Car reviews - Holden - Commodore ute - 2-dr utility range
Extra cabin space, excellent handling, improved performance, stand-out styling, standard ESC
Room for improvement
Relatively low load capacity, base engine performance is underwhelming with automatic, no side airbags
21 Sep 2007
THE VE Ute is a far superior vehicle to the one it replaces.
There are dramatic improvements across the board, from performance and handling to comfort and features.
One of the changes that will make the most difference to Ute owners can be found right behind the driver and passenger seats.
With previous models, a simple trip with luggage or a visit to the supermarket when you had a passenger was a real pain.
The problem was that there was so little space behind the seats that the luggage or shopping had to sit either at the feet of the passenger or slide around in the tray.
Now, as with the Falcon ute's "Super Cab", that luggage can easily fit behind the seats.
It might not sound exciting, but this feature is likely to mean some customers who previously discounted the Holden Ute for that reason are likely to give it another go.
If they do, they are likely to be impressed by the other improvements.
The V8 SS is a thunderingly fun machine that is more like a two-door sportscar than a Ute.
When you are behind the wheel of this performance car, it is very hard to tell it’s a ute rather than a sedan.
And, just like the SS sedan, the Ute feels fast.
Holden doesn’t give out performance times, but internal testing found the SS Ute punching out 0-100km/h times of 5.5 seconds.
That is impressive for any car, let alone a Ute that costs $5000 less than the sedan.
The stopwatch reading is impressive, but the SS also sounds and feels fast.
Holden engineers have managed to build in a wonderfully guttural V8 exhaust note.
It is a far cry from some of the previous Holden V8s that sounded so muffled you really couldn’t tell whether they had eight or six cylinders.
The SS has so much more power than you will ever need on the road and hits the legal limit in second gear.
With either the six-speed manual or automatic, the SS lumbers along with the big V8 ticking over at a touch over 1200rpm.
The automatic transmission is a pretty good gearbox and it is nice to have the option of changing gears manually.
But it is still not as good as the ZF six-speed gearbox in the Falcon, which makes its changes quicker and more smoothly.
Holden has improved the V8’s six-speed manual - the clutch feels lighter and the shifts are less clunky than before.
The ride comfort of the SS is not bad, but not great either. As you can expect with 18-inch rims (an 19s in the case of the SS V) it is pretty firm on less than perfect roads and was quite harsh on the dirt roads we tested it on at the national launch just out of Albury.
Still, the upside is the brilliant handling that we have come to expect from the SS.
The precision of the steering, the body control and the grip levels mean this is a seriously capable sports machine.
You would think the SS would be a real handful under hard acceleration out of turns, but the traction levels available are surprisingly high.
Of course, if you get too enthusiastic, the ESC will do its best to straighten out the car.
That is a great safety net to have across the range. It is such a shame there are no side airbags, which should definitely be standard on the performance utes.
While the SS is a fantastic showcase of what Holden has done with its Ute range, perhaps the most impressive model is the base Omega in manual form.
The automatic model is not the best choice. The gearbox itself has been improved, and is adequate, but it is teamed to the lesser of the two Alloytec engines.
At the launch, with 280kg of ballast in the back to simulate an average load, the Omega automatic felt pretty sluggish under acceleration.
The engine is still quite smooth and pretty quiet, but you wonder how much better it would be with the higher-specification engine.
A drive in a manual Omega confirmed the better V6, combined with a sweet-shifting manual, results in a very nice entry-level utility.
The clutch is light and the gearbox is crisp. The engine is smooth and fairly quiet and the added power and torque is instantly recognizable.
It still could do with more torque, especially when you compare it to the inline six of the Falcon ute, but the Holden V6 is still no slouch.
The Omega’s suspension set-up is the most comfortable of the lot.
It is the softest and does a great job of absorbing the bumps on some really nasty roads.
Even so, the entry-level car is still quite controllable and there is very little bodyroll in corners.
A long section of slippery, twisting dirt roads revealed that even the Omega is a very sharp and responsive, yet predictable vehicle. You can get a good feel for how it will behave in a corner and you can even have a bit of fun and flick it around like a rally car with confidence.
But we still need to drive the Omega without any ballast in the back to get a complete picture.
Even so, there is little doubt that the basic design of the VE, with its stiff new body, new steering layout and improved weight distribution, meant the chassis engineers had an excellent base to start with.
The tie-down points in the tub should come in handy and the standard tub liner is a nice touch that will sweeten the deal for buyers.
Again, however, we couldn’t load up the Utes with anything substantial on the launch, so we don’t know how they would operate under a heavy load.
There is no doubt the V8 models would haul their maximum paylods with ease, but it isn’t as clear how the V6 engines would go with their torque.
For people needing to cart heavier loads, the likely choice is still going to be the Falcon. Not just because of the rear leaf springs that are better at coping with heavier loads, but also the extra torque of the I6.
The interiors of the Ute models are the same as the Commodore sedan, which means they are generally good.
Ute customers can also choose from some bold new colours, including a vivid green that is likely to be the new hero colour, along with a fantastic purple that looks blue in bright light.
Regardless of the colour they are painted, the new Ute looks nice on the road. The fastback B-pillar gives the car a genuinely unique, sporting appearance.
Of course, the more expensive SS and SV6 models have a muscular edge, but the Omega doesn’t look too bad either.
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