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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - RS 2.0 turbo

Our Opinion

We like
Petrol four-cylinder comfortably bests thirsty V6 and slower diesel, superb nine-speed auto, brilliant steering and ride, poised dynamics
Room for improvement
A Mazda6 and Toyota Camry are better equipped for the price, lacks rear headroom, small touchscreen, can be thirsty

It is tagged as the private-buyer special, but is the RS the Holden Commodore pick?

Holden logo14 Sep 2018

Overview

 

THERE seems to be something for everyone in the medium car segment these days, which is a shame when so many buyers are defaulting to medium SUVs. Take this ZB-generation Holden Commodore RS as an example of distinguished positioning right from the off.

 

For under $40,000 this 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive liftback offers an unparalleled drivetrain for the pricetag. Sure, a Toyota Camry with a V6 engine boasts more power and torque, but without nearly the fuel consumption benefit – and therefore it is best placed as a hybrid-equipped sedan with a big and budget interior priced well below the model tested here.

 

Conversely, the recently launched Mazda6 facelift reserves its new 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine for model grades costing almost $45K, complete with a vastly more upmarket interior that appears to easily oust this German-produced, Australian-badged sedan.

 

The point is, on paper at least, the Commodore RS seems to occupy a unique price point in the medium-car class. But does that make it the best ZB-generation Holden as well?

 

Price and equipment

 

Holden delivers its 191kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol and nine-speed automatic combination with the entry-level Commodore LT model grade priced from just $33,690 plus on-road costs.

 

It has no shortage of equipment, either, including front and rear parking sensors with automatic reverse-park assistance and rearview camera, auto on/off headlights and wipers, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, plus lane-keep assistance and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).

 

The $3600 spend to this $37,290 Commodore RS upsizes the alloy wheels from 17 to 18 inches, adds a bodykit with rear lip spoiler, part-leather sports seats, and rear cross-traffic and blind-spot alerts, but that is about it. Most disappointingly, satellite navigation and digital radio on a larger 8.0-inch screen are reserved for the $40,990 Calais, in addition to leather trim with front seat heating.

 

The LT, RS and Calais are also the only options for this drivetrain, forcing buyers who want more kit to leap into the thirtsy petrol V6, all-wheel drive model grades such as the RS-V and Calais V.

 

Interior

 

Some would call the ZB-generation cabin quite austere, and more like an enlarged version of the Astra small car. That is true for higher-up Commodore model grades that barely differ from the presentation here, however for under $40,000 the cabin of this RS certainly gets a lot right.

 

The soft-touch dashboard plastics are consistently matched across the lower console area and all doors, the buttons are tactile and ergonomically everything falls neatly to place. The most outstanding feature, though, is a snug driver’s seat that can be placed very low. Where a Camry can feel cheap and basic inside, the Holden driver will enjoy semi-premium surroundings.

 

Indeed, the addition of only some equipment could leverage the showroom appeal of the Commodore RS even further, such as replacing the otherwise quick and intuitive 7.0-inch touchscreen with the 8.0-inch version – a size that had been standard on all Commodores since 2013.

 

And digital radio is even standard on an entry-level Astra R, so why not here? By comparison, the identically priced Camry SX V6 gets both items plus wireless phone charging further absent here.

 

In liftback guise, the ZB Commodore also sorely lacks headroom and some shoulder width, and although legroom is competitive compared with before, the shorter and firmer seat base itself is miles adrift of the standard set in Commodores past.

 

The 490-litre boot is broadly competitive, only 5L smaller than before and offset by the practicality benefit of rear glass that lifts, but the RS Sportwagon is arguably the smarter buy at $2200 extra – especially as an electric tailgate is added.

 

Engine and transmission

 

In some ways the fact that a facelifted Mazda6 has recently launched with a 170kW/420Nm 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine is irrelevant, given that it kicks off at $43,990 with the Mazda6 GT. This more affordable Commodore’s 2.0-litre turbo-petrol is simply brilliant for performance and refinement.

 

With 191kW of power at 5500rpm, and 350Nm of torque from 3000rpm until 4000rpm, it also renders Holden’s other engine options close to irrelevant.

