European-sourced Holden’s on their way

European-sourced Holden’s on their way

While the debate rages as to what will replace the Commodore as Holden’s large car come 2018 – there are new lion-badged options coming far sooner that deserve a look – and may provide clues in themselves.

The company announced earlier this year the return of European sourced models to its line up – the Cascada cabriolet, Astra GTC hatch/coupe and the large sedan Insignia VXR.

2014 Insignia wagon rear 3:4All will wear Holden-badges but come from General Motor’s German Opel division, with a hand in from Vauxhall in the United Kingdom.

Kiwi’s were big fans of these European products when they were here in the past. Astra proved an antipodean favourite, and the Insiginia is effectively the next generation of Vectra – both long since replaced by product brewed a little closer to home – the Australian and Korean-produced Cruze and Korean-built Malibu.

With the need to protect local produc2014 Insignia interiortion now released, the company can dabble in what is available to it from the huge GM model menu.

Auto Media Group took the chance to sample what is coming on a recent trip to Europe – and came away excited – and concerned.

It is easy to see the family resemblance between the Commodore and Insiginia – particularly in wild-kitted VXR mode. They share a family grille – the badges are even fairly similar.

There is such a resemblance that you may have missed that it is an Insignia, and not a Commodore, that Holden has slipped in as the hero car in its recent brand television advertising.

The Insignia feels notably smaller, although the numbers indicated the gap is not that big. An insignia is 180mm shorter in the wheelbase, 117mm shorter,  42mm narrower, but it is 26mm taller than its Aussie cousin.

We drove a Insiginia station wagon, which was somewhat disappointing in the storage stakes. No matter, we are not getting that in New Zealand, just a neatly-finished sedan. We are not getting the six-speed manual transmission either, just an auto. The manual is a good box considering its high-horsepower task, but the clutch is knee-numbingly heavy.

The heart of the VXR is a 2.8-litre petrol V6. Plumbed to a single, twin-scroll turbo and an intercooler, the unit puts out 239kW at 5250rpm and 435Nm of torque at 5250rpm. It is a familiar unit to Holden, originally coming out of  the Port Melbourne engine plant alongside other GM units.

The turbocharged-variant of the GM High Feature V6 was originally developed in conjunction with Saab – but they do not have a lot of use for it these days.

As expected for a large, turbocharged V6, it has a thirst, combined consumption for European versions is rated at 11.4L/100km.

The joy in this engine is in its power delivery. Torque is prodigous, and feels as if it is delivered the second you think pleasant thoughts about the gas pedal. Factory Brembo brakes match the exuberance.

For New Zealand that power will be funnelled through a six-speed-automatic to a Haldex style all-wheel-drive system with an electronic limited slip differential in the rear. The front suspension uses a modified MacPherson strut setup aimed at reducing torque steer called ‘HiPerStrut’.

Normally the system will send 90% of torque through the front wheels of the car, but push the ‘VXR’ button mounted on the middle of the dash and the split moves to 60/40 – and makes other changes along the way. The ride, using HSV-style magnetic-ride shocks,  firms up, the electronic power steering weights up, and the electronic throttle tuning shifts to give you 100% of go in the first half of the pedal travel.

The result is a vehicle that goes like  rocket, rides firmly when you want it to, but comfortably when you don’t. For a smooth, fast, tourer or cruiser, it is immense. It will run 0-100km in about six-seconds.

On the United Kingdom’s smooth motorways and A-roads, the Insignia was perfect for eating huge miles. Comfortable, and quick away from the many roundabouts on the highway system.

Holden needs to put the Recaro seats from the Insignia in every performance vehicle they build. The seats are firm – but not enough to be uncomfortable – and have great lateral grip without squeezing our often-generous kiwi thighs.

What is not to like? The interior features a MyLink-like multifunction screen that extends to the instrument binnacle, even the speedo is of the LCD screen variety. It is tacky and overcomplicated – and well behind the GM system Holden puts in the Commodore and most of its range.

The other big let-down is the steering. When pushed there is little feeling, and even less feedback. When even big cars now feature relatively responsive tillers, the Insignia is a letdown.

Still, there is  an update likely to the Insignia before it arrives on our shores. Lets hope Holden’s team get to tweak that one let down before it arrives in New Zealand.

And that is where my concern comes in. The VXR is great, but it lacks the polish and the something special which Holden’s team brings to a vehicle.

Astra-l cruising

2014 Astra coupe front 3:4Holden will be hoping there are plenty of Astra owners still in New Zealand awaiting a replacement to their much loved car.

Because come 2015 they will have something decent to offer.

From a four-bodystyle Astra range available in other parts of the world, Holden are bringing just one into New Zealand – the GTC three-door hatch/coupe – and in two versions, a GTC and a VXR – the latter coming with a stonking 200+kW 2.0-litre turbocharged engine.

We drove the more run-of-the-mill GTC – but were surprised by what the lesser Astra had to offer.

There is one notable difference between the Astra GTC we drove and the one that will slip into the Holden range. While the basic GTC for New Zealand will feature Holden’s 1.6-litre turbo-charged petrol engine, producing around 147kW@5500rpm and 280 Nm of torque from 1650 to 3500 rpm. Ours ran a far-weaker 88kw 1.4-litre turbo.

The interior is familiar to southern hemisphere drivers. The gauges and most of the switch gear are from the same parts bin, as what we see here on the  Cruze. It is dated, but if anything, a little better put together and planned – to the extent that the back seat will take three surprisingly, and the boot space is extensive – if restricted by a high entry lip.

Where the GTC will truly shine for Holden is its chassis. It is incredibly good comfortable but wonderful at the flowing country roads common in rural Ireland.

The steering is a standout – direct and well weighted but not heavy. It is a chassis that deserves more power – and here with the 1.6-liter and even more potent VXR versions on the way, it will get it. The GTC gets the same HiPerStrut setup as the Insignia, giving a wider track than other Astras.

The GTC succeeds where the Cruze has not quite met the mark – it is as involving and direct to drive as the benchmark Ford Focus and other European competitors.

The decision to include only the premium engines will no doubt enhance that.

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