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Holden Calais 2008 Review

Plans for an Aussie-built hybrid Astra, future cars with a wider choice of fuel types and exports of Pontiacs back to the US show Holden certainly isn't doing things by halves.

Except when it comes to its V8 engine.

January marks the debut of the 6-litre V8 with AFM (Active Fuel Management) that cuts off the fuel supply to four cylinders when coasting.

It will only be fitted to the automatic transmission V8 models of the Commodore, Ute, Sportwagon, Statesman and Caprice.

A Calais AFM this week on test showed the system simply slips the car into and out of its standard V8 mode when sensors detect varying engine loads.

But it's not as active as I expected. Certain traffic situations could call for a four-cylinder mode, yet repeatedly the dashboard signalled it was remaining as a V8.

When it was working -- primarily freeway coasting or long country downhill runs -- the `4-cyl mode’ tag would illuminate and there would be a slight change in the engine feel. As if, suddenly, the car was driving over tiny road ripples.

Check the instantaneous fuel readout and it would fall from about 11.5 litres/100km to about 7.5 l/100km.

It could make a bit of a difference on the longer haul but if you're route is freeway commuting, it's not time to pop the champagne.

Holden conservatively say AFM will reduce thirst by 1 l/100km. In the Calais' case, that's down to 13.3 from 14.4 l/100km. If you're the average 15,000km annual motorists and fuel is $1 a litre, you'll save $150 a year.

Considering the Calais just cost you $51,290 plus on-road charges, $150 is the equivalent of an annual cafe meal and wine with the wife. Which makes you feel good but leaves you with a nagging feeling that you could have done a lot better.

But AFM is on the right track and made more welcoming by the fact that Holden hasn't raised its V8 prices.

More importantly, it gives near-V6 consumption with all the party tricks of a V8 as close as a press of the foot.

AFM doesn't change anything for the driver or occupants. The Calais is still a great blend of European and Australian engineering that results in a solid, well mannered and safe car that has the performance to deliver a few smiles.

But it is a heavy car and there are times -- notably at slower speeds and in tight parking bays -- when it can feel ponderous and show its 1700kg-plus dry weight bulk.

The steering is heavy and the gearchange lever sometimes feels as firm as a railway track-changing lever.

Then there's the handbrake lever from hell with a release action that is determined to pinch the skin on your left hand.

But the seating is cushy while being supportive and there's room in the back for three proper adults.

The boot is big -- but not as big as many front-drive small cars -- while the space-saver spare is standard (a full-size tyre is optional) and the fold-down rear seat merely exposes a small hole for carrying skis.

It wasn't that long ago that this VE series hit the streets with such acclaim. Yet now the cabin, more specifically the dashboard, has aged badly and looks decidedly old fashioned.

It's still ergonomically sound -- except the handbrake -- and easy to operate, but the rivals have accelerated faster and seem to have a better handle on pastel hues to brighten the interior.

There's not, however, much to dislike about the engine. It starts like a bear out of hibernation yet punches a lot of weight that perfectly suits the six cogs.

Play the game and use the manual sequential shift and the engine perks up a bit more.

If you're not the son or daughter of an OPEC executive, the engine is best run up to about 4000rpm and the next cog selected.

Sure, the exhaust note is exhilarating as the tacho needle spins towards 6000rpm but the thrill is directly equated to the thickness of your wallet.

As a tourer, it needs a full-size spare and a tank-full of standard unleaded and it will simply gobble up the kilometres.

Around town it's bit awkward but always comfortable and self assured.



Holden Calais V8 AFM

Price: $51,290

Engine: 6-litre, V8, OHV, 16-valve, Active Fuel Management cylinder cut-out

Power: 270kW @ 5700rpm

Torque: 530Nm @ 4400rpm

Economy (official): 13.3 litres/100km

Economy (tested): 14.5 litres/100km

Greenhouse: 320g/km (Corolla: 175g/km)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic, sequential; rear-drive

Pricing Guides

Based on 72 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
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Range and Specs

(base) 3.6L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO $4,490 – 10,980 2008 Holden Calais 2008 (base) Pricing and Specs
V 6.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $10,998 – 14,990 2008 Holden Calais 2008 V Pricing and Specs
V 60th Anniversary 6.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $12,490 – 12,995 2008 Holden Calais 2008 V 60th Anniversary Pricing and Specs
V International 3.6L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO $9,240 – 13,090 2008 Holden Calais 2008 V International Pricing and Specs
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist