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Holden Calais 2003 Review

The latest Calais is more enjoyable, all-round.

Every time we turn around lately there is another Holden in the road-test garage.

We've had everything from the Vectra to the Rodeo, with a tasty sidetrack into Monaro and HSV country, and now we're back out again with the latest update on the Commodore.

It's no real surprise, because Holden promised 2003 would be the biggest new-model year in its history. It forecast 10 newcomers this year, but even the red team probably didn't expect all the action it has created.

It's still trailing Toyota in the new-car sales race, but it's not for lack of trying. Holden says it's all down to the booming sales of the baby Toyota Echo, and a $14,490 deal it cannot match with its Barina, but that's another story.

This week we're looking at the latest "hero" car in the Holden lineup, the Calais that is the centrepiece of the VY Series II update on the top-selling Commodore.

Most changes to the VYII are minor -- some so small you could not pick the difference -- but substantial tweaking has made it more enjoyable to drive. It's a more youthful approach to prestige motoring.

The latest work has run from the wheels and bodywork to suspension and several little things, including safer "active" headrests similar to the ones first fitted to Saabs.

The changes to the Calais give it a much sportier look and feel, complete with a small airdam and mesh grilles in the nose -- the latest must-have item for any performance car -- which would have been repulsive to old-fashioned Calais customers.

Some say the mid-life tweak is more like a mid-life crisis pack -- looking for the fountain of youth -- or a response to Ford's success with its sportier BA Falcons.

Holden says no to both suggestions, though it admits it's taking all its cars down a sportier road.

That's partly a response to the success of the SS Commodore, which has become an all-time cult car, and also the growing number of young(ish) people who are playing the salary-sacrifice game to get something a bit more enjoyable in the garage.

In the case of the VYII, looking beyond the Calais, that's also meant V8 engines which now come with a minimum of 235 Gen III kilowatts, bigger wheels on almost every model, cruise control and rear reading lamps on the basic Executive, and 245kW V8s for the SS and SV8. But there is not much you can see, unless you're looking at the Calais or one of the latest "hero" colours -- led by the shocking SS-focused purple, called Cosmo.

On the road
The latest Calais is more enjoyable, all-round. We like the new look and even the steering wheel -- the shaped leather rim really fits your grip and seems tuned for driving.

The body is much more muscular, with the latest 17-inch alloy wheels filling the guards, and the rim design shows Michael Simcoe's team at Fishermens Bend is really having fun with the latest Commodore. They are as distinctive as anything in the after-market shops, just like the whole alloy lineup on VYII.

The front airdam makes the car a little more imposing from the front, though we would have been much happier without the stylish projector-style headlamps. They look classy but don't throw as much light as the units in the basic Executive -- a case of form ahead of function.

On the red-ink side of the ledger, about our only other real beef is with the automatic transmission.

After a week with Ford's latest Fairlane, with its touch-change manual mode, the clunky old auto shift in the test car was a letdown. Major.

The engine, though, was pretty good and the supercharged V6 doesn't seem nearly as gruff as we remembered.

It's still not the sweetest six in the business, but it has solid torque on the bottom end and gives a V8-style surge past 3000 revs.

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(base) 5.7L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $1,995 – 7,990 2003 Holden Calais 2003 (base) Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide


Lowest price, based on 11 car listings in the last 6 months

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