Holden Calais V6 Supercharged

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

The 1600kg four door sedan picks itself up and rushes forward, the supercharger howling mutedly.

And the power seems to just keep coming, never faltering, never wavering, seamless and creamy-smooth.

The supercharged version of the Calais – Holden’s Commodore range-topper – covers ground rapidly and effortlessly. The only indication of how many kilometres are passing beneath the big Bridgestone tyres is the fuel gauge’s inexorable progress towards empty.

At cruising speeds the supercharged Calais feels much like any V6 Commodore. It’s only when you want power for passing that you encounter the huge torque that’s on tap and the sparkling acceleration the supercharger delivers.

The supercharged version of the 3.8-litre ECOTEC V6 is a potent performer.

The Eaton blower boosts horsepower from the standard V6’s 152kW to 171 – which is well ahead of what the old Holden V8 produced.

Torque leaps from 305Nm to 375.

Holden says the supercharger produces smooth, progressive power, and no-one could argue with that.

There’s a steady, solid surge that ensures potent acceleration.

The supercharged Calais is the first second-generation VX Commodore we’ve driven for any real distance.

The big change in the Series II VX is in the suspension.

The VT/VX Commodore has always been a user-friendly car with good grip, and good chassis balance.

Its drawbacks have been a slight hesitation on initial turn-in and a progressive move to an oversteer feel (but without losing rear end grip) on the way out of corners.

There’s really nothing wrong with that, but drive an HSV Clubsport and then step back into a standard factory Holden and you notice the difference. The HSV feels better tied down and more agile without being much harsher (in fact, HSV manages a very supple ride).

For the VX II, Holden has put major emphasis on chassis improvements aimed at improving steering response, handling balance and stability at speed.

The fix has taken some cues from HSV practice with extra link arms in the independent rear suspension. The aim has been to improve stability over bumps and during strong acceleration, deceleration and braking.

The front and rear suspensions have been re-tuned to complement the new geometry.

The suspension changes have worked. Turn-in to corners is now much crisper, though subjectively it still doesn’t feel as sharp as the Ford Falcon AU’s.

But the revisions have improved the feel of the car without making it any less user-friendly.

The standard independent rear suspension provides excellent tail end grip and you’d have to work very hard indeed to get the back of the car to step out.

We got an unwelcome chance to assess the car’s stability in an emergency situation when a car – coming in the opposite direction – turned across in front of us in the middle of a sweeping, 90km/h corner.

The situation demanded heavy braking and evasive action steering, but the Calais was completely unfazed.

It reacted instantly to the unexpected tightening of the line through the corner. There were no tail wiggles from the heavy application of brakes and the car resumed its path along the road with no loss of composure.

The incident also showed the efficiency of the Calais’ four-wheel disc brakes. They hauled the car down quickly and effectively. We didn’t have to brake so hard that the standard ABS anti-skid system came into effect. A moderately heavy prod on the brakes pedal was sufficient for the discs to achieve the required level of deceleration.

The car’s ride quality hasn’t been compromised in the search for a more agile chassis.

The Calais rides very well, soaking up most bumps effectively. Its luxury car smooth without being wallowy.

If you prefer a firmer, more sporting feel you can order the FE2 suspension which comes as standard on the Commodore S.

But we found the standard suspension a good compromise between handling sharpness and comfortable ride.

On smooth roads like Auckland’s Southern Motorway, the Calais’ ride is silken.

However, on minor roads where bumps come frequently there is a little more suspension patter. Nothing uncomfortable; you’re just aware that the suspension is working.

In city running the Calais is effortless. The smooth-shifting electronically-controlled four-speed automatic gearbox takes the work out of commuting in Auckland’s nightmare rush hour traffic. Talk yourself out of getting irritated by the stop/start tedium, turn on the sound system and let the car do most of the work.

But it’s on the open road that the big Holden comes into its own. It wafts down the motorway, its interior serenely quiet, the only indicator of speed being the large, easily read analogue speedometer.

On to the constant radius corners of State Highway 1 and it retains its unflappability.

