Holden: 2014 Calais-V Sportwagon review

Holden: 2014 Calais-V Sportwagon review

holden-calais-2014-frontEvery time I read Calais, I immediately think Dover. They were the two ports at either end of the ferry across the English Channel to France, until it was superseded by the Channel Tunnel, which was wholly more efficient (than the ferry, that is, not France…although France has a reputation of being inefficient).

I wonder whether that’s how the Holden Calais-V feels: usurped by changing technology and a move towards smaller, more efficient cars. It would be wrong, though. There’s something noble about being on the waves, using brute force against the elements.

holden-calais-2014-sideThe ‘Chunnel’ is all too easy, and a little soulless. Drop yourself into a big car like the Calais and it reminds you a bit of what was good about motoring until we used to get stung heavily in the wallet every time we needed to fill up.

While Holden has evolved the Commodore range into something that is now pretty damn good, people are still reluctant to buy larger cars unless it’s an SUV. This is wrong, too, because the Holden has a boot so big it mafia hitmen would holden-calais-2014-rear-quarteronly infrequently have to find secluded spots in the woods.

The Sportwagon will swallow a full 2000 litres with the rear seats folded flat, and almost 900 with them up. That’s enough for a large family to go on holiday. For two months. And it’ll tow 2100kg on a braked trailer.

It’s also not that thirsty for a big car, weighing in at around 1800kg. Holden quotes 9l/100km. I achieved 11.4l/100km without trying to be frugal.

holden-calais-2014-bootThe nitty gritty of the Calais-V is a 210kW, 350Nm 3.6-litre SIDI V6 coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission with Active Select. It’s solid. It works. And it’s not too different to the previous iteration.

Holden says that engine noise is reduced, but unless it’s reduced by more than 3dB, non-audio engineers can’t tell. They should have reduced it more, because it’s not the best sounding V6.

The gearbox is great. If you want to drive aggressively it learns very quickly and starts holding the gears longer. I would really like some paddle shifters, mainly because I always drive holden-calais-2014-front-interiorautomatics with the paddles if they’re there. But I suspect the majority don’t, and they’re not included on the Calais-V.

The electro-mechanical steering is quite light, but has good on-centre feel, and is responsive. It’s sharp on the turn-in – almost as sharp as the Audi S3 we had a couple of weeks prior. But, where the S3 could feel a little too sharp, the Calais-V has a perfect balance with consistency and naturalness like a conventional hydraulic power steering setup.

A set of 245/40R19s sit at the corners and there’s a lot of road feel through them. There is a bit of road noise from them, though. While we didn’t test the regular Calais which rolls on 18s, we’d suspect that they would round out the suspension feel a little more. But they don’t look as good.

holden-calais-2014-rear-seatsWe did test the Evoke, though (which is the base model that we’ve got as I write this article). In that there’s altogether more of pleasant balance of ride and handling, and that rolls on 16-inch wheels.

But, really, the best thing about the handling of the Calais-V is that while you know it’s going to scrub away a bit of speed with some understeer into the tighter bends (because it’s safer that way), you can come off the brakes and balance it up with a bit of throttle.

This is really where you need the paddles to make sure you’re in the right gear, but the gearbox does do its best to read your mind. There’s just the right level of slippage from the traction holden-calais-2014-appscontrol to give you a very slight amount of rear-end steering.

It’s excellent.

It’s got so much equipment included as standard that I could write 1500 words just describing everything, but it would be the brochure all over again. Let’s focus on some key wins for Holden, the first one being parking technology.

The Calais is large and also has a low front splitter. I parked it in my apartment parking space and the back stuck out like a poop deck. At 4.9m, I’ve had longer cars, but check it’ll fit in your garage. You’d think that such a long car would make parking a holden-calais-2014-wheelhassle, but you’d be wrong.

The Calais-V comes with Holden’s very useful Automatic Park Assist which pretty much parks the car for you, and the full array of front and rear ultrasonic sensors, rear view camera and Reverse Traffic Alert which warns you if something’s coming up the road as you back out. In all practicality Reverse Traffic Alert is only good for slow-moving bikes because it only measures 25m up the road, but it’s better than nothing.

On the starboard side the driver’s seat is plush and comfortable. It’s heated. You’ve got access to the multimedia system via a holden-calais-2014-rearlarge touchscreen. It comes with Bluetooth compatibility and, the best bit, you can plug your iPhone in and use apps on the screen. Why aren’t all manufacturers doing it as effectively as Holden?

Summing up the Calais-V, I can’t really find much, if anything, I don’t like about it. It’s a solid 4.5/5. If I had 10 to play with, it might make a 9.5. It’s losing some marks because perhaps there’s a little bit too much wind noise and a few hard plastics in the interior and, while I like a good V6, this one doesn’t sound amazing. However, everything is actually screwed together exceptionally well.

You’d be hard-pushed to find a better interior on a sub-70k car, and you’d be even harder pushed to find one that’s anywhere near as practical. There’s more boot space than almost any car and SUV on the market at this price.

If I had a couple of kids and all the gubbins that comes with them, I can’t see any reason for purchasing an SUV over the Calais unless you need the towing or off-road capability. You’ve got a cabin that’s not far off Euro-spec, and driving dynamics that are excellent – this Calais-V floats my boat.

Price: $66,490 (V6) or $72,490 (V8)

Pros

  • Loads of room
  • Loads of equipment
  • Sensible power

Cons

  • Nothing major

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