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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - LT Liftback diesel

Our Opinion

We like
Well-tuned steering and suspension, surprising diesel performance, standard active safety equipment, value for money
Room for improvement
Higher-than-expected fuel consumption, transmission holds onto lower gears when travelling down hills, annoying safety warnings, is it really a Commodore?

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Holden logo4 May 2018

Overview

HERE it is. The most controversial model release of 2018 – the all-new, imported ZB Commodore. But is this really a Commodore, or just an Opel Insignia by another name? More to the point, with no rear-wheel drive or V8 option, can this mid-size-cum-large car live up to the legacy of its predecessor?To be fair, the ZB Commodore has quite the task ahead of it – one that is not made any easier by the legions of passionate Holden fans that raised their eyebrows when they spotted its five-door liftback form during our week-long test drive. Some looked angry, others perplexed, but you couldn’t shake the distaste most held.

So what’s wrong with the ZB Commodore then? The truth is not much. It is a genuine threat in both of the segments it straddles. But enough with the spoilers. Read on to find out our full opinion as we test it in entry-level LT Liftback form … with a turbo-diesel engine.

Price and equipment

Priced from $36,690 before on-road costs, the Commodore LT liftback diesel commands a $3000 premium over its petrol counterpart. Arguably, the LT grade offers the best value in the Commodore range thanks to its focus on features that new-vehicle buyers are increasingly expecting, even on entry-level variants.

Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 225/55 tyres, a space-saver spare wheel and tyre, LED daytime running lights (DRLs), dusk-sensing halogen headlights, LED tail-lights, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, remote engine start, and keyless entry and start.

Inside, Jet Black cloth upholstery, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a leather steering wheel, a 3.5-inch monochrome multi-function display, dual-zone climate control, front and rear power windows, an electric park brake, two rear Isofix child-seat anchorage points, a 7.0-inch MyLink touchscreen infotainment system with voice control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and Bluetooth and USB connectivity feature.

Our test car was finished in Cosmic Grey prestige paint – a $550 option. We couldn’t recommend it as the colour to show off your brand-new Commodore in. It looks bland and is closer to a green than a grey. We think it would be best to give it a miss, as any of the other four options available would be a much better choice.

Interior

Jump inside the Commodore LT Liftback and chances are you won’t be overawed.

However, dig a little deeper and you’ll see how considered its interior effort is. While soft-touch materials adorn the dashboard and upper door trims, cheaper hard plastics are found around the centre console and lower door trims.

Meanwhile, gloss-black and chrome elements elevate the cabin to a premium-like level. It is a genuinely nice, even if boring, place to sit.

Holden’s MyLink infotainment system is projected onto a 7.0-inch touchscreen to good effect. Graphics are clear and navigation is simple, although a few more shortcuts for major applications would be appreciated. The one omission here is in-built satellite navigation, which is sacrificed in favour of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support – a smart move at this price-point, we say.

Measuring in at 4897mm long, 1863mm wide, 1455mm tall with a 2829mm wheelbase, the ZB Commodore is smaller than the VE but larger than the VT, meaning generous amounts of legroom are on offer, although rear headroom for adults is severely impacted by the Liftback’s sloping roofline. Nevertheless, in-cabin comfort is exceptional, despite the front passenger seat not being height-adjustable.

Meanwhile, cargo capacity is generous at 490L, but can expand to 1450L when the 60:40 split-fold second row is stowed. Access to the boot is aided by the large hatch opening, making it extremely practical for loading bulkier items. As far as versatile family cars go, the Liftback does pretty well, although the appeal of two-box SUVs will always loom large.

Engine and transmission

The Commodore LT Liftback tested here uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel that produces 125kW of power at 3750rpm and 400Nm of torque from 1750 to 2500rpm. As with any good turbo-diesel unit, it is all about putting Sir Isaac’s best to work, and this iteration does so well.

While it can ‘only’ sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 8.9 seconds before hitting a top speed of 223km/h, the diesel has a juicy wad of torque that comes on hard at early engine speeds, making that initial burst of acceleration – particularly in lower gears – brisk and quite surprising.

Judging these figures on paper does not serve as a true indication of real-world experience, the diesel – a Commodore first – is a good thing. Cue shock and horror.

To make matters better, it is a refined powertrain that successfully minimises the unpleasant diesel sound created by its pick-up counterparts. Sitting inside the Liftback, the engine is nearly inaudible with the sound system set at low volume. A smooth operator in all regards, this diesel is a peach.

The LT exclusively sends drive to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with its torque converter sourced from Aisin. Gear changes are smooth, almost imperceptible, enhancing the diesel’s performance. However, should you want a higher level of engagement, the LT lacks paddle shifters, meaning the gear selector serves as the only means to self-shift.

