Honda Civic VS Holden Commodore
- Looks are good (or bad)
- Suspension and steering are both terrific
- Plenty of legroom in the rear seat
- CVT drones at pace
- Standard safety lacking on base models
- RS is noisy on the wrong road surfaces
- Comfortable but dynamic chassis
- Strong and smooth 2.0 turbo
- Liftback's boot practicality over a sedan
- Relatively unassuming looks
- V6 not as refined as the 2.0 turbo
- VXR doesn't match the romance of old V8 SS
If you think the new Civic Hatch looks a little lower-slung than its sedan sibling, that can likely be attributed to the crushing weight of expectation placed on its little metal shoulders.
See, this 10th-gen Civic might be the most important car Honda has ever made. While most manufacturers were pouring funds into their SUV ranges, Honda was diverting a huge chunk (heavily tipped to be a whopping 35 per cent) of their research and development budget into the Civic, using the evergreen nameplate as a key pin in their Australian comeback.
And with that much riding on it, it had to be good. In sedan form, which launched here last year, it mostly lived up to the hype, with Honda shifting more than 800 units per month. And with the Civic hatch finally touching down in Australia, Honda is hoping to add 1000 sales to the tally.
So the question now is, does this new hatch version shine, too?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
For many Australians, calling the new ZB a Commodore is tantamount to being forced to call your Mum’s new boyfriend ‘Dad.’
One big reason is that it was always going to be the next Commodore, even before Holden decided to stop building cars in Australia. Yes, it was even set to be built here.
Once the VE/VF Commodore’s Zeta platform was axed during General Motors’ post-GFC rationalisation, the next best thing was to align with the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia designed primarily for Europe.
Holden was actually involved with the new Insignia’s development from the beginning, which has led to some key details for the Commodore version and Australia, and a whole lot of input from our world-renowned Aussie engineering team.
So it’s a whole lot more Commodore than you may realise. Whether it lives up to its reputation is another matter.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
Energetic and engaging (if not quite sporty), the Civic hatch is quiet and comfortable around town, but it can more than hold its own on a twisting backroad, too. It’s looks will either appeal or not, but a lack of comprehensive safety equipment on the cheaper models is sure to ruffle some feathers.
For us, the cheapest way into the turbocharged engine forms the pick of the bunch, so we'd call the VTi-L the sweet spot.
So will the new Commodore become Australia's favourite car? I strongly doubt it, but it's not the car's fault, and it wouldn't be any different if it was a rear-wheel drive, V8, Australian-built sedan. Australian buying habits have just moved on, and diversified into a range of SUVs, small hatches and dual-cab utes.
Taken as an all-new entry in Holden's revitalised line-up though, the new Commodore ticks all the important boxes required of a mid-size to large passenger car these days. It may not be anywhere near as exciting as a 6.2-litre Redline sedan, ute or wagon, but it’s objectively a far better car overall, and you should definitely give it a drive before dismissing it.
The pick of the bunch in my eyes is the $39,490 RS Sportwagon with the 2.0-litre petrol engine. Yep, the best new Commodore is now a four-cylinder station wagon.
Be sure to check out what James Cleary thought of the new Commodore in prototype guise here:
The word 'polarising' is usually a thinly disguised way of saying 'lots of people don’t like it'. And the all-new Civic sedan was, well, very polarising. A glance at this new hatch version shows it hasn’t strayed too far from that design approach, either.
It’s as understated as a snakeskin suit in all grades, but nowhere is it quite so busy as in the RS trim level, in which the sporty trimmings jump out from every possible angle. Strangely, though, we quite like the way it looks, and it's undeniably an individual in the small car segment.
Inside, Honda has produced the comfortable and tech savvy interior that was missing from the outgoing model, but the sense of well executed semi-premium fades as you approach the spartan rear seat.
Aside from the move to a front-drive basis, the other key difference between the new Commodore and those of the past is its shift from a classic three-box sedan shape to a sleek, five-door Liftback. Even the Sportwagon has an elegant arc to its roofline, which is arguably their most appealing design element. There are no Ute or Caprice bodystyles, and there never will be.
The European-designed look is less macho than the bulging wheelarches of the VE and VF, but more in line with its European rivals like the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Superb.
The best way to identify specific models is by their wheels, with the trim levels split between a more elegant body trim on the entry, Calais, Calais-V and Tourer variants, and sportier body kits with side skirts and a rear spoiler on the RS, RS-V and VXR flagship.
