Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Calais sedan
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Space, gutsy V6, impressive economy for size, easy and cheap parts and service, locally honed for Aussie conditions, Calais luxury features and comfort
Room for improvement
Engine and transmission not the last word in refinement, build quality not up to scratch
9 May 2003
SINCE the VN series was released in 1988, the Calais has been continuously upgraded and refined.
General Motors took what was a fairly ordinary car and by the time the VP Series 2 was released transformed it into a good car with much improved refinement, quality and finish.
But the VR Series 1 and 2 was a huge improvement over its predecessors. It lifted the Commodore from the pretty good value for money category to a car which challenged both local and imported competitors for the lead in almost every area important to the buyer.
Most of the exterior body panels were new although the major dimensions and interior space remained the same as the VN/VP series.
Assembly quality, safety and value for money made the VR a very good car and Holden's efforts were rewarded with a car of the year award in 1993 and record-breaking sales figures.
The Calais, sold as a sedan only, is at the top end of the four equipment levels in the Commodore range so it has just about everything in the way of safety, comfort and convenience.
Some of the major features are driver's side airbag, climate control, an eight-speaker CD-compatible audio system with controls on the steering wheel and power windows.
The only options were leather interior trim, a long-range fuel tank and sports suspension.
Late 1994 marked the release of the VR Series 2 which was a marketing ploy to divert attention from the release of Ford's new EF Falcon until the VS Commodore and Calais were launched eight months later.
The Series 2 badge suggests major changes. In reality they were relatively minor but nevertheless worthwhile trim, equipment and mechanical improvements.
The 3.8-litre V6 engine still uses old-fashioned pushrods to operate the two valves per cylinder. Constant development improved the power output to a competitive 130kW while retaining good fuel economy considering the size and weight of the Calais.
The engine uses balance shafts to reduce noise and vibration but it still does not match the Japanese multi-camshaft rivals for smoothness and refinement.
The Calais has strong low and medium-speed torque so it has good all-round performance with effortless highway cruising.
Transmissions were either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. The vast majority of buyers plumped for the automatic.
One of the major improvements to the VR over previous models is the suspension.
The wider front track and improved geometry matched up to independent rear suspension give the Calais competent handling and a firm but compliant ride.
There is always strong demand for a good, well cared for Calais so the used prices have held up well.
As a full size, luxury family car with reasonable running costs, the VR Calais is hard to beat.
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