The VE range has grown better with age
- 2009 Holden VE Calais V-Series; 3.6-litre, SIDI six-cylinder, petrol; six-speed automatic; sedan - $56,790*
- Fitted: Metallic Paint $500 (Karma); Full-Size Alloy Spare Wheel $350
- Not Fitted: Sports Suspension & LSD $690; Electric Sunroof $1990
Aging isn't always kind. I mean it ate the Pharaohs, wiped out the dinosaurs and annihilated Elvis. Hell it’s even giving Joan Rivers a run for her money.
But in contrast Holden’s VE Commodore range seems only to grow better with age, like a fine wine or mouldy cheese.
Unlike its culinary counterparts, the ‘billion dollar baby’ hasn’t improved just by sitting on some dusty basement shelf. In fact it’s taken quite a bit of cash and a lot of R&D time to bring about this vehicular coming-of-age story with the crucial changes in Commodore found not in a new bumper bar or subtle sheet metal revision, but right at the very heart of the beast, ticking angrily beneath the bonnet like a mad Swiss watch deprived of its Ritalin.
But just why is this new engine so good? And what does it mean to you as a driver? Well in testing this week’s top-shelf sedan, the Calais V-Series, it would seem the answer lies in four little letters: SIDI – or Spark Ignition Direct Injection.
Quite a mouthful isn’t it? But in terms you and I can understand this engineering wizardry means little more than moving the fuel injector nozzle from the cylinder's inlet port to the combustion chamber and adding a high-pressure fuel rail.
It's no easy feat, but the result is a more effective ‘bang’ creating more power and better fuel economy, two points that make the locally engineered V6 an engine Holden's Melbourne operations team can be particularly proud of.
Holden now offers two SIDI V6 engines in the VE Commodore range, a 3.0- and 3.6-litre, that are portioned out according to model grade. The larger displacement unit can also be found in V6 powered Statesman and Caprice models.
The Calais V-Series also scores the larger of the pair and in terms of mumbo figures at the flywheel have grown 15kw and 10Nm to a new total of 210kW of power and 350Nm of torque from the model’s previous multi-point offering.
Far from being a case of don’t ask, don’t tell, the new SIDI V6 has a distinct aural character and evidently refined feel under acceleration that even the most sensory deprived driver is bound to notice.
Acceleration is noticeably stronger, and more linear, with Calais V-Series, and in fact the entire VE range, now mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
As far as transmissions and Commodores go just about any improvement is a good one, and although the inclusion of a standard six-speed box isn’t bad thing, those shopping the competition will find it lacks the finesse of Falcon’s snazzy Sachs ZF.
Punting around town the transmission is pretty smooth and reasonably decisive, but when it comes to a stretch of winding road or a few hills, the box goes on the hunt like inbred British nobility after a fox.
On the plus side fuel economy has improved with ADR tests scoring the Calais V-Series a combined average figure of 10.1L/100km, an 11 per cent improvement over the previous model - and for once this figure is pretty close to the mark - our week at the wheel seeing a return of just 10.4L/100km.
CO2 emissions have also sharpened to just 241 grams per kilometre, bettering the old engine's output by some 29 grams, or, again, 11 per cent. The government combined GVG (Green Vehicle Guide) score is now 3.5 from a possible 5.
Budget shoppers will also appreciate that the new SIDI engines run comfortably on 91RON unleaded - a fact no other direct injection engine on the Australian market can claim - and are also E10 friendly.
And that’s about where the changes end. Inside the feature list is pretty much where Holden left it with the Calais V-Series offering cruise control, powered front driver's seat (with memory), power mirrors and windows, remote central locking, six CD tuner with steering wheel mounted remote controls, rear DVD screen with Bluetooth wireless headphones, auto headlamps and wipers, satellite navigation, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, and leather upholstery.
Ride and handling too is much the same with a softer ride, more suited to the Calais V-Series's high-end purpose, proving pliant and especially quiet (67dB @ 100km/h). The drawback here is that the car tends bang and crash around over larger bumps with five adults on board.
Should a stiffer, more sporty drive be your thing Calais V-Series can be optioned with lowered suspension and a Limited Slip Differential.
The brake pedal on this particular car had quite a long travel and very spongy feel, a point noted by more than one member of the CarAdvice team, though this could be chalked up to a case of press-car-itis. The four wheel disc brakes are otherwise very strong and are backed by ABS with EBA and EBD.
Other standard safety equipment includes ESC with Traction Control plus dual front, side and curtain airbags, while outside the Calais V-Series picks up stylish 18-inch alloy wheels, boot-lip spoiler, chrome rimmed front fog lamps and subtle SIDI badging on the quarters and boot lid to round out the list.
Badges aside, you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference between this and any Calais dating back to 2005 – and therein lies the problem – for as good as the car has become, the struggle to be noticed -- coupled to pricing that pushes the boundaries of rivals at Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Honda -- may well be the undoing of some well deserved sales.
But if you’re the type that likes your sedans big, your power keen and your fuel bills frugal, then you could certainly do a lot worse than test drive this one.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: