Car reviews - HSV - Colorado - SportsCat
Aggressive styling, comprehensive chassis engineering, supportive front seats, unique interior trim
Room for improvement
Stock-standard Colorado powertrain, limited cabin improvements, refinement issues, donor model shortcomings
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16 Apr 2018
By TERRY MARTIN
HOLDEN Special Vehicles (HSV) holds a special place in the hearts of Australian performance car enthusiasts and over 30 years has rightly earned an enviable reputation for designing, engineering and manufacturing a range of menacing lion-badged models – including the Commodore ute – that are specifically tailored to the Aussie market.
The best of these were built using Holden’s Australian-developed large-car architecture and a formula which included a soul-stirring V8 petrol engine, outstanding vehicle dynamics, advanced technology, aggressive styling and superb cabin accommodation.
In 2018, with only imports to work with now that the Aussie-bred rear-drive V8 Commodore has drawn its last breath, HSV has turned its attention to one of the most popular vehicle segments – one-tonne utilities – and the escalating interest in premium sports versions, creating its own unique vision of the Holden Colorado it dubs the SportsCat.
It is a natural choice, and a reason to celebrate. But after casting an admiring eye over the bodywork, HSV’s decision not to touch the Colorado’s standard diesel engine and to limit its handiwork to a few key areas has us wondering how well it stacks up against the best in class and whether it really deserves that badge with the roaring lion and racing helmet.
Time to find out…
Price and equipment
Based on the top-shelf Holden Colorado Z71 dual cab, the HSV SportsCat tested here is priced from $60,790 plus on-road costs – a $5800 step up from the donor vehicle – and rises to $66,790 for the SportsCat+.
A six-speed automatic transmission, and the extra 60Nm of torque (to 500Nm) that comes with it, adds $2200 over the standard six-speed manual.
The SportsCat is immediately recognised as a different animal from the lion brand’s regular ute – even the sporting Z71 – with its unique front grille and fascia treatment, two red-painted front recovery hooks, LED foglamps, fender flares, 18-inch six-spoke matte-black forged alloy wheels, Cooper Zeon LTZ Pro Sports 285/60 M+S tyres, black tubular side steps, large SportsCat stickers on the rear flanks, hard tonneau cover (with quick-release mechanism and load-rail provision), black-painted alloy sports bar and a bold, capitalised ‘Colorado’ stamp on the tailgate. The tailgate also has a ‘soft open’ strut.
The cabin has heated and electrically adjustable front SV Sports seat with a leather/suede trim combination, leather-wrapped steering wheel with red highlight stitching, perforated leather/suede trim across the dash, red stitching highlights in other areas (door trim, centre console cover) and branded floor mats.
The higher-grade SportsCat+ has suspension mods, beefier brakes, machined-faced wheels, a bonnet bulge, sailplane and unique options. Our test car had the $300 tub liner and $550 grey ‘prestige’ paintwork, while other accessories available include an external load rack, roof rack, fabric ‘loadmaster’ cargo partition with large pockets and an eyebolt for the internal load rail to help secure smaller items.
Of the bits that are unique to the SportsCat, HSV has told GoAuto that 64 per cent are sourced from Australian or New Zealand suppliers, while some other parts are purchased from local subsidiaries but known to be manufactured elsewhere.
Features not exclusive to SportsCat but nonetheless demonstrate its high-end status include climate-control air-conditioning, remote window activation (and remote start on the auto), seven-speaker audio unit and Holden’s MyLink infotainment system with 8.0-inch touchscreen, DAB+ digital radio, USB input with iPod connectivity and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration.
The exterior modifications are, to our eye, outstanding but the interior does not take the HSV ‘touch’ to the same level we might have expected from the premium sports marque, based on its track record with previous Australian-built models.
All the major controls, switchgear, instruments and the like are straight from Holden’s Colorado ZL1. The steering wheel has the evocative HSV logo on it and has the reassuring touch of quality leather, but the tiller itself, its basic design and layout, is from the donor model.
We would have loved an HSV-specific instrument binnacle – even considering the unaltered powertrain – or unique apps with driving performance data integrated into the Holden MyLink system.
The soft suede trim across the front of the dash is excellent, and the red stitching highlights across the cabin – on the seats, dash, doors, centre console bin lid – lend a degree of cohesiveness to an otherwise quite unremarkable cabin that still has plenty of hard plastic surfaces.
