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Holden Commodore Calais 1994 Review

The Calais has a stylish split grille at the front flanked by new headlamps.

Luxury motoring starts at a relatively affordable price with the Holden VR Calais executive express.  The Calais looks better than the previous model with Holden's designers having changed 80 per cent of the exterior sheet metal to produce a stylish split grille at the front flanked by new headlamps.

The exterior of the Calais is distinguished from other Commodore models by chrome inserts for the grille, bumpers and bodyside mouldings, and a chrome-tipped exhaust pipe.  Door handles and exterior mirrors are body-colored, and the Calais features two-tone paint for the body and stylish alloy wheels.

Inside, a new wraparound instrument panel includes a tachometer and a trip computer that gives 10 settings including an audible warning when you reach a pre-set speed.  The computer also gives instant and average fuel consumption, average speed, distance to empty, as well as trip distance.

Wipers and the electronic cruise control are operated from stalks mounted on the steering column, and the car is fitted with climate-control air-conditioning.

On the road

Under the bonnet of the test Calais was Holden's standard 165kW 5.0-litre V8, although you can opt for the 3.8-litre V6 at a saving of about $2000 or spend an extra $2760 for the 185kW V8 developed by Holden Special Vehicles.  Unlike the body, there have been no changes to produce greater power or torque from these engines.

But the standard V8 nger does its job remarkably well. The Calais is quick off the line through a combination of good low-down torque and less weight. It is also reasonably fuel efficient, although that can change quickly if you put the foot down.

Noticeable differences from VP are the absence of nervousness in the steering, better directional stability at highway speeds, and less road noise.  Power steering adjusts for vehicle speed and is well-weighted and precise. The four-wheel disc brakes resist fade and operate well.

The doors are locked by remote control and can be deadlocked, and the system also disables the ignition when you leave the vehicle.  Safety features now standard in the Calais include a driver's airbag, anti-lock brakes, seatbelt webbing clamps, and a lap-sash seatbelt for the centre-rear passenger.

The only problem I had was on the day I collected the car which was one of the hottest this summer.  The engine temperature gauge was showing close to maximum in stop-start trafficlong Brunton Avenue past the MCG, and a strong smell of petrol entered the car whenever I stopped.

Moving at speed along the South-Eastern Arterial brought the temperature down and I made it home where I called the HoldenWise 24-hour roadside assistance.  An RACV van arrived one hour and 50 minutes later, the delay being due to peak-hour conditions and the fact that the car was not blocking a road.

The car had cooled by this stage, there was no evidence of any leaks, and the source of the problem - which did not resurface during a week of driving - could not be found.  My guess is that the redesigned grille, which has only a small opening, may not allow enough cooling air to circulate under the bonnet in some conditions.

The competition

Calais is officially listed as an "upper medium" car along with the Ford Fairmont Ghia, but these cars are worthy of being described as prestige.  In V8 guise, these cars have no equal in their designated segment in terms of size and performance - except for versions of these vehicles produced by HSV and Tickford.

While they do not have the refinement of some luxury European imports, neither do they have the pricetags.  Calais is cheaper than the BMW 3-Series, Eunos 500, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Nissan Maxima TI, Volvo 850 and 940, Audi 100, and so on.

The extra features and dynamic advantages of the Calais make it exceedingly good value - in fact, it can match any other upmarket sedan in the world in this area.

Holden Calais 1994

Body: Sedan
Transmission: Manual
Engine: 3 - 4
Fuel: Unleaded
Series: VR
Power: 80 kW - 150 kW
Vehicle Segment: LARGE
Torque: 295Nm
Country of Origin: Australia

Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

Acclaim 3.8L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,400 – 4,070 1994 Holden Commodore 1994 Acclaim Pricing and Specs
Berlina 3.8L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,600 – 4,510 1994 Holden Commodore 1994 Berlina Pricing and Specs
Executive 3.8L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,400 – 4,070 1994 Holden Commodore 1994 Executive Pricing and Specs
S 3.8L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,600 – 4,400 1994 Holden Commodore 1994 S Pricing and Specs