Holden Calais VS Chrysler 300
- Plenty of cabin space
- Safety gear on-point
- Punchy V6
- Fuel use on the high side
- Four-cylinder turbo petrol unavailable
- Diesel not an option
- 6.4 litres of scream
- Well equipped
- Standard safety
- Thirst like a dredger
- So-so dynamics
- Poor ownership package
If Holden had a dollar for every time someone had criticised the new and international flavour of Australia’s formerly home-grown hero, it would surely have more than enough spare cash to blow the dust of that vast South Australian factory and restart local Commodore production immediately.
Hell, there’d probably be enough left over to relaunch the Camira while they were at it. And maybe even knock out a new Gemini or two.
So we’re not going to do that again here. The all-new Commodore, in this case the Calais Tourer, is now here - granted having travelled further than the one it replaces - and so we’ll be playing this review with the straightest of bats.
Because the truth is, if you peel the badging - and thus the swirling emotion - off its elongated rump, then you’ll find this German-built Tourer is, really and truly, a very good thing.
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You may be sensing an increasing level of hype around hybrid and full battery-electric vehicles. In fact, it feels like the automotive world has gone full-fat bananas over ‘electro-mobility’.
At least car manufacturers have, with Tesla’s entertaining antics disrupting the status quo, and causing virtually every mainstream brand to get on board the zero-emissions express.
But of course, the other side of that equation is demand. The rush to meet ever tightening emissions regulations (and save the planet in the process) fails to recognise the fact that not everybody wants a ZEV… yet.
The days of big-bore, more is good, internal combustion propulsion aren’t over yet, and Chrysler, like the rest of the ‘Murican Big Three’ is keeping traditional muscle car enthusiasts happy.
In fact, we’re in the midst of a US horsepower arms race not seen since the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and Chrysler’s SRT (Street & Racing Technology) performance subsidiary is leading from the front with a variety of over-the-top Hellcats, Demons and Red Eyes.
Australia has recently picked up a whiff of that action with the utterly mad 522kW Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, but the only slightly unhinged SRT version, and this car, the Chrysler 300 SRT, have been around for some time.
Launched here in 2012, the second-generation version of the 6.4-litre naturally aspirated sedan was discontinued in the USA in 2014. But sensing a large sedan-sized opportunity as local manufacturing from Ford, Holden and Toyota went the way of the Dodo, the local FCA team negotiated a continuation deal.
Think of the 300 SRT as America’s M5 or E63. A full-size performance sedan with a thick layer of luxury laid over the top, but at around one third the price.
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A best-of-both-worlds option that should have us questioning our SUV obsession, the Calais Tourer delivers plenty of practicality perks and a higher ride height in a dynamic and car-like package. The equipment levels are spot on, including the comprehensive safety package, and it you act smartly, you'll get a hugely long warranty to boot.
It sure is thirsty, though, and we can't help but think plenty of owners would be happier with a smaller, more-efficient engine.
The Chrysler 300 SRT is a big, fast, well-equipped and super-comfortable point-to-point tourer that’s also able to soak up the stresses of a city commute with ease. It’s also showing its age in terms of design, obscenely thirsty, dynamically flawed, and offered with a bottom-of-the-class ownership package. A fun place to visit but make sure you’re ready for permanent residency.
Thinking about some muscle gain? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Less an SUV (happily), and more a high-riding wagon, the Calais Tourer borrows a little from the Subaru XV in its exterior design, sporting the same plastic cladding over each wheel arch. Clearly there is a whole heap of shared DNA between the Sportwagon and Tourer, and so it offers similar perks; like its SUV-shaming boot space.
Elsewhere, the Tourer shares the same soft and rounded edges as the rest of the Commodore range, and while it is genuinely quite handsome from most angles, it is at its best viewed front on, where a simple front-end is bookmarked at each corner by a narrow headlight on top, and an encased fog light below. It’s all a touch understated, sure, but it looks sharp in the metal.
Inside, it’s a clean and functional cabin design, with most of the touchscreen functions controlled by a simple row of four horizontal buttons, and with a gloss-black surround encasing the centre console. The thin leather wheel feels lovely under the touch, and the contrasting door trims and soft-touch materials find their way into the backseat, too.
The NSW Highway Patrol has adopted the 300 SRT as its weapon of choice, and psychologically I reckon they’re onto a winner.
A high waistline, small glasshouse and big 20-inch rims combine to give the 300 a chunky, take-no-prisoners stance. And this intimidating beast filling the mirrors is enough to make even the most determined speedster drop their bundle.
Except for the SRT badge at the back, the exterior is a chrome-free zone, with black finish on the big honeycomb grille, window frames, and dark chrome wheels dialing up the overall air of menace.
