Holden high-ride ZB Commodore Tourer: Multi-tasking master class
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Newest to the realm of multi-taskers is Holden’s high-ride ZB Tourer.
It shifts the new generation Commodore a half-step toward the realm of SUVs in a similar style to a Subaru Outback or Volkswagen Passat Alltrack — two cars in which I find the informality of wagon styling and SUV capability with minimum dynamic compromises achieve a smart solution.
I’ve held a sense of anticipation for driving the Tourer following an early start to the relationship.
Back in late-2016 with the ink fresh on a non-disclosure agreement, I walked through the doors of the Holden styling studio in Melbourne and was shown two full-size next-generation Commodore clay models — the five-door liftback and a handsome high-ride wagon that had no name at the time.
Tourer became the name of the high-rider and I’ve had brief drives at Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground in Victoria and for a short segment of the New Zealand ZB Commodore press launch in March.
The chance to clock up about 400km on Otago highways and gravel back roads was the perfect chance to sample the Tourer in its natural habitat.
Multi-tasking was to the fore over a weekend of vehicle evaluation meshed with coverage of the Otago Rally. And the rally chase had the third element as I fielded plenty of questions about the new Holden from rally enthusiasts.
Tourer builds on the sportwagon bodystyle of the ZB Commodore and lifts the V6 all-wheel-drive load carrier by a moderate 20mm. The extra ground clearance is emphasised by additional body cladding, wheel arch surrounds and slimline roof rails.
Performance is provided by the premium powertrain choice in the ZB family — the direct injection 235kW 3.6-litre V6 engine, nine-speed automatic transmission and clever “Twinster” all-wheel-drive system that is a twin clutch controlled rear-drive unit rather than a differential.
An extra 20mm of ground clearance doesn’t take you offroading, but for a weekend of rally chasing — or any other activity that takes you a little off the beaten track — it’s a helpful stance.
Arrive at a popular spectator point where dozens of spectator cars are lining the roadside and the ground clearance is a bonus when making a U-turn across a high crowned road in a long wheelbase vehicle. And some of the grassy berms become part of the parking opportunity and a 360-degree camera system helps to guide the manoeuvre.
Otago roads showcased the work Holden’s engineers completed in Australia to calibrate the ZBs electric power steering, suspension tune and the responses of the stability and traction control electronics.
On some steep and narrow gravel the Tourer was sure-footed with its consistent steering feel and a blend of suspension travel and all-wheel-drive poise that inspires confidence. Best of all, the calibration of the stability control and ABS never comes to the forefront of the experience and the Twinster system manages power and traction so the Tourer makes smooth progress on the loose stuff rather than stumbling from one electronic intervention to the next.
On the surfaces where low-profile tyres would be a handicap. the Tourer’s 18-inch wheels and taller sidewall tyres provide comfort and grip levels across lumpy surfaces. Even out of tight uphill corners, the way power goes to the road is unfazed by corrugations. On highway, there is all-wheel-drive poise, informative steering and progressive suspension control so the Tourer blends a comfortable ride with steering accuracy, making a big car responsive to small wheel inputs.
The nine-speed automatic is a relaxed match to a V6 that has a little more punch than it had in the VF II. On a light throttle around the city, or out on the highway, the V6 does most of its work ticking over in the 1500-2000rpm range.
Apply more throttle and the transmission kicks down a gear or three with minimum fuss and there are paddle shifters if sequential manual control is preferred. Over 400km of rally chasing, the Tourer averaged 9.6 litres per 100km.
Among the Tourer’s other appealing attributes is a comfortable driving position and plenty of driver’s seat adjustment.
The Tourer isn’t an entirely new concept for the Holden as it returns the Commodore range to where the VY and VZ generation Adventra provided an earlier high-ride wagon solution.
There’s modern appeal in the all-wheel-drive capability on more challenging roads. I like the sense of anti-SUV non-conformity in its stance and the blend of large car dimensions and performance to partner a moderate sense of adventure.
The Tourer is where the new ZB Commodore shows off its widest set of skills but also offers its narrowest choice. The Tourer experience is restricted to buyers happy to spend at the Calais V grade and the luxury specification means a $65,990 price-tag. There could be potential in a more accessible Tourer variant and the availability of the four-cylinder turbo and diesel powertrain options from other ZB models would align Tourer more directly against the Subaru Outback.