If you haven’t noticed, the Aussie-built Commodore’s gotten smart over the last few years. The Calais V Redline exhibits some of Holden’s best new technology. Don’t worry though, it still offers the old school appeal of a grunty V8…
Despite the decline in large car sales overall, in its homeland of Australia the Commodore has just become the most popular passenger car for the 15th year running.
You can put some of that success down to patriotism – the Commodore hasn’t fared quite as well in our market and, to be honest, the first generation VE Commodore boasted a long list of durability issues, so the love loss isn’t entirely without reason.
The good news for this newly updated, series two version though is that much of those initial teething problems have been ironed out. This has always been the way with Commodore, in fact, as a former Holden technician of about six years I can speak with some experience. The first iteration of an all-new Commodore (as the VE is) has traditionally been plagued with the odd glitch.
For the purpose of this review and to ease my mind, I called on some former colleagues, and by all accounts things are looking good for the popular large car: Far fewer in for unplanned maintenance, and I can attest there’s an obvious improvement to the feel of the interior.
Our test car was the highly specified – big breath now – Calais V V8 Redline edition. The Redline add-ons are designed to pull in enthusiasts with chrome window surrounds, massive 19-inch polished alloy wheels and sports suspension, but there are also big Brembro performance brakes. These don’t just serve a purpose for the performance focused, but also bring a significant element of confidence for those lugging a caravan or boat, and prove to be very effective stoppers.
Come to think of it, the firmer suspension will probably also help resist squatting when the load comes on.
Another real bonus for family buyers is a roof-mounted DVD system (standard on Calais V V8) with wireless headphones. So long as you don’t run out of Wiggles DVDs, your kids will be entertained and, hopefully, quiet in the back seat the whole trip.
There’s also premium leather and – standard on Calais V models – in-built Bluetooth hands-free and satellite navigation. Arguably an even more impressive change over the first VE though, is the intuitive and nicely laid out “IQ” touch screen that controls audio, sat-nav and heater functions. This reduces the amount of buttons on the centre stack and the new dash fascias are a cleaner, clearer design. Forget what you thought about rugged Aussie build quality and specification, all in all this is really very good.
The plastics remain too harsh to the touch to rival Europeans in terms of finish, but for $75,290 you’re still comfortably shy of any Euro V8 pricing.
From a driver’s perspective the VE Commodore chassis has been a revelation in the Australian auto industry, originally benchmarked against the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 it shares a similar rear suspension set-up. It’s more cheaply-engineered than those two without such a dependence on lightweight suspension materials, so there’s a lack of elegance to the drive, but developed for the varied Aussie conditions it remains well-suited for our volcanic chip.
Under the bonnet is a sonorous V8, now a staple of Holden’s DNA, but despite adopting clever cylinder deactivation technology that shuts four cylinders off on low load cruising, it still isn’t the most efficient large capacity engine available. It doesn’t disappoint on the performance front though, with the all-alloy mill developing 517Nm of torque, so it seldom feels laboured. Lugging the full complement of family members around and / or towing the boat won’t be a tough ask at all. Holden specify a maximum tow rating of 2100kgs (braked).
The engine sits in front of an excellent six-speed transmission; shifts can feel lethargic when you open the taps on the V8, but not enough to frustrate, and on the day to day you’ll appreciate the slick operation and quiet motorway cruising.
If the redline isn’t quite your thing, the standard Calais V or indeed any of the V8 Commodore range (Calais for luxury, SS and SS-V for sports focus) would suffice for the long haul. The level of specification with this in particular though does present a genuinely impressive value for money, the Holden IQ touch screen system is a treat and impressive point of difference over the Falcon rivals. My advice: optimise practicality and (I reckon) looks by going for the cool Sportwagon variants.
Find a Holden dealer near you.