2018 Holden Commodore Calais-V Review
Isaac Bober’s 2018 Holden Commodore Calais-V review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety and verdict.
In a nutshell: This isn’t the Commodore you’ve grown used to… it’s no longer built here and it isn’t rear-drive but it’s safe, advanced and good to drive – there’s a lot to like.
2018 Holden Commodore Calais-V
Pricing From $51,990+ORC Warranty Seven–years/unlimited Safety Five star ANCAP Engine 3.6-litre V6 Power 235kW at 6800rpm Torque 381Nm at 5200rpm Transmission Nine-speed automatic Body 4897mm (long) 1971mm (wide) 1544mm (high) Boot Space 490L Weight From 1515kg Towing 2100kg braked Fuel tank 62 litres Thirst 9.1 l/100km claimed combined
LOCAL MANUFACTURING OF THE Holden Commodore is no more. And, so, this new Commodore isn’t the one we’ve grown up with across the last 40 years. It isn’t rear-drive. And you can’t get a V8. Plenty demanded it be called something other than a Commodore. More than that, with a change in ownership of Opel from General Motors to PSA, the new Commodore is likely to become an orphan within four to five years.
Oh, and the reason we stopped buying the Commodore and Falcon is still hanging around. The SUV is now the most popular vehicle type in Australia. So, should all that put you off the new Commodore? Nope.
What is the Holden Commodore?
The Commodore might not be built in Australia anymore…it’s built at Opel’s factory in Rüsselsheim, Germany, Holden is adamant this globally-developed vehicle (Vauxhall Insignia in the UK, Opel Insignia in Europe and Buick in the US) is indeed the spiritual successor to every Commodore that’s gone before it. But that’s initially, at least, a hard line to swallow.
But read into things a little deeper and you soon realise that Holden did its best to ensure this ‘new’ Commodore was as suitable for Australia as possible. And that meant, getting its hands on 30 cars from the middle of last year for real-world testing by employees as part of its Captured Fleet program. Before that, Holden engineers, led by Rob Trubiani, who’s been tuning Commodores for 22 years, put development cars through their paces in Australia, covering more than 200,000km in the Outback and at Holden’s Lang Lang test facility.
This resulted in Australian Commodores getting a bespoke suspension b oth hardware and tune, and steering tune…it also resulted in, after testing, Holden pushing for the 3.6-litre V6 AWD to be amade available in Australia.
“We’ve been working with the GM team in Europe for a few years to make sure all of the elements of Commodores are present in this car but when it comes to how it feels, that’s work we have to do here,” said Rob Trubiani, Holden’s Lead Dynamics Engineer.
“Australians have different driving tastes to Europeans and Americans. Here we like cars to feel more connected to the road and more engaging to drive. It’s all about road feel and steering.
“We’ve developed an Australian suspension tune that works unique Holden hardware in the shape of struts and shocks to make sure the new Commodore feels as planted as ever. Then, add in the adaptive AWD system and it feels so well-planted it could be running on tram tracks.”
The new Commodore is available as a liftback (Commodore), a wagon (Sportwagon) and a jacked-up wagon, called Tourer. Pricing runs from $33,690+ORC to $55,990+ORC for the VXR V6 AWD. Our test car was the liftback Calais-V V6 AWD which lists at $51,990+ORC. Engines available are a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol and diesel, and a 3.6-litre V6.
The new Commodore is slightly smaller than the VF Commodore it replaces, but it’s bigger, both longer and wider, than the VT Commodore. Despite that, and a smaller wheelbase, packaging improvements mean that back seat passengers have more knee room than they do in the old Commodore, front headroom matches the VF while rear headroom is slightly less. And boot space is only slightly smaller too (5L less).
Key features that set our test Calais-V apart from the Calais, include, the 3.6-litre V6 AWD powertrain, a nine-speed automatic, 20-inch alloys, rear lip spoiler, adaptive LED matrix headlights, electric sunroof (the Tourer gets a panoramic sunroof), 8.0-inch touchscreen, colour head-up display, 360-degree camera, Bose sound system, driver seat power bolsters, massage function for driver seat, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a sports steering wheel.
