Holden Commodore LT diesel v Mazda 6 Touring diesel v Toyota Camry Ascent hybrid
Comparison – How does Holden’s first diesel Commodore stack up against the cheapest, most efficient mid-size sedans?
Just a few years ago, Australia’s most popular fleet cars were home-grown Holden Commodores, Ford Falcons and Toyota Camrys.
But all that’s changed with the end of Australian car-making, the advent of ‘user-chooser’ novated leasing, the general trend towards downsized passenger cars and, now, the introduction of the first imported Commodore and Camry.
Thanks to attractive fleet and business discounts, and the buy-Australian policy of government departments, the Camry has long dominated Australia’s mid-size car market.
After seven generations and more than 930,000 sales of the Camry dating back to the first (imported) model of 1983 (more than a million if you include the bigger Australian-made Aurion), the eighth-generation version is longer, lower, sportier and better equipped.
The Mazda 6, meantime, has long been one of Australia’s most popular mainstream mid-sizers. In its third generation since 2012 (a minor facelift and turbo power will come later this year), it finished a distant second to the Camry last year’s sales race (third if you count the Mercedes-Benz C-Class luxury car), although Mazda claims it’s the top-selling sub-$60K mid-sizer among private buyers.
In terms of sales, behind the Mazda 6 in the shrinking mainstream medium segment is the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Liberty, Skoda Octavia, Subaru Levorg, Hyundai Sonata and i40, and Kia Optima.
The newest member of the class is Holden’s 2018 ZB-series Commodore, which marks a fundamental shift from large, rear-drive Australian-made sedan, wagon and ute, to mid-size German-built liftback, wagon and crossover.
New world order with the first fully imported Commodore
The first imported Commodore is also the first to be front-wheel drive and the first to offer diesel power. Unlike the Mazda 6 diesel, which is available across the range, the Commodore’s four-cylinder turbo-diesel is only available in entry-level LT liftback and wagon form, and in the Calais liftback.
So to find out which mainstream medium car has the most appeal for both private and business buyers on a budget, we’re pitting the most affordable, most efficient new Commodore against the cheapest Camry Hybrid and Mazda 6 diesel.
Pricing and equipment
All three of these models are mid-size, front-wheel drive four-cylinder sedans (OK, so the ZB is technically a hatchback) fitted as standard with an automatic transmission – CVT in the case of the Toyota, which also eschews turbo-diesel power for a petrol-electric powertrain.
Thanks to a $500 price cut for this generation, the Ascent is the first Camry Hybrid to be priced under $30,000, ($29,990 plus ORCs) and undercuts both the Commodore LT diesel liftback ($36,690 plus ORCs) and Mazda 6 Touring diesel ($40,190 plus ORCs).
On the safety front, apart from mandatory anti-skid brakes and traction/stability control, all models come with a five-star ANCAP safety rating, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), reversing camera, hill-start assist, LED tail-lights and daytime running lights, and Bluetooth with voice control.
The Ascent is the first Camry Hybrid to be priced under $30,000
All models also score twin front, front-side and side curtain airbags (but not rear-side airbags), but only the Camry offers a driver’s knee airbag, and only the Mazda6 lacks lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistance.
However, the base Camry hybrid doesn’t come with side blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, which are standard in the other two, as well as the Mazda 6’s emergency stop signal and driver attention alert.
Only the Commodore offers AEB with pedestrian detection, a pop-up pedestrian-friendlier bonnet and automated parking, but on the flipside the LT misses out on the LED headlights of the Ascent and Touring.
Otherwise, all three get 17-inch alloys wheels and a space-saver spare, but only the Toyota offers all-speed active cruise control and auto high-beam; although it lacks driver’s seat power adjustment except for lumbar.
Meanwhile, the Commodore gets eight-way driver’s seat power adjustment, while the Mazda 6’s offers 10-way power adjustment – plus six-way for the front passenger.
Inside, all three come with a 7.0-inch colour touch-screen, electric park brake and auto headlights, but only the Holden offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility; and only the Mazda gets gearshift paddles and full leather trim (black or white).
