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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - VXR

Our Opinion

We like
Kia Stinger-beating handling poise and ride control, excellent steering, superb front seats, plentiful equipment, practical boot
Room for improvement
Poor nine-speed automatic and adaptive cruise control calibration, V6 out of its depth, cabin rattles, rear headroom

It is a Holden Commodore and not as we know it, but is the VXR a contender?

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Holden logo15 Jun 2018

Overview

 

NOWHERE in the range is there more pressure on the scaled-down, slender European physique of the new ZB-generation Holden Commodore than with the flagship VXR model grade.

 

Holden insists that this all-wheel-drive, V6-powered five-door liftback is not a direct replacement for its Australian-made, V8-engined SS-V Redline predecessor, despite the old and new costing virtually the same coin. With increased traction and sophisticated technology, in lieu of sheer speed and outright brutishness, the new Commodore flagship is indeed in every sense a fresh top model.

 

The new Commodore VXR also directly competes with a greater number of competitors than before, trading out the dearly departed Ford Falcon XR8 and slow-selling Chrysler 300 for a trio of new-age liftbacks including the Kia Stinger, Skoda Superb and Volkswagen Arteon.

 

So, in the words of the iconic John Farnham, let us take the pressure down on this new Holden. Here it must conquer not the past, but present rivals, lest it could – as with that local immortal artist – be a nameplate ready for a last-time tour…

 

Price and equipment

 

To call the ZB-generation line-up confusing is an understatement. A new 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder, front-wheel drive powertrain is available in LT, RS and Calais. Only the first two are available with a Sportwagon bodystyle, while only the outside duo of those three model grades get a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder option, topping out at $43,990 plus on-road costs.

 

Switch to the 3.6-litre naturally aspirated V6, all-wheel-drive powertrain and there is a choice of $40,790 RS liftback, $45,990 Calais Tourer, $46,990 RS-V liftback, $49,190 RS-V Sportwagon, $51,990 Calais V, $53,990 Calais V Tourer and this $55,990 VXR.

 

Standard on every six-cylinder Holden is keyless auto-entry with push-button start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology, front and rear parking sensors with rear cross-traffic alert and automatic reverse-park assistance, a blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assistance and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).

 

The RS-V then adds leather trim with heated front seats, a larger 8.0-inch (up from 7.0in) touchscreen with integrated satellite navigation and digital radio, wireless phone charging, a colour head-up display, steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters and alloy pedals.

 

Finally, for a further $9000 this VXR tops out with 20-inch alloy wheels (up from 18s) with adaptive suspension, Brembo front brakes, a Competitive electronic stability control (ESC) mode, sports seats with ventilation, heated rear seats, electric sunroof, adaptive cruise control, Bose premium audio, 360-degree camera and LED headlights with automatic-adaptive high-beam.

 

Interior

 

The new Commodore liftback stretches 4897mm long, stopping 67mm before the old sedan, while width of 1863mm leaves it 35mm narrower. Even so, this Holden remains a large car with a 490-litre boot volume just 5L smaller, but now helped by glass that raises and rear backrests that fold.

 

At the other end, up front, and the VXR’s seats are superb, as is its low and supremely adjustable driving position. There are no complaints about space, and the ambient lighting and easy ergonomics appear classy and intuitive respectively.

 

The Bose audio system is utterly superb, too, while the same description applies to high-beam lights that brilliantly blocks out individual traffic only, leaving the rest of the road flooded with light. Teamed with digital radio and excellent voice control, it really does relegate the VF Series II to a bygone era for technology.

 

There are some disappointments, however, including a generic design based heavily on Holden’s half-the-price Astra, which simply does not feel special enough for $56K, while a tiny glovebox is the sub-par storage space lowlight. Worse, the head-up display reflects badly (and it rattled badly), the adaptive cruise control was unusable – more on that later – and the ventilated seats failed to work well enough, all of which questions the value of the VXR’s additional charge for them.

 

The rear seat is not to the standards of most rivals, such as the Camry, nor the past standard set by the VF Series II. The backrest appears comfortable enough, legroom is competitive, and the USB ports below the air vents bring the Commodore into the modern era. However, headroom is lacking because of the sloping roofline, and legroom is only similar to its predecessor because the bench is so much shorter. It is a shame that there is no VXR Sportwagon, which would ease the headroom deficit but also further complicate the range.