The standout items are the front seats, which are the same basic structure as those from the Holden Colorado but with uniquely specified foam that is wrapped in leather and suede. They are comfortable over long distances and, in true HSV form, cosseting when winding roads beckon the driver to explore the Cat’s dynamic performance.
Only six-way adjustment means lumbar is left out of the equation, and electric operation of the seats does not extend across to the front passenger. There should also be a little more fore/aft seat travel for taller drivers, a situation not helped by the absence of reach adjustment for the steering column.
These are limitations that, in large part, stem from the donor vehicle and which HSV would not necessarily be expected – or in some cases, able – to rectify.
While on this point, let us add that there is a lack of storage for small items up front, no lock on the glovebox, no driver’s seat vanity mirror behind the sun visor, no illumination to help guide the ignition key, the console cupholders fit only narrow bottles and the on/off switch for the lane-departure warning system should be closer to hand.
Our test car also had some unsightly creases in the headlining above the driver where the overhead grabhandle would be placed in other markets.
Positive impressions created with the SportsCat-specific seat and door trim and general levels of comfort extend to the rear compartment, where three headrests and three-point seatbelts are provided and there is plenty of room for two adults and a child.
Three big-framed occupants across the bench would be pushing it, and the facilities are fairly basic. There are no rear air vents, the window at the back of the cab cannot be opened and the rear seatback folding process is cumbersome.
We were asked not to test the quick-release system on the tonneau, so we’ll take HSV at its word that it’s a handy feature, and the damping function on the tailgate release is good considering it’s such a heavy item. It’s also worth noting that dust will find its way into the load bed.
Engine and transmission
For a company that forged and, over three decades, continued to hammer out a reputation for building potent, sonorous, stirring high-performance vehicles, the decision not to modify or replace the standard 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel engine is a big call.
We’ve heard, and understand, the reasons – the costs involved, complexity, emissions, limited gains available with this Duramax unit, small steps first before a powertrain transplant is considered, and so on – but can’t help feeling that engine performance is at the heart of HSV DNA.
As fitted to Colorados that cost half as much as the SportsCat, the engine produces 147kW of power and maximum torque of either 440Nm with the manual or a far more satisfying 500Nm with the auto tested here.
Standing-start acceleration is average, but the SportsCat – which has a hefty 2250kg kerb weight – rises to the challenge as peak torque arrives at 2000rpm.
The unladen Cat feels perfectly adequate when tooling around town or cruising at freeway speeds, but in more demanding conditions the engine brings little reward – noise, largely, and not the musical notes we might have expected – when pushing beyond the mid-range toward the 4500rpm redline, as the badge in front of us invites.
The extra pulling power with the automatic is welcome and the gearbox responds to driver demands when quick downshifts are required, albeit with some clunkiness on occasion when given a full dose of right boot while in a high gear – a position the transmission is always eager to occupy, so high rates of shifting can be a constant theme unless the driver uses the manual shift mode.
This manual gear selection is just the ticket for keeping the engine around the 2000-2500rpm sweet spot, making good use of the generous torque that we came to appreciate when exploring the SportsCat’s driving dynamics, which, apart from aesthetics, was HSV’s prime focus.
It no doubt also influenced our fuel consumption on test, which came in at 10.6L/100km over a 200km trip that mainly involved an urban escape route and back country roads, not far from where HSV’s engineers honed the SportsCat on Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground.
Ride and handling
The SportsCat is touted as “the most advanced sports 4x4 on the market” by virtue of its chassis enhancements over Holden’s top-spec Colorado Z71, which on the base model tested here includes stiffer front springs, retuned dampers, front strut braces, higher front ride height, wider wheels and tyres, larger-diameter brake master cylinder and revised electronic stability control system.
What’s immediately apparent is that the Cat feels every bit the confident, composed and comprehensively engineered item we would expect from HSV, with no sense of compromise in its dynamic performance and no whiff of aftermarket add-ons.
For a big, heavy pick-up, the SportsCat scythes its way through fast and winding bitumen and dirt stretches alike with consummate ease, the Cooper tyres providing plenty of grip in corners, the suspension inhibiting excess body movement, the steering feeling well integrated into the overall package and the electronic traction systems never proving overly intrusive.
Drum brakes remain at the back end and the pedal creaked and groaned throughout our test, but, for all we threw at it, the braking system impressed with its stopping power and resistance to fade.
