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Holden Commodore Calais-V Tourer Vs Subaru Outback 3.6R

The Commodore Calais-V Tourer is billed as a competitor to the Subaru Outback 3.6R, but is it? Read our Holden Commodore Calais-V Tourer Vs Subaru Outback 3.6R head-to-head.

2018 Holden Commodore Calais-V Tourer

Price $53,990+ORC Warranty seven-years/unlimited km Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 3.6-litre V6 Power 235kW at 6800rpm Torque 381Nm at 5200rpm Transmission nine-speed automatic Drive on-demand AWD Dimensions 5004mm (L) 1871mm (W) 1525mm (H) 2829mm (WB) Weight 1772kg Ground Clearance 146mm Boot Space 560L; 793L (to roof) and 1665L (back seats folded) Spare space saver Fuel Tank 61.7L Thirst 9.1L/100km (claimed combined)

2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R

Pricing $49,140+ORC Warranty three-years, unlimited kilometres Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol Power 191kW at 6000rpm Torque 350Nm at 4400rpm Transmission CVT Drive Permanent all-wheel drive Dimensions 4820mm (L) 1840mm (W) 1675mm (H) 2745mm (WB) Ground Clearance 213mm Boot Space 512-1801 litres Spare full-size Weight 1673kg Towing 1800kg braked Fuel Tank 60 litres Thirst 9.9L/100km (90-98RON)

THE SUBARU OUTBACK is a strong-seller for the Japanese car maker and last year it notched up around 11,000 sales. Earlier this year, a refreshed Outback arrived boasting minor ‘practicality’ tweaks which we’ll get into shortly.

Similarly, the new Commodore arrived on the market earlier this year and while there’s been plenty of criticism of the fact it’s no longer built here and is just a rebadged Opel Insignia, Holden has gone to great lengths to emphasise the local ride and steering work its engineers did to make our Commodore different. And, if you’ve read our recent reviews you’ll know we’re impressed by the new Commodore, baggage aside.

What are the Subaru Outback 3.6R and Holden Commodore Calais-V Tourer?

The Outback might not be a brand-new model, but there’ve been enough changes to the body, features and the ride and handling that this is more than just facelift. The updated Outback has copped a new front bumper, grille and headlights (slightly).

Beyond the aesthetic stuff at the front, Subaru was determined the changes to the updated Outback would be functional and enhance the driving experience. For instance, it’s something no-one will notice until it’s pointed out, but the side mirror stalks have been shortened by 20mm to reduce wind noise and help make the Outback slipperier. And there are now LED indicators across the range to improve visibility.

2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Review

The top-spec models in the range, so 2.5i Premium, 3.6R (which we tested) and 2.0D Premium get LED headlights for high and low bean, they’re also steering responsive and with adaptive beam functionality, which means they’ll automatically did and activate high beam to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. More than that, they can also adjust the brightness of the beam to avoid dazzling when you’re driving past a road sign.

The suspension also copped some tweaks to improve ride and handling, which we’ll explore in greater detail later.

The Tourer is essentially the same as the Sportwagon in that it’s a station wagon. Sure, it offers a slightly higher ride height of 146mm but that’s a long way off the high-riding Subaru Outback’s 213mm. Hmmm. The Tourer gets plastic cladding around the wheel arches and bottoms of the door sills to protect against dirt; so it looks rugged.

Available with only one engine, a 3.6-litre V6, which is mated to a nine-speed automatic. This is a cracking engine which we’ll delve into in more detail later, but it’s a shame that it’s the only engine you can get in this variant. I think the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder we tested recently in the RS Sportwagon or the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel (which we haven’t yet sampled) would both be rippers for this vehicle and enhance its appeal.

The Calais-V costs more than the Outback 3.6R ($53,990+ORC Vs $49,140+ORC) but it gets a lot of kit, including a Bose sound system, wireless phone charging, 20-inch alloys, adaptive LED Matrix headlights, panoramic sunroof, electric tailgate with kick to open functionality, driver seat power bolsters, massage driver seat, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, and colour head-up display.

