It’s hard to think of any new car that has ever entered the market under anywhere near as much pressure as the new Commodore.
With the end of local manufacturing for the iconic nameplate, whatever wore the badge next was always going to be under the microscope and rightly so.
Holden has shown it’s willing to gamble. Commodore enthusiasts are a passionate bunch, they don’t pull any punches. For many of them, the most important ingredient is rear wheel drive. In a move that shocked many, this is no longer on the menu.
The Commodore has evolved and now it more closely aligns with the models it will be cross-shopped against. Regardless of the broad spectrum of opinions, the Commodore is now firmly comparable to the Mazda 6, Kia Optima and the Toyota Camry. All are similarly sized and drive the front wheels. The main points of differentiation are no longer present.
Australians have developed a taste for higher model grades, we’ve gone a little bit fancy and base models are not as appealing as they once were. Surprising hey? These days even entry-level variants are often generously appointed. With this in mind, our tester is the 2018 Holden Commodore Calais which is priced from $40,990 plus on-road costs.
Stepping up from the LT to the Calais nets leather trim, heated front seats, 8.0-inch infotainment screen, satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, wireless phone charging, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Apart from the mechanical changes, there’s a significant styling deviation. The Commodore isn’t as burly as it once was. The new model’s European origins are immediately apparent. This shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. It’s now chiselled to signify a new persona.
On the inside, the minimalist approach that is now widespread is found. There are very few buttons which present a simple and elegant cabin.
Despite the smaller proportions, the interior is still roomy. It’s not as spacious as the new Camry, but it’s large enough to comfortably accommodate four adults.
Surprisingly, being a liftback, the sloping roofline doesn’t rob the rear of too much headroom.
Cargo space measures in at a handy 490 litres. The Liftback provides a massive boot opening that makes loading so much easier than what any sedan can muster.
The problem with the Calais' cabin is it doesn’t feel special enough when compared to the more affordable Commodore variants. Calais models of the past often represented a step up in luxury that could justify an additional spend, the gap is no longer as wide.
Those who enjoy a drive will find the Calais very likeable. The seating position is excellent as is the feel of the pedals.
Coming to the first turn reveals an unexpected surprise, the Calais is a European car with the indicator stalk on the right side!
After settling into the drive, the new powertrain is quick to impress. The 2.0-litre turbo engine has plenty of low down thrust. It’s assisted by a smooth nine-speed automatic. Low in the rev range shifts are subtle yet decisive.
The new Commodore isn’t as floaty as its larger predecessors, there’s a well-planted feel regardless of what the car is being asked to do.
Holden’s local suspension engineers have nailed it, the ride quality is impressive. The neglected roads of the Goulburn Valley are easily ironed out. In saying that, we would be reluctant to push our luck with wheels larger than the standard 18-inch alloys.
If the 2.0-litre engine and front wheel drive weren’t enough for the diehards to content with, the final straw might be the very light steering. It’s perfect at low speeds but it doesn’t firm up enough on a twisty road when the momentum builds.
Overall levels of refinement are very competitive for the segment. For the majority of driving situations, everything remains quiet and comfortable, only very coarse surfaces will cause the noise to climb which is to be expected.
We piloted the Calais over 689 kilometres during our test week and returned a combined consumption figure of 8.2L/100km. This is slightly above the claimed figure, however, it’s an impressive return considering we weren’t exactly aiming for economy. Buyers should note, the 2.0-litre turbo likes to drink the good stuff, so the pump needs to read 95 RON.
Holden supports Calais buyers with a capped-price service program that covers the first seven doses of fresh oil. Maintenance intervals are set at 12 months/12,000km with the first seven services averaging out to $307 each.
As we noted in our recent review of the new Equinox SUV, Holden continues to experiment with beefed up warranty coverage. At the time of publication, Holden was offering the new Commodore with a Kia equalling seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty and seven years of roadside assistance.
Despite the rolling promotions, Holden’s website still lists its warranty coverage as being three-year/100,000km meaning the offer is unlikely to be made permanent.
It remains to be seen whether or not the market will embrace the new Commodore in the same fervent manner it has done in the past. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re not sold on the move to an SUV.
Selling a front wheel drive Commodore was never going to be easy. The competition is stronger than ever, especially for the Calais. The new V6 Camry with sports suspension is engaging to drive, has a roomier cabin and is a fraction quicker to triple figures – it’s also cheaper.
In looking over the new Commodore range, we are not confident that the spec levels and pricing are right and alterations are certain to be made sooner rather than later.
No one can accuse Holden of not trying new things. This is a car that needs to broaden its customer base, and in an effort to widen the Commodore’s popularity, Holden is willing to alienate the car’s hardcore fans. The move might pay off in the long run.
If you can shake off the history and pedigree that surrounds the name, the new Commodore Calais is a solid offering. This new model is definitely a Commodore for our time and evolving tastes.
While the new Calais model doesn’t feel as upmarket inside as the Calais variants of previous generations it has a more sophisticated exterior and it’s reasonably well equipped. Most significantly, for new car buyers and Holden enthusiasts, it’s nice to drive – which was always the prime reason for buying one. This is a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.
2018 Holden Commodore Calais Specifications
Price from $40,990 plus on-road costs Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 191kW @ 5500rpm Torque 350Nm @ 3000-4000rpm Transmission nine-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 7.6L/100km Tank Capacity 61L Performance 0-100km/h 6.9 seconds Length 4897mm Width 1863mm Height 1455mm Wheelbase 2829mm Turning Circle 11.14m Kerb Weight 1535kg Service Intervals 12 months/12,000km Warranty three year/100,000 kilometre
More: All Reviews