Engine: 3.6 litre V6, 235kW/381Nm
- Nine-speed auto (petrol engines),
- eight-speed auto (diesel)
- Safety: Five stars
- Warranty: 5yrs/unlimited km
- Origin: Germany
- Price: Commodore range $35,990 to $56,878 drive away NSW