Holden: Commodore in disguise
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Showing the model's AWD capability
I have driven each new Holden Commodore since the VL debuted in 1986, but I’ve never been behind the wheel of a Holden as new as the one I drove earlier this week.
Driven spent Monday inside the security perimeter at Holden’s Lang Lang, Victoria, proving ground to gain a first taste of the 2018 Commodore.
Two early prototypes — described as integration vehicles — are being fettled by the engineering team. And, in an unprecedented move for Holden, a small group of journalists has driven the new car about 15 months before it goes on sale.
‘‘When I was told we were going to get journalists into the cars so early, my palms immediately went clammy,’’ said Jeremy Tassone, Holden’s vehicle development manager.
The two integration vehicles were hand-built by Opel in Russelsheim, Germany, and arrived in Australia in August. They are right-hand drive and considered priceless, but will be crushed once their work is done.
Holden estimates these cars are a 65 per cent finished product. In vehicle development timelines it’s only at about 63 per cent in the design process that a fully driveable vehicle exists.
‘‘This is the first cut of chassis tune and the steering calibration is out-of-the-box but we think this is a very good 65 per cent,’’ Tassone said.
Both prototypes are AWD V6 models in the five-door configuration that will replace the four-door sedan. One car has the higher grade LCD instrument display and paddle shifters while the other has the conventional instrument layout and carries an additional 70-80kg of weight in the rear to mimic the dynamics of the wagon version.
The camouflaged cars are confirmation of a significant repositioning of the Commodore. They will set aside a 39-year, rear-wheel-drive pedigree and position the next generation as Holden’s most technically advanced car.
The message will be that it represents German engineering combined with significant Australian input into its styling and driving dynamics.
Monday’s behind-the-wheel time included 160km/h laps of Lang Lang’s high-speed bowl as well as time on the skid pan and the ride and handling loop.
We were also driven around a gravel test loop at near-rally pace by Opel engineer Andreas Liljekvist, of Sweden, to showcase the all-wheel-drive capability.
The V6 performance and exhaust note will be familiar to Commodore SV6 drivers and the new transmission is already a refined unit that, unlike some eight and nine speeders, can make use of top gear when cruising at a steady 100km/h.
First impressions are the driving position is slightly lower than the current Commodore while, in the main, the reduced exterior dimensions are recouped by smarter packaging which includes generous rear legroom.
In terms of Australian input into the Commodore there has been Holden involvement since the start of the programme five years ago.
The design team has collaborated with GM design centres on the styling of the five-door and wagon. Holden engineers are participating in Nurburgring chassis testing and in the “buy-off” rides in Europe and Australia where progress is evaluated and decisions made on specification.
The primary work being carried out at Lang Lang is suspension tuning and calibration of the electric power steering, stability control and traction control systems for Australasian conditions along with work on noise, vibration and harshness.
Lang Lang’s lumpy ride and handling course showed off settled suspension response and consistent steering feel which point to a solid basis for the Holden engineers to carry out the local development work that has recently delivered accomplished products as diverse as the fun-to-drive Spark small car and a greatly improved Colorado utility line-up.
In the V6 AWD guise, the prototypes point to a high-tech Commodore combining sports-sedan character with sophistication that will capture interest from SV6 and Calais owners.
Of course the biggest talking point in the months to come will be whether a front-wheel-drive car with a four-cylinder engine can carry the weight of Commodore expectations at the entry level. And, for the meantime, there aren’t even any 65 per cent complete pointers that begin answering that question.