This is a Commodore. Like it or not, that’s the name Holden picked for its latest range of family cars, despite the multitude of differences between this car and its predecessor.
There have been some changes arguably for the best, like the Calais wagon’s transformation into a high(ish)-riding SUV – in a play for popularity – now called the Tourer. Other changes, sure to be less popular, include the loss of rear-wheel drive and the move to a fully imported model range.
You can only play the cards you’ve been dealt, though, right? In Holden’s case, while the Commodore and Calais might be based off the Opel Insignia, the local arm has tried its best to give an Aussie flavour to the new car through chassis and suspension tuning developed specifically for Australia.
Even the V6 engine, the sole powertrain available for the Tourer body style, was included at Holden’s request to supplement the turbo petrol and turbo diesel four-cylinder engines available in non-Tourer variants of the Commodore.
As the flagship wagon, the Calais-V Tourer starts at a very premium $53,990 plus on-road costs. The only available option is $550 premium paint, and everything else you would need or want comes loaded as standard.
Some of the new equipment that arrives with the new generation includes a power-operated tailgate with hands-free opening, panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, adaptive LED headlights, autonomous emergency braking, and distance-keeping cruise control – all firsts for the Commodore range.
Those additions alone help justify the $3240 price premium the new Calais-V Tourer carries over the old Calais-V Sportwagon, not to mention its pricing step up compared to the Subaru Outback 3.6R ($49,140) and Volkswagen Passat Alltrack ($51,290), along with being more powerful than both.
One of the more surprising things about the new Commodore is just how familiar it feels from inside. With the VF switching to a ‘global’ GM electronics platform before bowing out, the new Commodore carries the same family feel with switchgear and user interfaces that won’t seem out of place to previous Commodore drivers.
There have also been noteworthy improvements to things like the 8.0-inch infotainment system, which uses clearer graphics, is simpler to understand, quicker to load, and includes smartphone mirroring for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible devices.
Satellite navigation comes standard, so too digital radio, with Bose speakers tasked with bringing your music to you, though the audio reproduction falls very short of ‘premium audio’ status.
Even more starkly obvious is the massive 8.0-inch colour display nestled in the instrument cluster, which takes the place of the small, low-res screen of the previous generation. It allows a more flexible display space, including comprehensive information and a choice of themes for major gauges.
Some interior trims like the glossy black plastics and slide-covered cup holders look premium, while others, particularly the lower dash and door plastics, struggle to convey the Calais-V’s price position.
The front seats feel as spacious as they ever did, though some drivers may notice the slightly narrower frame, and those who like to spread out will find themselves locked in a battle for elbow room with the front-seat passenger.
To balance the ledger, the front seats come with heating and cooling, adjustable side bolsters, and even a simple massage function for the driver. Fancy indeed.
The rear seat may be smaller than it was, but again the difference isn’t dramatically different. Width falls a little, but in reality outboard passengers tend to feel closer to the door than to each other. There’s still a transmission tunnel to step over, still rear air vents, still a fold-down armrest, and for the first time there’s also rear seat heating and a pair of USB ports.
Unfortunately, quality standards of this particular car seem to have slipped. Panel fit was generally good, but once moving squeaks and rattles revealed themselves in both B-pillars, the steering column, the front passenger seat, multiple places in the panoramic roof, and the cargo bay, which also exhibited some fit and finish inconsistencies.
Holden claims this particular car is a pre-production unit, so we’ll keep an eye on other Commodore variants that pass through the CarAdvice garage to make sure there are no ongoing issues.
Since the roof looks like it might be problematic (noise-wise at least), it’s also worth keeping in mind that there’s no delete-option for the panoramic sunroof. Worse still, the powered blind isn’t opaque, meaning things heat up very quickly on sunny days, even with the AC set at its maximum – hardly ideal for Aussie conditions.
At 560 litres, the boot is noticeably smaller than its 895-litre predecessor, with the reduced width the most obvious shortcoming. Drop the seats (there’s an electric release inside the boot) and the maximum grows to 1665 litres, but still a long way short of the VF Sportwagon’s 2000-litre capacity.
Other areas that have been drastically reduced in size include the glovebox, which now holds little more than the owner’s manual, and the centre console partly due to its reduced width and partly because of a slot-style wireless charge pad that’s really no more convenient than physically plugging your phone in to charge.
What about the all-important driving experience? Instead of the last car’s rear-wheel-drive dynamics, the Tourer mates a 235kW V6 to a nine-speed automatic driving all wheels (the rears jump in when required).
