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Holden Calais VF 2013 Review

EXPERT RATING
8

One week in the hustle and bustle of city driving is all you need to realise just how far the new Holden VF Commodore has come. We might dream of vast landscapes and open roads (or so advertising agencies imagine) but the real test of a car is how it handles the grind of urban driving.

The flagship of the new line-up, the Calais V, is armed to the gunwales to contend with this scenario. Every Commodore can park itself but, as we discover, there is more to the last homegrown Holden than meets the eye.

VALUE

About $10,000 off should be enough to grab your attention. The Calais has dipped to below $40,000 for the first time in more than a decade and the top-line Calais V we've tested here is $48,990 for the V6.

The sharper recommended retail prices reflect the real transaction prices people have been paying for Commodores in recent years. Holden is being more open about it to get more buyers into showrooms and behind the wheel.

TECHNOLOGY

All new VF Commodores come with self-parking gear and rear-view camera but the Calais V takes the tech to a new level in an Australian-designed car.

In case you're wondering, the self-parking party trick tends to work in about three attempts out of five, providing you have ideal conditions. Your speed, the height of the carsalongside and the size of the space come in to play. Our prediction: owners will do it once to show off, then possibly never use it again.

The neatest feature is the head-up display (HUD) which until now was exclusive to late model BMWs. It reflects the vehicle's speed and other key information into the windscreen in the driver's line of sight (although it can be switched off if you prefer to be old school).

Unlike some other cars, the adjustments for brightness and height for the Holden HUD system are easy to use. Best of all: polarised sunglasses don't make the display vanish (as they do on BMWs). Nice one.

There is also a blind zone alert to warn of traffic approaching alongside but out of view over your shoulder. A crash alert system warns if you're about to slam into the car in front. Unlike some other systems, however, the Holden won't hit the brakes automatically. Glad I checked that first.

If you have an Android or Blackberry phone you can reply to text messages at the press of a button on the touchscreen. If you have an iPhone you can use Siri to respond via a button on the steering wheel (if the phone is plugged into the USB socket).

DESIGN

The middle section of the new Commodore's body is the same as the old one but a nose job and a bum tuck have done wonders for its appearance. The more tapered rear end gives the Commodore a sleeker look and helps slip through the air. The outstanding aspect of the new design, though, is the interior.

If you see a new Commodore somewhere it's worth putting your face up to the glass and getting a peek inside (wait until it's stopped). The Calais V gets some nice faux suede on the dash and doors, highlighted by an alloy-look garnish around the air vents. Top marks.

SAFETY

Six airbags and a five-star safety rating are the norm these days but in the case of the VF it's worth exploring in a little more detail. The score that led to the five-star rating is actually a touch higher than the VE, so there has been an improvement.

A few eyebrows were raised when it was revealed Commodores sold in Australia only get six airbags when the US export version gets seven. But that's because seatbelt use is lower in North America than here and, even though belts have finally been mandated in all US states, the old law remains to protect anyone silly enough not to belt up.

Holden deserves points for making a rear camera standard on every model but the image quality isn't brilliant, especially at night. The image quality of other rear-view cameras we've sampled recently are better (Mazda CX-5) while some are worse (Honda CR-V). At least a camera is better than none.

DRIVING

Let's be clear, Holden hasn't reinvented the wheel here. But it has added some polish to an already well-rounded package. The new Commodore is quieter than before and rides and handles like Commodores used to. It feels smaller than it actually is, a good thing given size is seen as a setback these days.

Our test car came from the media launch in Canberra. Before that it had been bedded-in by the same engineers who designed and developed the suspension and drivetrain.

Which is why it was disappointing that our car had developed a subtle knock in the front suspension. It was by no means going to cause a catastrophe but it is the same sound we've heard in Commodores before. We thought it had been fixed, especially given the overhaul on the front suspension (now with fancy aluminium bits). So, some homework then.

VERDICT

The new Calais V marks a welcome return to form and finally has the price, equipment and upmarket appearance to woo would-be buyers away from the imported competition.

Holden Calais V
Price: from $46,990
Engine: 3.6-litre V6, 210kW/350Nm
Transmission: six-speed auto; RWD
Thirst: 9.0L/100km
Dimension: (L), 1.9m (W), 1.5m (H)
Weight: 1730kg
Spare: Space saver (full-size optional)

Pricing Guides

$22,888
Based on 118 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$11,866
Highest Price
$32,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 3.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $11,866 – 24,990 2013 Holden Calais 2013 (base) Pricing and Specs
V 3.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $14,984 – 32,990 2013 Holden Calais 2013 V Pricing and Specs
(base) 3.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $11,866 – 24,990 2013 Holden Calais 2013 (base) Pricing and Specs
V 6.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $14,984 – 32,990 2013 Holden Calais 2013 V Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Pricing Guide

$14,984

Lowest price, based on 33 car listings in the last 6 months

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