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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Calais V V8 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, dynamics, ride, spacious interior, value, suitability to Australian conditions, rear-drive fun, standard stability control
Room for improvement
No split-fold rear seat, some iffy quality issues, image lags behind Calais’ superb abilities

1 Mar 2007

HOW many truly handsome sedans are there for under $60,000?

The Chrysler 300C polarises opinion, yet we suspect even a fair few of its detractors are secretly taken in by the American car’s broad-shouldered brawn.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Mazda’s Six and the Honda Accord Euro are still very pretty so late in their model life, while the Alfa 159 and Volvo’s S40 are head-turning delights in their own right.

To this elite group of affordable aesthetic three-box sedans, may we induct the Holden VE Calais?

In up-spec V-series guise, with its 18-inch seven-spoke alloys beautifully filling those fantastically flared wheelarches, the most luxurious Commodore model ticks all the right boxes.

We love the l-o-n-g bonnet, high shoulder line, clear boot and tail-light treatment and clean shutlines. The VE’s powerful silhouette is as hedonistic in its cab-backwards one-finger salute against the sea of front-wheel drive sedans in this price segment as it is appealing.

About the only reservations we have concerns the somewhat anonymous headlight and grille treatment – but at least it’s still very attractively and professionally executed anyway.

More importantly, scratch the surface and you will see that there is real talent beyond the Calais V’s beauty.

This car’s ability to soak big bumps is astounding, absorbing road irregularities like no steel-sprung modern car we can think of.

Yet it is the Calais’ steering and handling finesse that will change most people’s minds about where the Commodore ranks as a driver’s car.

As with all VEs, this car corners with formidable confidence and security, while still telegraphing to the driver the road surface state of play.

Slightly quicker steering responses, like that of the highly sophisticated Falcon, would be preferable, but not really necessary here, since the Calais V does achieve an impressive luxury/sports package balance.

As it stands, it boasts a new-found level of dynamic discipline and linearity for a Holden.

Whether we’re talking about the way it goes or the way it sounds, the performance from Chevrolet’s new Gen IV 6.0-litre 90-degree pushrod L98 V8 is nothing short of outstanding.

Metaphorically speaking, this engine, with its 270kW power peak (at a heady 5700rpm) bursts into life the instant you tickle the throttle, and makes a very persuasive pro-V8 argument as all 530Nm of torque is available from 4400rpm.

A high-flow, quad-outlet exhaust titillates visually as well as aurally too, completing the seductively muscular package that the Calais V series V8 offers.

Performance is especially responsive when the 6L80E six-speed automatic gearbox is left in SPT sport mode, as the gearchanges become quicker, smoother and more regular than they already are.

As for the 12.0L/100km fuel consumption best we achieved with gentle driving... well, since we were hardly compelled to plod on sedately, we ended up averaging well over 15.0L/100km. But we were prepared and fully expected to pay such a price for the V8 rumble.

The brakes also seem up the task in keeping all those American horses in check, while on loose gravel at around the national speed limit the VE’s directional stability needs to be experienced to be believed.

There is perhaps a little too much vibration and harshness from the gearbox at take-off, but this is only momentary and obvious only if you’re actually nitpicking in a car that is so obviously suited to Australian conditions.

Yet there is a very European overtone to the way this Holden is presented once you step inside, where a very strong Volkswagen/Audi vibe greets you.

In the Calais, an attractive two-tone dash – that’s bisected by a honeycomb aluminium-like horizontal strip – reveals an impressive depth of thought that has gone into the design and layout.

Like many German cars, symmetry plays a big role in the centre console’s appearance, dominated by a large LCD screen that is situated above the integrated audio and climate-control systems.

It works extremely well, is easy to fathom and reach, and looks better than anything Holden has ever produced before.

The same goes for the Calais’ instrumentation, which scores for clarity and use, although there may be too many trip-computer-related functions spread across the three little LCD screens.

Other plus points include a comfortably large wheel that adjusts for reach and height, and features spoke-mounted audio and trip computer functions, excellent (and classy) retractable door bins, and suitably upmarket upper-door trim and roof lining.

Space won’t be an issue for anybody either, with ample adjustment to facilitate what are four extremely comfortable outboard seating positions.

Holden has done a brilliant job in creating a great entertainment environment, with a beautifully integrated roof-sited rear DVD player and superb sound from the Blaupunkt system.

The Calais’ cabin habitat hasn’t quite hit a home run, however, and the slightly-cheapo lower-dash materials are just the beginning.

In our early-build VE edition, excessive wind noise blighted the driver’s A-pillar and door mirror area, while some plastic dashboard trim near the base of the windscreen has started to peel away.

Rear vision is terrible – the Calais’ visual and audio parking sensors are a boon but can’t beat seeing out for yourself – and the rear-centre seat is a kids-only affair. The transmission hump is the main culprit here.

We know why Holden has placed the power window switches beside the controversial Saab 9-3-style integrated handbrake lever (for easy left-hand drive conversion), but we still believe this isn’t a good enough reason to do it, when using them is awkward.

We also think that omitting a split/fold rear seat – in this day and age of versatile SUVs and MPVs – is a silly move. As the Ford Falcon has proved for years now, that old argument about structural integrity loss and its effect on ride and handling just doesn’t cut it.

Finally, some passengers lamented how much of that fabulous V8 engine noise filters into the cabin. Our gripe is that the six-speed automatic transmission’s whine is too audible for a car in this price sector.

Yet, in the scheme of things, there is very little that is wrong with any VE Commodore interior, and plenty that Holden should be extremely proud of.

You could buy this car on value alone and come away satisfied. That it looks and drives so well means that the VE Calais V Series is like a gift that keeps on giving. We cannot think of a more rounded Australian sports/luxury sedan, Holden’s WM Caprice included.

Like an automotive Hugh Jackman crossed with Cate Blanchett, this Aussie’s got the former’s looks as well as the latter’s talent to take on the world... and win.

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