That’s a significant upgrade on the 210kW engine of old, while torque also climbs from 350Nm to 381Nm, and the transmission packs in three more gears too. Official fuel consumption drops from 9.3L/100km to 9.1L/100km, although real driving conditions over a mix of roads resulted in an 11.3L/100km figure.
Saddest of all for luxo-muscle car fans, the previous Calais’s optional 304kW V8 has been consigned to history. May it rest in peace.
On the road, the new Calais reveals that it carries over the big, comfy, kilometre-eating spirit of its predecessors. Holden invested plenty of time and effort to ensure this new car drives like a Commo of old, and it shows.
Over some of the more ragged rural roads that fringe Melbourne, the Calais-V Tourer took everything from undulating tarmac to bumpy dirt roads in its stride, while still managing to feel secure and planted, with responsive and well-weighted steering.
There’s some suspension crash-through on bigger hits, and over the kinds of mid-corner corrugations that dominate rural roads, the new Commodore can’t keep its composure the way the last Calais wagon could. The Tourer’s Continental SportContact 5 SUV tyres can also stir up a significant roar on some sealed surfaces.
Grip is certainly not an issue, though. All-wheel drive naturally means more traction in low-grip conditions, but the speed with which Holden’s Twinster system reacts is impressive. There’s hardly any wheel spin or torque steer from the big wagon on loose surfaces and that’s pretty impressive, especially for a so-called on-demand system.
Drop the Calais-V Tourer into an urban setting and the driving experience starts to fail. Low-speed maneuvers like tight street corners, three-point turns, and negotiating roundabouts reveal an ugly tendency for early understeer, even at low speeds.
Small variations in road surface – things like tarmac overlaps, expansion joints, surface divots, and cats eyes – all unsettle the ride too, transferring straight into the cabin with none of the big-bump absorbency of the open road apparent over smaller imperfections at lower speeds.
Along with the added peace of mind of all-wheel drive, the Commodore range comes with a five-star ANCAP rating and packs in six airbags, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a pop-up bonnet (again for pedestrian protection), and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist.
All outboard seatbelts feature pretensioners, the rear seat includes two ISOFIX child seat mounts, and the Calais also packs in extras not on base-model cars like adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive headlights with auto high beam.
Some of Holden's latest tech appears to be included for brochure bragging rights rather than genuine functionality – the 360-degree camera system is too low-res to be useful on either bright or low-light days, and the Bluetooth cuts in and out but only occasionally.
Maintenance requirements for the new model bring about yet another change with 12-month/12,000km intervals replacing the previous nine-month/15,000km intervals. Servicing by distance means that up to 60,000km the new model will cost $1535 in scheduled maintenance versus $1036 for the old.
Owners that cover less distance and service by time hit the same $1535 mark after five years in the new car, but will have racked up $1674 worth of bills in a V6 VF.
Of course, it makes sense that Holden’s most expensive wagon should carry the biggest and most powerful engine currently available. If you ring it out the 3.6-litre V6 sounds great, but in day-to-day running the constant exhaust blare becomes an annoying drone that starts to wear thin.
As a car with no real performance aspirations, it might have been nice if Holden had opted for a less vocal solution. The decision not to offer either the 191kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol or 125kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel of lesser variants is also baffling, as both would sit well with the Tourer package and its positioning.
That said, powertrain calibration for the V6 will be very familiar to previous Commodore owners with a strong wave of torque across a big rev range. Even the nine-speed auto shares calibration traits with the outgoing Commodore, but with improved shift smoothness and a ratio for every occasion.
There are times when the throttle tips in abruptly after coasting, usually in concert with the transmission having selected a lower gear, yet other times when getting any meaningful response comes after a long pause.
Another Commodore first is the inclusion of engine start-stop, which shuts the engine down at a standstill to save fuel. Thankfully, the system is one of the quicker and smoother examples of the technology, and shouldn’t trouble too many owners.
History carries a lot of weight, and especially so for a car like the Holden Commodore that has become an icon of the Australian lexicon. Any kind of change, let alone a major one involving massive changes to engineering basics, not to mention a significant manufacturing relocation, is bound to ruffle ardent fans of the brand.
Putting that history aside for just a moment, concentrating on the evolution of the badge reveals a new Calais that’s just like those that preceded it. The presence and plushness are unchanged, but the packaging and presentation have shifted.
Ideally, Holden needs to get on top of the small quality glitches that resulted in a low-quality first impression of the Calais-V Tourer in this review. Once the brand can manage that, the Calais-V Tourer stands every chance of becoming a stand-out for blending traditional family car values with increasingly popular SUV looks.