The steering is communicative, nicely weighted, the car impressively stable. It’s in its element on long open road journeys. Its mix of effortless performance, good handling, comfortable ride and excellent passenger room combine to make long road trips enjoyable and relaxing.

As the luxury car in the Commodore range, the Calais is comprehensively equipped. But the luxury is understated. There’s none of the garishness once associated with big luxury cars.

For instance, the only sign of wood near a Calais is the trees alongside the road. Thankfully the Holden interior designers have resisted the impulse to use woodgrain – real or fake – to add “luxury” to the Commodore and turn it into a Calais.

Instead there are little touches that you may not notice till you find yourself driving a lower-spec member of the Commodore family.

The drinks holder in the centre console is a case in point. In regular Commodores it’s open and on show. In the Calais it’s covered by a discreet, styled, touch-to-open lid.

The Calais gets a superb 10-speaker sound system which includes both a cassette player and a Compact Disc unit.

Our only quibble is that the CD changer – the magazine can carry 10 discs – is in the boot. I’d prefer a dashboard-mounted CD player like Ford’s six-disc in-dash unit, or even – and I know it doesn’t sound luxury car-like – a single disc dash-mounted player.

The seats are upholstered in leather and there are leather accent panels on the doors. The driver and front passenger seats have eight-way electrically-operated adjustment.

The seats are excellent, offering plenty of adjustment and good lower back and shoulder support.

Both the cushion and backrest are well-shaped and give good lateral support during vigorous driving.

I find the seats far better than those in the Falcon/Fairmont. The Ford seats have more aggressive fixed support in the lower back region which I find uncomfortable.

Naturally the Calais’ windows and exterior mirrors are power-operated and there’s remote-control central door-locking. The key’s door-opening button operates in two stages. Initially it opens only the driver’s door, keeping the other doors locked to prevent intruders getting into the car. The second stage opens the other three doors.

The spacious boot includes a luggage net – sort of like a flexible filing pocket – in which you can stow smaller items to prevent them flying around the boot. It’s a good idea.

The climate control air-conditioning is superb, in traditional Commodore fashion. You never feel as if you’re sitting with a freezer door open being blasted with fan-driven icy air. Instead the air-con is unobtrusive and beautifully-controlled.

The subtle luxury touches extend to the car’s exterior.

The unique Calais grille gets discreet chromed outlining. The oval driving lights set into the front apron are also chrome accented.

The polished multi-spoked alloy wheels give a high quality look.

The contrasting coloured sills give the familiar sheet metal a distinctively different look.

The Mike Simcoe-led design team has done a superb job. There are no jarring notes, no lapses of taste.

The Calais looks distinctive and distinguished.

Safety equipment is comprehensive. Active safety gear includes the agile chassis, the ABS brakes, traction control (which can be switched off: it can be a pain on gravel). Passive safety features include an integrated safety cell for the cabin, front and side airbags for front seat occupants, anti-submarining built into all seats; five lap/sash seatbelts, impact beams in the doors.

The supercharged Calais is the middle player in the car’s three-model range. You can choose among naturally-aspirated V6, the supercharged unit and the 5.7-litre, Chevrolet-developed V8.

We haven’t driven an unblown V6 Calais for some years, but we suspect that if fuel economy were high on your priority list it might be a better choice. Generally naturally-aspirated Holden V6s use one and a half litres less petrol per 100 kilometres than supercharged versions.

The Calais’ onboard computer told us the car achieved a touch under 10 litres/100km in totally open-road running; 12.5 in a mix that was mainly motorway, and 16.5 litres/100km in a mix that was biased towards city use.

The Calais is a well-appointed, well-sorted luxury car with balanced rear-wheel drive handling and capacious passenger and luggage capacity.

We had few quibbles with the test car – aside from a few minor dashboard rattles (a rarity in VT/VX Commodores in our experience).

The supercharged V6 endows the Calais with excellent performance and seamless acceleration.

But even with the naturally-aspirated V6 the big Holden is a fast car. The 5.7-litre V8 takes it into a higher realm of performance.

Which variant you choose would depend on price and running costs.

The Calais is a fine ca offering a good compromise between handling finesse and ride comfort.

AutoPoint road test team.