Car reviews - Holden - Commodore ute - Omega 2-dr utility
The six-speed transmission is a real improvement, excellent dynamics, five-star crash safety unusual in a utility vehicle
Room for improvement
Poor vision in nearly all directions, ergonomic quibbles, tonneau cover should be standard
4 Feb 2011
By JOHN WRIGHT
HOLDEN’S Series II Commodore Omega ute shows how much the notion of ‘entry level’ has changed in recent years.
This distant descendant of what was about the most basic vehicle available, the humble Holden ute of the 1950s, now comes equipped with a direct-injection 3.0-litre V6 pushing 190kW of power through a six-speed automatic transmission.
This engine will run on E85 ethanol, 91-RON, 95-RON or 98-RON petrol, making it among the most fuel-versatile engines on the market: Holden calls this ‘future-proofing’.
The dual-fuel petrol/LPG 3.6-litre unit is optional, getting 175kW of power and 318Nm of torque. Choose this option and you make do with a four-speed automatic. It is difficult to see the case.
Only by comparison with the more upmarket versions of the Commodore Ute does the Omega present as an entry level vehicle.
The market began to move in the late 1990s with both Holden and Ford garnering huge support for their SS and XR variants respectively.
These are effectively the Aussie sports cars of the twenty-first century. By comparison, the Omega looks somewhat like a humble workhorse, despite its generous specification and considerable abilities.
Other Omega standard fare includes six airbags (for two occupants), electronic stability control, dual-zone climate control and the Holden-iQ touch screen infotainment system.
At first glance Holden’s 3.0-litre direct injection engine might not seem ideal for a workhorse. The arrival of peak power at 6700rpm and the comparatively low maximum torque figure of 290Nm suggest that this unit will be rather rev-happy.
But the teaming of the smallest capacity Commodore engine in decades with an advanced six-speed automatic transmission means the Omega Ute is generally a willing and efficient performer.
Even without a load in the tray, the ute’s transmission tends to hunt between the upper ratios over hilly terrain.
This seems more an issue of a shortfall in torque at lower rpm rather than the wrong selection of ratios.
Fuel economy is also a bit disappointing, especially around town, but the Ute also scores poorly on the open road.
Amazingly, Holden does not provide a tonneau cover as standard and, as a consequence, the test vehicle struggled to use less than 10 litres per 100km, compared with a typical consumption of around 7.5 for a mechanically similar Omega sedan under the same conditions.
Otherwise the Omega Ute provides a comparable driving experience to the sedan.
Where utes have traditionally been hard-riding, tail-happy machines when unladen, the latest Series II Omega Ute behaves in a predictable fashion and rides comfortably even with no load in the tray.
Holden’s independent rear suspension gives the Commodore Utes a clear ride and handling advantage over their Falcon rivals, while the almost unfashionably small 16-inch wheels (shod with comparatively high profile tyres) help suspension compliance.
Although the Omega Ute does not ride quite as serenely as its sedan counterpart, the margin is probably narrower than it has ever been.
Steering feel is excellent, with just the right amount of weight at the rim. The turning circle is good at 11.7 metres (0.3m more than the sedan on its slightly shorter wheelbase). Noise, vibration and harshness levels are commendably low with the excellent transmission earning some more credit here.
The same quibbles apply as to other VE Commodores. The cruise control is operated by a rather gawky stalk, which works OK but lacks the elegance of wheel-mounted buttons.
Some other minor controls look clumsy, such as the different shaped buttons that are mounted on the wheel and allow the driver to change radio stations, adjust the volume, scroll through trip computer functions and, with a little instruction, zero the trip meter
The Holden-iQ system is excellent but does require some familiarisation.
As with all VE Commodores, forward vision is poor. Those thick A-pillars with their ‘fast’ angle contrive to hide a multitude of hazards and most drivers will need to develop a greater level of vigilance.
But the Ute adds an extra degree of difficulty with its fat B-pillars. They incorporate small triangular windows but the headrests get in the way. The rear window is set high and reversing constitutes another challenge.
So there is something of a paradox at the heart of the Omega Ute. It is a highly sophisticated entry level workhorse but it makes hard work of issues that should be easy such as obtaining a clear view of traffic and manoeuvring in tight spaces.
Fortunately we adapt because there is much to like in the VE Series II Omega Ute. It packs an impressive list of standard equipment. Secondary safety is exemplary.
Dynamics and performance are excellent. The six-speed gearbox maximises access to the modest amount of torque on offer. Fuel economy with a tonneau cover in place should be good – or even better than good.
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