Had the 2018 Holden Calais launched around three decades ago the advertising tagline would have read ‘world class luxury’.
Back then the new-for-1984 Calais nameplate was desperately trying to convince locals that an Australian-built sedan could offer a premium, European-bred feel. The irony isn’t lost that Holden now stresses that this German-produced, ZB-generation may not be built here, but it’s still locally tuned and perfectly suitable for our country.
Of course Calais still means luxury in the Commodore lineup, and indeed this Calais is perhaps more Continental than anything before it owing to the adoption of an optional diesel four-cylinder engine that has long been a staple 17,000km away.
Place that to one side, though, because locally this Holden Calais must also fight two new Japanese-built competitors that also lead the medium car segment sales race…
Vehicle Style: Large car
Price: $43,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 125kW/400Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.8 l/100km | Tested: 7.3 l/100km
Swapping out a 191kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine for this 125kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel costs $3000 extra in the Holden Calais, which here totals $43,990 plus on-road costs.
Beyond a drop in power that is greater than the increase in torque, the diesel is also 78kg heavier than the petrol (with a kerb weight of 1613kg) and, while it still drives the front wheels only, it uses an eight-speed (versus nine-speed) automatic gearbox.
Nonetheless it claims combined-cycle fuel consumption of 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres, which is down from 7.6L/100km with the more affordable engine option.
So, there are two questions to be answered here: is a Calais diesel worth the extra over a Calais petrol? And, regardless, should a buyer choose the new Holden over the just-facelifted Mazda6 Touring diesel and equally new Toyota Camry SL hybrid?
- Standard Equipment: Power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and seats, heated front seats with electrically adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, LED daytime running lights and automatic on/off headlights and wipers.
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with satellite navigation, digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, front USB input and twin rear USB charging ports.
- Options Fitted: None.
The law of diminishing returns applies with the new Calais. Before the premium for the diesel is taken into account, it should be noted that the petrol – at $40,990 (plus orc) – demands $3700 more than the Commodore RS with the same engine below it.
However, for that premium the Calais only adds full leather (versus part-leather) with front seat heating, an 8.0-inch (versus 7.0in) touchscreen with integrated satellite navigation and digital radio, a colour driver screen and wireless phone charging.
While it certainly isn’t under-equipped, it does fall shy of rivals.
A Mazda6 Touring diesel sedan costs $39,690 (plus orc), yet offers 50Nm more torque and similar equipment. For example, it misses the Holden’s 18-inch alloys (it gets 17s), heated front seats and automatic reverse-park assistance, but adds LED headlights with adaptive-automatic high-beam, adaptive cruise control, an electrically adjustable passenger seat and 11-speaker Bose audio.
Meanwhile, a Toyota Camry SL hybrid sedan costs $40,990 (plus orc), matches everything in this Calais except auto reverse-park assist, then adds LED headlights with auto up/down high-beam, active cruise, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, colour head-up display and electrically adjustable steering column.
Quite simply, the value of the new Commodore and Calais erodes the further up the chain a buyer goes, and that shouldn’t be the case. Another example? To match the Camry SL for kit, a Holden buyer must choose the Calais V – but it’s available only with a thirsty petrol V6 and asks a hefty $51,990 (plus orc).
With the exception of subtle, white mood lighting, some piano-black and chrome trim, and the high-resolution touchscreen, the Calais interior also looks quite bland. It really needs the head-up display and sunroof razzle-dazzle of the V to compensate for the fact that the interior otherwise doesn’t look very different to entry-level models.
On the upside, every Commodore model grade features soft-touch plastics and a class-leading driving position that offers a broad range of adjustment, and can be positioned in a low and sporty way.
The touchscreen works well and includes all the latest connectivity options, although the rear-view camera is patchy. The ZB-generation also takes an enormous backwards step for storage space over the Australian-built VF Series II it replaces, with a shallow centre console bin and tiny glovebox the clear lowlights.
A backwards step also applies in the back seat, which is firmer and delivers a notably shorter base than its predecessor. Legroom is similar, but shoulder width also isn’t as expansive and headroom in particular is limited by that sloping roofline.