 

Engine and transmission

 

Dubbed the LGX, the 3.6-litre naturally aspirated V6 petrol engine is a new direct injection unit despite an identical configuration to the old VF Series II. With 235kW of power at 6800rpm and 381Nm of torque at 5200rpm, it is well up on the old 210kW/350Nm outputs of its predecessor.

 

Despite being smaller than the old Commodore SV6, however, a new Commodore RS V6 is only 13kg lighter with a kerb weight 1672kg. With this Commodore VXR, though, it is actually 52kg heavier, at 1737kg. Blame the all-wheel-drive hardware in both cases, and the extra kit for the latter.

 

For straight-line acceleration, the new Holden is impressive. It feels brisk, the engine revs sweetly past 7000rpm, and the nine-speed automatic slices through its ratios quickly. From such heights, however, the drivetrain dips to significant lows.

 

The nine-speed feels tuned for the turbo four-cylinder, in which it is brilliant because it smoothly surfs along the low-rev torque characteristics of that 2.0-litre. With this 3.6-litre making its outputs so high in the rev band, though, the way the auto slinks to tall gears, allows the throttle to turn doughy on even slight hills, then demands the driver prod the throttle to call it into action, is a flaw that impacts driveability and economy.

 

Using the adaptive cruise control at 100km/h in undulating countryside simply highlighted this problem, given it allowed the speed to drop under 90km/h on hills before the auto frantically grabbed three lower gears. The VXR refused to duck under 9.0 litres per 100 kilometres, while its overall on-test 12.5L/100km was as disappointing as the 488km range from its 10L-smaller, 61L tank.

 

Ride and handling

 

It could be considered ironic that in terms of powertrain effortlessness, fluent dynamics and unpretentious character, the new turbo four-cylinder ZB feels more ‘Commodore’ than this thirsty and heavy V6. That much is clear, however if there is a saving grace for the VXR, it is in terms of steering, braking, ride quality and outright handling, all of which is very vividly best-in-class.

 

The heaviness that so affects the engine and transmission fades from memory through corners, where the Commodore VXR displays the controlled poise, fleeting nimbleness and lightly precise steering to shrink around its driver and make a Kia Stinger GT seem flabby.

 

It all starts with the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres working in concert with Normal, Sport and VXR adaptive suspension modes that prove to be three shades of distinct excellence. The Competitive ESC is also superbly tuned, the brakes feelsome and unending in response, allowing a driver to delicately point this Holden into corners and then use the all-wheel drive out of them.

 

It can actually feel rear-driven, as the ‘twinster’ system juggles torque between each back wheel to neutralise any potential understeer near instantly. Meanwhile, though, the screaming 3.6-litre fights with significant coarse-chip tyre roar and road noise to severely affect overall refinement.

 

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 and 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 decently affordable capped-price of $259 for the first and third, $299 for the second and $359 for the fourth, fifth and sixth check-ups.

 

At the time of writing, Holden had a special seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with seven years roadside assistance.

 

Verdict

 

On-paper and through corners this Commodore VXR is a brilliant mix of sparkling exterior style, high-end technology, and very obviously honed steering and handling. Add a pricetag that undercuts a Kia Stinger GT and Volkswagen Arteon 206TSI R-Line and it should appear class leading.

 

Sadly, however, it is not. For the price the engine is thrashy and underwhelming, even if straight-line speed is reasonable. Compounding its unnecessarily high-revving nature, though, is a nine-speed automatic on another planet – let alone feeling Australian tuned – to that 3.6-litre V6.

 

From the head-up display rattle, to the barely detectable ventilated seats and poor cruise control, this VXR also feels like a $45K model grade trending well above its station. And as great as the dynamics are, the loud engine in concert with 20-inch tyre roar becomes tiring.

 

In many ways this new Holden Commodore VXR is a brilliant large liftback. But in the pressure cooker of Australian touring conditions, this German-built five-door does not entirely feel at home.

 

Rivals

 

Kia Stinger GT from $59,990 plus on-road costs

Superb engine and cabin quality, and terrific dynamics make up for lack of suspension finesse.

 

Volkswagen Arteon 206TSI R-Line from $65,490 plus on-road costs

Very expensive and boring inside, but also stylish, quick and well built.


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