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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore - Calais V6

Our Opinion

We like
Refined cabin, sculpted exterior, supple chassis, driving position, cabin space
Room for improvement
Small exterior mirrors, no split-folding (or even folding) rear seats, thick A-pillars, no standard nav

Holden logo4 Jul 2016

By STUART MARTIN

Price and equipment

THE Calais represents a solid chunk of metal for the money – $41,290 plus on-road costs – and it features revamped styling that’s chrome-heavy up front, with a hint of sports in the twin-piped rump with integrated lip spoiler.

The entry-level Calais V6 tested here has dual-zone climate control, a high-mounted 8.0-inch touchscreen with internet music apps and full iPod and Siri voice control integration, auxiliary, USB and Bluetooth input, leather seat trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a new-look 18-inch alloy wheel with 235/50 profile tyres, keyless entry and ignition (as well as remote start), colour digital instrumentation, a full-sized spare wheel and an electric park brake, but sadly there’s no satellite navigation – it’s an option or you’ll need to step up to the $47,990 Calais V for that.

The V range also gets a standard sunroof, 19-inch wheels, a sports steering wheel, a colour head-up display, a nine-speaker Bose sound system and heated exterior mirrors with puddle lamps and a dip function in reverse gear.

Interior

The big Australian sedan has its best interior yet, which some cynics might say is not difficult to achieve – a sweeping stitched dashboard has the integrated touchscreen well set into it, which makes it easier to see when sunlight is coming in from a difficult angle.

The dashboard trim is less disjointed than the VE’s fascia, which had visible joins that let it down the VF II’s cabin feels more complete in its design and finish.

The function menu of the touchscreen is straightforward and the ledge beneath the screen is well-positioned to rest the operating hand on.

A place to steady the hand is an ergonomic feature overlooked by many brands with touchscreen controls (which are bordering on too busy), resulting in mis-hit buttons when operating while driving.

Resisting the urge to put the climate control in the touchscreen was also a good thing, as it remains conventional in its set-up and easy to use in single or dual-zone modes.

Clear instruments are easily deciphered and the trip computer between them has no shortage of information, including a digital speed readout and a full gamut of fuel economy information.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel is a grippy unit and has switchgear for the sound system, phone and cruise control – most are easy to use apart from the switches to change tracks or cruise control speed, which lack the tactile feedback and definition of other brands’ switches.

The long absence of split-fold rear seats has not been rectified, which sadly limits the usefulness of the sedan to carry larger loads when required, with only the ski-hatch access available for the 495-litre boot.

But four – even five if not oversized – adults and associated luggage have no trouble being accommodated, with ample leg and sufficient headroom for a decent journey in comfort thanks to good seating.

Engine and transmission

While many will lust after the V8 – an engine about which there’s plenty to like – the 3.6-litre V6 delivers the sort of outputs not so long ago were indicative of another two cylinders.

A similarly hefty 1997 VT SS (sporting the last of the ‘Aussie’ V8s before the North American sourced GenIII V8 arrived) offered 179kW and 400Nm, with far more desire for petrol bowser attendance.

The Calais V6 can cope with 91RON ULP and claims a peak power output of 210kW, with 350Nm of torque at 2800rpm from the double overhead cam 24-valve DOHC direct injection V6, built at the Port Melbourne engine plant.

It’s bolted to a six-speed automatic – a General Motors in-house transmission – that has both 5th and 6th as overdrive gears to help improve fuel economy for the 1707kg sedan.

The Calais has a combined cycle figure of 9.0 litres per 100km but our time in the car yielded 12.6L/100km being drained from the 71-litre tank.

Ride and handling

The Commodore chassis has – since the VE was introduced – been well-balanced and light on its feet, only growing in ability as the model has been updated repositioned steering components in particular a beneficiary of model updates.

Nearly five metres long, almost 1.9m wide and weighing nearly 1.8 tonnes, the V6 Calais follows that path by again feeling far lighter on its feet than those dimensions should really allow.

A MacPherson strut front and independent multi-link rear end is tuned to what Holden calls FE1 Touring specification, with a similarly relaxed “touring” tune to electric power steering.

Holden boasts about a “refined, secure, and responsive driving experience” and it’s not without foundation – whereas some recent Calais ancestors were tuned with a bias toward the handling side of the ledger, the more recent incarnations have been wound back to a ride-centric setting.

It works, fitting the chrome-adorned Calais image nicely – ride quality is good, with the 50-profile rubber seeming to work well enough with the tune, with only the more serious bumps intruding in more than an aural sense, without sacrificing body control or cornering poise.

It’s not as lively as an SS in the bends, leaning on its underpinnings a little before corner completion but still able to hustle at an indecent rate as required.

Steering is light but has enough weight and feel to qualify as a worthy set-up, defaulting to a mild understeer at pace and really only pushing its nose wide when the pace has been upped to an anti-social level.

Safety and servicing

The almost-obligatory five ANCAP stars adorn the last Australian Calais, which has six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, within which is a trailer sway and hill-hold function.

The brakes measure 298mm at the front and 302mm at the rear and all four are ventilated, gripped by twin-piston front and single piston rear callipers with reasonable – if not astounding – effect in a serious braking sequence.

For those with no parking prowess there is an auto-park assist system, with front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera blind spot and rear cross-traffic alert are also standard on the Calais but forward collision and lane departure warnings are only a V-Series feature.

The headlights are projector halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights, although it would perhaps be expected that the former might now be at least a Xenon unit.

The factory warranty is three years or 100,000km – which is short of the market leaders – and service intervals are every 9 months or 15,000km, with the prices ranging from $239 for the services up to 75,000km.

After that point, the 90,000km and 105,000km are all currently listed as costing $299.

Verdict

Anyone not wanting to be lumbered with an SUV still has – for now – a locally developed large car option (you can get it in a Sportwagon too) and the Calais delivers plenty of metal for the money. A few noticeable absentees from the features list does take the sheen from an otherwise capable car that is well-honed for local driving conditions.

Rivals

Ford Falcon G6E from $40,110 plus on-road costs
The Falcon is destined for the history books and while it delivers a great rear-drive chassis and a spacious cabin, its high-set driving position, outdated dashboard and centre stack have not progressed as far as the Commodore.

Toyota Aurion Sportivo from $40,990 plus on-road costs
The Aurion is a front-drive combatant in the large-car segment and it too is set for extinction, but the large Toyota sedan does have a refined and quiet cabin, punchy engine and good interior space, if not the more desirable image and chassis dynamics of its rivals.

Chrysler 300 C from $55,000 plus on-road costs
The 300 suffers from the reverse-Tardis interior space syndrome and doesn’t make the cut for suspension prowess in as broad a range of terrain as the locals.

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