You can’t help but feel for the poor folks at Holden. All that obligatory patriotism aside, they produced a genuine world-beater in the VFII Commodore, only at a time when most Australians would prefer to have been caught in a hurricane than be caught behind the wheel of a large sedan.
We won’t recap the Holden story here (suffice to say, the Aussie-built Commodore is no more). And on the surface at least, things should get significantly easier with the launch of the fully imported ZB Commodore, which swaps the sedan shape for a more palatable lift-back (think of it as a long hatch) body.
And in a move that makes Commodore traditionalists weep like willows, it also arrives in a front-wheel-drive setup, and with a four-cylinder engine (though an AWD V6 will also be available), plus the classic sedan shape is being replaced by a five-door liftback hatch design. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it also steps down a size from the large-car category to compete in the medium-size segment.
All of those are good things for sales, right? But dig a little deeper and you find that this new ZB model - which is based on the new Opel and Vauxhall Insignias - actually pitches the Commodore into the kind of fierce battle it’s never really faced before, against arguably the stiffest competition of its long life cycle.
The medium segment is super competitive, owing in no small part to the talents of the Mazda6 (available in both sedan and wagon body style, though we're leaving the wagons out of this comparison), which is the second-best seller in the category, behind only the fleet-friendly Toyota Camry.
So while the Commodore's final specifications, pricing and some other critical details are yet to be revealed, it’s time to see how the best from (kind of, but not really) Australia measures up against our pick of the current medium-sized market.
The back story
Essentially a rebadged Insignia (though Holden had input in its design and engineering), the new Commodore will be imported from Germany (never a bad thing), when it lands in Australian showrooms next year.
To be fair, though, Australians have something of a mixed history with the Opel brand. We loved it when Holden was rebadging Opel-built Barinas and Astras, and we didn’t love it quite so much when the brand launched here as a short-lived standalone back in 2012, then packed up and left a year later after slow (think treacle) sales.
The Mazda6, on the other hand, is built in Japan, and it offers a fit-and-finish of outstanding quality. It feels premium from anywhere the cabin, and the technology on offer is outstanding, too.
Winner: We’re going to give this to Mazda, which has a long and strong history of quality behind the Mazda6. The German-built Commodore will still (rightly or wrongly) command better pub bragging rights than something from Japan, but its proven track record hands this one to Mazda.
Let’s start with what we know, and that’s our already-released Japanese friend. The 4865mm (L), 1840mm (W), 1450mm (H) sedan version of the 6 will serve up a healthy, but definite not class-leading, 474 litres of boot space with the 60:40 rear seats still in place. Other practicality perks include four cupholders, two ISOFIX attachment points and room in every door pocket for bottles and the like.
The 4897mm (L), 1863mm (W), 1455mm (H) Commodore, on the other hand, serves up a Mazda-besting 490 litres of standard space, and 1450 litres with the rear seats folded flat The same cupholders are on offer, and the storage cubbies seem to about line-up, too.
Winner: Score one for the Commodore, with the few extra litres of bonus storage space enough to edge the Mazda on practicality.
We’ll go petrol vs petrol here, matching the Commodore’s turbocharged 2.0-litre unit against the Mazda’s naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine.
That turbocharger helps the Holden weigh-in at 191kW and 350Nm, sending its power to the front wheels via a nine-speed torque converter automatic.
But it ain’t that pretty a picture out of the Japanese stable, with the Mazda6’s bigger engine only capable of 138kW and 250Nm, which it will send toward the front wheels with the help of a six-speed torque converter automatic.
Commodore takes the win here. There’s no substitute for grunt, and the Holden hoses the Mazda in both power and torque.
Log onto any forum anywhere and you’ll be left in no doubt just how the average punter feels about this new Commodore.
It’s fully imported. It’s front-wheel drive. It’s powered (mostly) by four-cylinder engines. And it’s only available with an auto transmission. There won’t be too much pub-bragging going on here, folks.
The Mazda6 shares most of those attributes, too. But then, it always did. And so, while it might be unfair, nobody really cares.
Whatever street cred the new Commodore wants it's going to have to build from the ground up, with any warm and fuzzy feelings about the nameplate largely dying along with the factory. And so, this round goes to Mazda.
The judge's scorecards
The Mazda6 edges the Commodore in a hard-fought battle. That said, it’s a points victory rather than a KO, and we stand ready to reverse the judge's decision once the finished Holden product actually lands Down Under.