In the November 2017 issue of MOTOR, you’ll be able to read an interview with Holden’s lead vehicle dynamics engineer Rob Trubiani.
In that interview he explains the steps he’s taken to make the all-new imported ZB Commodore feel familiar to the cars that Australia has known and loved for almost 40 years.
Happily, we didn’t just have to take his word for it as he brought with him a prototype for us to try. Despite being an early hand-built development mule, it was loaded with the latest powertrain and chassis calibrations so while this is by no means a definitive verdict, it did provide a taste of how the new Commodore will drive.
The exact make-up of the new Commodore range is still a secret, though we know there will be a luxury Calais variant and sporty range-topping VXR. Trubiani will only divulge that this prototype represents one of “the sporty variants, not VXR”, which suits us just fine.
Providing propulsion is a 3.6-litre naturally-aspirated V6 producing 230kW/370Nm, feeding all four wheels through a nine-speed torque-converter automatic and ‘Twinster’ all-wheel drive system. We’ll come back to that later.
It’s a keen enough engine, revving with reasonable enthusiasm to its 6500rpm redline and making a surprisingly raucous noise in the process, though this car is far from the finished article in terms of NVH protection.
It can be a challenge to make a V6 sound evocative, however Trubiani promises the VXR will have a bespoke exhaust.
As it stands, the noise and acceleration will be familiar to any current Commodore V6 owner; Holden claims the ZB will be the quickest V6 Commodore ever with a 0-100km/h sprint of around 6.0sec, however we suspect any time saving is a result of all-wheel drive traction and the nine-speed auto rather than the extra 20kW/20Nm over the current 3.6-litre VF II.
As you’d expect, the nine ratios are extremely closely stacked, which keeps the engine in its sweet spot nicely. The shifts are smooth enough and there’s a reasonable level of manual control; upshifts aren’t automatically triggered at the limiter and downshifts are generally answered, though the rpm allowed is on the conservative side.
Also on the conservative side is the basic ESP tune, nibbling away on corner exit despite seemingly unimpeachable all-wheel drive traction. Its intervention is very subtle, though, and this prototype lacks the Sport mode which will be present in the final models. If you prefer, ESP can also be switched completely off.
But unlike previous rear-drive generations of Commodores, the ZB isn’t about sideways thrills, majoring instead on grip and composure. Key to this is the Twinster all-wheel drive system that can distribute 50 per cent of the power to the rear wheels and then apportion 100 per cent of that to either rear wheel to help rotate the car mid-corner.
The effects are relatively subtle – it won’t power oversteer on tarmac like the Focus RS that shares the Twinster system – but it definitely gives the driver confidence to use the throttle early and decisively. Apparently it’s a riot on dirt and the all-wheel drive traction will certainly be a boon to those who visit the snow or regularly venture to rural areas.
Is it fun? It’s certainly polished, with excellent steering (something Trubiani worked particularly hard on, and it shows), excellent body control and a general acceptance of being driven spiritedly. But fun? While I can imagine having a punt in the ZB Commodore when I came across a good road, I can’t imagine searching one out for the hell of it.
This is not the end of the world, as the same could be said of the current V6 Commodore. The range-topping VXR will score its own suspension tune (with adaptive dampers), exhaust, a little extra grunt, bigger wheels with better tyres and Brembo brakes.
Based on the evidence of this V6 prototype, it should be an entertaining steer, albeit a very different experience to previous sports Commodores, and not just because of the lack of V8 power. Holden claims current Redline owners have been behind the wheel of the ZB and come away impressed, but it’s difficult to see the two cars appealing to the same buyer.
Then again, this new Commodore was never going to satisfy the V8 rear-drive die-hards; that’s why HSV is going to the effort of converting the Camaro. For the vast majority of Commodore buyers, the ZB will be worth investigating, but hopefully Trubiani and his team can imbue the VXR with a little more fire in its belly to battle the likes of the potent new Kia Stinger GT.
We’ll bring you a comprehensive review of the new Commodore range when we drive the finished product in early 2018.
Engine: V6, DOHC, 24v
Power: 230kW @ TBCrpm
Torque: 370Nm @ TBCrpm
Weight: 1650kg (est.)
0-100km/h: 6.0sec (est.)