The rear view is similarly imposing, with a large slab of almost right-angular boot lid topped by a pronounced body-colour spoiler.
At this point, we have to call out less than perfect panel fit. On our test car for example the intersection of the bonnet and front clip above the headlights was messy with inconsistent shut lines and poor alignment.
Inside not much has changed over the current 300’s seven years on sale, and the design lacks the integrated approach of more modern competitors.
An 8.4-inch colour media touchscreen sits in the centre of a squared oval panel between the central air vents and under an analogue clock, that shape bearing no resemblance to the form of the heating and ventilation control panel below it or the instrument binnacle alongside.
A mass of buttons confronts the driver across the centre stack, steering wheel and door, while genuine carbon fibre inserts add a racy if slightly ironic touch in a close to 2.0-tonne car.
Leather and suede sports front seats look (and feel) the business, and the strongly illuminated gauges are divided by a 7.0-inch multifunction display including a clear digital speed read-out. Which is just as well, because the fussy increments on the analogue dial are hard to read.
The Tourer serves up identical storage space to its Sportwagon near-enough twin, with 793 litres of storage (to the roof line) with the rear seats in place, and 1665 litres with the rear seat folded down. That’s about 200 litres more than the regular Commodore hatchback.
Where the Tourer does differ from the Sportwagon is in its exterior dimensions, measuring 5004mm in length (versus 4986mm in the Sportwagon) and 1525mm in height (versus 1483mm). Width and wheelbase are identical, though (1871mm and 2829mm), and so the interior space dimensions - like headroom and legroom - are identical no matter which of the estate-style Commodores you opt for.
The key dimension here, though, is ride height, with the Tourer offering 20mm more ground clearance (42mm greater height overall) than the Sportwagon. That, combined with the on-demand all-wheel-drive system, allows for some light off-roading - though you won’t be conquering Everest.
Up front, expect two cupholders hidden under a gloss-black cover, as well as power and USB connections located in a central cubby. The back seat is home to two extra cupholders hidden in a pulldown divider, and there is room in each of the doors for bottles. The back seat is also home to air vents (but no temperature controls) and two USB charge points located just below the vents.
At just under 5.1m long, 1.9m wide and close to 1.5m tall the 300 SRT is a sizeable machine, so it’s no surprise there’s plenty of room inside.
Those up front are provided with a pair of cupholders in the centre console (complete with heating or cooling at the press of a button), storage bins and medium-size bottle holders in the doors, a long oddments tray and a small storage cubby (with 12-volt outlet) near the gear shifter, as well as a sunglasses holder in the overhead console and a big glove box.
There’s also a lidded storage box between the seats, complete with sliding tray, two USB ports, an ‘aux-in’ jack and a 12-volt outlet. Even old school nicotine enthusiasts are catered for with an ashtray insert ready to slip into one of the cupholders and a cigarette lighter to drop into the main 12-volt socket.
Rear seat passengers pick up a fold-down centre armrest with two cupholders and a lidded oddments box, decent door bins with bottle holders, as well adjustable vents at the back of the centre console, two USB ports, and switches for the standard heated rear seats.
Sitting behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position I had ample legroom but only adequate headroom. There’s enough shoulder room for three adults across the rear, but the broad transmission tunnel throws a spanner in the works when it comes to centre foot room.
The fully-lined boot is nicely trimmed, with a pair of flip-out bag hooks (22kg capacity), load tie-down anchors, and useful lighting included.
Volume is 462 litres, enough to fit our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres) lying flat on the floor, or the CarsGuide pram, with heaps of room to spare. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat adds extra space and flexibility.
In the case of a flat tyre your only option is a repair/inflator kit, and it’s worth noting towing capacity for the SRT is the same 450kg for a braked or unbraked trailer, where the standard V6-powered 300C can tow a 1724kg braked trailer.
Price and features
The Calais has long formed the most luxurious rung of the Commodore ladder, and the wagon-ish Tourer is without doubt the most practical version. It will set you back $45,990 ($47,990 drive-away) in the guise we’ve tested here, and $53,990 In Calais V specification.
Not to be sneezed at, then. But it does arrive with plenty of stuff to help justify your investment.
Outside, you’ll find 18-inch alloys, a handsfree auto-opening boot, heated mirrors, keyless entry with push-button start, a remote start function, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights with LED DRLs. Inside, expect leather seats that are heated in the front, a leather-wrapped wheel, dual-zone climate control, standard satellite navigation and a wireless charging pad for compatible phones.
On the technology front, an 8.0-inch touchscreen pairs with an eight-speaker stereo, and it’s both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped. There’s also a genuinely impressive standard safety package, too, but we’ll drill down on that under the Safety sub-heading.
