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Car reviews - Holden - Commodore ute - range

Our Opinion

We like
New V6 and upgraded V8's performance and refinement, fuel consumption reductions on both, classy six-speed manual, improved autos, extra base Ute equipment, more upmarket base Ute styling, value
Room for improvement
No upgraded ABS for SS, no standard ABS on base Ute, no SV6 variant and no traction control, let alone stability control

24 Aug 2004

Holden’s iconic Commodore Ute has taken a big leap forward with VZ, both in terms of performance and refinement – while reducing fuel consumption in both new V6 and upgraded V8 guise.

Still the only Aussie ute with IRS, the latest iteration may lack the full-house Alloytec 190 and five-speed auto of its top-shelf sedan cousins, but with price rises of between just $200 and $450, that’s probably no bad thing (and Holden’s execs quietly admit an SV6 variant is only a matter of time).

But as flexible, free-revving and sophisticated as the new V6 is – especially when combined with the slicker-shifting standard six-speed manual - we’re even more impressed with the improvements made to Commodore’s aged 4L60 auto.

It’s amazing how much smoother the new torque converter is, removing much of the downshift flaring and upshift clunking, while smarter new software and new calibrations also make it less prone to hunting on a constant throttle. But it’s still slow and, next to GM’s five-speed auto, unsophisticated.

So while a slick six-speed manual as standard (available only in SV6 when it comes to VZ sedans) and more acceptable auto option bring Ute out of the transmission stone-age, and a lower final drive maximises the 175kW V6’s muscle in the lighter-weight ute, it never really sounds good and the auto remains its Achilles’ heel.

Similarly, while similar changes to auto Utes’ 4L60 auto make it less cantankerous, it’s certainly the weak link in a package that seems to increase its driveability and refinement with each model change.

Now with a new V6-like electronic throttle and freer-breathing intake and exhaust systems, both auto and manual V8 SS variants feel smoother and sharper in their throttle response, reacting more to any given accelerator pedal input than before and feeling smoother across the entire rev range.

Despite the heavier, vaguer-shifting manual and its firmer clutch action (with reverse on the wrong side), purists will love the upgraded SS’s extra on-road performance, which brings it closer in refinement to XR and probably moves it further ahead in terms of acceleration.

But the lack of stability control or even traction control and its associated ABS upgrade – the virtues of which were heralded long and loud at the VZ launch – is a disappointment for the more expensive, more powerful V8 variant.

Subtle brake hardware upgrades improve pedal feel, but standard ABS would’ve been nice in the base Ute - although there’s no denying the value increase at base level via standard power windows and cruise.

While front rollbar changes have certainly added a little extra response - especially around centre – to give all Commodores better straightline feel, SS is not alone in feeling a little more pushy up front than before.

Holden admits to lowering the cornering forces at which understeer sets in, and the earlier onset of front-end push makes itself felt both when apexing late or powering out of corners early.

So while extra understeer at the limit won’t please the most enthusiastic of enthusiasts, most average drivers will benefit from sharper initial steering response at lower speeds, which makes Commodore’s tiller feel more alive and closer to that of Falcon, which probably now only wins on feedback.

With Ute payloads remaining unchanged, the exile of matt black body skirts for a more upmarket look at entry level can only further Ute’s reputation for style and ride/handling rather than load-lugging ability.

Now bring on the 190kW six-speed manual Ute SV6!

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