2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
MY fellow Australians, reports of the death of the Holden Commodore have been greatly exaggerated.
Since Holden announced that the country’s most famous car would no longer be made in Australia, and would now be a fully-imported model from Germany, it is like the motoring public has gone into a sense of shock.
When it was also announced that the new Commodore would no longer come with the motoring equivalent of the meat pie and XXXX stubby – the legendary V8 engine – that sense of shock morphed into something closer to a sense of mourning.
It is the type of national angst that we don’t get to see that often, usually only on occasions like when our revered cricketers are busted sticking sandpaper into their jocks so they can cheat during a Test match.
And the reason why there was such a huge reaction to the cricket scandal, and the evolution of the Commodore, is that they are both things that Australians hold sacred. Cricket is our national sport and helped define us as a nation.
Our spirit of fair play, toughness, fighting spirit and resilience were born out of taking on the might of mother country England in the early days, and galvanized during the Bodyline series.
It instilled the qualities Australians think define us as a nation and a people.
The Holden Commodore was similarly important. The Holden brand is part of our national identity, and showed that we are a country that can stand on its own two feet.
In the Commodore, we showed that the lucky country was also the clever country, producing a car that was quintessentially Australian, and yet world-class at the same time.
The Commodore was a Baggy Green cap on four wheels, a romantic reminder of the glory days and simpler times.
But times have changed. Australia’s top cricketers no longer spend their days hitting a golf ball up against a corrugated iron water tank with a cricket stump to get their skills up.
These days millions of dollars are spent on technology, performance management and “centres of excellence” to ensure our athletes keep pace with the best in the world.
The motoring world is the same. We all know that over the past two decades, the Commodore and other “full-sized” cars have seen their once unchallenged position as king of the Aussie roads slip and ultimately fall.
The world has changed. Australians have changed.
A V8 engine and a win at Bathurst are no longer the big selling points they were in the good old days. Now consumers are looking for words like efficiency, safety, technology and autonomy.
Holden as a company was created to make cars for Australians. They still do.
And the new Commodore ZB is the car for modern Australia.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Is it any good?
It’s a whole lot better than good, actually.
The new Commodore is excellent. No hyperbole or exaggeration here. Against any car in the sub-$60,000 price range, the Commodore really is world class, and wasn’t that what we wanted from Holden and the Commodore in the first place?
In fact, the only criticism I would direct at Holden about the new Commodore would be aimed at their marketing department, because I don’t think they have done a good enough job conveying to Australians just how good this car is.
I will put my hand in the air here and confess to being one of the skeptics. I love big engines, and I particularly loved the old Commodore.
I was one of those bemoaning why Holden would throw the baby out with the bathwater, and replace a rear-wheel-drive V8 with a front- wheel-drive four cylinder engine.
It did not take long for my education to begin.
My first experience in the Commodore was an RS-V model in “mineral black”, and it was obvious at first sight that my preconceived idea of what the Commodore had become were way, way off beam.
This was no grandma shopping cart. It was a sleek and handsome all-wheel-drive, its throaty 3.6-litre V6 engine growling to life with the remote start before gently purring as it waited to hit the road.
The Commodore looks European, almost as if the old Commodore and an Audi A5 had fallen in love and had a child – retaining its aggressive looks but bringing a new twist with the liftback rear instead of the traditional sedan-style boot.
Two chrome tipped exhaust outlets and a gentle rear spoiler set off the rear end nicely, as did the sharp looking tail light clusters, the LED lights mirroring the super slick running lamp set-up at the front.
Inside, I had a similar sensation. Things felt familiar, but different at the same time.
I ticked off a checklist in my mind as I reacquainted myself with the things I loved about the previous model.
At the top of the list is the glorious head-up display, which digitally projects all of your key driving information onto the windscreen in front of you, so you never have to take your eyes off the road.
The Commodore display shows you your speed, the speed limit of the street you are on, and if you so desire, your engine rev counter as well.
While using the terrific satellite navigation system, graphics showing your route instructions are projected in front of you as well, working in tandem with the audio navigation instructions.
If it detects an object in front of you and thinks a crash may be imminent, a warning will literally flash before your eyes so you can take action – although the autonomous emergency braking will step in if you don’t react quickly enough.
The head-up display will also warn you if the car has detected a pedestrian, just as a gentle reminder to keep your wits about you in case the unexpected occurs.
It is a brilliantly clever innovation.
Cutting-edge technology flows through the entire car. It is not only smart enough to direct you to your destination, but will cheerily park itself once you arrive.
Phone and app integration through Apple Carplay and Android Auto make it easy to control your entertainment and communications through the 8-inch touchscreen, with USB ports and a wireless phone charging dock.
The range of safety features and driver-assistance technology is without question world class.
Pleasingly, so is the driving experience.
Yes, it does feel different from the previous Commodore, and as much fun as the last model was to drive, “different” in this circumstance is not a criticism.
The new Commodore was not born at Bathurst, it was nurtured on the Nurburgring.
The brutality of the V8, six-speed, rear-wheel drive set-up has been replaced with a silky combination of a powerful V6, all-wheel drive and a brilliant nine-speed transmission.
It really is a great set-up, and a sheer joy to drive.
While we all might pine for the romance of a burbling V8, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two when you are pushing the new V6 up through 7000 rpm.
It is loud and powerful, yet always refined.
The all-wheel drive set-up is the real game-changer for the Commodore.
It is ridiculously well-balanced, and so compliant no matter how many questions you ask of it.
It sticks to the road so well, and just keeps finding grip even when you are daring it to poke its rear end out.
But if you need to be on your best behaviour, the Commodore handles that as well, turning the personality and the noise down to act as a civilised grown-up car and daily commuter when you need it to be.
I took it back to Barton’s Holden dealership at Capalaba convinced it was one of the better cars I had ever driven.
I wasn’t to know that I was about to swap it over for one even better. I exchanged the keys to the RSV and picked up the top-of-the-range VXR.
It was like finding out your stereo turned all the way up to 11.
The VXR brought so many enhancements to take the Commodore from superb to sublime.
The VXR carried all of the goodies of the excellent RSV, and added performance Brembo brakes, 20- inch alloy wheels, sunroof, rear spoiler and top-notch 360-degree camera to make parking totally pain-free.
Inside, there were two major changes.
Firstly the front seats had been replaced with racing-style bucket seats that were not only heated and ventilated, but came with a simply amazing massage function.
The second element was the special “VXR” button on the centre console.
Like the RSV, the VXR has a “sport mode” button that adds a little bit of grunt and noise when you are looking for a bit of a harder edge than the average everyday drive.
But the VXR button is next-level stuff. The entire personality of the car changes. You can feel the suspension system tightening up below you, as it hunkers down for some excitement, and the exhaust note seems to drop its voice by a couple of octaves as well.
The VXR button is like a time machine.
It is a reminder that Holden has not forgotten the reasons we loved the Commodore in the first place – noise, aggression, performance and a sense of fun – it is just that the car needs to be all things to all people.
The Commodore is no longer just Australia’s car, it is a car for the world.
It is grown-up, polished, civilised and refined, but in touch with its past and heritage.
It is the old world meeting the new world, and that is always a tough balance to get right.
But Holden have done it with the Commodore.