A list price of $74,950 (before on-road costs) buys a whole lot of car, equipment, and performance, with that figure only gaining entry to a pack of next-size-down options from Europe and Japan.
A $5k spread from $71-76,000 covers the Alfa Giulia Veloce ($72,900), Audi A4 45 TFSI Quattro ($73,300), BMW330i M-Sport ($70,900), Infiniti Q50 Red Sport ($74,900), Jaguar XE P300 HSE R Dynamic ($71,940), Lexus GS300 Luxury ($75,931), and Merc C 300 ($71,800).
And aside from the extra cubic inches under the hood and sheetmetal in the body, the 300 SRT’s standard features list is long, including dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start (plus remote start), heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated leather-trimmed SRT flat-bottom steering wheel, heated/cooled front cupholders, power boot lid release, electric steering column adjust (height and reach), plus eight-way electrically-adjustable driver and front passenger seats (with four-way power lumbar adjust on both and radio/seat/mirror memory on the driver’s side).
Also standard are auto headlights (with auto level and auto high beam), rain-sensing wipers, power-folding exterior mirrors (with defrost), nappa leather and suede seat trim, 825-watt, 19-speaker harman/kardon audio (including digital radio), sat nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster display, the 8.4-inch colour media touchscreen, and 20-inch forged alloy wheels.
There are plenty of other safety and performance features, which we’ll cover in later sections, wrapping into an impressive standard package at this price point. And ‘our’ test car featured the ‘SRT Luxury Package’ ($4750) adding a monster dual-pane glass sunroof, premium leather trim on the instrument panel, centre console and door trims, as well as premium floor mats front and rear.
The standard colour choice is black and white… ‘Gloss Black’ or ‘Bright White’, with ‘Silver Mist’, ‘Ceramic Grey’, ‘Granite Crystal’, ‘Maximum Steel’ and ‘Velvet Red’ optional, and ‘Ocean Blue’ available to specific customer order.
Engine & trans
A really rather good 3.6-litre V6 engine Is parked under the bonnet, feeding 235kW at 6800rpm and 381Nm at 5200rpm to all four wheels as required, thanks to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system. The suspension is tuned specifically for its high-riding antics, too.
The 3.6-litre engine means a braked towing capacity of 2100kg, and an unbraked max of 750kg.
Forget hybrid, forget turbos, the Chrysler 300 SRT is powered by 392 cubic-inches of Detroit iron… although the 6.4-litre ‘Apache’ V8 is actually built in Mexico.
The engine’s block is indeed cast iron although the heads are aluminium, with the ‘Hemi’ name derived from its hemispherical combustion chamber design.
It’s naturally aspirated, direct fuel-injected and produces 350kW (470hp) at 6150rpm and no less than 637Nm of torque at 4250rpm.
Drive goes through an eight-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels with a limited-slip diff standard.
Not so good, I’m afraid. The offical number is on the high-side at 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle (though that's less than the equivalent Subaru Outback), but we were averaging a smidge under 14.0L/100km after what was admittedly quite a lot of city driving. Still, that’s high.
Emissions are pegged at 212g/km or C02, and the Tourer’s 61-litre tank will accept cheaper 91RON fuel, or an E10 blend.
A model of fuel efficiency this car is not. Claimed economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 13.0L/100km, the 300 SRT emitting 303g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 300km of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded 18.5L/100km (at the bowser), and the on-board computer threw up some horrifying short-term numbers as we explored the car’s performance potential.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded and you’ll need 70 litres of it to fill the tank… regularly.
Really very good. That 3.6-litre engine (why they haven’t offered the Tourer with the smaller and smarter turbo engine is something of a mystery) might be a touch old-school and a touch thirsty, but it’s a rich and powerful thing, and it gives the Calais-stamped Tourer a perky personality that defies its dimensions.
The Calais Tourer was built in Germany, and fitted with an engine and transmission from the USA, before undergoing local tuning here in Australia (think bespoke steering and suspension tunes calibrated both at the company’s testing facility and after a 200,000km test on Aussie roads), and it’s the last of those Dr Frankenstein ingredients that have had the biggest impact here.
The Tourer’s ride is fantastic, perfectly poised between firm composure and everyday comfort, and - like most good wagons - it will honestly leave you wondering why so many people are clamouring aboard the SUV train when you can all the space with better dynamics in a humble estate.
The nine-speed ‘box is smooth and sharp in its operation, too. But the fuel use is a concern. Sure, we spent the bulk of our time in the city, where stop-start traffic naturally uses more fuel. But then, surely so would most owners?
