It’s hard not to compare the new imported Holden Commodore with the old locally-made model that looks like a significantly different vehicle. But to approach the new Commodore without that connection, this imported German-made liftback fits snug into a line-up of imported four- and six-cylinder, front-wheel drive large passenger cars trying to blend family practicality with mild performance.
The Calais model adds even more than that, with premium aspirations beyond run-of-the-mill models, but were the stark differences in the old model disguising its ability to keep up with sharp competition?
Like the Calais of old the new model sits close to the top of tree for creature comforts though it remains price conscious and leaves a little space for the more expensive Calais-V that’s fully loaded.
A change in body style from sedan and wagon to five-door lift back mean it’s slimmer and slightly less capacious, yet also heavier than before.
Priced from $40,990 the Calais comes equipped with 18-inch alloys, leather trim, leather steering wheel, heated front seats, 8.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and DAB+ radio, sat nav, wireless phone charging, automatic headlights and wipers and keyless entry and ignition.
Standard safety inclusions include automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and ear cross traffic alert – no adaptive cruise control but it scores a five-star ANCAP rating and is a much more sophisticated car in terms of safety than ever before.
If that’s not enough kit buyers can head upstream to the Calais-V that starts from $51,990 plus on-road costs and adds 20-inch alloys, Bose sound system, ventilated seats with massage function, heated rear pew, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, 360-degree camera, colour heads-up display and adaptive led headlights.
What you’ll need to get your head around if you’re coming from an old Commodore model is that there are no more V8s and that a naturally-aspirated V6 and turbocharged four-cylinder petrol or diesel engine are the only motivation in the entire line-up. This test vehicle is equipped with the petrol turbo and the diesel is an additional $3000 option – the V6 isn’t available at this grade level.
The turbo four-pot produces 191kW of power and 350Nm of torque mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission driving the front-wheels only, so it promises spritely performance and a reasonable 7.6l/100km combined-cycle fuel economy. Country shoppers might consider the longer-range and more efficient turbo diesel that produces a more-mild 125kW/400Nm and 5.4l/100km.
Keeping with tradition the new model has been tuned at Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground and almost a quarter of a million kilometres were clocked in testing, tuning and improving the suspension, brakes, handling and steering to better suit our roads.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.5/5
- Standard equipment: 18-inch alloys, leather trim, leather steering wheel, heated front seats, wireless phone charging, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate air-conditioning, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB+ and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, AM/FM radio, CD player, satellite navigation and eight speakers
Overall, the design inside looks good and there’s some nice technology but it lacks some of the fit and finish even the older locally-made model had.
The centre-piece inside is an 8.0-inch wide infotainment system that’s an inch larger than standard LT model grades and delivers crisp graphics and an easy to navigate menu system. It comes with sat nav as standard, digital radio reception and has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. But the rear-view camera feed is poor in quality and barely legible when wet.
Around the cabin is plenty of storage including four cup and bottle holders and a deep centre bin and there are enough USB and 12v charging sockets to keep everyone charged up, including two USB ports in the back.
A few bits of piano black panelling and leather and pseudo-leather on the steering wheel, centre console and door panels is also nicely stitch together and adds some zhoosh that would otherwise be extinct.
The buttons and most touch points aren’t nice to touch, particularly the steering wheel elements, and the seats are a slightly uncomfortable fit.
To fix this the Calais-V gets adjustable bolster support but in the Calais there’s no adjusting the sides, so it’s a snug fit even around a slender frame. It's a pity because the driver’s seat sets into a great low-set position if needed but can be bothersome to get comfortable in over long trips.
Elsewhere things for the driver are good, such as a clear colour heads-up display that has a good range of adjustment for tall and short drivers and a basic instrument cluster binnacle with 4.2-inch digital display for showing information such as the ever-changing distance gap between the car and leading traffic.
The rear seats lose some of the bolstering and are more comfortable to sit in but headspace is compromised by the liftback shape and the rear pew is too narrow for three adults to sit across.
Around the back is a well-dimensioned 490-litre boot that’s smaller than competitors like the Toyota Camry (493L) and Skoda Octavia (568L) but easy to use thanks to a gaping aperture and split-fold rear seats.
While neater and more modern inside it isn't the plush land barge that the old Calais was - that boat has truly sailed.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 191kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Holden did a great job developing the local Commodore for Australian conditions and its work on the imported model is no different. Most importantly the suspension is close to spot on and it soaks up poor roads and corrugations with plenty of relief inside the cabin. The ride is comfortable and compliant while remaining sharp to drive and never feels unstable under normal driving conditions.
The engine, despite being one of the smallest in the Commodore’s history, has plenty of energy and reacts enthusiastically in the upper reaches of the accelerator pedal. It doesn’t make a great sound but a claimed 0-100km/h time of 7.0 seconds feels about right and is quick enough for zipping through traffic and overtaking. But because all of that power goes through the front-wheels there’s some torque steer and tugging at the wheel when pushing around corners or making a quick getaway and the steering isn’t as crisp and connected as the old model. While there’s an all-wheel drive system that disguises some of that it’s not available in this grade.
For most intents and purposes, the Calais with its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is pleasant to drive and offers all of the power, ride and comfort that’s mostly needed, and vision is good out of the front and sides. The GM-built nine-speed automatic is also smooth changing up cogs but can be a little indecisive in slow moving traffic. Otherwise, it helped us return a fuel consumption in real world testing of 8.9l/100km, a little over the claimed 7.6l.
If you are thinking of trading-up an existing model and need to tow, the new four-pot is limited to an 1800kg braked towing capacity compared the old V6 model’s 2100kg.
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: Five years/unlimited km.
Servicing: Service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever occurs first) with capped price servicing covering the first three years or 36,000 kilometres for $859 or $1535 over 60,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Toyota Camry has recently been updated and comes with either a four-cylinder engine or, unlike the Calais-grade, an energetic V6. It feels better strung together, is slightly more affordable and comes with better safety tech but lacks some of the connectivity offered inside the Calais.
The Mazda6 GT couldn’t compete for power until recently with introduction of a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s equal in performance feel as the Commodore but slightly more expensive, however, it’s nicer inside, well put together and gets better safety technology as standard.
The Skoda Octavia is the only other liftback-style five-door in this list and enjoys the largest boot capacity at 568-litres. It also has the best in-car infotainment and connectivity and the equivalently-priced RS 169TSI model is energetic with a sporty focus around the interior.
- Toyota Camry SL
- Mazda6 GT
- Skoda Octavia
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5
Being the first in line to replace the much loved locally produced Commodore was never going to be an easy task and the comparisons between the old and the new can be sporadic. But to take the new model and look at it in isolation it fits well among competition that all offer a similar setup.
Most compelling for the Commodore is the Australian development and tuning underneath that eclipses local work performed on any of its competitors, and it pays off in its ability to soak up bumps with great compliance.
The engine is also a strong performer and eclipses most in this class for outright go, but quality elsewhere isn’t great. Inside isn’t equal to most rivals and interior dimensions feel a bit odd in spots. It’s also missing technology like adaptive cruise control that the rivals here all have and simple things like the reversing camera display look dated. And while the more expensive Calais-V smothers the car with more kit to fix some of this, it also adds a significant margin.
- Interested in buying Holden Calais? Visit our Holden Calais showroom for more information.