Regardless of how good the new Commodore was going to be, Holden was always going to be working overtime to sell its virtues to a sceptical market.
In reality, good wasn’t going to cut it, the new Commodore needed to be great in order to satisfy the car’s fanbase who were struggling to swallow the bitter pill that was the end of local production.
To many, insult was added to injury when Holden confirmed the imported Commodore wasn’t going to be rear wheel drive. Enthusiasts of the legendary nameplate argue the loss of rear wheel drive has changed the car’s DNA to the point that the Commodore name no longer applies.
Making Holden’s task even harder is the ever-increasing influence of the SUV. Keeping large sedan buyers happy at a time when the market share of passenger cars is contracting is a conundrum and a half.
Despite the mountain being steep, hope is not lost, which brings us to the 2018 Holden Commodore Calais-V Tourer. It’s the most interesting variant in the new Commodore range and the one which best epitomises the car’s illustrious history.
Now Tourer is just trendy terminology for sports wagon, for younger readers, a wagon was once the choice of deep thinking family buyers.
The Calais-V Tourer is the top trim level in a two model range, it costs $53,990 plus on-road cost which means the Tourer will be jostling for attention among a host of midsize and large SUVs.
It’s fully kitted out with leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats with a massaging function for the driver, heated rear seats, hands-free powered tailgate, remote engine start, 8.0-inch driver display panel in the instrument cluster, panoramic sunroof and 18-inch wheels all being standard.
Also included is an extensive list of safety equipment including autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian protection, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, 360-degree camera system and a colour head-up display. Independent crash tester ANCAP has awarded the Calais Tourer a five-star safety score.
There are a few things that make the Tourer unique. Firstly, the ride height has been raised by 42mm over the liftback versions so it can go a bit further. The body has a ribbon of plastic cladding that runs around the sills and wheel arches, indicating it’s up for the rough stuff. While the additional ground clearance adds to the car’s capabilities, the total 146mm is a long way short of other high-riding wagons. For context, the Subaru Outback offers 213mm of ground clearance.
Secondly, the drivetrain is one that better represents the Commodore’s long history. The Tourer is powered by a 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine that stumps up 235kW and 381Nm, it’s connected to a new nine-speed automatic and an on-demand all-wheel drive system.
The engine is a cracker, even the most ardent Commie lover wouldn’t be able to find fault. There’s plenty of power and the throttle response is brilliant. When ambling around town, it’s as relaxed as a Sunday morning coffee. Put some lead in your right shoe and it will happily fire up like Mark Gasnier in a state of origin camp.
As is the case in most new cars, the automatic shifts up a whisker earlier than we would like, but it’s the price of maximising efficiency.
Despite the higher centre of gravity, the Tourer is a stellar handler. Holden’s local crew have held up their end and delivered a steering and suspension tune that isn’t easily unsettled.
Nothing is lost due to the car riding higher, the body control in the corners is impressive and will have you asking why so many of us feel the need to chase SUVs.
Over roads which resemble the face of a teenager, the suspension capably irons everything out and settles quickly after encountering large bumps.
Getting off the blacktop to assess the usability of the extra height and the all-wheel drive set-up is uneventful. In normal conditions, 100 per cent of the torque is sent to the front axle, however, it can be split 50:50 when the need arises. The entire process is seamless, the driver remains oblivious as the system shuffles the torque around.
We put the Tourer on the same course as the Santa Fe and couldn’t detect any slip. On loose surfaces, the Tourer is composed offering plenty of grip, which is also noticeable when having some on-road fun.
Long distance touring was one of the greatest strengths of the locally made Commodore and it’s pleasing to report, the Tourer is just as comfortable and refined. Those in the back get USB charging points which greatly add to the serenity.
Another dimension to the car’s touring ability is space. The Tourer has acres of cabin space for passengers and their gear. The rear legroom is epic and it'll swallow gallons of luggage. With the rear seats in place 560 litres of space is available, fold them flat and the figure increases to a whopping 1665 litres.
More often than not, automatic tailgates are frustratingly slow to open and close. The Tourer’s tailgate is considerably quicker than most, which helps keep the rage at bay while navigating the school drop off zone.
The sizable engine and body won't hold buyers to ransom at the bowser. After a week covering 765 kilometres, we returned a combined consumption figure of 9.3L/100km. City living will see the fuel use hover around the 11-litre mark.
It should also be said, the cabin of the Tourer in Calais-V spec is a nice place to sit while chewing up the miles. The seats are supremely comfortable and soft touch materials are used extensively. The steering wheel is especially lovely to hold.
The 8.0-inch digital screen in the instrument cluster is a premium touch, as is the comprehensive infotainment system that includes satellite navigation as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Pleasingly, the Tourer’s cabin is also home to one of the better examples of a BOSE audio system. In our experience, the quality of BOSE systems varies in new cars and often can't match the consistency of units from Harmon Kardon.
Moving to the exterior, styling is subjective, but the Tourer is an attractive car. It has that classy European vibe going for it and a Euro badge wouldn’t look out of place.
Holden has beefed up its ownership package. Buyers get an extensive capped-price service program. Maintenance intervals are set at 12 months/12,000km with prices averaging $307 for each of the first five services.
Despite being late to the party, Holden now backs its cars with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. About time!
Pound for pound, the Calais-V Tourer doesn’t have many direct competitors. Most European rivals have smaller engines unless, of course, you're happy to double the spend. The V6 Stinger is a rival in terms of engine, size and price, but the personality and packaging of the Kia are vastly different.
Buyers are likely to shop the Tourer against a horde of SUVs, however, to get anywhere near the interior space and comfort will require a large (and expensive) crossover.
It’s ironic and somewhat cruel that one of the better incarnations of the Commodore wagon arrived at a time when the market has profoundly shifted. Getting buyers to test it when the SUV is now the default family choice will require the marketing department to match the effort of the engineering team.
While the higher body and all-wheel drive make the Calais-V Tourer a different type of Commodore, it is the model that best links with the lineage of the nameplate. The big V6 wagon delivers an abundance of power and space in a car that’s nice to drive and comfortable regardless of the journey’s length. In all seriousness, what else does a Commodore need to be?
2018 Holden Calais-V Tourer Specifications
Price from $53,990 plus on-road costs Engine 3.6-litre V6 petrol Power 235kW @ 6800rpm Torque 381Nm @ 5200rpm Transmission nine-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 9.1L/100km Tank Capacity 61L Length 5004mm Width 1871mm Height 1525mm Wheelbase 2829mm Ground Clearance 146mm Kerb Weight 1772kg Turning Circle 11.14m Service Intervals 12-months/12,000km Warranty five year/unlimited kilometre
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