What’s the interior like?

This current-generation Outback and Liberty look good and carry real presence on the road, and the same goes for the interior. Run your hand across the surfaces of the Outback 3.6R and it’ll be met by one soft touch surface after another. And the stuff is right up there with anything used on more premium vehicles. Yes, there are still some hard plastics in the cabin but they’re down in the places you want hard stuff to be, like on the door bins.

2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Review

The 8.0-inch touchscreen is the latest-generation Subaru system and offers native sat-nav and Apple and Android connectivity. Climb in behind the wheel and the leather seats on our 3.6R tester are comfortable with plenty of adjustment to get drivers of all sizes into the right position. And while you might not realise it, the steering wheel is new for the updated Outback and it feels nice and chunky in the hand with all the steering mounted controls easy to use and read on the fly.

The thin A-pillars mean that forward vision is good, indeed, vision right around the Outback is excellent, and enhanced by the addition of a side-view monitor (a camera mounted in the left-hand wing mirror) and both a forward and rear facing camera. You can toggle between the views, split the view to see two images at once, or just one.

Over in the back, there are rear air vents and two USB outlets at the back of the centre console. There are storage pouches on the backs of the front seats. The rear seats themselves are 60:40 split and while they don’t slide forwards or backwards they do recline, they can be folded via a lever on the seat or from a lever in the boot.

Boot space is the same as the old model, meaning there’s 512 litres of space with the second-row seats up (the Commodore’s boot is bigger) and 1801 litres with them down (this is more room than the Commodore Tourer offers). There’s a full-size spare beneath the boot floor which trumps the Commodore’s space saver spare.

There’s plenty of good-quality leather and soft-touch materials in the Commodore, and contrasting gloss black panels that seem resistant to finger print smudges, some of the switchgear is shared from variant to variant and even other models, like the Equinox, and it’s those bits that knock the shine off an otherwise well designed and functional interior.

The 8.0-inch touchscreen dominates the dashboard and it’s both easy to reach and read, as well as being glare resistant, which is great. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and native sat-nav too.

2018 Holden Calais-V Tourer Review

There’s plenty of storage in the front of the cabin, with twin cupholders, and an odd, square shaped holder with a lid next to the centre console storage bin; there’s a single USB outlet inside the centre console. You’ll fit 500ml water bottles in the door bins, but nothing bigger.

Climb in behind the steering wheel and the seats are comfortable and supportive; you can adjust the side bolsters on the Calais-V to pinch in a little more, or not. The driver’s seat is powered and you can manually extend the seat base which is great for those with longer legs. The front seats are better than those in the Outback.

You’ll only fit two child seats across the back of the new Commodore, and only two adults in comfort. See, the middle seat is designed as more of a perch than a seat.

Beyond that possible failing (in Commodores of yore you could fit three child seats across the back seat), there are air vents for those in the back and USB charging outlets at the back of the centre console. Climbing in and out of the back seats is easy and there’s good head, leg, knee and foot wriggle room for those in the back. You’ll fit a 500ml water bottle in the door bins and there are two cup holders in the arm rest that folds down from the middle seat back.

In terms of boot space, there’s up to 793 litres of storage space (up to the roof – something you should only do if you have a cargo barrier) and this grows to 1665 litres if you fold down the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats – this is a better rear seat design than the Outback’s 60:40 rear seats.

What are they like to drive?

For the Outback, the engine and transmission are carried over from the 2017 model, only the 2.5-litre variants have copped any tweaks to the engine and CVT. This means the Outback 3.6R offers 191kW at 6000rpm and 350Nm of torque at 4400rpm which is Euro6 compliant. It continues with the same CVT offering seven-simulated gears when in manual mode, as well as SI-Drive to adjust the driving mode, from an eco mode to sport and intelligent which allows the vehicle to determine the best mode based on your driving. There’s no stop-start on the 3.6R variant.

