Driving the three best Holden ZB Commodores
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I’m certainly not the first person to drive the new Holden ZB Commodore models on New Zealand roads.
The new Commies have been driven here since August 2017, when New Zealand was included in the final stages of Holden’s real-world validation testing. Then, the New Zealand police got an opportunity to sample the new ZBs, and soon became convinced enough to place a large order for a fleet of 2.0litre turbo models.
Finally, Driven editor-at-large, Liz Dobson, cunningly arranged a quick drive for herself a few days ahead of Holden’s official introduction of the ZB range to the New Zealand motoring press. You can read all about the technical details and equipment levels of the new ZB range in Liz’s report, my brief here is to follow-up with some more in-depth driving impressions.
With the zig-zagging Dunedin-to-Queenstown drive program divided into six legs, and two journalists per vehicle, I got to drive three of the new ZBs over the day. Each one proved to be a model range highlight, judging from the passenger seat impressions gleaned from the other three.
1: The Redliner
First up: the hero of the range: the VXR. It’s intended to take the place of the V8-powered V8-powered SS-V Redline, and at $67,990, costs $8500 less than the out-going Redline.
Powered by a 235kW/381Nm 3.6litre V6, the VXR might lose a couple of emotionally-important engine cylinders, but gains extra powertrain hardware in the form of an adaptive all-wheel-drive system and nine-speed auto.
It also gets an extra-sporty driving mode, ‘VXR’, that adds a metallic rasp to the otherwise-uninspiring exhaust song, firms up the action of the agile steering, slams the shifts through faster, and puts the VXR-specific adaptive dampers into their raciest setting.
Other dynamic embellishments are the stickier Michelin Pilot Sports tyres fitted to 20” alloy wheels, and the more powerful Brembo front brake calipers.
It all adds up to a driving experience that can be described in a single word: Wow! A Redline might make more power, but I doubt it could hang tough with the VXR on a tightly winding back-road, such is the extra mid-corner poise and more planted corner exit drive forward of the new VXR.
2: The Rep-mobile
It’s quite a drop from the top to the bottom of the ZB range, but the quality driving experience supplied by the $47,990 LT Sportwagon made for a soft landing.
For the calibration of the 191kW/350Nm 2.0litre turbo-petrol engine with the nine-speed auto is absolutely superb, and you can feel that the front-drive 2.0litre powertrain is a lot more important for the Commodore’s new maker, Opel, to get right than the all-paw V6 (NZ and Australia are the only markets taking the V6).
Grunt arrives early in the rev range of the boosted 2.0 petrol, and the auto instantly processes it to supply better mid-range acceleration than the normally-aspirated V6 is capable of.
Cap this off with a chassis tune for the LT that capitalizes on the squishier sidewalls of the high-profile 17” tyres to provide an excellent balance of ride quality and road-holding, directed by some of the best-fettled steering of any front-driver in the medium-large car segment.
Then add in the full-to-brim safety equipment locker that makes the LT an ARR (Acronym-Rich-Repmobile), include the 7.4litres/100km fuel use, and you have a spacious Commodore wagon that’ll instantly grab the attention of OSH-aware fleet managers.
3: The RoadSport
The $49,990 Commodore RS Liftback costs $4000 more than the $45,990 five-door LT that is the entry point for the range, and it’s a premium worth paying if you seek the ZB Commodore that most replicates the biddable driving persona of the outgoing SV6.
The four grand buys 18” alloys, a body kit, more supportive seats, a leather-clad steering wheel, and a couple of desirable extra safety features (blind-spot monitors and rear cross traffic alert). But the best thing it buys is the intellectual property developed by Holden’s top chassis engineer, Rob Trubiani.
Such is the extra cornering precision of the RS over the LT while still delivering compliant ride quality, I’m prepared to argue that Trubiani did his best work on the ZB range with the RS.
It delivers approximately 97 per cent of the performance of the VXR while costing $20K less, and you can bet that the police order includes this chassis tune.
So, a long day at the wheel, full of positives. The negatives include the pruning of rear seat headroom in the Liftbacks (best reason to spend $2K more on a wagon), the choppy ride of RS-V V6 models at urban speeds, and some doubts about the overall impact of the ZB range’s blander exterior design (‘is that a new Commodore ahead, Mabel, or a Ford Mondeo?’).