 

The alternative 125kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel adds $3000 to the pricetag of the Commodore LT, for example, which brings it to $36,690 and just $600 cheaper than this Commodore RS. It also adds 58kg to the kerb weight, making it feel much slower in addition to being substantially noisier.

 

Official combined-cycle fuel consumption of 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres – compared with 7.6L/100km here, or a steep but urban-biased 11.3L/100km on test – is the diesel’s sole benefit, though it does cost more up front.

 

With a superbly light 1535kg kerb weight, this petrol-powered Commodore RS feels instantly responsive, effortless everywhere, yet it is also keen to really sing and deliver terrific performance.

 

Meanwhile, and as we found in contrast to those virtues, the Commodore RS is also offered with a 3.6-litre naturally aspirated V6 and all-wheel drive for an additional $3500 (at $40,790).

 

It ups outputs to 235kW/381Nm, but also raises kerb weight by an astonishing 137kg to 1672kg. Compounding the problem, torque is not produced until a 5200rpm, causing the nine-speed automatic to hunt while the engine delivers a thrashy soundtrack.

 

Yet, bizarrely, the nine-speed auto also happens to team beautifully and intuitively with this turbo-petrol four-cylinder at all times, and its Sport mode is among the best of any auto. It simply seals this as the clear pick of the ZB range.

 

Ride and handling

 

Where the all-wheel-drive versions will certainly deliver traction benefits on loose surfaces and in hard driving, and can actually feel rear-driven at times, that is the sole advantage of spending more in the Commodore line-up.

 

This turbo-petrol four cylinder otherwise helps this RS feel far more agile, lighter on its feet and keen to change direction, while riding with greater comfort and control.

 

The aforementioned LT diesel can also be affected by front wheelspin and axle tramp, as well, with its 400Nm of torque troubling the Continental tyres more than the 350Nm of this cheaper 2.0 litre, which gels beautifully with suspension that feels authentically Australian.

 

It may not drive the rear wheels previous Commodores, but this RS displays the key duality of character that its forebears did, offering both a loping gait perfect for cross-country touring, plus the poise, discipline and steering fluency to engage drivers.

 

This Holden, in this particular model grade with this engine, is certainly the most dynamic vehicle in the medium-car class. That it also feels more responsive than an overpowered and thirsty Camry V6, or a non-turbo four-cylinder Mazda6, is an added bonus.

 

Safety and servicing

 

Six airbags (including dual-front, front-side and curtain), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear parking sensors with rearview camera, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assistance, and forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) are all standard.

 

The Holden Commodore achieved five stars and scored 35.5 out of 38 points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2017.

 

Annual or 12,000km intervals, at a reasonable capped-price $259/$299/$259 for the first three respectively.

 

Verdict

 

The Commodore RS with this 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine is more than a mere sweet spot in the ZB-generation Holden line-up. It in fact humbles the slower and pricier turbo-diesel option, and the heavy and thirsty petrol V6 alternative inside its own range, while outside of it occupying a space that neither Mazda nor Toyota rivals can match for price versus ability.

 

Only in terms of equipment, and rear-seat space, is this Commodore less than competitive with the opposition and most inferior to its immediate predecessor respectively. However, choose the RS Sportwagon for $39,490 and family car buyers will have picked a model superior to virtually anything both in this class and the more popular medium-SUV segment.

 

What Holden now needs to do is offer Commodore RS buyers the choice of acquiring more standard equipment, including a larger touchscreen and panoramic sunroof and heated seats with leather, rather than forcing them into the decidedly inferior V6-powered versions.

 

A circa-$45K Commodore RS-V or Calais V with this four-cylinder could almost certainly dispatch with loftier versions of the Mazda6 as well as model grades (and the Camry) below it.

 

Rivals

 

Mazda6 GT from $43,990 plus on-road costs

CX-9-derived turbo engine looks to be a perfect fit, but it certainly asks a premium for it.

 

Toyota Camry SX V6 from $37,290 plus on-road costs

Very quick, roomy and superbly equipped, but less classy and cohesive than this RS on the road.


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