Where’s the Calais we know and love?

Chris Calais Tourer nose

What is it?

It’s a vehicle from a brand that was once regarded as being as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.

Holden relied on its trusty Kingswood for a decade, but was forced to downsize the car in response to the oil crisis.

Its replacement came from Europe and was called Commodore for the local market.

Forty years later Holden has stopped building cars locally.

They’re sourced from around the globe instead, including Europe.

In that 40 years a nameplate called Calais was born.

The car came originally, in sedan form only, but it wasn’t long before a wagon, or “Tourer” as the Europeans call them, was added.

The first non-Holden built car to carry the Commodore name has been given the designation ZB.

It’s almost business as usual for Commodore, with a sedan and wagon still available. Even the Calais has a tourer option . . . yet, it’s not really a Calais.

The badge says Commodore, the previous Sportwagon tag has been consigned to the bin, but it just doesn’t look like a Calais.

There’s no real brightwork, no outstanding special features, nothing inside that screams “I am a LOOXURY car!”     

Style-wise it looks nothing like the last of the Holden-built machines.

The proportions look out of proportion, with a wide but thin nose, and a sloping rear roofline that looks heavy over a rear bumper line that seems too long.

And worse, there’s an engine that doesn’t include the words Vee and Eight one after the other.

What there is, however, is a ripper V6, and an auto that’s smoother than a Michael Buble ballad that drives all four wheels.

There’s 235kW and 381Nm to play with, and economy that is nearly as good as the last Aussie wagon (we got 10.0L/100km from the 61-litre tank in a suburban based drive).

Rear cargo is accessed via a button on the key-fob, a tab on the gate itself, or a swing of the foot underneath the bumper.

There’s a small touch of class with a Holden logo being projected downwards at night. 

Chris Calais Tourer profile

What’s it cost?

Find $47,990 and the Calais Tourer is in the driveway, at a drive-away price right now.

Metallic paint is a $550 premium however if you like the sparkly stuff. It’s a fair price to pay but there’s a substantial amount of playthings for the moolah.

There’s that cracker engine and transmission combo, all-wheel drive grip, and a powered tailgate for starters.

Then there is a smartphone wireless charging pad, remote engine start, digital audio and eight-speaker sound — plus satnav. There is also a pair of USB ports for the rear seats but no individual rear seat aircon control — just the vents.

Safety comes in the form of a pedestrian friendly Active Bonnet, and a full suite of collision avoidance things under the umbrella of “Holden Eye”.

Autonomous Emergency Braking with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, and Forward Collision Warning. No HUD or Head Up Display however.

The overall look is a mix of Euro GM and blandness. There’s nothing that specifically catches the eye and engages the brain to make the “Ooh, lookee that” sound.

Yes, it’s well laid out. Yes it’s a comfortable workspace. Yes, there’s a hint or two of colour (grey, mind you) to break up the slabby black looks — but it’s not a Calais look.

Outside the Calais Tourer gets a bit tough looking with black polyurethane wheel arch guards, and a system that adapts the AWD to the driving conditions.

The rear though looks oddly out of whack compared to the broad but low nose. Here, too, there’s no identifying this as a Calais. It’s low key, uninspiring perhaps, and a catalytic factor was the paint.

The “Darkmoon Blue” looks in just about every viewing situation to be black, and it’s really only up close that you can tell it’s blue metallic.

And this car wasn’t perfect even with only 1800km on the clock. The wipers worked but the full washer bottle didn’t discharge any fluid. Open any door and there was an immediate electric noise like a fart through the speakers.

But the kicker is you don’t get a badge that identifies what used to be the highest level of trim. You do get one that says Commodore, and one that says Tourer, but if you want Calais identification — you need to up-spec to the Calais-V.

Chris Calais Tourer rear quarter

What’s it go like?

Like the proverbial off a Teflon-coated shovel. By that we mean smooth. It’s never ruffled, flustered, or stuttery.

The gear changes are literally only noticeable by the change in engine note. There’s barely and rarely any physical sensation as the nine cogs do their thing.

Punch the go-pedal and there’s a familiar six cylinder in vee formation snarl up front behind the non-LED (yup) headlights.

It feels somewhat sluggish off the line, like there’s a small boat anchor being trailed behind it, but when pootling along and needing velocity, that disappears.

Perhaps it’s the fact that maximum twist comes in at a stupidly high 5200rpm, not at a more sensible, say 3500 to 4000 revs?

The suspension is clearly tuned for sporty comfort. Smooth, again, is the watch-word here, ironing out those dreaded shopping centre yellow bumps, pancaking the normal road yips, and as composed as a well sorted car should be.

Even with AWD there’s little sense of disconnection or weight being added to the steering feel, and the clever parameters ensure that in corners each wheel is doing only what is necessary.

The ability in its agility certainly belies its 5004mm overall length. The 2828mm wheelbase contributes to the somewhat awkward proportioning though.

Chris Calais Tourer front seats

What we like?

  • Handling and ride are better than very good
  • Sound insulation keeps the engine quiet when not needed, but allows a snarl otherwise
  • List of standard features is good

Chris Calais Tourer dash

What we don’t like?

  • No Calais looks
  • No Calais badge
  • No Calais pizzazz

Chris Calais Tourer rear seats

The bottom line?

This is perhaps the version of new Commodore that has the anti-ZB brigade up in arms. The Calais from VK through to VFII was identifiably a Calais. This isn’t and if it is, then there should be a bloody badge identifying it.

Inside it’s fairly spartan and lacks the class that Calais is known for. And,although it’s a ripper drive, handler, and loaded with tech — it’s not enough to overcome the lack of wow factor.

The anti-ZB mob are crying about it not being built here, but the underlying question may be: “Where’s the Holdeness we once had?”

Sadly, this particular Holden has little to tie it to what once was.

CHECKOUT: We drive the new, imported Commodore

CHECKOUT: First Commodore was an Opel too!


Holden Commodore Calais Tourer, priced from $47,990
  • Looks - 6/10
  • Performance - 8/10
  • Safety - 8.5/10
  • Thirst - 7.5/10
  • Practicality - 8.5/10
  • Comfort - 8/10
  • Tech - 8/10
  • Value - 8/10

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