The Holden Calibra is perhaps the most underrated coupe of the 1990s. Its sporty lines, gorgeous narrow headlights, and sleek aerodynamic styling make it, without doubt, a real head-turner. Today, it might be a type-example of understated beauty, but back in the day, it never gained the recognition it deserved with coupe buyers tending to opt for the drama of the Toyota Celica or the grandiosity of the Honda Prelude and Ford Probe.
Holden introduced the Calibra in 1991. It was built at the GM Opel factory in Germany but featured the familiar Family II 4-cylinder engine made in Australia. Two versions were initially available – the smooth and powerful manual 2.0L Calibra with twin-cam 4-cylinder engine, and the less impressive 2.0L automatic with single cam. The latter model was dropped in 1995.
In 1992, Holden introduced a turbocharged 2.0L twin-cam Calibra to the line-up. Featuring a 6-speed manual gearbox, firmer suspension package, and all-wheel-drive for better traction, it quickly became the flagship until the arrival of the V6 2.5L 125kW Calibra in 1994.
The year 1998 signalled the end of the Calibra model, although there are now whispers of a revival of the name in 2013.
Pre-1992 Calibras are nice sporty coupes for undemanding driving. Don’t expect masses of power when you put your foot to the floor. The original 2L manual makes 100km/hr in just over 9 seconds, and with only 110kW at its disposal, it will max out at 210km/hr. Maximum torque is 195Nm at about 4800rpm. For a front-wheel drive, it handles really quite well, feeling planted in the corners and under braking. Push it beyond the limits of normal road use though, and you’ll find understeer becomes ever more prevalent.
Mustering just 85kW, the single-cam automatic 2.0L Calibra is slow and awkward. Acceleration, if that is what you’d call it here, is harsh and noisy. It’s a poor performer that lacks its sportiness gene in the engine department. If you’re after something that just looks the part and is easy to drive then this one could work out for you.
Better is the turbocharged 2.0L twin-cam beauty introduced in 1992. With a 6-speed manual gearbox, firmer suspension package, and all-wheel-drive for better traction, it feels as good as it looks. The turbocharged 2.0L engine develops 150kW and will reach a top speed of 240km/hr, and hitting 100km/hr from standstill is delivered in a rather exciting eight seconds.
Less powerful but offering a more refined experience is the V6 2.5L Calibra. Performance-wise you’ll get 230km/hr from its 125kW engine. Acceleration from 0-100km/hr is reached in less than 8.5 seconds, with maximum torque at around 4200rpm.
Early Calibras take their cabin spec from the 1988-1995 Opel Vectras. Standard-issue GM plastics are found in abundance. Interior build quality isn’t much to shout about either with gaps and misaligning panels being not an irregular discovery. That said, equipment levels on the early Calibras are pretty good. Both 2L versions have anti-lock brakes, power steering, electric windows, central locking, alloy wheels, and a sunroof as standard.
The turbocharged 2L Calibra adds a driver’s airbag for safety, plus an updated interior with leather trim. It’s a nicer cabin, and outside, a sleeker-looking body kit gives it a sportier edge to its looks.
Launched in 1994, the V6 2.5L Calibra is a high-spec model that scores nicely on its more stylish dashboard presentation, higher-quality audio system, and sporty bucket seats. If you’re looking for a sports coupe feel inside as well as out, this is the model to go for.
Without doubt, the pre-1992 Calibra’s main competition includes the Toyota Celica and Honda Prelude. Both front-wheel drive coupes controlled the market in Australia during the early to mid-1990s. Compared to the dramatic bodylines of the Celica, the Calibra offers a more complete package – especially in terms of performance and equipment. Build quality and interior styling are better in both the Celica and Prelude, but then what else would you expect from Japanese-produced cars?
Serious competition for the V6 comes in the form of the Ford Probe and Mazda MX6. Both offer bags of character, although both arguably look more dated than the Holden Calibra.