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COTY 2006 Holden Calais V8

With the testing completed, the merits weighed and the votes cast, Holden's billion dollar baby finished on top with seven of the eight CARSguide judges to streak ahead of the finals field.

GM Holden's huge gamble of sinking a reputed $1.2 billion into making the quintessential Aussie car into a world player took an enormous amount of courage and plenty of foresight. Whether it pays long-term dividends is another question and one that will not be answered for some time.

But the question of whether the meld of design and engineering has produced a car worthy of its hype has been answered far more quickly ... and the answer is yes.

The Calais V was initially chosen to represent the VE Commodores in the final judging for a range of compelling reasons: the winning marriage of the 6.0-litre V8 and the silky six-speed automatic; driving dynamics that set a benchmark for Aust-

ralian-made cars, and styling that makes it a viable competitor to a range of Euro luxury models at a fraction of the cost.

Yet for all it's winning characteristics, there were also arguments against the Calais V - and not surprisingly one of the strongest was the choice of the V8 in an environment of soaring petrol prices.

While that is certainly a valid argument, the CARSguide COTY award is to recognise the best car of the year and the Calais V V8 is just that. There are plenty of other forums for social engineering.

Others would also argue that recall issues with the VE diminish its validity as a worthy winner. The relevant issues are not design failures: they involve the failure of components from outside suppliers. And that is certainly not an unusual situation with a completely new car. So, it seems that even a billion dollars will not buy you perfection - but it gets you a lot of things to like.

While it has its shortcomings, the Calais is a car of some considerable distinction ... and one well worth getting to know.

And that is just what the judges found.

The more they got to know the Calais the more they liked it. On the track and, more significantly, on the road, the big Holden kept on scoring points.

Paul Gover of Melbourne's The Herald Sun, says his initial leanings for a winning car were of a sportier nature.

"At first I was going for the Porsche Cayman because it is such a neat car and a wonderful drive," Gover says. "Then I slipped into the Toyota Aurion and realised how much extra work had gone into the car in Australia to move it up and beyond the basic Japanese Camry. But a back-to-back run between the Aurion and the Calais proved almost instantly that Holden has produced the best car of 2006."

That sentiment was reflected time after time among the judges."The Calais is simply the best car in the Commodore range," says Brisbane Courier-Mail's Gordon Lomas.

Bryan Littley, of Adelaide's The Advertiser, says the Calais V has it all. "(It) delivers faith that the future of Australian auto design is in good hands," he says.