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2008 Elvis Festival

Road Test

Holden Calais V

by Ian Barrett

20th April, 2008

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Holden's Calais has now been around for more than twenty years and during this period has chalked up an impressive record as a home-built luxury car well equipped to match far more expensive imports. With good handling, 'muscular' performance, durability and plenty of space for a family, the Calais has stood the test of time as a roomy, comfortable conveyance, well able to carve a decent slice of the luxury market at a price few comparable imports have been able to match. In that respect, nothing's changed, as we discovered when we spent a week behind the wheel of the latest model, the VE. On the other hand, plenty has changed, and all for the better.

The Next Car team have previously reported on other versions of the VE Commodore. Suffice to say that it's an excellent basis for a luxury sedan with a sporting character, which is precisely how the Calais is positioned in the marketplace. Our example was a top-of-the-line "V-series", fitted with the high-performance version of Holden's 'Alloytech' 3.6-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 engine, in conjunction with an 'Active Select' 5-speed automatic transmission. Upgraded with continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) and a variable length intake manifold, this power plant produces a sporty 195 kW @ 6,500 rpm, and a hefty 340 Nm of torque @ 2,600 rpm, making for very responsive performance over a wide rev range. Our only complaint was that engine noise is more intrusive than what is expected from a luxury car, when the right foot is firmly planted. Or perhaps a more sportier note is called for - this one's not exactly music to the ears.

This transmission is a far cry from the old 4-speeder still fitted to lesser models, offering silky smooth gear changes with the option of manual mode via sequential changing for a more involving 'hands-on' drive. Ideal for overtaking, or for increased engine braking on winding descents. We found this engine/transmission to be a great combination, offering a very satisfying driving experience.

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Economy for such a big car with this level of performance was reasonable at a claimed 11.8L/100 km, but still a backward step from the previous, lighter VZ model. We feel it's high time that Holden raided the corporate parts bin for a suitable turbo-diesel option, as offered in Chrysler's 300C.

Which brings us to the styling. In Calais guise, this is surely the classiest Commodore ever! Very European, it presents a stark contrast to the big, bold American 'retro-gangster' look of the Chrysler. The dark coloured metallic ('Evoke') paintwork on our test car (which is optional) was beautifully highlighted by lashings of chrome trim and the 7-spoke 18" alloys fitted with sticky 245/45xR18 rubber. Our only reservation with the overall design is the V8-supercar-style front guard flares, which look a little overdone from a front-on view.

Step inside, and you'll be confronted with an impressive look. We expected style with comfort as a high priority and we were in no respect disappointed. The Calais V has almost every conceivable feature expected of a luxury vehicle. The well shaped and supportive seats are trimmed in perforated leather, and come with 8-way electronic seat adjustment for driver and front passenger (with 3 memory settings). In the rear, even Aussie basketballers should have plenty of room to get comfortable and take in a movie or two, utilising the standard drop-down Blaupunkt DVD player.

Other highlights include dual-zone electronic climate control, 6-CD premium Bose audio system with 11 speakers (for a total of 230 Watts) and MP3 compatibility, front and rear park assist, colour LCD screen, and real aluminium trim accents on the dash. The audio, cruise control, Bluetooth phone, and (optional) satellite navigation functions are all accessible via buttons and/or scroll wheels on the leather-rimmed steering wheel. An electronic tilt/slide sunroof is also available as an option.

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Primary and secondary safety are also up there with the best. The new suspension, incorporating struts at the front and a new independent multi-link arrangement at the back, endow the new Commodores with good handling and steering. The Calais has the SV6's sports suspension with a slightly reduced ride height compared to the popular Omega, so the ride is firm but compliant, still well able to cope with the best and worst of Aussie roads, from the 'big smoke' to the outback. Handling is remarkably agile for a large car and really contributes to the overall driving pleasure of the Calais. Brakes are generously large ventilated discs front and rear. The standard ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) incorporates ABS, EBD, Electronic Brake Assist (EBA) and Traction Control (TCS). Secondary safety and security includes 6 airbags, seatbelt pretensioners and active head restraints. In the event of a serious collision, Emergency Shutdown automatically turns off the engine and fuel pump, unlocks the doors and activates the hazard lights. Fog lights, automatic headlights (Bi-Xenon), rain sensing wipers, boot cargo net and heated external rear view mirrors (with auto dipping when reverse is selected), round out a very comprehensive safety package. Also listed as a $2,409 option is Holden's Ultra Telematic Assist, which can send and receive data (including position) via GSM and GPS systems, enabling emergency services to respond in the event of theft or accident.

There'll always be demand for the comfort and effortless mobility provided by large saloons. Making such luxury motoring sustainable and economical will be Holden's next major challenge. The Holden Calais V-series is a great drive and a premium package in almost every respect except for the price tag. With a 3-year/100,000 km warranty (including corrosion), it is listed from $54,290 plus options (such as metallic paint and a multitude of other items) and on-road costs, but it is equipped - and looks and drives - like a high-priced European sports sedan.

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