Roll onto a smooth, dry surface, engage the SRT’s standard launch control function and you’ve dialled in the ability to storm from 0-100km/h in a ludicrously rapid 4.5sec.
Unlike smaller capacity turbo engines, the big atmo Hemi takes a while to develop maximum torque (637Nm), hitting peak pulling power at 4250rpm. Keep the throttle pinned and full power (350kW) is achieved on the cusp of the rev limiter at 6150rpm.
All this fire and fury is accompanied by a beautifully brutal V8 roar courtesy of an active exhaust which tweaks the pulsing note it produces according to drive mode and throttle position. It’s hard not to love it, complete with rude pops and crackles on the over-run.
Beware though, this car is relatively loud all the time, so you’ve got to hope the love affair is a long-term one.
Suspension is by a short and long arm (SLA) and upper A-arms at the front, with a five-link set-up at the rear, and Bilstein adaptive dampers all around.
The switch between Comfort and Sport is swift and marked, with the latter best kept for billiard tables and race circuits. Around town ride in the more compliant setting is agreeably smooth.
Push the big 300 along your favourite backroad and you know you’re asking two tonnes of metal, rubber and glass to move against its will.
The eight-speed auto responds well in manual mode (with wheel-mounted paddles), and the grippy sports front seats do decent job of keeping their occupants stable and balanced, but the sheer mass of this car means you’re never going to get a corner-carving hot hatch-like experience.
And despite a chunky, leather-trimmed sports wheel, the hydraulically-assisted ‘SRT Tuned’ steering isn’t exactly the last word in road feel or sharp response.
Having said that, the fat 20-inch (245/45) Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber grips hard with minimal impact on ride quality, and in a more relaxed mode the SRT is a stress-free and comfortable tourer.
Big acceleration is balanced by big brakes, with beefy ventilated rotors (360mm fr / 350mm rr) clamped by Brembo four-piston calipers front and rear.
The system’s outright power is impressive but can be abrupt on initial application at around town speeds, until you get used to greasing the pedal pressure in.
‘SRT Performance Pages’ allows you to scroll through multiple real-time data screens (timers, G-force, engine performance, etc), which is fun, with outputs downloadable to a USB stick or SD card. The 19-speaker harman/kardon audio system absolutely cranks, and the active cruise control works intuitively, without the frustrating conservatism (taking forever to pick up the throttle) of some other systems
You’ve got to hand it to the Lion for the standard safety package here, which includes the Holden Eye camera system as standard, adding 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.
The Calais Tourer adds blind-sport monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert to that pretty comprehensive package. All of which helps the Commodore range qualify for the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Finally, you can add six airbags and two ISOFIX attachment points to the mix.
The 300 SRT hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but the NHTSA in North America has given the 2019 Chrysler 300 a four-star safety rating (from a possible five).
In terms of active tech a lot of major boxes are ticked, with AEB a notable exception.
Standard features include, ABS, ‘Ready Alert Braking’ (primes system when driver lifts off the brake pedal quickly), ESC, ‘Electronic Roll Mitigation’, traction control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, and advanced brake assist.
A ‘Rain Brake Support’ function is triggered by the rain-sensing wiper system to periodically ‘wipe off’ the brake rotors with the brake pads, keeping them as dry as possible in the wet. And Chrysler has cleverly piggy-backed ‘Knock Back Mitigation’ into the arrangement.
In aggressive cornering front wheel assemblies can flex, pushing the brake rotor against the brake pads and ‘knocking’ them back into the caliper, potentially leading to an alarmingly long pedal the next time the brakes are applied. Not a factor in the 300 SRT, with the pads automatically pushed up into their optimum position.
If, despite all that, a crash is unavoidable, the airbag count runs to seven (dual front, dual front side, dual curtain and driver’s knee), and the front head restraints are active.
There are three child seat/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer rear positions.
Holden has recently relinquished the initial warranty offering, now including the Commodore in its seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty program, meaning it mixes with the very best in the aftercare business. For now, at least; normally, the Commodore carries the brand's standard three year/100,000km warranty. But be on the lookout for the return of this deal if you miss out this time.
Service intervals are pegged at 12 months or 12,000kms, and the Commodore falls under Holden’s extensive capped-price servicing program, and it will cost between $259 and $359 for each of the first seven annual services.
The warranty world has moved significantly in recent months, and the 300 SRT’s three year/100,000km warranty is now well off the pace.
Kia moved to seven years/unlimited km in 2014, and there are whispers of the Korean brand shifting to 10 years sooner rather than later.
Service is required every 12 months/12,000km, and no capped price servicing program is currently offered.
With the caveat that labour rates will inevitably vary between dealerships, Chrysler Australia estimates five year standard servicing cost at $2590 (including GST).