New Holden ZB Commodore diesel puts frugality first
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This first drive of a first diesel Commodore is bought to you by the number 4.7.
For those were the fuel-use digits displayed on the trip computer of the spark plug-less Holden large car after I drove it over a 200km journey from Manukau to Tutukaka.
That means the compression-ignition Commodore had used just 4.7 litres of diesel over every 100km of the trip. It’s the sort of economy you might expect of a little hybrid eco-pod, not a large Aussie-branded, German-made car wearing a model nameplate most associated with ravenous, rear-drive petrol V8s.
This demonstrates the mindset-shift required by Holden large-car buyers to get their heads around the new Opel-sourced ZB-generation models of the Commodore range.
These are cars with a new set of values. They therefore project a new image, and that’s proving a hard sell on both sides of the Tasman.
Per head of population, we’re buying the new ZBs in greater numbers than the Australians, the sales stats buoyed by our police force’s continuing preference for the cars. But the Aussies can carry a chip on their shoulders for long periods.
They’re taking their chequebooks elsewhere to pay GM back for the decision to close the antiquated Australian plant that used to build Commodores Downunder.
Getting the pip because it’s no longer an Australian car is a lost cause, and risks missing out on enjoying the ownership of some excellent cars, such as this diesel Commodore LT, above.
At $48,990, it sits in the same price position once occupied by the slightly sporty and highly popular 2017 Commodore SV6. It shoots down its forebear by providing a host of new driver assistance features (blind-spot monitors, lane-keeping, collision warnings, etc.), along with a healthy serving of increased refinement and cabin comfort.
With the 125kW 2-litre turbodiesel four placing 400Nm of driving force under your right foot, the Rudolph-powered LT serves up a more substantial helping of grunt with increased promptness and smoothness than the SV6.
This energy is then processed by one of the best eight-speed automatic transmissions I’ve encountered.
That torque doesn’t have far to travel to reach the driving wheels, as they’re on either side of the transversely mounted powertrain, and pull the car along instead of pushing it.
Did I miss rear-drive? Not once, as the diesel, even with the heavier engine placed up front compared with the $45,990 LT turbo-petrol, feels nicely balanced on its wheels.
Corners could be entered at pace in the interests of maintaining momentum during this see-how-little-fuel-it-can-use driving exercise. The car feels responsive to quick changes of direction, and holds precisely to the chosen line through the bends.
Other driving strategies were adopted to achieve that 4.7 litres/100km fuel-use figure. The air-conditioning was given the day off and the tachometer needle was held religiously at the 1500rpm mark when possible, rising no further than 2000rpm when increased turbo boost was required on steep gradients.
Vehicle speeds were consistent with surrounding traffic, the open road seeing the speedometer registering between 95 and 105km/h. The Commodore overtook as many other vehicles as overtook it, so the mean vehicle speed was decidedly average.
If the speeds were average, the driving experience wasn’t. The ZB body cleaves through air with an efficiency that plane-makers would envy, and even the usual aerodynamic problem areas such as side mirrors and roof seals generate little noise.
This is matched by the powertrain, and there is little evidence of the usual diesel rattle and hum.
Wafting along on the magic-carpet ride quality, listening to my favourite tunes on the Apple CarPlay, I was a happy traveller in what is now my favourite Commie.
The other new diesel in Holden’s range for the return journey, the 100kW/320Nm 1.6 litre turbodiesel, now available in three specification levels of the Equinox SUV range, therefore had some big shoes to fill.
It didn’t help that I drove it in the top $59,990 LTZ-V all-wheel drive model, as I constantly kept asking a mental question of potential buyers: why spend $11,000 more on this jiggly riding downgrade?
The answer in a word: fashion. Whereas the Commodore LT will be valued by fleet and businesses, families are more likely to overlook it in favour of this Equinox.
Hampered by the extra ballast of the unused all-wheel driveline components, two fewer gears in its six-speed auto, and the aero-inefficiency of its higher ride height, the Equinox LTZ-V used 5.3 litres every 100km on the return to Manukau.
That’s still a fine result given the official fuel-use figure is 5.9litres/100km (Commodore LT diesel: 5.6litres/100km).
With fuel prices rising due to the cost of crude oil combined with the double-whammy of increased local and national taxes, the launch of these diesel-engine options from Holden couldn’t come at a better time.