Calais V Evoke’s Change For Commodore.

A Wheel Thing is amongst the first independent review sites to spend time with the new VF Commodores; the VF Calais V and LPG Evoke specifically. There’s already been a lot written in the bigger publications however this review is special, as it’s one of the first that’s non-aligned with a major media partner. Thank you John Taylor at Holden.VF Calais front leftEvoke profile
Of immediate note are the exterior changes, interior changes and, importantly, the changes in price. The centre of the car, being roof and doors remain unchanged from the VE, with the front guards and bonnet moving to an aluminuim construction and a redesign. It’s been interesting to see some Euro influence in the front, with a Jaguar-esque bonnet bulge and guard flute on either side, while the nose section gets revamped headlights, a resculpted bumper and chrome inserts, again ala Jaguar…..
Evoke rearVF Calais V rearIt’s American at the rear, with the GM family lineage on display. With the current Camaro a VE in disguise, the taillights bring that family link in and also previews the immediately forthcoming Malibu (review in coming weeks). Some have called the taillights “Mazda-ish” which isn’t a bad thing in one respect. The lower part of the bumper is redesigned, losing the full depth of colour and minimising the full nappy look, being replace with a black insert whilst the boot lid has been both extended and given a lip, flattening out the deck and helping the aerodynamics, Evoke dashdropping drag and aiding fuel economy.Holden-VF-Calais-interior
Under the skin, the major changes have been to the electronics, allowing the better integration of voice control, larger touchscreen MyLink navitainment plus allowing items such as the HUD (Head Up Display) on the Calais V to be fitted along with parking sensors front and rear to help with automatic parking, collision avoidance, blind spot sensing in the wing mirrors and more. There’s been no mechanical changes to the engines (3.6L SIDI for the Calais and the 3.6L LPG engine in the Evoke) however the change to an electronic park brake and electric steering have helped in the weight saving cause, with 70kg lost whilst some 30kg was added back in with the upgrades. As a result, fuel economy is now down in the 8+L per 100 km, a reduction notable relative to the initial VE figures of well over 10L/100kms.
The Calais V came with the 3.6L V6, pumping 210kW and 350 torques; the 3.6L LPG engine offers up 180kW and 320Nm….one would expect the smallish difference in torque to almost negligible, however a seat of the pants comparison has the Evoke fractionally but noticeably slower off the line under normal acceleration. Given a fair crack, however, it bursts into life and carries you to freeway speeds in around 7.5 seconds on average. The Calais seems quicker off the mark, understandably, however carries only an extra 26kg weight penalty (1704 vs 1730) which helps given the extra grunt.
Evoke interiorBoth cars have the Aisin six speed auto, which is apparently meant to beCalais V shifter smoother than the VE….both exhibit the same, oddly staccato stuttering for gear the VE ‘boxes showed sometimes, plus that weird, almost manual lag change between gears. Quiet, yes; smooth, mostly. There’s the typical rorty note from the exhaust from both when driven appropriately and there’s a lessening of a somewhat thrashy engine noise as well.
Both cars get the FE1 suspension, the more luxury tuned setup, but with the Evoke riding on 16 inch wheels and 60 profile tyres versus the Calais V’s 19’s and 40s, it feels a little more plush, a little more absorbent yet “unfloaty” as well. The Calais range had specially developed Bridgestone tyres, with the asymmetric cut adding to grip and it certainly worked. A Wheel Thing took the Calais V to Australia’s home of motorsport, Mount Panorama, at Bathurst and using the onboard G-sensor, managed a one G run down through the esses. There’s no doubt that more could be extracted in more capable hands (or Holden’s understanding if something went wrong) but it’s a good indication of how well the VF chassis is sorted, especially four up and a near full tank, so weighing close to two tonnes at a good clip and pulling a G says a lot for grip. There’s been substantial changes to the VF Calais noseVF Calais profilesuspension as well, with damper and spring rates adjusted, changes to the anti-roll bars and even the suspension bushes.
Pushed into turns hard, both cars grip and there’s just the hint of tip in at the nose whilst under brakes, the new, quicker responding and lighter Bosch ABS system does a great job of hauling up the mass. It’s even quieter on the road from a inside cabin point of view.
The interior has had a fairly substantial facelift; gone is the much maligned and disliked hand brake design, replaced by an electric system, operated by a centre console switch. Gone is the out of whack with the rest of the world centre console mounted window switches, moved to the driver’s door side. There’s keyless start for the Calais with the Evoke retaining a key start. A larger touchscreen, rearranged dials on the dash and a colour LED display for the Calais, a redesigned dash layout and (for A Wheel Thing) a questionable fashion statement for the Calais seats. The Evoke stays with cloth only, yet the comfort level was a touch higher, feeling more relaxed and settled into the seat. The Calais comes with leather, as expected, plus a colour coordinated strip running down the centre, matching the fabric on the dash. It’s a light grey colour (in the supplied car)and frankly looks out of place on the seats. It provides a break from the black on the dash, it just doesn’t fit anywhere else with the colour contrast, plus runs the risk, in time, of separating in the stitching. There’s chrome and alloy look highlights to also help brighten the cabin, whilst the dash itself is topped by black plastic and a leather cover for the driver’s dials (look great on the Calais, less so in the Evoke). Unfortunately, it’s highly reflected in the windscreen which Calais V dashis distracting; what isn’t is the very useful and well engineered HUD in the Calais. Providing info such as speed, revs, gear and G force it’s adjustable for driver’s height and brightness and is well placed just below the driver’s sightline. An added extra in the Calais is memory position seating.
The touchscreen navitainment system is pretty easy to use, comes with voice activation and embedded applications such as Pandora internet radio whilst the system also employs live traffic updates and provides speed camera warnings and zone changes. The dials to help operate some features are well sized and usable but also have the effect of pushing the screen into the Calais V doordash and running the risk of accidentally pressing said buttons whilst tapping the touchscreen. Another ergonomic mistake is the location of the USB/Aux jacks inside the centre console storage space, instead of logically relocating them to the small storage space (yet easier to access) just ahead of the gear lever. The aircon vents move to an inverted flying buttress look, framing the touchscreen whilst the controls go retro with a dial for fan speed instead of buttons and eyecatching LED numbers for the temperatures (dual zone). The steering wheel in the Calais gets a flat bottom while the Evoke cops a chunky and comfortable vinyl textured item; steering is more responsive and there’s an almost tactile feedback from the car at any speed.
Finally, a perhaps much needed price reduction: the Evoke (which replaces both Berlina and Omega) lobs at $34990, a full five thousand less, in non LPG form whilst the LPG version is $37490. The Calais V V6 is a virtual ten thousand below the previous, at $46990. There’s been substantial reductions across the rest of the range as well which go a long, long way to answering the question: does this car, possibly the last Holden engineered Commodore, deserve a place in your driveway?
With better pricing, better tech, better looks, better on road manners, it’s a shouted and resounding YES!

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