The new ‘practical’ family car: Holden’s 2019 Commodore Calais Tourer

Aug 06, 2019
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Since its release, we’ve thought the wagon is the pick of the new Commodore range and here we take a closer look at the 2019 Holden Commodore Calais Tourer to find out whether it responds well to the SUV ‘treatment’.

Yes, it’s built in Germany. No, it’s not like the Aussie-built Commodore. Yes, things have changed. No, it isn’t V8 and RWD. We know all that. And have dealt with those points ad nauseam. As we’ve stated at CarAdvice before, though, the new Commodore is a very good car, and the fact that the large-sedan segment has softened as much as it has shouldn’t weigh against it. 

One thing is certain, the segment has fewer options than it has ever had, so you should absolutely add the Commodore to your consideration set. We’d love to see more wagons on the road, too. A potent blend of cabin space and comfort, coupled with car-like driving characteristics, makes them a sensible and practical family choice.

When you’re eating up miles on a country back road, with some long sweepers and 110km/h speed limits, this wagon starts to make a lot of sense. It might not be built in Australia anymore, but it certainly copes well with Australian conditions. 

On test here we have the Tourer (Holden-speak for wagon) in Calais specification, which is the midpoint of the three-variant AWD range. Pricing is sharp, starting from $45,990 for this model before on-road costs, with the range-topping Calais V starting from $53,990 before on-road costs. There is also the RS-V AWD starting from $49,190 before on-road costs. 

In some ways, Holden has revisited a past idea here – remember the VY/VZ-based Adventra? No? Didn’t think so. It wasn’t the greatest sales success in Australia, despite numerous forum members from around the country claiming for years they would love Holden to build an AWD, V8-powered SUV. Didn’t really resonate widely when it did build such a vehicle locally. Funny that. 

We go completely rabid for SUVs in Australia, as we’ve explored at some length over the last few years. As such, you might expect this SUV-focused, plastic-clad wagon to be quite popular. Certainly, on paper, it has the goods to compete and the styling is sharp, too, competing well in the look department. 

That aforementioned plastic cladding is worth noting, too, because if you look at the Tourer from 10m away, it’s the only thing that really gives the SUV game away. It’s hard to pick the 20mm increase in ride height and you can’t see the new nine-speed automatic, or Twinster AWD system, either. That’s not a bad thing, though, because buyers might want something that doesn’t look like an out-and-out SUV.

As is Holden’s want, in an attempt to both attract and then impress buyers, the Tourer is quite well equipped in standard trim and it’s not really left wanting in any sense, especially given the starting price below $45K. Highlights include: a full suite of safety features including AEB, lane-keep assist, forward-collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-zone alert, a rear-view camera, parking assistance, front and rear sensors and cruise control. 

You also get leather seats, heated for the front, wireless charging, 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, proprietary satellite navigation, DAB+ radio and an electric tailgate. 

Its 18-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in quality Continental ContiSportContact boots, which are impressive on both wet and dry bitumen, but also loose gravel and dirt. Strangely, and in a move that is becoming more common, there’s only a space-saver spare tyre under the boot floor. Not great for remote-country touring, which is something we get asked a lot on the various radio shows we do.

We also get asked whether the Tourer is a decent towing option and it can be – so long as you’re towing less than 2100kg. That will cover most sane camper trailers, but it won’t work for larger vans and car trailers et cetera. The CarAdvice car trailer, for example, weighs around 700kg and can carry 2000kg.

 

The first thing that hits you in the cabin is the sense of space – the Tourer really is big. You do notice that size externally, too, when you’re reverse parking or manoeuvring into a tight shopping centre carpark, but it otherwise tends to shrink around you. Not so the cabin, which always feels big, light, airy and comfortable. 

The infotainment system is excellent and it continues to impress, as it has since launch. It never did any of the strange things some smartphone connections can do, rather it always provided a rock-solid connection. Apple CarPlay works well, and I briefly tested Android Auto as well with nothing negative to report there either. 

The key smartphone interfaces – message by voice, music streaming and mapping – all work beautifully. I tend to use Waze a lot more than Apple maps now, too, even when I’m driving around without specific navigation and that system was nicely integrated into CarPlay as well. 

The infotainment screen itself is clear in almost all light – even harsh sun – and the proprietary navigation also works nicely, in the event that you don’t want to use data or simply prefer the onboard system. 

Switch over to Bluetooth rather than hard-wired and that phone connection is solid as well, with good audio clarity and no scratchiness reported from the other end of the call. Music playback is above average, too, with what we’d call a decent audio system. 

I appreciate the inclusion of a digital speedo more and more now, with our ever-changing speed limits in urban areas. It works well when you need to have a quick glance down at the gauges just to check your speed. The rear-view camera is handy, and almost non-negotiable these days, but the Tourer’s could have been a little clearer. It works, but it isn’t as sharp as the best we’ve tested. 

