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Holden Commodore Calais V 2013 review

Dynamically the Commodore was always a notch above its price and that's still true.

It's a big ask for any car to save a company but by the time the first wheels turned on the test drive for Holden's new VF Commodore last week, it was clear the stakes were much higher than that.

Ford announced it was bowing out, leaving just Holden and Toyota. If one goes, they both go. On the VF rides the fate of the industry. The route takes the convoy on a trip into the past, to the long sweepers and tight climbs of the Snowy Mountains.

It's just the sort of country the Commodore was originally designed to tame, in long sure-footed strides, and it's impossible not to be struck by one thought immediately: I'd rather be punting one of these through here than any of the SUVs that have pinched the parking spot of the big Aussie sedan.


Holden flagged price cuts early and they hit $10,000 at the peak of the range. However, it's the equipment fitted across the VF that says most about Holden's approach.

The best example is the automatic parking system. Common now even on hatchbacks, the VF does the steering while you apply throttle and brakes. For programmers the steering bit is easy; finding a suitable spot is the test. The most difficult to assess are perpendicular, which is why almost all these systems only parallel park. The VF can do both.

The new electrical "architecture'' benefits every VF, even the base model Evoke, with voice control and Bluetooth phone/audio standard. If you use one of the common smartphones, embedded Pandora and Stitcher apps bring everything to the 8-inch control screen, including messages.


The engineering on the VF is at the opposite end of the scale to Snowy pipes and dams; it's focused on the binary plumbing of the smartphone age. Holden is one of the first in the General Motors world to implement its new electrical architecture and it leapfrogs Commodore into a world of apps and advanced safety systems.

This is not the usual catch-up-with-the-imports exercise. In some areas, VF is better than anything on offer. The head-up display on the top luxury (Calais V) or sport (SS V Redline) grades, for example, projects information on to the windscreen in front of the driver, just below the line of sight. It can display an impressive range of information, from speed and navigation instructions to audio mode and even Formula 1-style upshift lights. The German luxury badges don't go this far.

This sort of stuff, and the overall lift in cabin quality, should help Holden attract private buyers flirting with the bottom rungs of premium.

The final piece in that puzzle is fuel economy and here there are improvements of up to 8 per cent, taking the best to 8.3 litres per 100km. Drivelines themselves are largely carried over, with minor changes to power and torque peaks. The gains come from lightweight parts and electric power steering, among a raft of fine-tuning measures.

The economy figures won't convert any Prius owners and happily for Commodore loyalists, it doesn't come at any cost to driveability either. One-third of buyers still cannot resist the lure of rumbling V8 lump but the petrol 3.6-litre V6 is enough for a luxe Caprice and a hoot in the ute.


The safety systems also advance a generation, with forward collision alarm and lane departure warning on top grades, while blindspot alert and a system that warns of approaching cross-traffic when reversing on all but Evoke.
What this does is simple: It removes the reasons you had for not buying a Commodore.


Dynamically, the Commodore was always a notch above its price and that's still true, with the passion of Holden engineers shining through in the control weights, steering and suspension tune.

Tyre noise is very surface-dependent but generally it's a quieter car, too, and that enhances the new-found cabin feelgood. In the design and details it lacks the class of a premium brand but it's a whole lot more than "just good enough'' we're used to from the locals.

The VF is no Snowy Mountains Scheme and people are now rusted on to SUVs. But if there is any appetite left for the big Aussie touring car, then the VF deserves to bring buyers back.



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Omega 3.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $7,400 – 11,440 2013 Holden Commodore 2013 Omega Pricing and Specs
Omega (LPG) 3.6L, LPG, 6 SP AUTO $8,000 – 12,320 2013 Holden Commodore 2013 Omega (LPG) Pricing and Specs
Omega (LPG) 3.6L, LPG, 6 SP AUTO $7,500 – 11,550 2013 Holden Commodore 2013 Omega (LPG) Pricing and Specs
Omega 3.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $7,000 – 10,890 2013 Holden Commodore 2013 Omega Pricing and Specs
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