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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Calais V

Our Opinion

We like
Price tag and looks take fight up to European cars, huge leap in driver assistance technology, the best premium Australian-made passenger car yet
Room for improvement
Low-profile 19-inch tyres look good but don’t help the ride, collision warning system won’t jump on the brakes, V8 feels heavy

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Holden logo29 May 2013

By BARRY PARK

HOLDEN’S flagship Commodore doesn’t really need much editorial space. In summary, it is the best value, best equipped, most desirable Australian-made car ever. Full stop. Now, go out and arrange to test-drive one.

However, we can’t really do that. Instead, we should try and make sense of those quite remarkable claims.

When it comes to the Calais V, I don’t take much convincing. It’s available with either the 3.6-litre V6 costing a smidge under $50,000, or the 6.0-litre V8 for a smidge over, though, I’d rather have the V6 and tip the change into the fuel tank.

When you think about it, the Calais V is really more of a short-wheelbase Statesman. Heck, it even looks better than the “updated” WN Caprice long-wheelbase car that has dumbed down to introduce a taxi-specification model, and uses the same front- and rear-end sheetmetal as the car the VF distances itself from.

Where the once-proud Caprice now looks dated, the Calais V looks as though it belongs in a European car showroom. A big chrome upper grille dominates the face, supported by more chrome highlights to either end of the lower grille, offset with blue-lit daytime running lights.

It is equally nice inside. Swathes of light-coloured leather line the dash and doors, the leather seats are cosseting and comfortable, and for the first time the Commodore features a head-up display that appears to float on top of the aluminium bonnet in the driver’s eyeline.

Head-up displays are nothing new – they’ve been around in cars for at least 30 years – but Holden has specially adapted this one to look crisp and clear, and distortion-free. It has worked.

But Calais comes stacked with more, including a blind spot alert that beeps furiously to stop you dropping in on a car you can’t see in the mirrors, a lane diversion warning that beeps furiously if you stray over a marked line, and a forward-collision alert that beeps furiously if you get too close to the car in front. They’re all backed up by visual warnings, too.

Before you get beeped off at the thought of a car telling you how to drive, these systems can all switch off if they become annoying.

The Calais V features the same colour trip computer screen in between the instrument cluster as the SS-V, but instead of using the SS-V’s red-on-white theme for the dials and backlight, the Calais opts for blue-on-white.

The front seats feature eight-way electric adjustment, and the driver’s side has three memory settings. The sedan includes nine speakers (the wagon can’t take the boom box as it has no boot to hide it in), heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, and you can watch a DVD as long as the Calais is stopped.

There’s nowhere to put an ignition key, as the Calais V uses a push-button starter. It also has a neat party trick – remote starting.

This is meant for drivers who want the car’s interior warmed up, or cooled down, before they jump in it. Hold down a curved arrow icon on the ignition key and count to two, and the Calais automagically rumbles into life.

There is a catch, though. You can unlock the doors and get in, but try and select drive and the engine automatically kills itself. Instead, when you jump behind the wheel you have to turn off the engine and re-start it before selecting drive.

It makes sense, as you don’t want any opportunistic thieves taking advantage of things.

In the back, there’s only dual climate control – you get that in the base-model Evoke – although outboard rear passengers do get separate air vents.

Engine choices are the 210kW/350Nm 3.6-litre V6 or the slightly detuned 260kW/517Nm version of the 6.0-litre V8. It lacks a bit on power and torque because, as the Calais V comes with only a six-speed automatic gearbox, it includes cylinder deactivation technology. This turns the V8 into a fuel-sipping V4 under light engine loads.

The V6 is our pick of the drivetrains. OK, it’s not as barnstorming as the V8 in traffic, but it is smooth, quiet, and gets slightly better fuel savings over its VF equivalent than the V8 version.

It’s also the better version to drive. The Calais V uses the same suspension setting as the base-model Evoke, meaning its quite soft and comfortable at low speeds.

However, we noticed that the V8 version tended to lose a bit of ride quality, particularly due to the big 19-inch Bridgestone Turanza hoops that both models wear. By comparison, the supple-riding base-model Evoke sits on 16-inch alloys.

The lower-profile tyres also generate more road noise than other models in the Commodore line-up, and make quite a racket at highway speeds on coarse chip roads.

The direct comparison between the V6 and V8 in the Calais V also highlighted what appeared to be the first noticeable change to the electrically assisted steering.

Driving the cars back-to-back, the V6-engined Calais felt much more focussed while pointing the car straight ahead, while the V8 version felt a bit soft with more play when turning in.

They’re exactly the same steering box, suspension set-up and tyres, so the difference has to be the extra 60kg the V8 version carries. Again, we will have to wait to get the cars on familiar ground before making that call.

In short, the improvements to the Calais V make it a much more desirable car. However, filling those wheel arches with big rims has its drawbacks, the price tag its compromises, and the V8 version slightly less appeal.

If you can afford it, it’s the pick of the litter.

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