2018 Holden Calais Diesel Review
Daniel DeGasperi’s 2018 Holden Calais Diesel Review with price, specs, performance, ride and handling, ownership, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: It is a French nameplate on an Australian-born brand with a Euro diesel engine, but does the newly imported Holden Calais still make for a world-class luxury car?
2018 Holden Calais Diesel Specifications
Price $43,990+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited km Safety 5-star NCAP Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power 125kW at 3750rpm Torque 400Nm at 1750-2500rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4897mm (L) 1863mm (W) 1455mm (H) 2829mm (WB) Seats Five Boot Space 490 litres Weight 1613kg Towing 750-1800kg Fuel Tank 61 litres Thirst 5.8L/100km claimed and 7.3L/100km as-tested
WAY back when – 34 years ago to be exact – Holden debuted its Calais badge to the Australian market, derived from the name of a French port. And the original did indeed target the standards of much pricier European-built luxury vehicles.
Nowadays the lines have blurred between mainstream and luxury products from Asian and Euro markets. You can buy an Audi for less than a Toyota, or a BMW for less than a Ford.
So with the closure of local manufacturing, where does that leave the quintessentially Australian, Holden Lion badge, and a French-derived Calais nameplate with a diesel engine for the first time, now produced in Germany?
What’s the price and what do you get?
The new-for-2018, ZB-generation Holden Commodore range still includes its luxury Calais derivatives, and while smaller than the outgoing locally made VF-generation, it is still big.
While a new 191kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, front-wheel drive version starts with the Commodore LT from $33,690 plus on-road costs, then steps to the semi-sporty Commodore RS at $37,290+ORC, the Calais is the next stop at $40,990+ORC.
Only the LT and Calais can be had with a 125kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder for $3000 extra, balancing out its 66kW power loss with an additional 50Nm of torque, plus with official combined-cycle fuel consumption of 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres – down 1.8L.
Taking the Commodore LT and RS as its base, the Calais is already well-equipped with automatic on/off headlights, keyless auto-entry, push-button start, dual-zone climate and cruise controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel and electrically adjustable driver’s seat. It then adds leather trim, heated front seats, a colour trip computer screen, wireless phone charging, and an 8.0-inch (replacing 7.0in) touchscreen with integrated satellite navigation.
Some items are missing, though, including rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, adaptive cruise control, and electrically adjustable passenger seat, the latter which was standard on the VFII Calais and all of which is included on a $39,690+ORC Mazda6 Touring diesel. A $40,990+ORC Toyota Camry SL hybrid even further adds a colour head-up display, panoramic sunroof and electrically adjustable steering column to that list.
What’s the interior and practicality like?
Many suggest that the ZB-generation is ‘too small’ to be a real Commodore, but at 4.9 metres long and with a near-identical boot (490 litres versus 495L before) that is untrue. Some width has been lost, which is most evident in the back seat, while headroom is most crimped due to the sloping roofline but legroom remains decent and the seats comfy. The bigger issue for the Calais is interior ambience, which doesn’t surpass luxury standards for the badge – let alone the standards of rivals. Ergonomically everything is ideal, plastics quality is decent and the driving position is excellent, but a higher level of sophistication is expected.
What are the controls and infotainment like?
We’ve already mentioned the Calais could do with the head-up display from the V variants to add a bit of razzle dazzle but the rest of the controls work just fine. It might all look a little conservative but all of the buttons and dials are within easy reach of the driver and feel good to the touch.
The infotainment system is an 8.0-inch unit with native sat-nav as well as Apple CarPlay and Android connectivity for those who prefer their own operating experience. There’s wireless phone charging which works well, digital radio and the seven-speaker set-up is good.
What’s the performance like?
A diesel engine is a first for a Commodore and it’s a $3700 premium on the Calais. Oddly, you can’t get a diesel wagon or Tourer, which doesn’t make a lot of sense as they seem like the platforms best suited to the application. Moving on.
The diesel engine is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel making 125kW at 3750rpm and 400Nm of torque from 1750-2500rpm. This is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission which isn’t quite as slick as the nine-speed automatic on petrol models and likes to stump for the highest gear as soon as possible, meaning it can hunt a bit at times in demanding driving conditions (read: corners).
The engine’s definitely got enough grunt but the transmission doesn’t feel like the best match to get the most out of it, and so the drive experience is average at best.
What’s it like on the road?
Although not designed, engineered or built in Australia, Holden’s chassis engineers have tuned the Commodore locally and it shows. The low and deep driving position provides a nice segue to steering that is consistent and accurate, while the suspension is unflappable across any surface, and the handling is wonderfully balanced and very sweet overall.
None of this is specific to the Calais, but every ZB-generation model. What is specific is the diesel engine, and it’s a decent but not outstanding one. While it offered excellent on-test economy of just 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres, and teams with a fluent and slick eight-speed automatic, it lacks the effervescence and refinement of the $3K-cheaper, same-sized petrol.
Even then, however, there are other downsides: for overtaking response it isn’t punchy enough, yet it does add just enough torque to spin the front tyres off the line, whereas the petrol – teamed with superb Continental tyres – disguises that trait brilliantly. The jump from the Calais’ 400Nm to a Mazda6’s 450Nm is more noticeable than the 50Nm jump in torque over the Calais petrol, because kerb weight lifts by 73kg, from 1535kg to 1613kg.
What’s it like to park?
The steering is tuned to what Holden calls ‘Tour’ but that just means it’s a bit lighter and more relaxed compared to some of the more sporting models. The reversing camera is okay but can be a little patchy in low light; dynamic lines help when reverse parking. There are also front and rear parking sensors.
Does it have a spare?
Yes, but it’s a space saver spare.
Can you tow with it?
The turbo-diesel is limited to a maxiumum braked 1800kg when towing.
What about ownership?
Holden offers a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty across its range. Annual or 12,000km servicing intervals are average, but there’s a capped-price program that asks $259 for the first, $359 for the second and $259 for the third.
What about safety features?
The new Commodore gets a five-star ANCAP safety rating. There’s an impressive standard suite including front, side and curtain airbags, blind-spot monitor, active lane-keep assistance, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), front and rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert plus a rear-view camera.