It’s no secret that the Australian-made Holden Commodore range is nearing its end. But the doors at the Elizabeth plant in South Australia don’t shut for another 18 months, and in the meantime, is there a better sub-$50K large premium sports sedan?
In the case of the VFII Holden Calais V specification as revisited here, you’d be hard-pressed to find one. While not the newest kid on the block, it’s one of the very select number of vehicles designed and engineered specifically for Australian roads. And that matters.
We used the word 'revisited' just now, which isn’t exactly accurate. We last reviewed the Calais in mid-2014, so it’s been two years between drinks. Over that time, the Holden Commodore VF Series II updates arrived, so this model is ever so slightly different.
The final, Series II VF update focused more on the sportier SS and SS-V Commodore derivatives, with major engine, braking, exhaust and suspension changes thrown in for one final hurrah. But the luxury-focused Calais V 3.6-litre V6 as tested didn’t go without.
The new tail-lights are a standout, as is our test Calais V’s new Empire Bronze paint. Rounding out the visible tweaks are the redesigned 19-inch alloys. The VFII still looks brilliant, with dynamic rear-drive proportions and real presence.
Can a car be charismatic? Park the Calais next to a Subaru Liberty 3.6R, any derivative of the Ford Falcon, or even something German and nudging six-figures, and you’ll answer in the affirmative. Well, we do anyway.
The Calais V is the luxury model in the Commodore range, meaning standard features such as eight-way adjustable leather buckets with heating up front, lane-departure warning, forward collision alert, a colour heads-up display, a sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, sat-nav and a nine-speaker BOSE sound system.
These features are in addition to equipment found on the non-V Calais, including keyless start, blind-spot monitoring, reverse traffic alert used when pulling out of forward-parking bays, LED daytime running lights and lashings of shiny chrome-like plastics in the cabin.
Rounding out the equipment list are features found on all Commodores, namely dual-zone climate control, auto parking assist, a reversing camera, front and rear sensors, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with embedded Pandora/Stitcher apps, and Bluetooth/USB connectivity.
This is a long list of equipment, for a car of this size, with a price tag of $47,990 (plus on-road costs) in sedan guise. The arguably superior Sportwagon is an extra $2000. If you want 304kW/570Nm 6.2-litre V8 grunt — and who doesn’t — that’s an extra $8000 over the V6.
Rivals are diverse, including the Mazda 6 Atenza ($46,420), Subaru Liberty 3.6R ($41,990) and Skoda Superb 206TSI ($50,990). Notwithstanding the Euro badge cred, the smaller BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 models that kick off in the mid-$50K range seem pricey.
The Calais V’s cabin is familiar to anyone who’s sat in a VF Commodore at any point over its three-year life-cycle. It was, and will forever be, the best Australian-made car cabin of its era, though this doesn’t mean it’s without flaw and foible.
In its favour are the large and supportive leather seats perfect for long journeys, the ergonomics (plenty of seat and wheel adjustment, easy head-up display adjustment that doesn’t require menu-digging, a simple user interface), and ample cabin storage in the form of numerous spacious cubbies, big door pockets and a good console.
Counting against it are the myriad surface trims. The hard dash plastics, suede inserts and garish chrome highlights don’t quite mesh, and don’t feel particularly high-end for an ostensibly upmarket vehicle. Nor does the switchgear. Then again, the Commodore has never been a byword in these areas, and the value equation remains stellar.
We’ve also experienced glitches with Holden’s MyLink infotainment software on numerous test cars. This Calais V’s peculiarity was a tendency to switch to Bluetooth Audio mode when unprompted to do so, whilst driving. This interrupted the footy coverage, which is ironically ‘un-Australian’ for such an Aussie car.
Beyond these gremlins, the Calais remains a ridiculously easy car to live with, and a cosseting place to spend hours on end. This extends to the rear seats, which are big and well-bolstered chairs for two adults (the middle is fine for shorter trips), served by rear vents and a large flip-down ski port. There are also two ISOFIX points.
Boot space is 496 litres, enough for a few suitcases or golf bags, and there’s a full-size spare wheel below the floor. The standard cargo net is a good feature too. If you want proper practicality, go the wagon, with its fold-flat rear seats.
On the road, the Calais V remains a proper sporty sedan. It has a softer setup than the SV6, SS and SS-V performance versions, and a different steering calibration that’s not quite as sharp on centre — but still balances ride and handling better than most.
Whether it be a long country cruise over packed B-roads, inner-city commuting or freeway time, the Calais remains close to the benchmark, its loping gait well suited to our road network. It rounds off small, sharp bumps pretty well for a car on 19-inch wheels with low-profile 245/40 Bridgestones, and eats up big ones (even mid-corner) with relative disdain thanks to sound damper tuning.
That said, a 'base' Calais on 18s is more comfortable still, and a little quieter at a cruise.
The VFII also handles like a proper rear-drive sports sedan should. The electric steering in FE1 Calais V form is a little wooly on-centre, but beyond this, the turn-in, body control and composure, and balance levels are well beyond most mid-sized price rivals — especially if you leave the confines of the city for something more remote.
Holden has also tuned the ESC to allow a little rear-biased fun, meaning it lets the tail drift out ever so slightly on slippery surfaces or on hard throttle inputs mid-corner before reining it in. For what it’s worth, accompanying the Calais V over its testing was an all-wheel drive Liberty 3.6R, which was more composed on ball-bearing gravel, but nowhere else.
Counting against it are the oversized A-pillars that make seeing through corners harder than it should be. On this note, the side mirrors remain ridiculously small. Thankfully, you get a blind-spot monitoring system on the Calais V, and it cops a workout.
Under the long bonnet of our test car is the base Calais V engine, a tried and true (but mere Euro 4-compliant) 3.6-litre naturally aspirated SIDI V6 with peak power of 210kW and maximum torque of 350Nm, matched to a six-speed automatic transmission.
It’s a raspy and responsive unit that is at its best at engine speeds from its 2800rpm peak torque point onwards, out towards 7000rpm-plus. It’s an ageing but still lovely engine that benefits from a well-calibrated gearbox with a notably aggressive sports setting. Our best 0-100km/h sprint time was a sprightly 6.9 seconds with a V-Box — good for a 1749kg car.
Claimed fuel consumption is 9.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, though our mixed urban/highway route with some fairly lead-footed moments yielded 11.2L/100km. The engine runs on 91 RON fuel, or even E10.
Naturally, if you’re a keen driver and don’t mind shelling out more for fuel, the 304kW V8 engine will be your pick. But the 3.6 SIDI remains a viable and fast enough option, more so considering the $8000 saving.
A real highlight of the Calais V’s dynamic package is its braking. Our 100km/h-to-zero stop distances were consistently better than the Liberty, and better than you’d expect of a car nudging 2.0-tonnes with two people on board. Good pedal feel, too.
From an ownership perspective, Holden gives a three-year/100,000km warranty, with capped and publicly available costs for servicing across the vehicle’s life. Intervals are 12-months/15,000km and no service before 120,000km costs more than $299. That’s cheap.
There’s a chance this is the final time we do a single car review on a Holden Calais V in this guise. And while the elephant in the room grows ever larger, the simple take-away is that this Holden remains the pride of the Lion brand’s line-up.
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