Holden Calais-V 59 V8 VE

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Keywords: holden, 2007 holden commodore ve calais v
Description: NRMA's 1000km Road Test of the 2007 Holden Calais VE & Calais V reveals a luxurious and athletic large sedan that offers incredible value relative to its European competitors.

There's sufficient driver's seat travel to accommodate any physique, plus height adjustment. A few tall drivers may want more headroom. The wheel is also height and reach adjustable.

You sit quite high, facing a stylish dash (modelled on the Mercedes E Class) with, on the Calais V, real aluminium alloy inlays. Instruments are clear, uncluttered white on black dials. The scroll buttons on the wheel, for trip computer and audio adjustment, are great because you can perform these tasks without having to take your eyes off the road for more than a moment, or your hands off the wheel.

Plenty of storage (including flip out door bins that will hold a one litre water-bottle), an easy to use/read control layout and screen display on the centre console, a soft touch three flash indicator wand and quality leather score points.

Holden still can't do a simple cruise control wand though, and features such as one touch window up or down and an electrochromatic mirror, now common on luxury cars, are also absent here.

The thick front pillars in the VE Commodore have created a real problem with vision. They are thick enough to completely obscure a car coming towards you from certain angles, especially on the driver's side. Holden is not alone in this - thick front pillars are there for strength, to protect the integrity of the central occupant space, and the people within it, in a frontal impact - however the vision problem is particularly apparent in VE.

The 3.6 litre engine produces 195kW of power at 6500rpm and 340Nm of torque at 2600rpm. It is matched with a five speed sequential automatic transmission.

The 6.0 litre V8 engine, coded L98 and built in Mexico, produces 270kW of power at 5700 rpm and 530Nm of torque at 4400 rpm.

The VE body is significantly stronger, more rigid and heavier than VZ. The Calais now weighs 1.75-1.8 tonnes.

The six speed automatic is sourced from the US, where it's also used in Cadillac and Corvette. A wide ratio spread includes a very short first, and overdrive fifth and sixth. At 100km/h in sixth the V8 is doing just 1500 rpm.

Sequential operation on both transmissions is via the lever only. Adaptive programming includes a sports shift map.

The Calais shares its suspension tuning with the sporty SS and SSV. It uses Macpherson strut multilink front/four link independent rear suspension, with a 10 mm lower ride height than standard, plus stiffer springs and heavier dampers than the Commodore Omega and Berlina.

The Calais V runs on 18 inch alloys with 245/45 tyres. The Calais' 17 inch alloys are shod with 225/55 tyres. A temporary spare is standard.

The driver's seat in the Calais V test car was comfortable on a long journey. The cushion is long, firm and supportive, as is the backrest, though it could use slightly more substantial bolstering. Lumber support is excellent.

No problems with legroom or headroom in the back of the Calais, as expected. The steeply angled, firm seat base wedges you securely against the high backrest, and the overall seating position is very comfortable, with great support for your legs. You do sit slightly under glass, though, which may be an issue on hot days. Storage includes flip our door bins and nets on the front seat backs. The DVD will keep the kids entertained all day.

While the VE is an improvement on previous Commodores, some issues are now emerging. Some V8s were recalled in October 2006 to address a potential fuel line fault. Another recall involved a rear seat belt buckle.

On those test cars fitted with hard sports suspension and low profile tyres - including Calais and Calais V - the driver's door rubs and squeaks against its seals, which may indicate body flex or a door mounting problem.

On one test car the driver's seat belt height adjuster mechanism was faulty. We also experienced this problem on an Astra diesel. On a Calais V, the screen display froze on the time of day, until we turned the ignition off and restarted the car. Dash/door trim gaps are also inconsistent.

The V8 can use 10-12 litres/100 km cruising on the highway, but if you throw in a few hills this can easily rise to 14-15 litres/100km. Around town, expect 17-19 litres/100 km if you're careful; mid twenties if you're not.

The V8's peak power and torque outputs are produced on 98 octane premium unleaded, but it will run OK on lower octane fuels.

The V6 can achieve 8-9 litres/100 km on the highway, and 15-17 litres/100 km in town, on regular unleaded.

The 6.0 litre engine, introduced on VZ, restores the bottom end and midrange torque that V8 buyers want, but which the 5.7 litre engine didn't deliver. All of its power was in the top half of the rev range. The 6.0 also has plenty here, revving cleanly, strongly and smoothly to 6000 rpm.

In normal driving the six speed auto is not quite as smooth, consistent or timely in its shifts as the ZF unit which Ford uses in the Fairmont Ghia, especially on full throttle kickdowns, but it's still acceptable.

It has a few strange habits, such as occasionally downshifting a couple of gears when you touch the brake pedal - presumably to give you some engine braking assistance - then refusing to shift up until you accelerate hard or use manual mode.

Its big advantage is Sports mode, which really does mean what it says. The GM six speed is the best auto we've driven when it comes to staying with you through a section of winding road.

As a comparison, the 6.0 litre V8 drives the Calais to 100 km/h in just six seconds; the 3.6 V6 version takes 7.9 seconds.

The 3.6/five speed powertrain is also less convincing against its major rival, the 4.0 litre Falcon engine, now also matched with the ZF six speed auto. While the Calais V6's performance is certainly adequate, the Falcon engine is smoother, more responsive and quieter.

In its desire to give the Calais sporty dynamics, Holden's decision to use its FE2 sports suspension has pushed the Calais ride quality - especially on the V, which has lower profile tyres than the base model - to the limits of what many buyers may find acceptable.

Holden's problem is reconciling an appropriate ride/handling compromise in what is now a very heavy car. Big dollar European sedans of comparable size and weight now use adaptive technology to vary the suspension's characteristics, automatically or according to driver preference, but Holden has not gone down this track because of cost. The introduction of variable damping suspension on the latest HSV models, though, indicates that it's probably not far away from being included on the Calais.

While an SS buyer knows he or she is getting a relatively uncompromising ride, the Calais is a luxury car, with a different purpose in life - as far as many buyers are concerned. The suspension absorbs hard hits well, but the ride is far from supple, especially at low speeds. It would probably be a good idea for Holden to offer the standard suspension setup as a no cost option on Calais.

Take the car for a long test drive, on a variety of surfaces, to see what we're talking about. And if ride comfort is a high priority, the Fairmont Ghia or Aurion Presara will probably be more to your taste.

The payoff for a firm ride is excellent dynamics. If you like the way Commodores handle, you'll love the VE. The Calais is remarkably tight, responsive and agile for its size and weight, especially compared with the Fairmont Ghia.

Under power, the new rear suspension doesn't strain and stretch on its mounts like the old setup, so the back end stays much tidier. The VE also stays flat and balanced when cornering, to the extent that it gets way with sharp steering, which is also lighter and easier to manoeuvre at low speeds, more accurate and progressively weighted than previous Commodores.

Roadholding at speed is excellent, though on a country road, with the usual quota of bumps, potholes and undulations, the car's extra weight makes itself felt, the damping can fade slightly, and turn in can become imprecise.

It's no longer necessary to order the performance brakes option to get decent stopping power in the Calais. Pedal feel is consistent from light applications to full, stand on it stops, while fade resistance is also good.

The V8 is a beautifully smooth engine, even when revving hard. Four tailpipes make a deep, strident sound under acceleration, which is what V8 buyers want. Tyre and wind noise are low.

The writer of this report does not necessarily represent the views of the NRMA and this report is provided for you as an alternative to our own NRMA car reviews.

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