COLIN SMITH TAKES THE HOLDEN CALAIS V SERIES SPORTWAGON V8 FOR A DRIVE
Series II is code for a Holden upgrade which delivers some subtle improvements. Such is the case for the VF Commodore Series II, launched in late 2015 with a detail styling refresh and some extra equipment.
But with this being the final major change to Holden’s big Aussie car before manufacturing ceases in 2017, one of the changes isn’t at all subtle.
If you buy a VF Series II Commodore SS, SS V or tick the V8 option box on the luxury Calais V there’s an extra 44kW of eight-cylinder urge thanks to Holden discarding the 6.0-litre V8 and fitting the 6.2-litre LS3 variant of the Gen-IV small block to Series II cars.
That means 304kW output — the most powerful Holden built — with torque stepping up to 570Nm at 4400rpm.
It’s a significant performance step that repositions V8 Commodore models.
What had been a 50kW advantage over the 3.6-litre V6 models becomes a much wider 94kW separation and performance status right on the doorstep of HSV territory.
Accompanying that power boost is a bi-modal exhaust and mechanical sound enhancer.
The mighty LS3 sounds all business.
It barks into life when you press the starter button, settling into a purposefully grumpy idle and providing a large displacement V8 rumble when its acceleration is provoked.
The six-speed Active Select automatic allows 100km/h cruising at an effortless 1700rpm in sixth gear or downshifts to 2200rpm in fifth and 3000rpm in fourth. More power does mean more thirst and combined cycle consumption for V8s is now rated at 12.9 litres per 100km.
My road test bettered that number at an 11.4L/100km average.
Where the Calais V Series with the LS3 option differs from SS models is in driving refinement. Suspension settings and tyres deliver a more compliant ride. But it would be wrong to label the FE1 Touring suspension tune as merely the soft option.
The Calais V retains nicely settled body control and secure grip from the 245/40 R19 Bridgestone Turanza T001 radials but doesn’t have the ride and steering edginess of the FE2 sports suspension for the even sharper FE3 settings of the SS V Redline.
It makes the Calais V an appealing compromise between the sure-footed responses you want from a powerful V8 and the comfort expected of a large luxury car. On the undulating surfaces and corrugations of Kiwi highways it’s a composed tourer with informative steering.
Much has already been written about how much the Commodore is going to be missed when it’s gone.
It’s one thing to get teary-eyed about the departure of big V8s and rear-wheel drive but one of the things I’ll miss most when the Commodore has gone will be the Sportwagon design.
Regardless of six-cylinder or V8 choices the availability of a stylish station wagon with wide-body five seat accommodation, rear-wheel-drive and a 2100kg braked tow rating — on 3.6-litre and V8 automatic models — is something the market is likely to miss.
For me the Sportwagon rates as more stylish and more practical and easily justifies the $2500 premium above the sedan.
Open the tailgate and the Sportwagon provides 895 litres of load space (measured to the ceiling) when used as a five-seater with a 60/40 split folding rear seat back rest that folds flat and creates an impressive load area.
There’s a load securing net, a luggage cover, 12-volt accessory socket and four tie-down hooks, while under the floor a full-size spare wheel is provided. The tailgate has a soft close function.
Calais V is the luxury end of the Commodore fleet and delivers active safety features such as Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
A colour Head Up display is standard on all V Series models along with satellite navigation, auto park assist feature, the MyLink communication system with 8-inch display, sensor wipers and dual zone air conditioning.
The front seats are heated with an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with two-way power lumbar support adjuster.
Keyless entry and push button engine start, LED daytime running lights along with heated mirrors with puddle lamps are standard.
A leather-trimmed flat bottom steering wheel brings a sporty look to the cabin and connection to the driving experience while the seat trim is a combination of plain and perforated black leather contrasted by light alcantara inserts that carry into the door trims and upper dash to bring a stylish touch to the Calais V Series interior.
The Calais V Sportwagon is priced at $76,490 with the LS3 engine option, a $7500 premium over the 3.6-litre V6 version.
The significantly more powerful V8 adds substantial performance appeal to a large wagon that already boasts plenty of style, luxury appointments and a practical design.