In addition, the Holden and Mazda offer front and rear parking sensors, satellite-navigation, digital radio, dual-zone climate-control, rain-sensing wipers, leather steering wheel and keyless entry and ignition, all of which are absent in the Ascent hybrid.
While the Holden and Toyota offer six-speaker audio, the Mazda ups the ante with 11-speaker, 231-watt BOSE sound, and the Commodore is alone in offering a 360-degree camera and (colour) head-up display, which is only found in upstream Camrys and Mazda6s.
And if you want features like wireless phone charging you’ll have to climb further up the Camry and Commodore model ranges, although only the latter offers luxuries like heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats and a massaging driver’s seat with adjustable side bolsters.
Plenty of backseat leg room, but luxuries are lacking in the Camry Ascent
Although all three cars come with a three-year new-vehicle warranty, Toyota and Holden limit theirs to 100,000km, while Mazda’s is unlimited-mileage. In addition, Toyota offers an eight-year/160,000km hybrid battery warranty.
In terms of service intervals, the Camry is cheapest to service, at $195 capped for each of the first five 12-monthly services.
The Mazda 6 is the most expensive, at $326 for the first 12 months or 10,000km (whichever comes first) or $1091 for the first three years; although Mazda offers the longest capped-price servicing period – 16 years or 160,000km.
In between is the Commodore, which costs $259 for the first service at 12 months or 12,000km, then $359 (24,000km), $259 (36,000km) and $399 (48,000km).
Based on claimed fuel consumption figures, the Camry hybrid is by far the most efficient at 4.2L/100km, followed by the Mazda 6 (5.4L/100km) and Commodore (5.6L/100km).
On test in the real world, the Toyota was still the most frugal but overshot its claimed figure the most at 6.6L/100km, while the Holden was closest and matched the Mazda at 7.7L/100km. While the Mazda 6 and Commodore are diesel, the Camry Hybrid’s recommended fuel is 95 RON premium unleaded.
While mica or metallic paint is a no-cost option for the Mazda 6 (except for Soul Red), Toyota charges $450 extra for what it calls premium paint and Holden asks $550 for prestige paint.
In the cabin
They may represent the most mundane of car market segments, but all three mid-sizers here offer comfortable, spacious and well-presented interiors that are remarkable similar in size and layout.
As noted, the Mazda’s cabin is lifted significantly by leather trim for the seats, steering wheel and gearshifter, and although the Commodore and Camry both have cloth trim, the Toyota’s fabric looks cheaper and its plastic steering wheel and shifter really let the side down.
All three interiors are a little dark and austere and feature gloss-black dash and/or console surfaces, but the Mazda 6 and Commodore go beyond perceived quality with soft-touch cabin surfaces almost everywhere.
Mazda 6 has soft-touch cabin surfaces almost everywhere
Despite its age, we still prefer the Mazda’s dash design and, while the mono-looking colour touch-screen in the Toyota and Holden looks drab, all three have simple information displays between the speedo and tacho.
Mazda’s central controller operated infotainment system is still the most intuitive to use, the easiest to pair a phone with and its dash-top screen is mounted the closest to the driver’s eye line.
In contrast, Holden’s hooded infotainment screen is lower but angled upwards, so it can catch lots of reflections from the Aussie sun, and its air-conditioning system requires pressing buttons on the dash and touch-screen to switch air-vents, which is not as convenient as good old-fashioned hard buttons and dials.
The Camry’s multi-button centre stack is the most complex to use, but it was a persistent rattle from the Commodore’s instrument cluster surround that annoyed us the most. Every ZB Commodore we’ve driven has suffered the same silly problem, so hopefully Opel has a fix soon.
While the controls in both Japanese cars are difficult to fault and the switch to right-hand drive for the German-built Commodore puts the steering column stalks and PRNDL on the correct side, its convex wing mirror and electric park brake switch haven’t been swapped and the driver’s foot rest is far too close.
But even without the Mazda’s almost complete lack of rear wheelhouse sound deadening or the Toyota’s terrible A-pillar wind noise, the Commodore has by far the quietest cabin.