Holden has announced a seven-year, unlimited kilometres warranty for both the Commodore and the Equinox, with fixed price servicing (12 months/12,000km intervals) running from $259 through to $359 for petrol variants.
What’s the interior like?
Both impressive and ever-so-slightly disappointing if I’m being hard. The interior of our Commodore mirrors the equivalent Opel and Vauxhall variants and that means you get a nice big cabin with a wraparound dash that mimics more expensive sedans, like the Jaguar XE. The materials used are excellent and the fit and finish is equivalent to anything from, say, Audi or BMW. But where the shine is knocked off, is in things like the switchgear and materials used for buttons on the dashboard, they feel a little cheap both to look at and touch. But, as I said, I’m being hard.
There’s plenty of storage space, although the two cupholders at the base of the dashboard aren’t the most ergonomically convenient I’ve seen. All storage cubbies have closing lids and the centre console houses the only USB outlet in the front of the car, there are two for backseat passengers beneath the directional air vents. There’s a wireless phone charging shelf just ahead of the cupholders.
There are buttons for various active safety features and the stop/start at the front of the stubby little gear selector and, thankfully there are hard climate controls on the dash as well as virtual controls via the 8.0-inch infotainment screen.
The infotainment screen is easy to see and use with reasonable graphics as well as smartphone mirroring via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with voice control. Native sat-nav is standard across the Commodore range and it’s a pretty good system that’s easy to use with good design.
Unfortunately, the quality of the infotainment screen’s graphics doesn’t extend to the reversing camera and 360-degree camera. Both work well, but the images aren’t particularly clear and in low-light, and I’m talking evening, they become particularly grainy. The ability to manually select a camera view is a good thing, though.
The front seats are nice and comfortable with plenty of electric adjustment and memory function, you can even get the side bolsters to squeeze in nice and tight. You can also extend the front part of the seat base to provide extra under leg support for those with longer legs and features like this make a big difference on long distance drives.
Vision around the Commodore is okay, the wing mirrors are a little too small for my liking and they distort out the outer edge, and the A-pillar is a huge blindspot which becomes a big problem at roundabouts and crossings.
Forward of the driver, the analogue dials live in harmony with a digital display, the tacho, fuel and water temperature are displayed via analogue dials while the speedo, oil temp and voltmeters are digital. The digital display can be customised to show a range of other items.
Climb into the back and there’s good foot, knee and legroom in the two outboard seats. The middle seat is cramped and looks like a perch, luckily there’s legroom to share on either side. The doors open nice and wide to make getting in and out easy and the door opening is big. There are directional rear air vents and USB outlets at the back of the centre console.
The boot on the liftback offers 490 litres of space (drop the back seats and this grows to 1450L), which is just 5L short of the VF Commodore’s boot. There are levers to fold down the rear seats which are 60:40 split fold and there are top tether anchor points in the middle of the seat backs. Lift the boot floor and there’s a space saver spare underneath. Opening the boot, unless you’ve read the manual, or read about it, ahem, online in a review like this one, could have you head scratching for a moment; there’s no remote release button inside the cabin, nor a visible button with grab handle on the boot itself, and there’s nothing on the keyfob…press on the Lion badge on the boot though and the boot will release.
What’s it like on the road?
Holden’s engineers have spent a lot of time and a couple of hundred thousand kilometres behind the wheel of this Commodore, fiddling with the suspension and steering to give the thing an Australian flavour. Holden says, it needed to tweak the Commodore from the European versions, to suit rubbish Australian roads and ensure confident ride and handling across fast gravel roads; not something drivers in Europe generally need to worry about.
This means there’s a little more weight in the steering wheel on the Commodore compared to the Opel or Vauxhall versions, that said, there’s still a touch of vagueness in the straight-ahead but in the first few degrees off centre the wheel weights up nicely and maintains a consistent weight build-up and action from there on. Push the Commodore a little harder, and we did across our road loop, and there’s good accuracy and decent levels of feedback which is not something we expected after our Paul Horrell’s tests of Euro-spec vehicles.