This 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine in the Outback could never be accused of being lazy. Grunt and go are only ever a toe-flex away and the transmission does a great job of keeping it feeling lusty and game for a run no matter whether you’re clambering up hills, ripping along a twisting backroad or crawling along on a rough track.

2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Review

The Outback, despite its 213mm ground clearance, feels more like a low-slung sports wagon. The steering, which has also been tweaked, now feels more natural, feelsome and sharper in just about every possible way.

Onto dirt and the Outback is as sure-footed as ever, capable of covering dirt quickly and comfortably. The permanent all-wheel drive and the traction control (X-Mode) work in harmony to keep you moving forward, rather than trying to slap your hand if you’ve arrived at a corner a little too quickly with the result being that this is a very smooth car to drive.

Under the bonnet of the Commodore Tourer, exclusively, is a 3.6-litre V6 making 235kW at 6800rpm and 381Nm of torque at 5200rpm – more power and torque than the Outback, but it doesn’t feel substantially quicker. This is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, with paddles on the steering wheel, and gets its power to the ground via an on-demand all-wheel drive system.

2018 Holden Calais-V Tourer Review

Holden made sure its engineers were involved from the very beginning of the development of the Opel Insignia, running test mules around Lang Lang and the Outback; the aim was to develop a local steering and suspension tune. And it seems to have worked.

The Tourer isn’t much higher than a standard Commodore, and the suspension has been tuned to take the extra ground clearance into account. The thing handles bumps well at all speeds, has bugger all mid-corner roll and the speed with which it settles after a big bump is very impressive.

The lack of ground clearance meant I couldn’t take the Tourer across the same section of dirt road that I drove the Subaru Outback 3.6R across; it would have bottomed out because of a lack of ground clearance – only 146mm Vs 213mm for the Outback. But I did still take it onto the dirt and the most impressive thing about the car is its grip. There isn’t a lot of suspension travel and you do have to watch the jutting jaw and make sure you’re angling across a wash out, but the traction control works well and shuffles power quickly to the wheel with grip.

2018 Holden Calais-V Tourer Review

The steering is good, although there’s a little slackness in the straight ahead, but this quickly vanishes the moment you move off centre with good weight, feel and directness to the action.

In all, this is a wagon for well-graded dirt roads or twisting sections of bitumen. Unfortunately, it’s not noticeably better across these surfaces than the Outback, and the Outback can go much further when the road becomes rougher.

What about safety?

The updated Outback carries over the old car’s five-star ANCAP rating and, even if it was tested under ANCAP’s new regime you’d expect it to maintain its five-star rating. See, across the board the Outback gets the latest-generation EyeSight system which can see multiple items at once, and features autonomous emergency braking (which has had its speed differential raised from 30 to 50km/h), adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist which is one of the better systems on the market.

The Commodore range gets a five-star ANCAP rating. The Commodore range is well-equipped with active safety features, including 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, and don’t forget there’s also head-up display. There’s also six airbags, ISOFIX mounts for the two outboard seats in the back, the clever LED headlights, an on-demand all-wheel drive system for grip and traction and stability controls.

So, which one wins and why?

The aim with these things is to always look at the intended purpose (and even the aim of the vehicle as stated by marketers/manufacturers. So, the Commodore Calais-V Tourer isn’t trying to be an Audi RS4 clone, but nor is it trying to be a Holden Adventura throwback…that said, you can’t deny that Holden wants it to be considered in the same breath as the Subaru Outback and VW Passat Alltrack. To that end, as good as the Commmodore is and in isolation it’s a very good machine, the Outback is a better all-rounder. It’s great on the road and off it on rougher dirt tracks. It might miss out on some of the Calais-V Tourer’s bells and whistles like heated rear seats or head-up display but the Outback is cheaper and it too has copped local tuning, it’s also roomier in the back. It’s a very tight decision, though, but for those with rougher road touring in mind, the Outback is the natural choice.

2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Review

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober