Not too long ago Holden invited the public to attend several Drive Days at their Lang Lang Proving Ground. The Holden brand has of course, gone through the biggest change of the past 50+ years with the closure of local manufacturing, seeing the end of their much loved, Australian-built Commodore. The change was well documented, from online coverage to print press, and the Australian public showed no shortage of love, fondness, and sadness that an important part of Australian automotive history had turned the page.
For the many consumers who have been part of the Holden story in Australia, an opportunity to drive Holden brand automobiles at their Proving Ground had come many times previously, in fact, many on the trip had been before. For me it was a no brainer as about 30 seconds after they sent out invitation emails I had RSVP’d yes. It was a fantastic opportunity to discover some of the inner workings of vehicle testing and to meet some of those instrumental in preparing vehicles for tough Australian conditions. Above all else, it was an opportunity for the general public to drive and see the new European-sourced Commodore and other new Holden vehicles.
Part of Holden’s goal was to connect directly to consumers and to provide access and answers for those questioning the company’s footing now that they are primarily an importer rather than a manufacturer (bizarrely, there’s a great deal of the general public who believe post-manufacturing that Holden are “no more” and that they have ceased to exist).
Lang Lang Proving Ground has of course, been an important aspect of the Holden brand. Countless vehicles of all shapes and sizes have had to prove their mettle on the variety of courses designed and built to push vehicles to the limits of the roads. It is also a vital part of General Motors’ global portfolio, as GM often send many of their vehicles for testing at Lang Lang (the lot was speckled with various GM vehicles- from Cadillacs to GMCs). It’s like automotive bootcamp.
Holden bussed us to Lang Lang and after all the top secret business was concluded (waivers, cameras censored) we were given a run down of Lang Lang, safety procedures and an overview of what was in store for the day. We were paired up with Holden instructors and engineers who would provide us with insight and tech-related answers to the new cars. It was a fantastic way to meet some of the people who spend many hours working on what we don’t ever see in these cars. Along with the new Commodore, we were given the chance to drive the new Holden Astra and the new Colorado and Trailblazer. This meant we got the gamut of driving experiences- slalom course with the new Astra, hillside trek in the new Commodore, and off-roading with the Colorado and Trailblazer.
We were placed in the Calais, LT and RS variants of the Commodore- and while these weren’t production models, they were able to give us a taste of the most important aspects of the new car. Both the FWD and AWD versions of the car handled spectacularly well. Whether it was taking tight corners or climbing up hill, there was a lot of kick in both the 2.0 litre engines and the higher spec 6 cylinder ones.
I am most impressed by the handling- as I took a tight turn the instructor told me to punch it out of the corner. In my current ride I tend not to push hard out of corners in order to avoid oversteer, but in the new Commodore, the back end never spun out and it gripped that corner with speed and ease. I think the new Commodores (even the base LT variant) will surprise many, with not only the tech features but the finish.
We got to see a near production VXR as well, and while SS owners may remain skeptical, I can only say that the VXR will prove to be more than capable, if not, exceed the lofty performance standards set by its SS predecessors. Don’t sleep on the new Commodore.
You know, sometimes there are few nicer things than being truly surprised. And the new Astra hatch is one of those surprises. Tech’d up to a T and packed with sleeper car like performance, the Astra in RS-V trim was an absolute delight. The highlight of the Astra run was getting a chance to meet Rob Trubiani, who is Holden’s chief dynamics engineer, and part of the crew responsible for so much of the brand’s tuning/suspension/dynamics/engineering work. He is also the man who holds the Nurburgring record for fastest ute around the track. Safe the say the man knows how to drive.
He showed us how to smash the slalom track and offered 3 lucky people to sit in the car with him as he demonstrated (of course I volunteered). It was like a tornado through a track as he was able to curve, bend and turn the Astra in ways I never thought possible for a car like that. And perhaps one of the highlights of my day was that when it was my turn, he was the instructor in the car with me and I think I somewhat impressed him with my slalom run.
(On a side note, he asked me what car I drive and when I told him I drove a Redline he told me that he was responsible for the suspension and asked if I liked how it was done. It was like Michaelangelo asking if you liked the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel…)
Off roading isn’t my forte by any stretch, a novice at best, but after a couple of runs through Holden’s extensive off-road track in a Z71 Colorado, I didn’t want to do anything else except buy a Colorado and find an off-road track. Learning to off road is a complicated but extremely fun activity, and the small taste of how hard it is to get it right has given me a new found outlook at owning a 4×4 and exploring some of Australia’s more rugged natural landscapes. I’ve had to tell my wife that someday we are getting a truck, and if that happens to be here in Australia, then you can bet it’ll be a Colorado.
Change is inevitable, and while we we mourn the loss of Australian-based manufacturing, it is pertinent to see that brands like Holden aren’t going anywhere. The ebbs and flows of the world’s industries dictate that importing is the smart and viable option for a better future. The vehicles that will come to dictate the strength of the brand were in full show, and while it may take time to change long established brand perceptions, they have plenty of quality products to do it with. We also got to see the new Equinox and Commodore Tourer, two other strong vehicles that will help Holden shift their strengths to a more global focused automotive company.
With news that Holden and HSV will continue to expand their vehicle portfolio, its clear that, on a day like a Drive Day, there was and is, so much more to Holden than local manufacturing. While that part of the Lion’s history will forever be an important and memorable chapter, it is clear that for Holden, the future is now.
The new Holden Commodore will hit showrooms in February 2018. The new Astra, Colorado and Trailblazer are all available now. Photos courtesy of Holden.