THIS car might not be much to look at — covered in stripes designed to trick spy photographers — but underneath the camouflage is the Holden Commodore of the future.
Holden has provided a sneak peek at the German sedan that will replace the locally-made Commodore after 40 years — when the Elizabeth factory falls silent forever in late 2017.
The new model is not due in showrooms until February 2018, but Holden wants Australia to know the Commodore is here to stay — even though the car itself is changing.
There is no V8 — which accounts for more than one-third of sales — and the new model is smaller than before. It’s also a hatchback, not a sedan, to create more bootspace.
Unlike every large Holden family car since 1948 — and every Commodore since 1978 — the fifth generation Commodore will be available with choice of four cylinder petrol or diesel front-wheel-drive power, or a V6 all-wheel-drive.
Our first taste of the new Commodore is a 20-minute drive inside Holden’s top secret test track on the south eastern outskirts of Melbourne.
Although the new Commodore was designed and engineered by Opel in Germany, Holden engineers have had a hand in its development, to make sure it can handle harsh local conditions.
The first time a German sedan came to Australia as a Commodore, in 1978, it shook apart.
News Corp's motoring editor Joshua Dowling, pictured test driving a camouflaged version of the 2018 Holden Commodore. Picture: Supplied
News Corp's motoring editor Joshua Dowling, pictured test driving a camouflaged version of the 2018 Holden Commodore. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
Two cars — valued at close to $500,000 each because they are built by hand — are the first to arrive from Germany for testing on local roads.
Which is why Holden minders pleaded with the small group of media to be especially careful: the cars are only “65 per cent” close to showroom ready.
The steering and the suspension are yet to be finessed and much of the cabin plastics are unfinished.
These two cars are part of a fleet of more than 100 identical prototype vehicles being evaluated around the world. Holden will receive up to 10 prototypes over the next 12 months before the car is finally “signed off”.
Because the new Commodore won’t be unveiled until December, Holden is forced to keep the cars camouflaged.
Holden has kept the design of its new Commodore under wraps. Picture: Supplied.
Holden has kept the design of its new Commodore under wraps. Picture: Supplied.Source:Supplied
The disguise may seem over the top, but the car industry is paranoid about buyers losing interest in current models if they see the next one too soon.
Which is why even the interior of this car is cloaked in fabric — to hide interior details and technology from prying eyes and shutter bugs when the cars are parked during real-world testing.
So, what’s it like to drive?
The V6 sounds the same as the current Commodore, which is neither particularly appealing nor particularly offensive.
It has fair amount of grunt (for the tech heads: 230kW of power and 370Nm of torque) for a fleet sedan.
But performance buyers may be disappointed to learn there are no turbochargers on the V6: Holden says there’s not enough room under the bonnet.
Instead, performance has been given a boost by a nine-speed automatic transmission and a drop in the car’s overall weight.
The new Commodore is up to 300kg lighter than the current Australian-made car — and 170kg lighter than the Opel Insignia it replaces.
Armed with all-wheel-drive grip, the new Commodore has a sure-footed feeling. We’re curious to see how the four-cylinder front-drive performs, but that will need to wait for another day. Those cars aren’t here yet.
The seating position is low and sporty and the steering is precise and direct. City drivers might be pleased to know the turning circle is much tighter than the current car — although Holden won’t reveal exact numbers yet.
The other obvious change is size: the new Holden Commodore has shrunk. It’s smaller than the current car and slightly bigger than the model introduced in the late 1990s.
The new Commodore is much narrower than before — so the driver and front passenger are much closer shoulder-to-shoulder. The back seat would struggle to fit three adults across the back, whereas the current car can do that with ease.
Holden says buyers looking to carry a family have migrated to SUVs; sedans are typically bought by fleet buyers these days.
To try to broaden the new Commodore’s appeal, the hatchback lifts up and the back seats fold flat to reveal a massive cargo bay — another attempt to claw back ground from SUVs, which offer more practicality.
With that in mind, the only question left to ask: is it a Commodore?
That’s a tough question to answer. Holden says the Commodore had to move with the times. But did they need to put a Commodore badge on this car?
The early signs are that the new Holden will be a fine vehicle. And it will be loaded with technology, most of which is being kept secret until the formal unveiling in December.
But for me, for now, this is not a Commodore. Regardless of how good it might be.
Holden Racing Team driver Garth Tander has told of his disappointment at losing his seat at Walkinshaw Racing to Scott Pye less than a week after winning the Sandown 500.
But the 2007 Supercars champion has vowed to respond strongly at Bathurst next month as he aims to defend his Enduro Cup crown.
A factory driver for HRT for the past nine years, the off-contract Tander learned on Thursday that he would not secure a new deal with Walkinshaw Racing, which has signed Pye to drive alongside James Courtney for the next three years.
The driver change follows the loss of the team's factory backing from Holden, which will see the famous HRT name shift to Red Bull Racing from next year.
Tander said he had been ready to discuss his future with the team, but the 39-year-old said he could tell "they were not all that interested".
"It's disappointing, the first time that I was in the office after winning the race on Sunday, I was told that I'm no longer required for the future," Tander said.
"So that is obviously disappointing given that I have been a factory Holden driver for nine years, but that's life.
"Clearly the team felt that they needed to make some changes on the back of losing the Holden funding and clearly they decided they needed to make that change.
"It would have been nice to at least have a discussion, but that didn't even take place. That's their decision. Disappointing, but that's motor racing."
Tander said he did not yet know what his next move would be, but suggested he would like to continue in Supercars.
His name has been linked to a return to Garry Rogers Motorsport, where he last raced in 2004, as a replacement for the DJR Team Penske-bound Scott McLaughlin.
"Racing is my life, it's all that I've ever done and it's what I will continue to do," Tander said.
