2009 Holden Calais V8 AFM Review & Road Test
Has the luxo-Commodore moved with the times?
- 2009 Holden Calais V8 AFM, automatic - $52,290
- Onyx Leather Inserts - $3000
- Sunroof - $1990
- Full Size Alloy Wheel Spare - $350
- Satellite Navigation - $1990
- by Karl Peskett
"What do you drive?"
And the approving nod came with it. However once the VE rolled around, the name was somewhat diluted, because it's what the Berlina used to be.
So, is it still worth aspiring to? Is it the true luxury Commodore? That depends on whether you call a colour screen and leather seats luxurious. It is comfortable at least; more on that later. Mechanically, though, there are a few revisions with this Calais.
Four, five, six, depending on your specification, that's how many gears are shoved into your VE Commodore's automatic gearbox. You start out with the Omega at four, and at the top end, the Calais V8, which we're testing here, receives six.
It's amazing the difference that a couple of years of refining has done to GM's six-speed auto. When I first tested it, in a Caprice, it was clunky, hesitant, and flared all at the same time.
Now it's smooth, adaptive, and apart from the occasional thunk on a part throttle downshift, it's almost at ZF level. and that's saying something.
However, it's the new engine that we'll concentrate on for a while.
Holden's Active Fuel Management (AFM) 6.0-litre V8 was fitted to our test car, and it's fair to say we would have liked to see some sort of Texas Tea Totaller. To its credit, Holden doesn't claim to halve the fuel consumption, or anything quite that bold, however a cynic would claim that instances in which the engine could have switched to four-cylinder mode didn't see any change at all.
If it detected the slightest incline (just a degree or two), or literally millimetre movements of the throttle, it would switch back to eight-cylinder mode. The positive effect of this, of course, is that it's smooth. Most drivers will barely detect the change, however the keen observers will notice a (very) slight vibration when changing over.
It means the V8 is always willing to get up and go, something any country cruiser will be thankful for, especially when overtaking, but it also means the litres-per-hundred figure isn't quite what you'd expect.
In the real world, we're realising that Holden's AFM feature is a good thing on paper, but in practise, there's still some work to do. Thankfully, the 260kW still puts a smile on your dial, even though its down 10kW from the outgoing model.
The exhaust note strikes an excellent compromise between a hairy-chested, throaty V8 bellow, and a quiet background hum, depending on throttle position. That's not all there is to like about the Calais, either.
Really, the ride is about as good as you'll get from any car these days. The FE1.5 suspension is near perfect in its body control, bump absorption and handling balance.
Small imperfections which normally would have the wheels stuttering in just about any Euro car, are simply soaked up and dismissed.
You would expect as much, with a billion dollar budget, and development right here in Australian conditions, but it still amazes me that our Aussie companies can get the ride and handling so right, and yet other worldwide marques can miss the mark in the suspension department.
Roadholding is excellent, although it does roll a little more than the sports-based variants, mainly due to the softer suspension tune, and the taller profile tyres. Turn-in is fine, but this is more a cruiser than out-and-out bruiser.
The steering is also superb, with not too much weight, but genuine feel, and good feedback from full lock, especially when the tyres are loaded up. Couple that with good braking, and you've got the makings of a pearler of a car for our conditions.
But it's not that simple.
The Calais suffers from being stifled by the VE's inherent problems. The A-pillars will completely obstruct a motorcyclist when entering a roundabout, the bootlid is so high a reversing camera is needed, and the interior plastics are starting to look dated.
The satellite navigation is also one of the most antiquated systems on the market. The DVD based system also suffers when going over speed bumps, such is its sensitivity. The interior is nowhere near the quality expected of something worth more than $50,000.
Sure, the space is brilliant, and the seating comfort is very good, but the leather quality is second-rate, as is the build. For example, the we opened the glovebox to inspect the owners manual, and once it was shut, it never opened again. The lock dislodged, preventing the pull-handle from working. The test car had less than 5000km on the odometer, just imagine it at 100,000km.
The Calais V8 AFM isn't a bad car, depending on your expectations. If you're expecting world beating fuel usage, and Euro quality, then it's best to look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you want space, pace, comfort and the best ride for under $100,000, you probably can't go past it.
I wonder how the barbecue conversation would go these days.
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