The interior look is also best described as elegant, with fresh shapes that flow cohesively into the door trims and centre console. There’s a general air of quality about it, but it’s let down by some cheap-feeling controls and switches, particularly the climate control knobs.
The ZB’s overall size is bigger than you might think, with most dimensions fitting neatly between the VE/VF and the VT-VZ generation that preceded it.
You might be surprised to learn it’s no lightweight either, with the heaviest Calais-V Tourer actually outweighing the portliest VF by 31kg.
Interior dimensions are comparable with its predecessor, with the most significant differences being a narrower back seat thanks to its 36mm thinner body and 13mm less rear headroom in the Liftback (but 3mm more in the wagon).
Before the decision was made to source the new car from Germany, Holden was planning a longer wheelbase for Australia. One specific requirement that did reach fruition is the availability of a V6 engine, which isn’t fitted to European versions.
Under the skin it rides on GM’s E2XX platform, which is a significant evolution of the chassis that underpinned the previous Insignia and the now-defunct Holden Malibu.
Aside from having a say in every step of its design process, Holden engineers covered more than 200,000 kilometres of testing on Australian roads and at the Lang Lang proving ground.
This has been to fine tune the drivetrain calibrations, the steering, suspension, and even details like the sat nav and radio reception to suit our tastes and unique demands.
Specific suspension tunes have been developed for four cylinder models, the V6 Calais, V6 RS-V and the Tourer, with unique setups between Liftback and Sportwagon bodies.
The only version not to score an Australian suspension tune is the VXR, which was treated to a performance-focused setup at the Nürburgring in Germany.
The Civic hatch is surprisingly spacious in the cabin, where up front the two seats are split buy a central bin housing two of the fattest, deepest cupholders we’ve ever seen (that would be America’s 'Big Gulp' influence on the Civic’s design), along with a hidden USB and power source that sits behind the centre console, hiding the ugly chords while you’re plugged into touchscreen unit.
The back seat, is plenty spacious in the longer and wider hatch - which also sits on a 30mm longer wheelbase than the outgoing car - with more shoulder, leg and knee room for backseat riders.
Which is just as well, as there’s not much else happening back there, with no air vents, power outlets or USB points on offer, with just the two cupholders housed in a pulldown divider that separates the rear seat.
Another traditional Commodore trait to have taken a step backwards is its ability to carry three adults across the back seat. Admittedly only really an issue for taxi use, the ZB will certainly still swallow three, and likely three child seats, but less comfortably and more like the similarly sized Camry.
The Liftback’s reduced headroom didn’t matter for this 172cm tester, but if you were marginal in a VF you’d probably want to avoid spiking your hair.
The cabin ticks all the other important boxes for a modern family car, including twin cupholders front and rear, bottleholders in each door and two ISOFIX child seat mounts in the rear.
All get a good cluster of USB and 12V charge points, while the RS-V models upwards get a big bonus with wireless phone charging.
The Liftback's boot space is only slightly down on before at 490 litres, but the huge opening created by the five-door design is so much more useful in the real world. It also brings a split-fold back seat for the first time in a non-wagon Commodore.
The Sportwagon has lost around 100 litres in capacity though, but is still a very useful 560 litres to seat height or 793 litres to the roof.
Holden’s local team has also developed a range of optional accessories for the Commodore, which includes a bonnet protector, weather shield, towbar, boot liner, floor mats, headlight protectors, sill guards, locking wheel nuts, roof racks and a cargo net, but there’s no sign of a cargo barrier, nudge bar or bullbar at this stage.
Price and features
Thanks to what Honda refers to as its “One Civic” philosophy, this new hatch lineup perfectly mirrors the sedan range that was launched here last year, with the only major change being the ‘Ring-burning Type R, which will be hatch-only when it arrives later in 2017.
And that means the five-strong Hatch range kicks off with the entry-level VTi ($22,390) before stepping up to the VTi-S ($24,490) and the VTi-L ($27,790). Next up is the sport-sprinkled RS ($32,290), before the range tops out with the high-flying VTi-LX ($33,590).
Entry-level shoppers will make do 16-inch steel wheels, fabric seats and single-zone climate control, but there are some nice and premium-feeling flourishes, like LED DRLs, a 7.0-inch touchscreen that’s now Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped and a second colour screen in the driver’s binnacle for your trip information.
Stepping up to the VTi-S adds 16-inch alloy wheels, integrated LED indicators in your wing mirrors and proximity locking and unlocking, along with some clever safety stuff we’ll come back to under the Safety heading.
