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Read the COTY 101.
Holden’s ZB came to Car of the Year hauling heavy historical baggage. Commodore, after all, is the winningest name in COTY history; five times it’s been etched on our trophy. But the new one isn’t the same kind of car as the VB, VN, VR, VT or VE. Big six-cylinder and V8 engines, rear-drive and Australian-made are no longer the defining Commodore characteristics.
Designed, engineered and manufactured by Opel in Germany, the new Commodore is front- or all-wheel drive, with the most affordable and popular models powered by turbocharged four-cylinder engines, including diesels. But the ZB was judged on merit, not the back-story of the badge it wears. Or, for that matter, its slumping sales, shrinking niche and uncertain future.
Though smaller than the VF II Commodore, key ZB features are space-efficient transverse-mounted engines and, in the sedan, liftback versatility.
The range runs from base LT level, through RS and Calais to range-topping VXR. All except the V6-only VXR are offered in liftback and Sportwagon versions. While the LT comes only with turbocharged petrol and diesel 2.0-litre fours, the same 3.6-litre V6 used in the VXR is available in RS and Calais grades. In the latter spec, there’s also the choice of a high-riding Tourer wagon variant with V6 power.
Prices cover a broad range, from around $34,000 to $56,000, and there’s a massive seven-year warranty. But as a whole, the ZB Commodore isn’t compelling value.
The Commodore also delivers mainstream meat-and-two-veg technology. Innovation? Look elsewhere. Fuel efficiency across the range is no better than mediocre, although it scores solidly for safety.
While the interior package in both liftback sedan and wagon is role-appropriate, cabin fit-out in the base LT is dreary. Its front seats came in for criticism from some of the bigger-bodied judges, too.
Despite this, the least costly Commodore is among the best in the range. Its agile handling, the zesty performance of its turbo-petrol engine and nine-speed auto drivetrain, and excellent ESC and ABS calibrations are evidence of Holden’s influence during the ZB’s development. “Rental drivers never had it so good,” was Byron Mathioudakis’s verdict.
The Calais Tourer also has a strong Australian flavour and is especially capable on dirt, but in other models it’s less evident. The turbo-diesel, teamed with an eight-speed auto, does a good job, but the VXR, with its too-light steering and no more power than the regular V6 models, is a limp-wristed range-topper.
Although the ZB brings welcome tech like standard autonomous emergency braking, some of the additional driver aids lack polish. The active lane-keeping assistance system, for example, is jerky.
Good in places, not so great in others, the ZB range simply lacks the creativity and consistency COTY aims to reward.