The V6-powered Commodore RS AWD may well be the spiritual successor to the hugely popular SV6
What we liked:
• Responsive and vocal V6
• Ride-handling compromise
• AWD grip
Not so much:
• Lacks sat-nav
• Questionable driver’s seat comfort
• Lowish loading height
What’s it all about?
If there was any lineage to Holden’s Commodore RS V6 all-wheel drive sports sedan, its closest relative would be the now-departed VF series SV6.
At the end of its life, the SV6 was actually the biggest-selling car in the Commodore stable – a well-priced, well-equipped, well-balanced and brisk large sedan that was a suitable farewell to a long-lived Australian-made icon.
Without any V8 Commodores lording over it, it could be argued that today’s ZB-series Commodore RS AWD V6 represents maybe the best value in Holden’s sporting sedan (and wagon) line-up. The growling 235kW/381Nm 3.6-litre normally-aspirated engine looks good on paper and, working with the combination of AWD and Holden’s new nine-speed auto gearbox, it’s certainly positioned to deliver.
How much will it cost?
At $40,790 before on-roads, the AWD V6 Holden Commodore RS as reviewed here is $3500 more than the 2.0-litre four-cylinder, front-drive RS that sits below it where it bridges the gap to the $33,690 base LT. Above the AWD V6 RS is the better-specified, $46,990 RS-V, with – also AWD V6 – $51,990 Calais V and $55,990 VXR liftbacks heading the range.
The Commodore RS V6 scores well on safety technology, with (low-speed) autonomous emergency braking and most of the other warning/assist systems prevalent today, including pedestrian avoidance, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. It can park itself as well.
The notable omissions are sat-nav (the standard inclusion of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto helps in this respect), adaptive cruise control and LED headlights. The cabin, with its cloth trim and power assistance for the driver’s seat only, is more sparse than the up-spec RS-V which, for an extra $6200 brings, among other things, sat-nav, leather trim, colour head-up display and paddle shifters.
Why should I/shouldn’t I buy it?
As a driver’s car, the Holden Commodore RS V6 makes a strong case: The eagerly aural V6 is always in your face, pleasing most, if not all drivers and delivers its muscle from the get-go. Maximum torque revs sound high at 5200rpm, but the power curve is clearly quite flat as it is dishing out plenty of urge well before mid-rpm. The multiplicity of ratios available in the nine-speed automatic transmission (minus steering wheel paddles in this case) obviously help keep it on the boil too.
As a matter of interest, the Commodore RS V6’s power-weight ratio of around 143kW/tonne beats most of its competition – Toyota Camry V6 (140), Mazda6 GT turbo (108) and Subaru Liberty 3.6R (118). Only the way more expensive $49,990 Kia Stinger 330S V6 is better at 153kW/tonne.
Fuel economy is on the mark too: Against the official figure of 8.9L/100km, we recorded 9.0L/100km on a week of extended-kilometre road testing.
The Commodore RS V6 gets down and boogies. The quick steering enables it to be pointed accurately and the AWD grip of GM’s Twinster system helps its balance and ensures it’s basically unchallenged in most low-friction situations. The system replaces the more common limited-slip rear differential with separate, clutch-driven drives to each rear wheel, enabling super-accurate administering of torque to provide benefits in maximising traction and controlling under and oversteer.
As we’ve found in previous ZB reviews, the Commodore’s handling is crisp and responsive. In RS AWD V6 form, it’s a proper driver’s car, no doubt thanks to heavy Australian chassis-engineering input. The ride, in standard mode which was used for the bulk of this review, is comfortable even if it errs a little on the firm side.
When is it available in Australia?
Holden launched its imported Commodore in February 2018 amid plenty of negative background chatter. That continues, and sales are far from market-blitzing.
Year-to-date, the ZB Holden sits on the second rung of the family-car ladder well behind Toyota’s steadily-performing Camry. Off a low monthly figure of 754 sales in January, the Toyota has recorded monthly sales as high as 1451 vehicles, where the Commodore has fluctuated between a high of 1159 sales in June and a low of 557 in July. Still, with 5941 year-to-date sales by July 2018, it’s well ahead of Mazda6 (1951), Kia Stinger (1258) and Ford Mondeo (1218).
The Commodore lineup includes LT, RS in as a FWD turbo-four or AWD V6 form, RS-V, Calais and VXR “liftbacks” as well as LT, RS and RS-V wagons and the high-riding Tourer crossover https://www.motoring.com.au/holden-commodore-tourer-2018-review-111095/ in Calais and Calais-V forms. Pre on-roads pricing stretches from $33,690 for the base LT liftback to $55,990 for the bells-and-whistles VXR liftback. A new seven-year warranty applies to ZB Commodores.
Who will it appeal to?
That’s the vexing question for Holden’s marketing team. While there’s the hope that traditional buyers will remain faithful to the cause, there’s also the belief that the ZB Commodore will appeal to a whole lot of new (younger) buyers.
Its size suits it well to family use, what with the handy 490-litre boot and the hatchback configuration that opens it up to a maximum 1450 litres. If there’s any downside to that, it’s the restrictions on loading height imposed by the low, sweeping back end.
Slightly narrower than the previous VF Commodore, the new car is a bit shorter overall too, but the east-west engine layout helps available fore-aft cabin space. So although there’s no sacrifice in legroom, the skinnier cabin width means the ZB is more suited to four (very comfortable) passengers than five.
An unexpected aberration was that the driver’s sports seat failed, in this case, to deliver comfort after an extended spell at the wheel and required a brief park and stretch to re-set the spinal column. Very impressive is the fact the AWD Commodore RS tested here will tow a maximum of 2100kg, quite a bit more than its competitors. Front-drive 2.0-litre Commodores are rated at 1800kg.
Where does it fit?
It seems strange that the ZB Commodore rates – along with the Kia Stinger – as a large car yet Ford’s Mondeo, Mazda’s Mazda6 and Toyota’s Camry, which generally equate the Holden in body size, are seen by industry statistician VFACTS as mid-sizers. But however it’s rated in terms of size, the fact is the ZB belongs to a segment that is struggling right now, with only Toyota’s Camry, as mentioned earlier, maintaining steady sales.
For ZB Commodore naysayers, it’s interesting to note that, in a recent UK-based JD Power survey, its Opel Insignia sibling was rated as the most reliable car in its class.
So, what do we think?
Despite falling short of initial sales predictions, and despite belonging to a breed that appears to be headed almost for niche market categorisation, the ZB Commodore is a great car to live with. In RS AWD V6 form it is a well-priced, well-credentialed and spacious sporting sedan that deserves a better chance than the car-buying public appears to be giving it right now.
How much does a 2018 Holden Commodore RS V6 AWD cost?
Price: $40,790 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel: 8.9L/100km (ADR Combined); 9.0L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 206g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP (2017)