Along with a better engine (more on that in a moment), springing for the VTi-L will earn you 17-inch alloy wheels, twin-zone climate control and automatic windows in both rows, while the sporty-flavoured RS adds LED fog and headlights, along with a hearty dose of sporty styling courtesy of a bumper kit, skirting and a liberal splashing of piano black highlights.
Inside the RS gets leather trimmed seats, a better 10-speaker stereo and and a standard sunroof, too.
Finally, the range-topping Civic - the VTi-LX - gets satellite navigation, and a fairly comprehensive suite of safety kit.
Aligning with the Insignia’s European platform has bumped the Commodore right up to speed with the current status quo of features expected in such a family car.
Available Commodore firsts include standard auto emergency braking (AEB) on all models, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree / surround-view cameras, massage and ventilated seats, heated rear seats, wireless phone charging, LED headlights and a power tailgate on the wagons. Like most new cars, there’s no more CD player or DVD player with the radio and other multimedia options.
The broad model range is split into LT, RS, RS-V, Calais, Calais-V, VXR trim levels, while the off-road flavoured Tourer is split into Calais and Calais-V versions.
All bar the Tourer and VXR are available with either Liftback or Sportwagon ($2200 extra) bodystyles, while the 2.0-litre turbo engine is standard in the LT, RS and Calais. The V6 with all-wheel drive is available in the RS, RS-V, Calais-V, VXR and both Tourer trims, while the diesel engine is limited to the LT and Calais.
The base LT Liftback drops the Commodore entry point by $1800 with a list price of $33,690. The diesel engine is available in either bodystyle for an extra $3000.
Standard features include the aforementioned AEB, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in addition to Bluetooth connectivity with a 7.0-inch multimedia screen, reversing camera, auto parking, a leather steering wheel, an eight-way power driver’s seat, proximity keys, auto headlights and wipers, air conditioning and 17-inch alloy rims.
The RS kicks off at $37,290, or $40,790 in V6 AWD guise, and brings sports front seats, steering wheel and body kit, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and bigger 18-inch alloys, while the Sportwagon version gets a power tailgate.
The V6 AWD RS-V commands $46,990, and adds leather seats, heated front seats, paddle shifters a larger 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in GPS navigation system and DAB+ digital radio, a colour head-up display, wireless phone charger, interior ambient lighting, upgraded Hi Per strut suspension and a sportier rear bumper.
The $40,990 Calais is also available with the diesel engine for an extra $3000, or as the V6 AWD Tourer wagon for $45,990.
The Calais sits closer to the LT on features, but adds leather trim, front seat heaters, 8-inch multimedia screen with built-in GPS navigation system and DAB+ digital radio, wireless phone charging, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and 18-inch alloys.
The Calais Tourer scores a ride height lift (overall height up 42mm) and off-road styled unpainted wheel-arch moulds and bumper caps.
The $51,990 Calais-V adds a Bose premium sound system, ventilated front seats, a massage function and powered side bolsters for the driver’s seat, heated rear seats, a sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, 360 degree cameras, colour head-up display, adaptive LED headlights and 20-inch alloys. The Liftback version gets an electronic sunroof, while the Tourer version gets a panoramic glass roof.
The top-spec VXR is closest to the RS-V in terms of features, but for $55,990 it adds VXR-specific sports seats with power adjustable bolsters and ventilation up front, heated rear seats, Bose premium audio, adaptive suspension, adaptive cruise control, Brembo brakes, VXR floor mats and sill plates, active LED headlights, 360-degree camera, electric sunroof, and 20-inch alloy wheels.
From launch, Holden is offering drive-away pricing across several models, with on-road costs included. The LT petrol Liftback is available for $35,990, while the RS Liftaback is being offered for $38,990 with the 2.0-litre turbo and $42,490 with the V6. The Calais Tourer is also being offered for $47,990 drive away.
The available colours are spread across two whites, two reds, silver, grey, black and blue, with some only available on certain models. All bar the non-metallic white and red will cost you an extra $550, but there’s no sign of the green, purple, orange, or yellow we’ve seen over the past decade.
Engine & trans
Like the sedan version, there are two engine choices on offer, with the cheaper option a 1.8-litre petrol engine, good for 104kW at 6500rpm and 174Nm at 4300rpm found in the VTi and VTi-S trim levels.
The better option, though, is a perky turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine that will push 127kW at 5500rpm and 220Nm at 1700rpm to the front tyres.
