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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Calais V

Our Opinion

We like
Design, packaging, engineering, V8 performance, interior design and presentation, comfort, safety, value
Room for improvement
No folding rear seat, vision-blotting A-pillars, V8’s inevitable thirst, iffy quality control

Gallery

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Holden logo11 Mar 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

MY15. THERE’S not a lot that’s descriptive in that alphanumerical prefix, but the Model Year 2015 VF Commodore range has been subtly improve, according to Holden, to make it an even better car to drive.

That’s some feat, really, because – alarmingly slippery low-resistance ‘eco’ tyres on the 225/60R16 Bridgestone Turanza Ecopia-equipped Evoke aside – no car springs to mind that steers, handles and rides better on Australian roads than the latest large Holden.

The American-owned car-maker says it has recalibrated the electronic power steering (EPS) system for improved on-centre weight and response, with a more flowing feel thrown in. We shall see.

The rest of the package in the beautiful $53,990, plus on-road costs, Calais V with the 260kW/517Nm 6.0-litre V8 with a six-speed auto remains the same.

Is this the best value big sedan in the world today? We would not bet against it, especially with the performance of that Chevy Corvette engine driving the rear wheels.

Other standard features include six airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, hill-hold assist, Blind Spot Alert, Reverse Traffic Alert, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, LED daytime driving lights, dual-zone climate control, automatic parking assist and a reversing camera.

It also has keyless entry, remote-control vehicle start, trip computer, satellite navigation, Bose premium audio, MyLink Infotainment System with an eight-inch touchscreen and embedded Apps, voice recognition, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, leather upholstery, heated front seats with power adjustment, sunroof, chrome accents, 19-inch alloys and a full-sized spare wheel.

For $6000 less buyers can choose the 210kW/350Nm 3.6-litre V6. As strong as that engine is, we wouldn’t.

Interior

Until the VF came about, we thought the Ford Territory’s cabin was the best we had experienced in an Australian-made vehicle. Now the Commodore’s is the winner, with the Calais V’s perched at the top.

That Holden pinched some of the Blue Oval’s talent in helping to create the latest Commodore’s interior is no coincidence. From the moment you sit on superbly comfortable seats, ahead of the perfectly placed steering wheel, it is clear this car has been created to suit Australian driving tastes.

That the Holden manages to feel so effortlessly spacious, cosy and cosseting is quite an achievement. Sure, an almost infinite amount of wheel and seat adjustability helps, but it’s the enveloping dash and console that makes the car seem so expertly fitted.

Suede swathes the upper fascia for a striking upmarket effect, assisted by the sweeping wood spears, cool metallic application around the console and stitched contrasting leather trim.

It’s so uniquely Australian in its look and aroma. The Calais V’s cabin is as smart as any equivalently priced German, Swedish or American competitor’s, with influences from all evident – and melding seamlessly.

The basics are sorted as well. The steering wheel is lovely to hold the instruments display with instant clarity there’s huge storage available and is there a more effective climate control system than the VF’s? The back seat, too, is a great place for your passengers to spread out in the luxury of space, thanks to a great backrest, supportive cushion, adequate places to store stuff, and ample ventilation.

Perhaps most impressively, the cabin is an almost soundproof chamber of quietness and refinement, save for the V8 roar under acceleration, with very little noise intrusion or droning entering inside.

Seriously, for the money, the Calais V’s refinement is second only to the even-quieter base Calais’ sheer cocooning magnificence. No new vehicle feels more suited to our conditions from the back seat than the VF. Period.

But don’t worry, readers. The Holden isn’t quite perfect, with a few telling negatives that can be infuriatingly niggling.

The windscreen posts – a hangover from the 2006 VE – are just too wide despite being marginally slimmer due to trim cover changes the dash stitching ahead of the front passenger looks poorly done.

The lack of split/fold boot access is archaic and wilfully annoying. And while our car felt tight as the proverbial, we regularly hear from disgruntled VF owners about shoddy build quality.

Much of that, however, seems inconsequential the moment you start that glorious V8. And anyway, no Aussie cabin is better, remember?