"I've always prided myself through my career on challenging myself to race against the best and in the most competitive environment and Supercars is clearly the most competitive environment at the moment.
"I want to continue to challenge myself so we'll just see what options present themselves for the future."
The three-time Bathurst champion has finished in the top 10 of the championship every year since his title win in 2007 and sits eighth in the standings this season.
Despite losing his seat, Tander remains determined to deliver a strong finish to the season after claiming a drought-breaking win at Sandown - his first since Townsville in 2014.
"I'm just focused on Bathurst obviously in a couple of weeks' time and to try to win a couple of races to finish the year off in style," Tander said.
"Certainly since we have rolled this new car out, it's quite obvious there has been an upswing in performance and it's not like I'd forgotten how to drive and I've remembered how to drive again. I think it's no coincidence that the speed has come back with the change in cars.
"I'll only have a handful of races with that level of equipment available to me at HRT, which is a little bit disappointing and a little bit frustrating because I haven't been able to show what I feel I was capable of doing and we certainly showed that on the weekend.
"That's disappointing, but all we can do now is look forward to the future."
Holden Racing Team's loss of factory support is the result of poor decisions by the team's owner, an ex-Holden motorsport boss has claimed.
John Crennan, who guided the HRT and Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) operations for two decades from 1991, says Walkinshaw Racing boss Ryan Walkinshaw is to blame for the decline of Supercars' most successful team.
On Tuesday, Holden announced they would only provide factory funding for the Triple Eight Race Engineering outfit owned by Roland Dane from next year onwards.
It brings an end to a 26-year relationship between Holden and Walkinshaw Racing which resulted in six drivers' championships and seven Bathurst 1000 wins.
Crennan says Walkinshaw has made "monumental mistakes" since inheriting ownership of the team following the death of his father Tom in 2010.
Crennan, who is currently working as a consultant for American giant Roger Penske's Australian operations, says among Walkinshaw's mistakes is an outspoken presence on social media and not moving from England to Australia to oversee operations.
He also says the poaching of respected team manager Adrian Burgess from Dane's team in 2013 put Walkinshaw in his fellow Englishman's crosshairs.
"His appointment of Adrian Burgess created an intense enemy in Roland Dane whose experience, influence and guile to my mind was always going to see a monster come back at some point," Crennan told motorsports website Speedcafe.com.
"It worried me at the time and I thought there would be a reset on that at some point."
In the wake of Holden's announcement, Walkinshaw has committed to racing a two-car team in next year's Supercars championship.
While partnering with a new manufacturer, such as Japanese brand Toyota, has been mooted, Crennan believes associating the team with the name of legendary driver Peter Brock could be the key going forward.
"I would be seeking to gain permission from the Brock family to use the Brock name and I would have that seen as a memorial to Peter Brock so that the Brock name could live on with his connection to HDT (Holden Dealer Team) and HRT," Crennan said.
Holden gets green light from Detroit to build $165,000 Commodore with supercharged Corvette power
MAY 27, 201611:44AM
The HSV GTS will form the basis of a new Holden supercar with Corvette power. Picture: Supplied.
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TALK about going out with a bang!
Holden will build a Commodore with more power than a Lamborghini as a high octane farewell present before the Adelaide production line falls silent next year.
The fastest and most powerful Commodore ever made will also be the most expensive, expected to cost in excess of $165,000 — almost twice the price of the dearest model on sale today.
It will be the last V8 sedan made locally, and the most powerful vehicle produced in more than 100 years of Australian car manufacturing.
Holden declined to comment on “future model plans”, however News Corp Australia can exclusively reveal General Motors in Detroit has finally given the green light to build a Commodore powered by the supercharged “LS9” V8 from the Corvette ZR1.
The supercharged V8 from the Corvette ZR1 is heading for the Commodore. Picture: Supplied.
The supercharged V8 from the Corvette ZR1 is heading for the Commodore. Picture: Supplied.Source:News Limited
The swan song supercar will eclipse the power of the current Commodore flagship — the Holden Special Vehicles GTS — with performance that will outpace the latest Porsches and Ferraris.
It will only be available with a manual gearbox because the engine has too much power for an automatic.
With in excess of 600 horsepower (or 475kW in modern terms) the limited edition will have more grunt than a V8 Supercar racing machine.
Fewer than 250 are expected to be built, as there are only a limited number of these particular supercharged V8 engines available out of the US.
The heart of the matter: the LS9 supercharged V8 has more than 600 horsepower.
Holden dealers have been inundated with inquiries following speculation on internet forums — but the project is so secret they too are in the dark.
Fan gossip says the car will be called “GTS-R”, a reference to a limited edition from 1996. But News Corp understands the new super sedan will have a unique name to reflect its exclusivity.
The supercar will be made by Holden Special Vehicles, a separate Melbourne-based firm that has been building Holden’s performance models for 29 years after the breakup with racing legend Peter Brock.
HSV GTS will get a more powerful stablemate, but the name is still a mystery. Picture: Supplied.
Part of the reason the Holden supercar is so expensive is because it will be built in a partially complete form on the Adelaide production line with the supercharged engine and gearbox from the HSV GTS — which will then be replaced by the “LS9” V8 at HSV in Melbourne.
It is not the first time HSV has performed a ‘heart transplant’.
In 2008 the company replaced the “donor” Holden engine with a massive 7.0-litre V8 from a racing version of the Corvette; in the end 137 HSV W427 cars were built at a cost of $155,500 each. Production ended prematurely in 2009 as the Global Financial Crisis took hold.
With buyers holding out for the last locally made Commodores, Holden is confident the supercar will be an instant sellout — especially as the imported Commodore due in 2018 will only have four-cylinder and V6 power.