European Commodore ticks the boxes
I’m going to start this story with a disclaimer. I don’t like the fact that Australia no longer has an automotive industry that makes its own cars, and that that the final generation of Australian-build Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores were among the best large real-wheel-drive cars made anywhere in the world in terms of the purity of what they did.
As a nation, for us, this loss is sad.
That said, the new European sourced Commodore is softening the blow for me, and the VXR we drove recently is a pretty significant car for its price point. One foe the bleating masses is that the new Commodore is front-wheel-drive, and that is in part true albeit meaningless unless you want to go drifting, but we drove the all-wheel-drive VXR and were quickly won over.
Forty years ago, the Commodore started its life as an Australianised European car that over time took on some US influences as it grew around its waist. Today, we have gone full circle and it terms of automotive purity, that is not such a bad thing.
No sophisticated and modern executive car is allowed to show its face in public without an impressive list of safety and luxury kit, and the VXR doesn’t let us down. Autonomous emergency braking, adaptive LED matrix headlights, head-up display and adaptive cruise control lead the big list but there are gems all over the place. I love cross traffic alert systems that make leaving your driveway so much safer, if a car is coming down my sleepy suburban street the car tells me before I can see it. Blind spot monitoring, adaptive headlights, 360 degree cameras and sensation adaptive LED Matrix headlamps that think for you.
The forward warning system was good too. Someone cuts you off, watchout beeps and red flashes everywhere. Twice I was stopped at booze busses in this car, and as the police officer put their hand out to ask me to stop the dash was going crazy. Nice.
Pretty much, if you want it for safety, it is there. First box ticked.
All executives want to be pampered and again we are ticking boxes. Heated and ventilated front seats with numerous electric controls, including massaging on both front seats and memory settings. There is Bluetooth and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity for the stereo, but I remain unconvinced about the latter in any car, and digital audio (DAB+) which to me is a must these days, I don’t like my talkback radio breaking up near trams. The keyless entry and remote starting system is a great too, stand at the window push a couple buttons and she starts, so by the you jump in it is all warm a cozy… or cool and calming for summer.
A low slung roofline can could have posed more problem that it does, especially in the rear as it did in the Stinger GT from a couple of months ago. The Holden though, has a recess in the headlining so taller people can sit there without resting their heads on the roof, which is a great thing when you have a very tall son.
So the interior is a nice and welcoming home. Tick again.
There’s a thing about European cars, if you could be blindfolded while driving, you could pick it. For the good ones, there is a general level of competency and an ability to eat distance with ease. Smooth roads are an amazing experience, and rough roads can at times be challenging. This is the story of this car, but also add in the safety and surety of all-wheel-drive and you quickly work out you can get from point A to B in rapid safety.
It is hard for us not to look back at the Stinger when talking about this car, and that provides a great benchmark but they are not like-for-like. The Stinger is rubber melting fast, and challenging and engaging drive that reminds of days gone by. It is good, fun and somewhat intoxicating.
The Commodore on the other hand, without a turbo, is not as fast in a straight line, but with the all-wheel-drive is probably as quick in a point to point. It keeps its speed through an innate ability to grip and give feedback, you know what is doing and that means you can push a little harder when you need to too. The ‘twinster’ diff seems to help too, sending power to the corner of the car that needs it the most.
Compare it to previous Commodores and the quantum leap is obvious. This new engine is better in most measurable ways, it sounds better and it goes better. But it also enjoys a drink, which makes you at times think about the other engine options in the range. There is a four-cylinder turbo at the lower end which is getting rave reviews, and I wouldn’t mind having a crack at the diesel to see what it can do. It does drink less than the Kia for what it is worth.
There’s a nine-speed gearbox too, which is good but not great. The software that drives it does a good job in terms of holding gears when you are keen, but it can be a little slow on its changes especially you are using the paddles yourself.
20 inch wheels and big Brembo brakes to the job too. As you’d expect, there are buttons for changing the chassis tune and other parts of the drive package, and in most ways it work well. I like to sharpen the steering, even in the city, but kept the suspension a little softer for the drive through the car park, those metal speed humps were shaking the fillings out of my teeth I full sports mode. The unique VXR setting was also good when you want to drive really hard.
This is not a muscle car like old Commodores, but it is good and perhaps even significantly even better. Final Tick.
We can only talk about the car we drove, and from that we can give Holden’s new directing a begrudging tick. I say begrudging because I still shed a tear for the local industry, but in the VXR we have an incredibly good sedan worthy of attention if you can’t quite stretch to the Audi, BMW or Mercedes price tag.
It looks European and it drives European; which is all good. It is quick – not blisteringly quick mind you – and incredibly safe. It is absolutely on my shopping list for my new car.
LT – bottom of the range with 2.0L turbo engine, front-wheel-drive
RS – same engine more gear
RS-V – 3.6L V6, all-wheel-drive and some more gear
VXR – the sportiest model with 20inch wheels and more gear
Calais – the luxury one with the 2.0L turbo engine and front-wheel-drive
Calais-V – one with the lot, but not as sport in looks or tune as the VXR
LT, RS and RS-V are available as wagons
Calais and Calais-V are available in Tourer form, which is a higher riding wagon
The 2.0L diesel is available as an option on the FWD models, I think
Kia Stinger GT