Engine and transmission

At 1803kg the Calais V V8 is no lightweight, and it shows in the strong but not neck-snapping acceleration that one might expect from an engine related to the Chevy Corvette’s.

Actually, at around 5.5 seconds, the 0-100km/h time is pretty impressive, and that is likely to improve with a few more kilometres underneath that American-built motor’s belt.

Additionally, the sheer ease in which the Holden lunges forward at speed is quite addictive, and seems completely unaffected by the weight of extra occupants and their gear.

The six-speed automatic is smooth and effective but not especially intuitive in its responses (ZF’s brilliant eight-speeder springs to mind here), but overall, the Calais V’s big-hearted grand-touring power and torque delivery soon gets under your skin to convert non-V8 believers for life.

The sound, accompanied by the utter ease in which this car moves from point A to point B, is an experience Aussie family motorists need to tap into before it all goes away.

Holden states that buyers should average 11.7 litres per 100km, but in reality that figure around town rarely fell below 14L/100km during our week with the Calais V. Highway motoring ought to be a more frugal experience, however, thanks to the AFM active cylinder shut-down technology that reduces consumption on the open road.

Maximum braked towing, by the way, is 2100kg.

Ride and handling

“Holden engineers have also been hard at work calibrating a revised steering set-up for the acclaimed Electronic Power Steering (EPS) system. The EPS has been re-tuned and recalibrated to enhance on-centre steering feel and precision. Holden engineers also worked to further improve steering refinement with a new level of smoothness.”

So said the MY15 VF press release issued last October, and so it has come to pass. And, in a nutshell, it translates into a faster and nimbler feel from the helm compared to earlier models from this Commodore generation.

Having recently driven an MY14 Calais with the same FE1 Touring suspension pack as the newcomer but minus the latest changes, it is clear that the earlier car’s steering is not as light and progressive as the latest version.

Still, you would describe the handling as relaxingly weighted and yet still beautifully linear and responsive, for a fluid, compliant and forgiving dynamic experience that is absolutely world-class in its tuning. The body control is just spot-on in its tautness. Holden’s engineers ought to be justifiably proud.

The electronic driver aids are so subtle in the way they intervene that the VF is a lesson for all other car companies.

However, there was some steering rack rattle over various rough surfaces we experienced, and the ride on the V’s standard 245/40R19 wheel and tyre set-up is not as supple as the $40K Calais’ astoundingly comfortable 235/50R18 combo, but then there isn’t quite the level of road-holding capability either.

For handling finesse backed up by a sense of honed solidity, the VF is king of the road. When Holden stops building cars in Australia it will be a very sad day indeed.

Safety and servicing

The Calais V scores a top five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, with the VE/VF body shell one of the strongest of its type in the world.

Servicing is scheduled to occur every 15,000km or nine months, while the Calais V is covered by Holden’s Capped Price Servicing scheme.

Verdict

Make no mistake, even as the VF series’ luxury sports flagship, the Calais V V8 represents outstanding value for money. Indeed, it is one of the best all-round vehicles on sale at any price point.

Yes, that V8 can be thirsty around town there are some quality issues in the cabin and that non-folding rear backrest is a pain (although that’s what the Sportwagon is for) but the fact is this: the Calais V is arguably the finest Australian family car of all time. Buy one while you can, please.

Rivals

Ford FG X Falcon G6E Turbo, from $46,550, plus on-road costs
FORD’S embattled VF rival no longer offers a V8 luxury model as in the old Fairmont Ghia days, but the speedy turbo, sharp handling and brilliant auto more than compensate. However, despite an impressive multimedia update, the rest of the package feels old.

Chrysler 300 C Luxury diesel, from $56,000, plus on-road costs
A bit slow off the mark, the 3.0L diesel soon finds its performance thanks to a heady 550Nm of torque, and there is a unique American gangster appeal to the styling, but the 300 is a bit soft dynamically and surprisingly cramped inside for its size. Still enjoyable though.

Hyundai Genesis, from $60,000, plus on-road costs
DON’T let the badge put you off, for the Genesis is a BMW 5 Series package priced down at a 3 Series price, with a great interior, beautifully refined drivetrain and impressively capable dynamics. But the V6 is thirsty and the image a tad Toyota Crown.

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