GMI Review: Calais V Sportwagon
The Grand Tourer
Chances are, if you love cars, you love a road trip. Is there finally an option that your passengers will love too? GMI takes the Holden Calais V Sportwagon through Australia's southern state of Victoria to find out.
12 July 2010
One thing that I always dread about holidays is the logistics. Add my family to the equation and organising specific times and locations becomes exponentially more difficult. Schedules are relegated to mere guides, locations are rarely more defined than a post [zip] code, and, if you can get all of them to arrive at said post code within the same hour….. well I’m not sure what would happen because it is yet to actually occur. This particular holiday would take us to the beautiful Latrobe valley, through the Dandenong Ranges to a family wedding (with 10 types of dessert!), across Port Phillip Bay, along the Great Ocean Road, up through the Otway Ranges, and then back to the state’s capital city of Melbourne. There are eight different destinations over ten nights, six of which are along roads that I’ve never seen before, and, there are two kids under 6 that need to be entertained along the way, including air travel and on the buses. I know what you are thinking: “that sounds like fun”.
Picking up the Calais V Sportwagon certainly started out promising. The cream leather interior is a distinct lift over the black on black of the Calais sedan we tested earlier in the year. The lighter interior surfaces are far more inviting, seemingly letting the world in and adding an air of comfort to the typically excellent accomodation I have become accustomed to in all the VE iterations. The full colour LCD screen provided excellent vision from the rearview camera, and overall, it was a very nice place to be.
For the back seat passengers, the Calais V Sportwagon also came with an overhead DVD player, (with wireless headphones no less) and door pockets which would soon be filled with chup-a-chup sticks, chomp wrappers, and possibly, carrots (depending on the level of restraint I could muster in the coming mountain ranges).
I found it rather odd, however, and dissapointing considering the unfamiliarity of my planned routes, that GPS is still an option on what is supposed to be the tip top of the VE food chain (absence of 2 extra cylinders aside). Last time I drove in Melbourne was in an old Toyota Land Cruiser, with a get-out-of-my-way bull bar. The presence of which, afforded me courtesy from fellow travellers, unlikely to be as forthcoming to the less imposing Sportwagon. When you don't exactly know where you are going, it's nice to have that little bit of extra confidence, especially when undertaking hook turns and dicing with the inner city trams.
The luggage area also posed some questions I'm not used to answering. Road trips in my own VZ wagon, rarely require much consideration with regard to space. There was enough room for all the suitcases and additional clothing required for [what I consider to be] antarctic type weather conditions, however, I hadn't played Tetris in quite some time. Cue the annoying bleeping [the tetris soundtrack, not my profainities]. Everything fit eventually, but, if it had have been a camping trip, a roof pod or trailer would be essential equipment. The other option would be to add the optional cargo screen to take advantage of the wagon roof line, but the trade off is rearward vision.
On the Out Skirts
When you compare the Calais V to the Berlina which crossed our paths last year, the most obvious difference is the brightwork along the lower flanks, as well as the larger rolling stock [245/45/R18]. It sits a little lower than the Berlina, and overall, the result of the smaller touches add up to a very attractive package. One fellow traveller I met along the way (a Chevy guy and former '57 Bel Air owner no less!) commented that they [Holden] had "really hit the nail on the head", favouring the smoother flow of the Sportwagon, over the more mainstream sedan.
A few stops later, the rear end also came in for some admiration, one observer concluding that it must be a V8, because it has "big twin exhausts" at the back. He was only about 12 years old, so instead of bursting his bubble, I reaffirmed his assumption with a V8-like departure (at least to the untrained ear).
It was a common theme during our time together, whether it be family, friends or strangers, that the Sportwagon drew more looks and admiration than I had expected. Yes I like it, but even those not normally drawn to wagons, where more than willing to compliment. The only dectractor was my uncle, whom asserted that the now dead and gone Toyota Avalon was the best large car ever made in Australia. It would seem that the chrome strips and bigs boots mostly do the aesthetic job, at least compared to the relative annonimty you get from the Berlina.
Heading For the Hills
After a day at the museum, the final destination of our second night in frozen wasteland.... sorry, Victoria, would be in Erica, near the picturesque olde gold mining town of Walhalla. We had already negotiated endless peak traffic in the city, then hours of flat, highway drudgery to get to the foot of the Latrobe Valley. After the eyelids of my fellow travellers, whom were now plump and content from the fine Italian cuisine of La Porchetta's in Warragul, had finally decended, so too had the distant dull grey orb [which Victorians laughably assured me was the sun].