In general, storage is excellent, with big cup holders and a 12-volt socket up front, an extra bottle holder near the console at your elbow point, and a decent-size console bin. That bin features a USB socket and phone holder also. The climate-control AC functionality is neatly integrated into the centre section of the dash. 

The two front seats are definitely comfortable in isolation, with plenty of adjustment, but there was one negative here for me. I did feel like I was sitting too high in the cabin, and would have liked to be able to drop the seat further down into the floor. Other CarAdvice testers reported this back to me as well, and I wonder whether it is partly to do with the SUV aspirations of the Tourer?

As always when we test cars in winter, the heated seats were a welcome inclusion and seat base height aside, visibility was good, while the seat trim itself feels durable and comfortable. One thing the Commodore nails is seat comfort. There would have been a worry that a German-built car couldn’t match the comfort of our old Aussie-built Commodores, but it has. 

Despite sitting up high in the front row, there was still a surfeit of head room, while the second row is vast, with air vents and two USB sockets, a broad glasshouse and plenty of visibility for passengers. 

The automatic tailgate worked adequately on test, but did have a few glitches, sometimes being a little recalcitrant to open. It’s snappy enough once it does open that you won’t get drowned in the rain. The remote electric seat release is a good addition to the luggage space, and there’s a 12-volt socket, a broad flat floor, lighting, and a durable luggage cover. You get 560L to the seat tops, 793L to the roof and a whopping 1665L with the second row folded down. 

The engine is undoubtedly punchy, as it should be displacing 3.6 litres and featuring six cylinders. I’d be comfortable saying it’s the best V6 engine a Commodore has ever had. Certainly in terms of insulation and refinement. It’s got a peaky note to it as well – sportier than you expect, right from start-up. The accelerator pedal is touchy, though, and can feel a bit jerky in stop/start applications when you’re stuck in traffic. That’s another characteristic all our testers noticed. 

In contrast, the nine-speed automatic is beautifully smooth, with the stop/start system responding reasonably sharply. I still don’t love that feature in any car, but you can certainly live with it in the Commodore, unlike some systems. The gearbox makes the most of the car’s power and torque delivery to keep things cooking along rapidly if you want to. There’s 235kW and 381Nm on offer and you can run the V6 up to redline as often as you like with no protest from the gearbox. 

The forward-collision alert system can be a bit intrusive around town, and assuming I was about to run into things when I wasn’t, but erring on the side of safety is hardly a bad thing either I guess.

As you’d expect, and perhaps demanded in this segment, the ride is lovely, in that the Tourer irons out bumps and ruts with ease, and the cabin is never upset by what’s going on under the tyres. The Tourer is too low to be anything like a conventional SUV, in the classic sense of the term. I scraped some under-nose plastic a couple of times on parking stoppers or nosing into gutters when I had to park nose forward – areas you’d never even have to consider with a ‘normal’ SUV. 

The engine’s power and effortlessness do come at a bit of a cost, though – fuel consumption. Against the ADR claim of 9.1L/100km we saw 12.6L/100km on test over the week, with the figure going higher than that in periods of stop-start traffic. Prolonged highway runs will almost certainly drop that number below the claim, so keep that in mind. It does beg the question: why no torquey diesel engine, especially for what is supposed to be an SUV?

However, the Commodore does drive more engagingly than most SUVs for precisely the reason that it isn’t a wallowy, jacked-up truck, which makes it a perfect long-haul cruiser. In fact, at this price point you won’t find an SUV that drives anywhere near as competently as the Holden Tourer. The balance between suspension response (tuned extensively in Australia for our roads by the same engineers who worked on locally built cars) and the inherent chassis competence is nailed beautifully in the Tourer. The steering took me by surprise, too – sharper and more direct than I expected initially. 

I’m not sure AWD presents the advantage it once did – in perception, I mean – thanks to the maturing of the various electric systems that keep everything under control. Certainly, the Tourer is well tied down, doesn’t feel like it wants to understeer at every corner, and has a near-perfect feeling of balance front to rear. We spent some time testing in heavy rain on slick surfaces and it was always assured on the road. The Twinster system constantly reads the road to apportion drive front to rear as it sees fit. 

The 2019 Holden Calais Tourer gets a full five-star ANCAP rating and has six airbags. It’s covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with services due every 12 months or 12,000km. There is a capped-price servicing scheme costing as little as $259 for a service, and no more than $359 up to 84,000km, for a total of $2153 over the period. 

As ever, the wagon positions itself as a practical solution for the family buyer in Australia, and the Tourer is right up at the head of the class in that respect. Australians don’t love large cars as such, opting for SUVs over vehicles like the Commodore and Falcon over the most recent decade.

However, blurring the line between conventional station wagon and SUV is a smart move in that sense, and as such, you should definitely take a look at the new Commodore if you’re shopping in the large or medium SUV segment. 

What are your thoughts on the 2019 Holden Commodore Calais Tourer? Do you prefer bigger or smaller vehicles?

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