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Holden Calais Liftback 2018 review

The liftback design presents a much sleeker profile than any generation before it.

Aussies love an underdog story, and there are few cars scrapping harder in 2018 than the Holden Commodore. Between staying relevant in the eyes of fickle Australian-made buyers, and SUVs continuing to push sedans into obscurity, it has had a lot of adversity to overcome. 

For my weekend test I'm driving the Holden Calais 2018. Priced at $40,990, it represents a more luxurious, and yet sporty, version of the new Commodore.

It has been gifted with a decent amount of standard kit, including leather trim, seat heaters in the front row, an 8.0-inch multimedia screen with navigation, wireless phone charging, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and 18-inch alloys. Good start. 

The Calais comes in two guises; the Tourer (wagon), and this liftback, which is the version we'll be testing. How will it handle the grind of hauling myself and my three kids around for the weekend? Let's find out.

Saturday

A hectic schedule today, with the Calais called on to taxi the kids to the city, run various trips to the local shops and cinema, and then take us to dinner in the evening. 

At first glance it's hard to distinguish this car as being part of the Holden Commodore family of old, with the liftback design presenting a much sleeker profile than any generation before it. I suspect it will take some time to get used to. 

  • Designers have opted to include hockey stick-like sculpting along the doors. Designers have opted to include hockey stick-like sculpting along the doors.
  • The front-end's large grille looms in comparison to the small LED headlights. The front-end's large grille looms in comparison to the small LED headlights.
  • The roofline and sides taper off at the rear giving it a softer, more rounded appearance. The roofline and sides taper off at the rear giving it a softer, more rounded appearance.

The front-end showcases a large grille that looms in comparison to the disproportionately small LED headlights, while on the sides, designers have opted to include superfluous hockey stick-like sculpting along the doors. The roofline and sides taper off at the rear giving it a softer, more rounded appearance. 

The cabin is clean and functional, with most of the touchscreen functions controlled by a simple row of four horizontal buttons, and a gloss-black surround encasing the centre console. My son was quick to sync up the phone to the 8.0-inch touchscreen (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped) and selected Eye of the Tiger by Survivor to test the eight-speaker stereo. How appropriate.

The cabin is clean and functional, with touchscreen functions and soft-touch materials. The cabin is clean and functional, with touchscreen functions and soft-touch materials.

Plenty of soft-touch materials line the cabin, with leather seats and a leather-wrapped wheel. All of which makes for a comfortable and pleasant space to spend a weekend tackling the traffic.

Around the suburbs, it's well composed and comfortable, going about its business with minimal fuss. Steering is responsive and well-weighted for navigating city streets. The cabin manages to prevent much of the road, wind and engine noise from entering, too.

Parking in tight underground car parks or on the street was made easy courtesy of the reversing camera, parking sensors and good visibility out of every window.

Sunday

The schedule for the day included a trip to the farmers' market in the morning, then to the park to kick the footy followed by shopping in the afternoon. 

Under the bonnet, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine develops 191kW and 350Nm, and is matched to a nine-speed automatic sending power to the front wheels. It's surprisingly good, too. Not Earth-shattering, but it is capable and responsive enough around town.

Under the bonnet, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine develops 191kW and 350Nm. Under the bonnet, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine develops 191kW and 350Nm.

For those looking for something more fuel efficient, the Calais is also available with a turbodiesel producing 125kW/400Nm. The V6 is not available in this grade.

The liftback opens to a huge 568-litre space that provides excellent access, and easily swallowed the luggage for the weekend. Cabin storage up front includes a centre console, two cup holders and oddment storage in front of the gear lever for phone and car keys.

The kids in the back were well catered for, with two cupholders hidden in a pulldown divider, room in each of the doors for bottles, plus air vents (but no temperature controls) and two USB charge points located just below the vents. There was plenty of space for them to kick back and enough head and legroom even for three adults.

  • The liftback opens to a huge 568-litre space. The liftback opens to a huge 568-litre space.
  • The leather seats make for a comfortable and pleasant space. The leather seats make for a comfortable and pleasant space.
  • There was enough head and legroom even for three adults. There was enough head and legroom even for three adults.
  • The kids in the back were well catered for with air vents and two USB charge points. The kids in the back were well catered for with air vents and two USB charge points.

The safety story is surely the headline for this five-star ANCAP-rated Calais, with the Holden Eye camera system included as standard, along with six airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning and forward-collision warning.  

You'll also find semi-autonomous parking, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors. For parents using car seats, there are two ISOFIX attachment points and three top-tether points. 

Downsides? Well there were a couple of issues in my test car, including a rattle from the front passenger door, and I also noted the driver's front door sat slightly lower than the rear door frame. 

Over the weekend the Calais covered around 340km of city and suburban driving, with the trip computer displaying fuel consumption of 9.3 litres/100km. A bit more than Holden's official combined fuel consumption of 7.6L/100km, and the petrol version we drove preferred premium 95RON unleaded.


The Wrap

This is a capable family hauler that scores big on practicality and safety, and offers plenty of usable space in the cabin and boot. The engine may be small, but it's definitely a sweet little number that was up to the task of propelling us around the city and suburbs.

Being an underdog can be hard work, but the Calais puts a strong case forward for consideration. 

Could this underdog be your new family car? Tell us in the comments section below.

Likes

Comfy ride
Capable engine
Safety kit

Dislikes

Interesting exterior design
Some quality quirks

Scores

Dan:

3.8

The Kids:

4

$26,620 - $32,890

Based on third party pricing data

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