The central display indicated an outside temp of 6 degrees celcius, but both sides of the Dual zone climate read a much more agreeable 24. I had previously driven this road only once and that was by day. Now, with street lights a distant memory, it was proper country dark. As I held both dimmer switches to activate the night driving mode, the central display dissappeared along with the tacho, and the cabin seemed to vanish, as the projector headlights penetrated the cold night air and the fog lights added 170 degrees of short range peripheral clarity. Every tree, every detail of winding damp, lit up like a stage. Hitting the high beams added to the theatrical lighting, the scenery appearing locked in a perpetual state of rock show crescendo. At the end of a long day of travel, this simple feature [night driving mode] and the comprehensive array of lights, added a distinct level of focus and confidence to my previously weary eyes. I arrived at Silvertop Cottages reassuringly alert. Which was handy because I still had to unpack the luggage...
As you might expect, we covered an amazing array of sufaces, from mirror smooth tollways, regional coarse chip two-lane highways and country lanes, to the bumpy, tram laden inner city. The weather varied from sunny but brisk, to miserable grey drizzle, ensuring that when the black top swapped places with dirt, ESP had it's work cut out for it.
We have already tested every suspension setting of the VE Range, and for me, the Calais V Sportwagon sits, dynamically, exactly where you would expect: at the very top.
Not as aggressively sprung as the SV6 Ute, but with superior body control to the Berlina Sportwagon (and far better than the Calais sedan), the Calais V is confidence inspiring without upsetting the apple cart…. or the navigator. After all, it was a family holiday. We weren’t here to just satisfy me. Okay, I lied. Like trying not to laugh in court, some things are beyond the control of mere mortals.
Descending the winding and bumpy road into Latrobe Valley, I tried so very hard, to restrain my enthusiasm, and consider my passengers. Once again that barely visible grey orb shone just enough to enlighten the undulations of the surface, freshly dampened by the morning’s drizzle.
After a few kilometers, my braking became less and less evident, until corners, were no longer preceded by the big pedal at all. I even ignored, or pretended not to notice, the squirming from the front passenger seat. The 245 18 inch Bridestone Potenza’s were performing above and beyond, working in concert with the wide track and low stance, urging a little more commitment. The only struggle with control, was mine alone and completely internal. The Sportwagon was well within it’s capabilities.
It wasn’t until I rounded a 100kph, right hand sweeper, that both my wife and ESP lodged protest. Both were triggered by a very momentary tail end slip, caused by a rather large dip mid corner. It was but a tiny blip on the RADAR, but ultimately enough to warrant warnings of a verbal kind. Lucky the Latrobe Valley has nice scenery. My restraint arrived too late however, to save said navigators jacket from the return of junior mak’s lunch.
Power To The People
After dispatching with Victoria's country east, we crossed Port Phillip Bay via the ferry from Sorrento, arriving at the start of the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road was built as a living memorial to Victorians who served in World War One, with initial funding coming from the Returned Services League (RSL) and local communities. Originally pegged out in 1919, you can really appreciate the toil and danger required to establish such a route, especially once you reach the other end of the journey.
Confronted with one of the most beautiful and iconic coastlines in the country, I was once again subjected to a level of temptation I found hard to resist. Cue additional verbal reminders. The scenery was, as promised, utterly spectacular and so too were the roads. Much of the coastal windings are not of particular high quality, as a combination of difficult access and high traffic, contribute to the age of spot repairs spanning decades. All of which however, is compensated for with a never ending assortment of on and off camber corners fighting with the views for your undying attention.
Along the blind corners and climb and fall of the road, the 210kW 3.6 SIDI partnered perfectly with the Sportwagon's premium suspension setup, never outplaying itself or overpowering the dampers. The transmission also remained compliant, selecting the right ratio for the right gradient and level of enthusiasm, which was handy when sucking the paint off the doors of tour buses. Overtaking opportunities are few and far between, so having the confidence to know when you can take advantage is an obvious high priority.
The Final Call
The next few days passed so quickly, that before we knew it, the 12 (9?) Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, the Otway Flyer and all the towns and spectacles between, were behind us. The road back to Melbourne was designed to get you there as fast as possible (within posted limits of course) and was accordingly forgettable. For those that are interested, I used 11.6l/100km [20USMPG] along the Great Ocean road, which is mostly posted at 60 km/h and winding roads with the occassional roadworks forcing you to idle for upto 20 minutes. In the city the sportwagon drank the same, though upto 12.4 and as per other 3.6 SIDI VE's sat at around 8.3 [28 USMPG]on the highways, fully laden.
The only dissapointments were the absence of GPS on the top of the range vehicle, the occasional scrape from the nose when going down the driveway at Silvertop cottages, and a self tapping screw poking through the front right Potenza.
This was about loving the road trip and ultimately the score card rest on whether we came home smiling or swearing off the thought of another road trip anytime in the near future. I know everyone had plenty of space, and the comfort was clearly demonstrated by intermittent naps (though not from me thankfully). The biggest indicator however, especially from the kids, was that after 10 days and around 2000 kilometres, we never turned on the DVD player.
Not even once. This truly is a Grand Tourer.