IT’S best to think of the 2018 Holden Commodore RS as the 2.0-litre turbo equivalent of the old SV6. Somewhat confusingly for the new naming conventions, the RS is the second from the bottom in the range, but it’s a seriously sporty looking lift-back all the same.
The swish new shape, which sits between a sedan and a hatch for want of a better description is the hallmark of the radically changed ZB generation, now hailing from Germany and replacing the acclaimed Australian made VF Series II.
It’s an intriguing proposition. For the first time ever the nameplate uses front wheel rather than rear wheel drive in entry level format. Also for the first time, it becomes smaller in size, and comes with a 4-cylinder, albeit not the weedy 1.9-litre version from the 1980s.
Its vital signs are pretty good too, with an asking price of $37,290 plus on-road costs, a 191kW power plant (slightly down on the old Commodore V6) that’s similar on torque at 350Nm, and a 9-speed automatic transmission.
It’s shed some 153kg along the way and has a claimed fuel consumption of 7.9-litres/100km – a figure we couldn’t even get close to, only managing low 10s throughout our test.
On the flip side though, it’s far better equipped, with 18-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors with automatic reverse park assistance, dual zone climate control, key-less entry with push button start, and a leather wrapped steering wheel.
There’s also part leather sports seats, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assistance and a blind spot monitor.
So on the face of it, the new Commodore is lighter, cheaper, more frugal, and better equipped. More importantly though, it’s a solid drive and once you get into it and put the foot down, you don’t even remember it’s not a V6.
With light, sharp and precise steering guiding a chassis that feels lighter on its tyres than before, the spring and damper rates of the Commodore RS are perfect, thanks to local tuning and bundling with Continental’s SportContact5 tyres.
It’s a clever choice because it disguises to a sizeable degree that this Commodore drives only the front wheels. In rivals such as the Skoda Superb 162 TSI and Toyota Camry V6, wheel spin off the line can regularly be a concern. Not here, though.
This doesn’t mean that the 2.0-litre turbo is laggy in the low range, because the nine speed automatic is superbly calibrated to pick lower gears silently and serenely, without flaring the tachometer needle.
For under $40K it’s a better drive train than in Camry, Mazda6, Passat or Superb – and with sweeter steering, ride and handling, too. Concern about the fact it’s smaller are wasted too, with a 490 litre boot capacity, which is just 5-litres less than the old sedan.
There are more major upsides too, starting with the practicality of having the glass raise up with the boot lid to help squeeze in bulkier items and ending with the 60:40 split fold rear seat that replaces a narrow centre ‘ski port’ hole.
It certainly looks better than what has come before it. Even the lower ends of the model range have well designed interiors, and our RS featured some nice touches including a piano black centre console with a lid to cover the two cup holders.
There’s a soft closing storage area as well, which gives, in a simple way, an impression of luxury. The front seats are narrower than the old VF Series II Commodore but that’s a good thing, as is the fact they’re more supportive.
Plastics quality is impressive and ergonomics are reasonably good too. The RS also gets ambient lighting and comes with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. There’s no SatNav or digital radio though, which will disappoint many.
The cloth seats are not ghastly either, but the sloping rear roof line means tall folks are going to struggle with headroom in the back of the new look Commodore, but there is rear ventilation and two charging ports back there, so that’s something.
If anything, we’d definitely call out the lack of decent standard tech on the RS, because things like adaptive cruise control are not on hand, and a few rivals have additional features like coloured dash displays and wireless phone charging.
It does get parking assist, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring though so it’s a bit of a case of some good things are here, but some aren’t. The only other downside is it’s a little thirsty.
Our 2018 Holden Commodore RS was provided by Holden Australia. To find out more, contact your local Holden dealer.