It truly is a serene place to be; even under full load the diesel engine can barely be felt, and in the four-cylinder petrol models we’ve driven there’s almost no engine noise even at 6000rpm.
Backing up the impression of refinement is a solid German thud when you close the doors and the Commodore’s driver’s seat is also top-notch and offers the widest range of adjustment.
At the other end of the scale, the Camry driver’s seat is too tall, flat and lacking in adjustment, with the Mazda 6 somewhere in between.
The new Commodore’s classy but understated interior places its front seats closer together than before, which almost cancels out the fact the ZB is 36mm narrower than the VF and offers 57mm less shoulder room.
It’s on par with these mid-sizers for stretching room up front, although rear vision is far more restricted than its predecessor and its rivals.
The Commodore’s rear headroom is 13mm tighter than before but (despite being 89mm shorter in wheelbase and 50mm shorter overall) there’s still plenty of legroom and knee room – more than in the VF Commodore, in fact.
Indeed, the 2018 Commodore is bigger than the VE/VF in every other key dimension – and a fair bit larger than the previous VT Commodore – so in this company it’s pretty commodious, but not as much so as the Camry.
We measured them with the same 182cm driver up front and 178cm passenger in the rear. In this scenario the Camry offered 5mm more rear shoulder room, 10mm more rear headroom and 20mm more knee room than the Commodore.
The Mazda 6 was only a few millimetres behind the Camry for rear headroom, but offered almost 30mm less knee room and as much as 40mm less shoulder room. Naturally, all three cars come with twin face-level rear ventilation outlets, cup-holders and a folding centre armrest.
The Toyota also has the biggest rear door openings and the lowest window line, making ingress/egress easy for elderly passengers and outward vision good for small kids, which is not so in the Opel, er, Holden.
But while the Camry offers the most back-seat space, it also has the flattest, hardest rear seatback and the ZB is only millimetres behind, thanks in part to its higher ‘stadium’ seating that offers occupants a better view of the road ahead.
It might not be a sedan but the Commodore’s massive rear hatch is super-handy for un/loading stuff and, unlike the homegrown model it replaces, the rear seats are 60:40-split and folding, liberating up to 1450 litres of cargo space.
Camry hybrid’s sizeable boot is thanks to the new model’s battery pack being mounted under the rear seat
Of course, the Camry and Mazda 6 also have split/folding rear seats and, although it has the smallest through-opening, the hybrid Camry trumps the Mazda 6 with a sizeable 524 litres of boot capacity versus 474.
The Camry hybrid’s sizeable boot is thanks to the new model’s battery pack being mounted under the rear seat instead of the boot, but the Mazda’s boot is smaller in part because its gooseneck hinges are concealed – unlike the Camry’s, which encroach on cargo space.
The liftback Commodore beats them all with its 490 litres of luggage space (under the cargo cover – just five less than the VF Commodore sedan’s boot) that expands to a genuine 552 litres when packed to the window.
And, unlike the traditional boot-lids on the other two, its rear hatch can be opened at the touch of its rear Holden badge.
Under the bonnet
It’s not the most powerful, but the Commodore’s Euro6 emissions-compliant four-cylinder diesel engine is bar far the most refined unit here.
In fact, the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel spins so smoothly and willingly to 5000rpm you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a petrol engine – except it belts out a busty 400Nm of torque over 1750-2500rpm.
That’s not as much as the Mazda 6’s 2.2-litre diesel, which delivers a claimed 420Nm at 2000rpm and also narrowly eclipses it for peak power, at 129kW at 4500rpm versus 125kW at 3750rpm.
But despite weighing less than the Commodore (1542 v 1595kg kerb), the Mazda 6 never feels as quick – and always sounds louder and more stressed.
The key here is the German car’s higher outputs at lower engine speeds, and an eight-speed automatic transmission that does a better job than the Mazda’s six-speed unit of keeping its engine in the torque zone.
The short story is the Commodore diesel is the strong, silent type that gets the work done without fuss and delivers enough thrust to feel quick, while the Mazda 6 is more of a drama queen that doesn’t match the GM diesel for refinement or useable performance.