Both engines are partnered with a CVT automatic transmission, with or without wheel-mounted shifters, depending on the trim level.
No, there’s no more V8, manual transmission or rear wheel drive, but the ZB’s options are more in sync with its newer rivals.
For the first time since the VH, or 1984, the base engine is a four-cylinder petrol unit, but uses modern tech like direct injection and a turbo to boost power statistics to more than triple that of the infamous Starfire engine. Also seen in the Equinox, the new turbo motor’s 191kW is also notably 6kW more than the 5.0-litre V8 in the VL Group A SS (Walkinshaw), and 1kW more than the 3.6-litre V6 was making in top-spec VZ Commodores – so pretty good horsepower for its engine size.
The real story is its healthy 350Nm of torque, which is also more than what the same VZs were making, but on tap from a useful 3000-4000rpm.
The latest version of the 3.6-litre Alloytec V6 that’s seen duty in VZ, VE and VF models makes a reappearance as the new performance leader, but mounted sideways and turning all four wheels this time. In ZB trim, it produces 235kW and 381Nm, the latter from 5200rpm.
For the first time, you can also choose a diesel option with LT and Calais trims, which is a version of the engine used in the previous Opel Insignia. You’ll also find it under the bonnet of the Jeep Cherokee and Compass, and its applications spread as wide as the Alfa Romeo 159 that ended production in 2011. In Commodore guise, the turbo 2.0-litre engine specs are 125kW and 400Nm (available from 1750-2500rpm), and therefore taking out the torque trophy for the ZB range.
Both petrol engines are paired with a nine-speed torque converter automatic transmission, while the diesel has an eight-speed gearbox. Both four-cylinder engines are front-wheel drive, while all V6 variants are all-wheel drive.
The all-wheel drive system is actually quite clever, using what’s called a Twinster twin-clutch rear differential for finite torque vectoring, or sending the just the right amount of power to each wheel. The system varies torque distribution between 100 per cent front and a 50/50 split.
If you think the Commodore has gone soft, its towing capacity ratings also suggest otherwise, with a 2100kg maximum braked rating for V6 models matching the best offered previously. The four cylinder models are rated at 1800kg, which is 200kg better than what the previous 3.0-litre V6 and LPG models carried.
Fuel use is pretty impressive across the board, with the 1.8-litre engine sipping a claimed combined 6.4-litres per hundred kilometres, while the turbocharged version needs just 6.2 litres on the same cycle.
Emissions are pegged at 150 and 142 grams per kilometre of C02 respectively.
As you’d hope, the ZB sets a new Commodore benchmark for fuel consumption, with the diesel models managing a best official combined figure of 5.6L/100km. The petrol four-cylinder models also pip the VF’s best combined fuel economy figure of 8.3L/100km with 7.4 and 7.6L/100km for the LT, RS and Calais Liftbacks respectively. The Sportwagon versions wear 7.7 and 7.9L/100km figures, while V6 versions span 8.9-9.3L/100km combined ratings.
It’s worth noting that the petrol four-cylinder engine needs premium 95RON unleaded to do its best, while the V6 is happy to run on regular 91RON unleaded. All versions have a 61.7-litre fuel tank.
Honda struggles a little in explaining exactly what its new 1.5-litre turbo-powered Civic is.
Is it a hot hatch? Nope, the incoming Type R will handle those duties. Oh, so it's a warm hatch, then? Not really - it's mechanically identical (same engine, gearbox and suspension) to the other, top-tier Civics. In fact, only the brand of tyres seperate the RS from the more luxurious VTi-LX.
"We would say it's a 'sporting hatch'," says Honda's head honcho, Stephen Collins.
And sporting it is, with its clever turbocharged 1.5-litre engine a willing and perky unit, delivering plenty of oomph all over the rev range and with no noticeable, soul-destroying lag in its power delivery.
The steering, too, has a sporty flavouring, it's super direct, and offers such crisp direction changes that you have to pay keen attention driving, as even the slightest input will see you steering out of your lane. And while the ride is a little crashy through bumps, it pays you back with composed cornering antics that see the front wheels hanging on to the tarmac for much longer than you might expect.
But the best trick of the 1.5-litre engine is that it doesn't require much accelerator to make it move, which means there's never too much strain on the CVT auto in town. And, given the auto is both loud and intrusive when you ask too much of it, that can only be a good thing.
Like most CVT 'boxes, it's quiet and composed in city driving, but loud and with a tendency to surge when you start to test it. So much so that heavy acceleration requires a kind of lucky dip as to when to back off the throttle, with the Civic continuing to accelerate for a moment or so even once you get off the gas.
