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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Calais sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Great design, classy interior, compliant ride, crisp steering, good build quality
Room for improvement
Brake pedal feel, fussy handbrake lever, console cup holders, sliding armrest, driver’s door squeak

9 Aug 2006

SINCE the mid-1980s the Calais has been the luxury pinnacle of the Commodore range.

It represented prestige motoring, with plenty of "bling" to impress buyers looking for something more but lacking the deep pockets needed for a European car.

Over the years it has developed into a bit of a driver’s car, too, as a younger demographic of buyers demanded luxury and a sportier handling package. Tweaks to the suspension delivered a firmer ride and more precise handling.

And, with VE, that message has carried over.

Like other models in the VE range, the Calais benefits from a wider track and longer wheelbase than the VZ, assisting the car to feel well planted on the road.

It shares its suspension with the sportier models – SV6, SS and SS V – so there is a little meatiness to the ride and handling. So sharp is the steering and composed the ride that buyers of more expensive European cars may want to give this Holden more than a passing glance when it hits showrooms next month.

On the road the Calais acquits itself with all the aplomb and well-rounded composure experienced in the other VE variants.

The five-speed GM automatic mates well to the High Output 195kW/340Nm V6, holding up changes where needed and down-changing on long hilly descents. The V6’s exhaust note – not a strong point previously – is also less asthmatic through the dual exhausts.

Fuel economy was also a commendable 9.4L/100km of mixed country and city driving across our test run.

Around town, the Calais’s ride is firm but beautifully controlled, meaning most passengers will not notice the firmer suspension settings. At higher speeds the ride smoothes out and the Calais soaks up bumps with almost German-inspired suspension confidence. Unlike some Germans though, and like any good Australian car, it will also soak up those big, unexpected potholes without complaint.

Meanwhile, the brakes, although strong and fade-free, felt over-servoed and required a hefty push to operate. The stronger body and better build quality also deliver a serene cabin that has little wind or road noise.

The cabin is suitably equipped to differentiate it from lesser Commodores with comfy electric leather and fabric seats, although the grey strip across the dashboard does nothing for the interior ambience. The Calais V gets real aluminium.

However, other touches, such as the chrome detailing around the premium white-lit instruments, speaker surrounds and the genuine chrome door levers look classy. The up-market fabric finish on the ceiling and A-pillars and logical treatment of the dual-zone air-conditioning and audio controls in the multi-function console display screen also scream class.

The last word must go to the scroll wheels on the multi-function steering wheel and easy-to-read trip computer. They may well look suspiciously Audi but they work and look good.

Missing though are the neat fold-out cup holders – from Saab no less – which were in the VZ. The relocation of the cup holders behind the auto shifter on the console has done nothing for their practicality or access. Water bottles in these centre console cup holders make it difficult to access the console bin, which has a fiddly small latch.

Visually, the Calais misses out on some of the exterior "jewellery" that is on the upper-spec Calais V, which is a shame. Side-by-side, the Calais almost looks like a lesser Berlina, except for the distinctive 17-inch five-spoke alloys and projector headlights. Extra chrome would help differentiate it more.

The Calais does manage to get a dash of chrome across the top of the grille and chrome ringed fog-lights as well as door surrounds but that’s about it.

Inside, the car also misses on some of the V’s sweeteners, like the hopper bin fold-out door pockets, front parking sonars, rain-sensing wipers, rear DVD player and two-tone colour scheme.

But overall the Calais’s $45,490 entry price presents a compelling argument for buyers looking for a local big car with some panache.

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