Look no further than towing capacities for further evidence, with the Holden’s 1800kg eclipsing the Mazda’s 1600kg (both cars are limited to 750kg with an unbraked trailed).
Both diesels come standard with idle-stop and the Mazda goes one better with capacitor-based i-ELOOP regenerative braking tech.
The high-tech Camry Hybrid couldn’t be more different. Splitting the other two at 1580kg, it’s the only car here with a (new) Sport mode – as well as Normal, Eco and EV, in which it can drive very short distances under battery power alone.
Its electric motor assistance does give it mild, diesel-like torque delivery from a standing start and round-town road speeds, but that’s where its positives and similarities to these two oil-burners end.
Matched to a CVT that keeps it almost constantly overworked under load, the bigger 2.5-litre petrol-electric powertrain never offers the performance of either small diesel engine, despite its claimed total output of 160kW.
It might be well suited to inner-city traffic-light sprints and suburban scrums, but on open country roads the hybrid struggled to keep pace with the lusty diesels, especially the long-legged LT.
Although it’s by far the cheapest and – by not so far – most efficient car here, the Toyota also suffered from loud and intrusive ABS and ESC servos, abrupt switchover from electric to petrol power and inconsistent brake feel, especially at low speeds.
And its towing capacity? Braked or unbraked: just 400kg.
At the wheel
The Mazda 6 has long been the dynamic benchmark of the mainstream mid-size pack and continues to deliver cosseting ride comfort despite its sharp handling, which was further improved most recently by Mazda’s subtly effective G-Vectoring Control system.
But compared to the locally fettled Commodore there’s far more road, engine and wind noise, plus more torque steer, bump steer and rack rattle.
The Camry is quieter overall but still presents plenty of wind and powertrain noise, and is worse than the Mazda when it comes to steering shock, rack rattle and even axle tramp at low speeds.
The Toyota rides as well as the Mazda on smooth surfaces but when roads deteriorate, its suspension crashes into pot-holes and its overly light steering kicks violently over mid-corner bumps.
With less rubber on the road (it runs narrower 215/55 R17 Michelin Primacy tyres as opposed to the Mazda’s 225/55 R17 Toyo Proxes and the Holden’s 225/55 R17 Bridgestone Turanzas) it also generates less cornering grip.
In stark contrast, despite steering that’s slower than the others (2.8 turns lock-to-lock versus 2.7) and lighter than the model it replaces, the Commodore points with precision and delivers plenty of grip and feedback.
It’s free from any steering kick or rattle, there’s only a whiff of torque steer – even at full noise out of tight hairpins – and the ZB tiller telegraphs less unwanted interference from the road than the VF it replaces.
More importantly, while there’s slightly more road noise than in ZB-series Calais models we’ve driven, the cabin is far quieter than its most direct rivals and any Commodore before it.
The European Commodore’s advantages in ride quality are also clear, with local Holden input helping the ZB deliver much better small and big bump absorption than both the Camry and Mazda.
At the same time, based on our back-to-back test at the Lang Lang proving ground, the German Commodore is sportier than the Opel-tuned Insignia on which it’s based, delivering superior body control over big bumps and less intrusive stability control on loose surfaces.
The last word
In short, for a relatively big, front-drive car with loads of torque, the Commodore’s well-sorted ‘Tour’ suspension tune strikes the perfect balance between sport and luxury, making it well suited to Aussie roads.
It’s by no means perfect, but Holden’s first diesel Commodore not only matches its key competitors on value and cost of ownership, but goes one step further when it comes to technology, refinement, comfort and dynamics.
2018 Holden Commodore LT diesel liftback pricing and specifications:
Price: $36,690 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel: 7.7L/100km (as tested)
Safety rating: Five-star (ANCAP)
2018 Mazda6 Touring diesel sedan pricing and specifications:
Price: $40,140 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 7.7L/100km (as tested)
Safety rating: Five-star (ANCAP)
2018 Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid pricing and specifications:
Price: $29,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel: 6.6L/100km (as tested)
Safety rating: Five-star (ANCAP)