It’s a market that is seemingly on the nose with the Australian buyer yet there really is no truly good reason for it to be so. It’s the large sedan segment, made famous in Oz by the Kingswood, the Falcon, the Valiant. Australia went mid-sized with the VB Commodore in 1978 and 40 years later closed manufacturing, released the ZB Commodore and…..it’s been pretty quiet on the sales charts. Drive around and try and spot one. And yet, to deny it’s a bloody good car is to do yourself a disservice.AWT had a week with the near top of the range Calais V6. Any V6 Commodore in the ZB range comes with All Wheel Drive (AWD) as standard. Piled on top are 20 inch diameter alloys, Adaptive LED headlights and LED tail lights, a punchy Bose audio sound system via an eight inch touchscreen, powered front seats, a massage function for the driver’s, twin USB outlets for the rear seats, paddle shifts, remote engine start, and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay via the understated looking touchscreen interface.The 1700 plus kilo machine is powered by a 3.6L V6 with no turbos. Peak power is 235kW at 6200rpm, peak torque is 381Nm at a highish 5200rpm. It’s this second figure that has some reviewers suggesting it’s sluggish compared to the perky 2.0L turbo petrol four. However, buried in the touchscreen menu is a couple of settings that adjust the car for Auto or Sports. And there’s an appreciable difference between the two.The Calais V6 AWD is a docile machine when required. It’ll simply purr along, unfussed and stress free, with the nine speed auto quietly and unobtrusively slurring through the gears. The exhaust is barely audible and there’s a faint whirr from up front. Crack the whip and the Calais V6 AWD goes from a sleeping kitten to a provoked tiger. There’s a real anger to the noise from the exhaust, a feral whine from the engine bay, no torque steer as the AWD system simply spanks the Calais on the arse and sends it flying forward. 0-100 time is quoted as 6.5 seconds and that’s pretty much what the seat of the pants says too. Overtaking is done with relative ease, and the whole package instills confidence. Along the way it’ll slurp a bit, with 12.1L/100km quoted for the city cycle. AWT bettered that in a mainly suburban drive at 10.6L/100km.
The steering is weighted like Goldilocks’ porridge. It’s just right. There’s no torque steer tug to unsettle, there’s weight enough to feel like you’re connected, and it’s not too light as to feel over assisted. There’s a sense of balance in the force for turns from lock to lock with the front pointing exactly where the mind has told the hands where it wants to go.Ride quality matches the pace, with the Sports suspension ironing out float, niggles, irregularities, with equal disdain. There’s something that only a real anorak would call harshness to the damping otherwise it’s fluid, compliant, comfortable even but leaving you in no doubt it’s in a sporting mode. Naturally there’s plenty of grip from the Continental Sports Contact 6 rubber, with plenty of footprint from the 245/35/20 rubber. And whilst you’re out and about, the nine speed auto is noticeable largely for one thing. That you don’t notice the gear changes. It’s smoother than Elvis crooning Love Me Tender, as slick as James Bond in a tux, and as enjoyable as sipping on your favourite single malt at the end of a hard day at the coalface.The Calais V6 AWD test car came clad in metallic silver paint. There’s more of a benefit in this than first meets the eye, as it emphasises the sleekness of the profile of the 4986mm long machine, the breadth of the lower set nose compared to the VF, the coupe styling at the rear where the hatch and non-powered liftback section (which is kept for the Tourer whereas here it would be a nice addition) reside. There’s a decent 560L cargo space which goes to 1665L with the rear seats down. It also highlights, as a downside in styling, the Ford Cougar line to the tail light section and the somewhat overdone scallop in the doors.There’s an odd design to the driver’s display, with an LCD screen overlaid by two chromed dials, meaning there’s a section of LCD and a section of mechanical dial. Inside the Calais suffers from black upon black. AWT has sandwiched the Calais with the Alfa Romeo Giulia Super and the Toyota Camry V6. Both feature a two tone colour scheme from the options list, with a beige that tended towards bone contrasting with the black otherwise built in. Although the cabin is comfortable and spacious enough, and features a HUD that has switchable information screens, it’s let down by a frankly boring interior colour scheme and the generic GM switch gear. In short, it lacks classiness.Where it doesn’t lack is in safety features. Blind Spot Sensor, Brake Assist, Camera Rear & Side Vision, ESC, Front Collision Mitigation at Low Speed, and Front Collision Warning, Lane Departure Alert, Lane Keeping with Active Assist (where the steering gently tugs the tiller to keep you between the whitelines), Parking Distance alerts, Pedestrian Avoidance, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, plus a full suite of airbags sans kneebag. Holden’s offering a seven year warranty to sweeten the deal as well.
At The End Of The Drive.
Priced in the region of $60K plus on road costs the Holden Calais V V6 AWD is a natural successor to the beloved Australian VF Commodore. Yes there’s no ute or V8. Yes there’s now a diesel and turbo four. Yes the lower levels are powered through the front wheels. So what? Genuinely. So what? This car and the rest of the Commodore family are part of the evolution of matters automotive. What this car delivers is what the VF did, and then some. The design may not appeal to everyone and that’s fine. Not everyone thinks Monty Python are funny or that the earth is round. That’s fine, if somewhat odd.
Holden conducted numerous clinics before releasing this car and the consensus was to leave the name where it was. In a way, Commodore has come full circle over forty years, with the naming a clear link. 1978 = VB. 2017 = ZB.
What’s inside the ZB is currently amongst the best tech for the level of car it is. It’s safer, too. However it’s still too generically GM inside and for a Calais to be a Calais it NEEDS to say so. This doesn’t, and therein lies the rub. For a DRIVER it answers the call. For the fashion conscious they’ll look elsewhere. Check it out for yourself here: 2018 Holden Calais V V6 AWD