Despite sitting on 20-inch alloys and thin 35-series rubber, our Calais-V did a good job of filtering out road noise, even across gravel, and soaking up minor bumps and ripples in the road. Suspension is different across the range, with our Calais-V getting what Holden calls Hi Per Strut which aims to give an effective pivot-point on the lower control arm that minimises camber and caster-angle changes as the suspension moves through its arc. This has been set to Tour spec for the Calais-V and Sport in the RS and RS-V variants. What exactly the difference is, I can’t say, but the damping tune and suspension set-up on the Calais-V is impressive with none of the sponginess that the word ‘Tour’ might suggest.
Sure, it’s got a firm ride, but big, out of nowhere hits are heard rather than felt and body control, even when hurling the thing through a corner, is excellent with minimal roll over mid-corner, pitching under throttle or diving under brakes and the speed with which is settles after a bigger, high-speed bumps. Coupled with the steering, the Calais-V is a very pointy machine that’s fun to drive and more so than the rear-drive Kia Stinger V6.
Throw all-wheel drive into the mix, which can constantly adjust the torque split from 100:0 front to rear through to 50:50 front to rear (and side to side at the rear), and grip is impressive even on loose, wet and bumpy dirt roads. Where you would measure your entry, and exit speed in Commodores of old to avoid swapping ends, you can be less precise with the Calais-V and get on the power earlier confident the all-wheel drive and stability control are doing their thing to keep you pointing in the right direction and looking like a hero.
The engine in the Calais-V is a 3.6-litre V6 (there wasn’t room in the engine bay for a turbocharger) and it makes 235kW at 6800rpm and 381Nm of torque at 5200rpm. This is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission and the thing is happy drinking 91RON which will make it slightly easier on the hip pocket because the Calais-V likes drink…the claimed combined consumption is 9.1L/100km but in our week of testing we saw a much higher average of 12.7L/100km.
There’s plenty of grunt available from the V6 but you’ve got to give it a decent shove to provoke it. That said, at around town speeds the thing feels nice and effortless thanks to a progressive throttle action and transmission that’s probably the best nine-speeder I’ve tested. Shifts are quick and smooth and no matter how hard you try, you can’t catch it out, unlike the clumsy automatic in key competitor, the Camry V6.
With nine-speeds to work through, the ratios are tightly packed which makes for, when you’re hard charging, almost no letup in aggression between gears if you’re shifting manually via the paddles. Leave it in D for Drive and the transmission will skip shift from, say, second-gear to fourth-gear jumping third-gear but you won’t notice. In ninth gear, the engine will spin at around 1400rpm at 100km/h which makes for relaxed cruising.
What about safety?
Plenty has been written about Holden’s decision not to supply ANCAP with a V6 Commodore to crash test, especially given it’s an Australia-only setup; but Holden claims the price was the sticking point. The 2.0L variants were given a five-star EuroNCAP rating as well as a five-star ANCAP rating by default.
All Commodore variants get autonomous braking, an active bonnet, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, forward-collision alert, head-up display, rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors and rain-sensing wipers, and park assist. Our Calais-V adds 360-degree camera, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
The lane keeping assist isn’t the best of these types of system and in my week with the Calais-V I found the system would constantly turn on and off ever few seconds, disengaging when any kind of steering lock was applied. I managed to get the system to nudge me back into line only once and I was trying to get it to work without being obvious about it. Hmmm. The Holden Eye is the same system as that used in the Equinox and I wasn’t a huge fan of its performance in that machine.
So, what do we think?
The Holden Calais-V isn’t the Calais we remember and nor is the Commodore. Put aside all the keyboard warrior words you’ve read and consider it for what it is, a very good car with plenty of room for a family, loaded down with kit at a price that’s competitive with the competition…it just happens to wear a famous name. That it’s been tuned for local roads and tastes helps to make this a Commodore that will be right at home in Australia.