Happily, then, the 1.8-litre models are much easier to classify. They're the cheap ones.
It's a a simple, honest and hardworking engine that feels both slower and slower to respond than its newer, turbocharged sibling, but is more than capable of getting up to speed, even if it struggles to add pace from the mid-range onward.
The Commodore we know and most of us love is just as famous for its quality driving experience as its local production and motorsport successes. So, the ZB has some big shoes to fill in this area.
At the ZB’s media launch, we drove everything aside from the base LT or any diesel variant, over several hundred kilometres of pretty much every road condition.
I’ll cut to the chase. There’s a genuine quality to the way they handle Australian road conditions. We drove them back to back with a UK-spec model at Lang Lang, and while you’d expect the local car to excel at its own test facility, the rear and front suspension work in harmony to handle mid-corner bumps with far greater stability than the alternative. The electric power steering weighting was also lighter, but it didn’t seem to lose any precision.
You probably wouldn’t notice it driving to the shops every day or cruising on the highway, but this on-limit controllability could easily be the difference between life and death in an emergency.
The turbo four is a surprisingly capable and refined package, and would honestly be my pick if I were in the market. It’s smoother and more tractable than the V6, so feels like it would deliver speed more readily than the bigger engine unless you were going flat out.
Holden isn’t quoting official 0-100km/h acceleration figures, but we hear the petrol four is good for a 7.0 second-ish time, and the V6 will manage just over 6.0sec. So there’s really not much in it outright.
Therefore it’s a shame you can’t get the Tourer with the petrol four, but because the combination is available in Europe, Holden could shift the line-up if there’s enough demand.
The nine-speed auto does a pretty good job with either engine, and its electronic brain does a slick job of seamlessly adjusting its shift behaviour to your driving style.
Holden isn’t quoting ground clearance figures, but all have enough to handle dirt roads, and while the 17-inch wheel equipped models match the VF II’s 11.4m turning circle, be aware that the 18-inch wheel variants blow out to 11.7m, the 19s are 12.7m, and Holden doesn’t quote a figure for the 20-inch equipped Calais-V Liftback and VXR.
The only other surprise among the group we drove is the Calais-V Liftback, which is likely to be a bit too sharp in its ride for some luxury buyers on its big 20-inch alloy wheels. The Calais or one of the Tourers would be your best bet for comfort.
The VXR performance flagship is a completely different personality to the SS models of the past. It’s nowhere near as fast, but is more of a grownup package that’s easier to get the best out of.
Its more demure than the brash final VF IIs, and the V6 does make a pretty sweet note, even if half of it is coming from the speakers.
Nothing was ever going to replicate the romance and pride of the last SS, but all is not lost for fans of fast Holdens.
While some of its key competitor are throwing safety functions at all trim levels, with Honda it’s still sadly a case of you get what you pay for.
The entry-level VTi, for example, makes do with six airbags (front, front-side and curtain) and a 180-degree reversing camera, opting for the VTi-S, VTi-L or RS adds front and rear parking sensors and Honda’s cool 'LaneWatch' (with activates a side-mounted camera when you indicate, beaming an image of the lane running alongside the lefthand-side of the car up onto the 7.0-inch screen).
The entire Civic range was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
All versions of the new Commodore come with a maximum five star ANCAP safety rating, which has been measured against 2017 standards. The VF’s five star rating was based on 2013 standards.
As mentioned above, all versions get standard AEB and ISOFIX child seat mounts, plus features like lane keep assist and departure warning, auto parking, a reversing camera with front and rear sensors and six airbags covering both rows of seats.
All versions also get a novel following distance indicator to help you gauge a safe distance from the car in front. This could serve as excellent driver training, and worth having a go with on a test drive.
RS variants upwards get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, while only the Calais-V and VXR get 360-degree /surround-view camera setups.
Holden is currently offering a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assistance to help boost sales, but be on the lookout for the return of this deal if you miss out this time. Normally, the Commodore carries the standard three year/100,000km warranty.
Service intervals are now 12month/12,000km, which have shifted from the previous 9month/15,000km terms.
Service costs are capped for the first seven trips to the workshop, with petrol models costing $259, $299, $259, $359, $359, $359 and $259, or a total of $2153 over seven years or 84,000km. The diesel is actually slightly better value at $259, $359, $259, $399, $359 and $399, or $2134 over the same period.