Not all members of the Commodore family are created equal, some have power, others can offer value for money and then there’s the Calais. Well dressed and with all the toys the Calais has long offered a luxury orientated purchasing option to Commodore fans. The VE Calais launched back in 2006 was no exception and quickly established itself as a cocky Aussie alternative to more expensive European saloons. With many buyers opting for the V6 engine over the V8 in the Calais, Holden has recognised an opportunity and for the 2009 model year a new six-cylinder engine was introduced. But is this new engine simply a marketing ploy to boost sales of an ageing vehicle or some serious high-tech kit? Car and SUV spent some time with the classy Calais and it’s new motivation source to find out more.
All the fuss of the new engine can be filtered down into four letters: SIDI or Spark Ignition Direct Injection. In layman’s terms the fuel injector nozzle has been shifted into the combustion chamber with a high-pressure fuel rail shifting the juice to it. This creates a stronger more effective detonation developing more power and increasing fuel economy. The net result for the 3.6-litre motor is an impressive 210kW of power and 350Nm of torque, a 15kW and 10Nm increase from the Calais’ previous multi-point injected unit. Fuel efficiency has seen an 11 percent improvement with a new combined average figure of 10.1l/100km and the engine will happily run on 91RON petrol.
While the facts and figures are impressive, the true measure for a sports-focused sedan is always on the tarmac and the Calais V doesn’t disappoint. When your right foot asks the question the new engine responds with strong linear acceleration right through to the red line. It’s not shy to tell you all about it too and the SIDI engine strikes the right exhaust note for 6-cylinder followers. At cruising speeds the bravado quickly settles down to a smooth hum that suits the Calais’ refined nature well.
Matched up to a six-speed automatic transmission as standard the Calais box dives down gears decisively when asked but can be caught out hunting for the right ratio on twisty roads. While it’s not a large black mark against the vehicle the gearbox is a raw point in the power train and struggles to match up against smoother European competition.
The Calais V ride is suitably soft and refined making it an excellent touring vehicle. The only drawback from the pliant suspension set up is a slight tendency to be unsettled by larger road bumps or ruts particularly with passengers on board. Grip during cornering is generally good with the Calais staying flat and wide. Some oversteer can be achieved with vigorous throttle and keen drivers can turn off traction control easily for a more leery experience. Braking comes via four-wheel ventilated discs and while they are strong the brake pedal has excessive travel and an unassertive feel, which can be disconcerting with an 1800kg vehicle to stop. By comparison the steering is very responsive, stable and the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel offers a commanding connection with the road below.
Away from the Calais V’s new hi-tech power train, very little has changed since the model first rolled off the production line in 2006. Visually the exterior styling is proving evergreen and still appears modern with the new ‘SIDI’ badging letting everyone know your Calais is a bit special. Other features that set it apart from its lesser siblings are stylish 18-inch alloys, chrome ringed fog lamps and a subtle boot-lip spoiler.
The cabin is capacious and pleasant with wide electric leather front seats and a rear pew that’s angled backwards so passengers sink in for the trip ahead. There is an overall feeling of quality and luxury to the Calais V but not all plastics are created equal and the glove box in particular has a budget feel.
Instrumentation is basic and easily read, switchgear is well laid out surrounding a large multi-function display screen. Standard equipment level includes some useful tricks like rear park assist, dual zone climate control air-con, rain-sensing wipers, an 11-speaker stereo system and a rear overhead DVD player with infrared headphones to keep the kids happy. One of the few negatives with the Calais interior is its thick intrusive A-pillar that creates a blind spot big enough to shroud traffic lights or roadside signage. But, overall, the Calais cabin is the main reason for stumping up the extra cash as it has the luxury and the gadgets to justify the expense.
In safety terms the entire Commodore range is well covered and the Calais V gets a full cache of 6 airbags, an electronic stability control program and active front seat head restraints. All up it’s good enough to achieve a maximum 5-star ANCAP test rating.
So what’s the verdict on the 2009 Holden Calais V? Well, the new engine is more than marketing hype and has made a good car even better. The increase in power adds character and further closes the gap in overall performance between the two available motor sizes. The main issue is that there’s little to distinguish this Calais over older models dating back to 2006 and this fact may put off some buyers who desire more changes than just an improved power train.
Even though the Calais is getting long in the tooth it still has plenty to offer for those who want space, luxury and power and don’t want to pay European prices for it. If that’s you, don’t leave the Calais V off your test drive list.
Price: $65,090 (V8 – $70,590)
What we like:
- SIDI engine has power and economy
- Spacious well-equipped cabin
- Comfortable ride
What we don’t like:
- Annoying A-pillar design
- Inconsistent interior materials
- Minimal difference from previous VE Calais models
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
Holden Calais V-Series – Specifications
3.6L 60-degree Double Overhead Cam V6 with 4 valves per cylinder. Twin knock control sensors with individual cylinder adaptive control. On-board diagnostics. Spark Ignition Direct Injection (SIDI)
Compression Ratio 11.3
Power 210kW @ 6400rpm
Torque 350Nm @ 2900rpm
Exhaust System Dual exhaust outlet
Front: Direct acting stabiliser bar. Coil spring
Rear: Multi-Link Independent Rear Suspension (IRS). Coil spring. Stabiliser bar
Variable ratio rack and pinion
Turn Circle 11.4
Width (excluding mirrors) 1899
Ground clearance 110
Boot Volume (L) 496