Car reviews - Holden - Ute - Range
New cabin design, less fussy automatic, automated parking system and sensors are a boon
Room for improvement
Wind noise behind your head still an issue, no styling change at the rear
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28 May 2013
By BARRY PARK
FROM front-on, it is difficult to distinguish our SV6 ute, powered by a 210kW/350Nm 3.6-litre V6 and sending drive to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, from the Commodore sedan and wagon range.
It features the same aggressively styled front end as the SV6 sedan and wagon, offset by a set of daytime running lights mounted inside blacked-out sections of the front bumper.
Down the back, there’s still a plain black vinyl tonneau covering the load space. No surprises or revelations there.
However, open the driver’s door and it is instantly clear that the ute gets the same far-reaching updates to the interior as the other cars in the Commodore range.
As before, then, from the rear of the door forward, the Holden Ute looks like a clone of its sedan and wagon siblings.
One noticeable difference, though, is a lever mounted high on the shoulder of both front seats. This allows you to flip the seatback forward and reveal a space at the rear of the cabin that is big enough to take a small bag. Elasticised netting on the cabin wall provides a storage space for small items.
The SV6 models miss out on the keyless start of the richer models, so you need to insert the key into the oddly shaped housing that surrounds the ignition barrel.
The interior of the SV6 ute is dressed the same as the passenger car. That means when you crank the ignition, the red speedo and tachometer needles sweep around the white-lit face to add a little bit of theatre.
Because we are in the SV6 fitted with the optional six-speed automatic transmission instead of the six-speed manual, there’s no limited slip differential in between the rear wheels. Even if it was, it’s not really something we can assess on our loping highway run back down from the Snowy Mountains.
The ute is very car-like to drive, though. Engineers have done even more recalibration work down the rear to ensure a comfortable ride despite the need to also carry a fair payload.
This bestows the ute with a ride that, while firm, is still nicely compliant, even over rougher road surfaces where you would expect the unladen rear to bounce around.
Small tweaks mean the 3.6-litre V6 under the SV6 ute’s bonnet is much the same as before.
However, revisions have flattened the torque curve slightly so that the full 350Nm dose arrives 100rpm lower at 2800rpm, while the peak 210kW of power arrives 100rpm higher at 6700rpm.
The previous Commodore’s Achilles heel was the calibration of its six-speed auto, which tended to hunt through the gears at the first sign of a slope.
Now, however, the tuning is sensitive enough to watch the engine load and throttle input once it detects an incline, shifting back a gear but also holding onto it as the ute climbs.
It makes the ute much better to live with on a long cruise.
The ute is also even more attractive as a tow vehicle. The upgrade to the Commodore’s electronic stability control program introduces an anti-sway function that can automatically apply the brakes to prevent a jackknife if the trailer starts to swing wildly from side to side..
However, towing capacity appears to have fallen to 1600kg across the range, down from 2100kg for the 3.6-litre and V8-engined models fitted with an automatic transmission.
Like the sedan and wagon, the ute has benefited from a raft of changes under the skin that make it much quieter than before.
Even the engine, which in the VE tended to sound a little thrashy as revs rose, appears quieter and more refined than before.
There’s still plenty of engine noise under a hard throttle, but it is much more subdued.
There’s also still a rush of wind behind your head from the small buttresses that reach down to the tray either side of the rear of the cabin, and the wing mirrors. If anything, the more muted cabin makes these even more noticeable than before.
The biggest advance for the ute range is most apparent around the car park high on the edge of the Snowy Mountains.
It now comes fitted with front and rear parking sensors – there’s no reversing camera as there’s nowhere really to put it – so even with a full load in the back, you’re not going to have to touch-park.
The ute also gets the same automated parking system as its sedan and wagon siblings.
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