Skip to main content

Holden 1As a youth, I liked noth­ing bet­ter than cruis­ing around in cars with my mates — usu­ally oth­er people’s cars back then, as we didn’t have the means to buy our own. Very rarely, one mate in par­tic­u­lar would get a loan of his dad’s Hold­en Cal­ais. With its flash ste­reo, plush leath­er seats and rorty V6, we couldn’t believe our luck each time we man­aged to scav­enge the keys. Except the Cal­ais could bite — hard as it happened — and it’s still a mys­tery to me how this par­tic­u­lar car didn’t end up on its roof fol­low­ing our mis­guided attempts at power-induced over­steer… but that’s anoth­er story.

The thing I remem­ber most about the Cal­ais was that it was hon­est. People admired your suc­cess rather than mak­ing crude remarks about you as you went by. And 20 years on, climb­ing behind the wheel of Holden’s 2014 mod­el Cal­ais, I can’t help but feel a little wist­ful. We had some good times in that car, and now that GM has announced the demise of loc­al Aus­trali­an vehicle pro­duc­tion by 2017, the time of the large Hold­en is all but up. It seems our col­lect­ive pas­sion for SUVs does have a cost, in more ways than one.

But times, as they say, are chan­ging, and des­pite its immin­ent end, no one can accuse Hold­en of sit­ting on its hands. The new VF mod­el range is more evol­u­tion than revolu­tion, both inside and out, but it looks good — it’s per­haps the best iter­a­tion so far, to be frank. Even with a smart new front end and espe­cially nicely sculp­tured rear, it’s suf­fi­ciently famil­i­ar to be clearly a Hold­en, but pleas­ingly mod­ern and upmarket.

The Cal­ais comes with two mod­el options and two engine choices — V6 or V8. My test car was the high­er-spec ‘V’ mod­el, with the stand­ard V6. At $66,490, it com­mands an $8k premi­um over its entry-level sib­ling, but even so, there’s a fair bit on offer for the money, espe­cially when you com­pare it to sim­il­ar-sized Euro offer­ings with com­par­able specs.

The VF’s interi­or is also heav­ily revised, man­aging to be both func­tion­al and a little bit spe­cial through the use of two-tone fab­rics — leath­er and velour — off­set by chrome inserts. Sur­faces feel soft to the touch, and it’s less funer­eal than some Ger­man offer­ings. The multi-media inter­face works well, while all the sec­ond­ary con­trols you might need are imme­di­ately to hand.

Under the bon­net, the 3.6‑litre V6 is famil­i­ar from the last VE series car, but it has been tweaked to keep it com­pet­it­ive. Pro­du­cing 210kW and 350Nm, it can spir­it the Cal­ais from stand­still to 100km/h in under sev­en seconds — not exactly a blis­ter­ing per­form­ance, but still mean­ing­ful in real world situations.

The driv­ing exper­i­ence is quite simply old school. But that’s no bad thing neces­sar­ily — more some­thing to get used to. It has that tra­di­tion­al big rear-wheel-drive feel to it, which ini­tially feels too soft and overly leth­ar­gic. But after a day or two behind the wheel, I came to really appre­ci­ate the plush­ness of the Calais’s ride, while also find­ing its turn-in, road-hold­ing and per­form­ance all vastly bet­ter than first impres­sions might have sug­ges­ted. The steering’s a little light — as you would expect for this tar­get mar­ket — but there is still feel when it counts, and it’s not a bad steer even in the twisty stuff.

But it’s the creature com­forts that set this Cal­ais apart from its pre­de­cessors. Stand­ard kit includes a heads-up dis­play, lane depar­ture warn­ing, sat­nav, Bose ste­reo and heated leath­er seats. The for­ward col­li­sion alert is well inten­tioned, but its frantic warn­ings are more likely to cause an acci­dent than pre­vent one.

It’s hard to call the Cal­ais a true lux­ury car, as it has a few too many rough edges for that. But with its large wheels and redesign, it looks the busi­ness. And while it might not offer quite the pre­ci­sion of some of its (much) more expens­ive rivals, it does a pretty con­vin­cing imit­a­tion. Call me sen­ti­ment­al, but it’s a car I could quite hap­pily exper­i­ence a few more road trips in.


Tech specs

Mod­el reviewed: Hold­en VF Cal­ais ‘V’

Price: $66,490

Fuel eco­nomy: 9.0 litres/100km (manufacturer’s figures)

0–100km/h: 6.96

Over­all: If you don’t do flashy, this is the car for you: big, com­fort­able and with plenty of kit for the money. And how many of us really need 4WD anyway?[/warning]



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.