For that reason – and not so much the broadly competitive and practical 490-litre boot – we would recommend looking at a Calais Sportwagon. Ah, but, the superb wagon either tops out with the base LT in diesel guise or is a V6-only proposition in Calais specification. Surely a Calais diesel wagon would make the most sense…
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 125kW/400Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo diesel
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
There’s one core reason to choose Calais diesel over Calais petrol: fuel efficiency.
In a previous test a Commodore RS petrol consumed 11.3L/100km, well up on its 7.9L/100km claim. In this test the diesel managed 7.3L/100km, only fractionally higher than its 5.8L/100km sticker – which makes for a 900km-plus driving range.
As far as oilers go, this one is reasonably punchy and decently refined. It lopes along effortlessly, but doesn’t shy away from being extended towards its 5000rpm redline.
Unfortunately, though, where the petrol in the Calais is brilliant relative to its Mazda6 and Camry rivals, this diesel is merely average compared with those diesel and hybrid alternatives respectively.
Mazda’s 2.2-litre diesel ousts this 2.0-litre for performance, while Toyota’s electric motor and 2.5-litre petrol combination bests both for refinement in particular.
The eight-speed auto also lacks the Holden petrol’s brilliant Sport mode, and even in its standard mode it isn’t as intuitive as the other four-cylinder’s nine-speed either. Sometimes, in particular, it can grab the tallest gear too early, which sends an awful shudder and drone through the cabin.
Either way, the $3000-cheaper petrol is far more spirited and refined.
Where both Calais engine options join together is with their dynamic performance. In concert with Continental 18-inch tyres, the Australian-tuned suspension manages to be both comfortable and controlled in equal measure. Add in near-perfectly smooth and connected steering, and this is absolutely the benchmark in these respects.
For road noise, however, this isn’t as quiet as a Camry. And while handling bests the Toyota by always feeling poised and planted, it isn’t as playful as a Mazda6. Holden engineers have clearly worked hard to disguise the front-wheel drive format of this new model by attempting to keep the front-end pinned and bodyroll-averse through corners. That they have done so while maintaining ride comfort is exceptional.
Frankly, despite being front-drive this Calais possesses exactly the loping gait of its rear-wheel drive forebears. Again, however, with 50Nm less low-down torque, the petrol is also less prone to wheelspin off the line, especially in the wet.
This diesel makes maximum torque from 1750rpm, versus 3000rpm for the petrol, which means the former troubles the front wheels more on light throttle. It matters nought that the petrol makes a lot more peak power, either, given that it does so higher in the rev range (at 5500rpm) by which time axle tramp is not an issue.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars – the Holden Commodore achieved 35.5 out of 38 points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2017.
Safety features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, ABS, two-stage ESC, rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors with rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assistance and forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Average annual or 12,000km intervals at a semi-affordable capped-price charge of $259/$359/$259 for the first three respectively.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Mazda6 Touring diesel is the value and dynamic pick of this class, while Camry SL hybrid is absolutely the softer, plusher all-rounder. A Superb 140TDI ducks in just under $45K with extra space and similar equipment, but it doesn’t drive as confidently as these rivals or the Holden.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
So, then, new Calais: 2.0-litre turbo petrol or diesel? Beyond fuel efficiency, the petrol comfortably ousts the diesel with stronger performance, a sweeter sound, greater refinement, and a $3000-cheaper pricetag.
It should be noted, though, that either four-cylinder is a better bet than the thirsty petrol-powered 3.6-litre V6 and heavy all-wheel drive configuration that Holden now bills as a ‘premium’ option in the ZB generation. Both fours are lighter and nicer.
In any case, the Calais these days feels more like a higher model-grade of Commodore than an entry-level luxury sedan (nee liftback). To become more competitive with Mazda and Toyota, Holden needs to add more equipment from the Calais V. And, ideally, this diesel should go into the high-riding Calais Tourer wagon.
As it stands the Calais diesel is a good car, but the four-cylinder petrol is a great car.
- Interested in buying Holden Calais? Visit our Holden showroom for more information.