Nevertheless, this transmission’s biggest – and only – issue is its tendency to hold onto lower gears when travelling down hills with minimal brake pressure. A minor complaint for what is otherwise a flawless package.

Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 148 grams per kilometre, making the diesel the most efficient and least pollutant Commodore yet. Idle-stop start plays a key role in achieving these figures.

During our week in the diesel, we averaged 8.2L/100km across a mix of city and highway driving. This figure is considerably higher than Holden’s claim, which is disappointing considering the diesel’s successes elsewhere. Granted a heavy right foot did come into play on occasion, but we did try our best to achieve a good result.

Ride and handling

The big news here is the lengths Holden went to make sure that the ZB Commodore was ready for Australia’s tough roads and conditions. Thus, an extensive local testing program concluded with the diesel adopting different dampers – including uniquely tuned internal valving – to what the Insignia runs.

Otherwise, the suspension is business as usual, consisting of MacPherson struts up front and an independent multi-link set-up at the rear. Meanwhile, the roll bars, springs and spring rates are also shared between the two.

Thankfully, the Red Lion’s hard work has paid off, because the ride is blissful. Much like the Commodores of old that were bred here, this model feels like an old, trusty friend. Potholes? No problem. Unsealed or uneven roads? No problem. You get the idea, the LT has its ride locked down.

Similarly, the electrically assisted rack-and-pinion power steering has had its software tweaked to better suit local roads and conditions. The result? Pretty damn good, actually … we’re sensing a theme here. The steering successfully toes the line between being light and heavy, meaning it feels great in hand, while feedback is also impressive.

Considering that the diesel’s kerb weight of 1593 kilograms is 78kg more than that of its petrol sibling, it does rather well handling-wise. However, its front-wheel-drive roots are evident as the front end can get lost to oversteer – an occupational hazard of sorts. That being said, the Liftback remains one sweet handler, albeit without the rear-wheel-drive thrills of its predecessors.

Safety and servicing

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Commodore a five-star safety rating in February 2018. The whole range scored 93 per cent in adult occupant protection, 85 per cent in child occupant protection, 78 per cent in pedestrian protection and 77 per cent in safety assist testing. This included perfect results in the side impact at 50km/h and oblique pole at 32km/h crash tests.

Advanced driver-assist safety technologies extend to autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, park assist and cruise control with speed limiter. This is a significant list of standard inclusions, answering the call of family buyers who want the very best in safety.

It should be noted that the forward collision warning system comes with a dashboard-mounted strip of red LEDs that light up when a collision is predicted. This is teamed with a reduction in speaker volume. While it is all very well and good, we feel this set-up goes a little too far and verges on the edge of annoying.

Electronic stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, hill start assist and six airbags (dual front, side and curtain) also feature.

As per all Holden models, the Commodore comes with a three-year/100,000km factory warranty with one year of complimentary roadside assistance. However, at the time of writing, the Red Lion has been running an extended-warranty promotion, which ups the standard terms to seven years with unlimited kilometres.

Service intervals are every 12 months or 12,000km, whichever comes first.

Capped-price servicing is also available, with the total cost for the first seven services equalling $2293, or an average of $328 per year.

Verdict

They say your reputation precedes you – look at Taylor Swift, for example. So once a precedent is set, it is often very hard to shake it off. Hence, the ZB Commodore faces an unlikeable task – convince the Australian public that it is just as good, if not better, than its locally built forebears.

We don’t envy this task, but what we can say is that the ZB Commodore is a good thing, especially in entry-level LT Liftback form where it is chalk and cheese with its predecessor.

Perhaps its greatest achievement is the fact that the steering and suspension tunes are top notch, just like they were in the past. Significantly, the addition of a diesel powertrain has done no harm to the Commodore name, instead providing an excellent alternative to petrol power.

However, in an era where active safety features are increasingly prioritised by new-vehicle buyers, the LT excels. Autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist are key to this charge, doing no harm to the already-strong value proposition.

Best in class? Almost certainly. But the only question left burning is whether a Commodore built by Germans is really a Commodore at all? By Holden’s own admission, the ZB will not light up the sales charts like the VF before it. So, what model will underpin the Red Lion in the future? Time will tell.

Rivals

Toyota Camry Hybrid Ascent (from $29,990 before on-road costs)The Japanese-built Camry’s hybrid powertrain offers greater efficiency and sharper pricing than the Commodore, but its styling is an acquired taste.

Ford Mondeo Ambiente TDCi (from $37,190 before on-road costs)The Mondeo’s diesel powerplant is an absolute peach, much like the Commodore’s.

It is also well-equipped but lacks rear air vents and has lazy steering.

Mazda6 Touring diesel (from $40,140 before on-road costs)The Mazda6 is undoubtedly the best looker in its class. Its diesel is strong and willing but a touch too noisy. However, a facelifted model is on the horizon, likely to set the bar higher.

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