If anyone had ever suggested to me that Holden could produce a medium-large car which didn’t scream “loud, boisterous and in your face”, I’d probably wonder what they’d been smoking and where could I get some?
Think Monaro, the all-hallowed VL Commodore, even the Kingswood, all were very much Australian statements of brashness, and buyers loved them for it.
But today’s Holden Commodore – especially the Calais V – offers something new... a sophisticated Holden enhanced with subtlety.
To see the Calais V is to be – and this is not intended to offend – visually underwhelmed. Physically smaller externally than its predecessor, it is pleasant to look at, but hardly a head turner. Even the ‘V’ badge Holden uses to define its sportier models is subdued.
The Calais V palette is unremarkable too, with the only one hinting at being a little racy – a red, naturally – a muted one. Instead, blacks, midnight blues and silver greys are the colours of choice.
Under the inoffensively centre creased bonnet is the Commodore’s ‘hero’ engine – a direct injection, 3.6-litre V6 which incorporates Active Fuel Management, to shut down cylinders and an ultra-smooth Start/Stop system to improve fuel economy. It’s capable of returning around 9.1 litres per 100km, according to Holden. We saw high 8’s.
Driving through the 9-speed auto, the V6 is smooth, it’s quiet and bordering serene – until your apple Carplay/Android Auto Bluetooth-connected phone scrolls through to say, an Angus Young soundtrack.
With ‘Shoot to thrill’ or the opening strains of ‘Thunderstruck’ coming through the Commodore’s Bose sound system, something odd happens.
The gently massaging driver’s seat suddenly feels raunchy rather than relaxing and there appears to be a sudden increase in gravity over the driver’s right foot, while an inexorable force pulls the left hand to the shifter to engage manual mode…
The gap in the traffic ahead is suddenly ripped apart with a throaty howl as the foot falls and the ‘V’ at the end of your Calais no longer stands for serenely vestal, but gloriously visceral.
Kind of like Clark Kent suddenly revealing his bright red undies in response to a crisis, the mild-mannered lift-back effortlessly transforms from born to be mild to born to be wild.
The exhaust comes on song and the AWD system goes hunting for corners like a cheetah chasing prey.
Time slows as the Calais V blurs traffic lines into hyperspatial hyphenation and the instruments dance frenetically as the gears yoyo between 4th and 7th. You’re no longer driving a car, you’re wearing a cloak of automotive euphoria.
And once the song ends, the need for speed abates and the Calais V gently merges back into the traffic to become – to quote Joe Walsh – an ordinary, average guy.
This then, is a true sleeper car. It hides everything behind unassumingly elegant bodywork and yet it delivers everything we are used to seeing from the Calais nameplate and more besides.
I would venture to say that where the previous Calais was all about class and luxury, this is the Commodore which offers all that, with a bit of the devil inside...