The ride quality is a highlight, the SportsCat ironing out broken bitumen, bridge seals, corrugations and more – no mean feat when the bias here is clearly with its handling – and those chunky tyres prove to be much quieter than we anticipated.
Alas, refinement is a letdown in other areas, with wind noise an issue on the freeway and cabin vibration a constant factor as the driver contends with blurred rearward vision that comes from the central mirror shaking over various surfaces, at various speeds.
We also found rearward vision at night impeded by big reflections of the dash stack in the back window, while the headlight performance, on both low and high beam, is only average. The LED foglights are effective, but more advanced lighting is needed on the main lamps.
HSV’s heavy concentration on on-road dynamics does not appear to have come at the expense of Colorado’s usual off-road ability, with the extra ground clearance, improved approach/departure angles, specialist all-terrain tyres and front (but not rear) recovery hooks giving the SportsCat an advantage, and steep, rutted tracks were easily managed on our route with the low-range gearing and hill-descent control system.
Safety and servicing
The SportsCat is arguably a safer vehicle than the donor Colorado by virtue of its chassis modifications and dynamic prowess, but the major active and safety features carry over from the Holden product.
This is still a reasonably impressive list for a commercial vehicle, including tyre pressure monitoring, electronic stability control and related systems (traction control, trailer sway control, hill-descent control, hill-start assist, rollover mitigation, anti-lock braking and electronic brake-force distribution) and driver-assist technology such as forward collision alert and lane-departure warning.
The simple forward collision alert works effectively with loud aural and red windscreen-projected visual warnings – but no automatic braking – while we found the lane-departure warning system to operate effectively with right-hand lane markings but in a less timely fashion for solid roadside lines. It also does not intervene automatically to correct the vehicle’s position on the road.
There is no autonomous emergency braking as found standard across the Mercedes-Benz X-Class range, and no higher-tech systems such as driver fatigue monitoring or adaptive cruise control with collision mitigation as fitted to the Ford Ranger Wildtrak.
Parking is aided by front and rear sensors and a reversing camera, while passive safety features include dual front, front side-impact, full-length curtain and driver’s knee airbags.
Service intervals are 15,000km or every nine months, whichever occurs first.
HSV says additional services may be required under certain driving conditions, such as “if the vehicle is operated in very dusty or sandy areas, muddy or wet areas of high humidity”.
On the latter, this could impact on inspection timing or replacement parts such as timing belt, air cleaner element, rear brake drum linings, fuel filters and transfer case fluid.
Similarly, a transmission fluid change is recommended every 75,000km if the vehicle is towing a caravan (or something similar) or operated under extended periods of idling or low-speed operation, or high-load/high-speed operation in hot weather (+35 degrees Celsius).
There is no capped-priced servicing scheme.
Unquestionably, the SportsCat deserves to be ranked among the leading dual-cab one-tonne utilities but we believe it is not, as HSV describes it, the best and most advanced sports 4x4 on the market.
There are just too just too many shortcomings with the donor model, including a lack of sophistication in its available technology, and while the chassis engineering work has taken Colorado to new heights, we don’t believe the SportsCat sets a new benchmark in this segment.
It could rightly be considered a must-have for Holden loyalists, especially fashion-conscious tradies who want their workhorse to be a statement piece and still require a 3500kg towing capacity and one-tonne payload (in this case, 900kg).
But this is not simply the ‘Holden Colorado SportsCat by HSV Design’ – it runs deeper than that, is more proficient than that – yet as the first product in HSV’s new era developing imported models, the SportsCat misses the bullseye the high-performance brand repeatedly hit over three decades.
With a more comprehensive overhaul, including areas such as powertrain, refinement and advanced technology, we will readily accept the message in the SportsCat TVC that the company – like its prospective customers – will “never stop … never lose momentum … just keep building … ignore the naysayers … never back down … never look back … it’s a choice we made over 30 years ago and it’s the reason why at HSV we’ll never be done pushing boundaries”.
Ford Ranger Wildtrak from $59,590 plus on-road costs
Brilliantly executed and brimming with advanced technology, the Australian-developed Ranger Wildtrak is a benchmark in class – at least until the sportier Ranger Raptor arrives later this year.
Volkswagen Amarok TDI550 Highline from $60,490 plus on-road costs
Well proven, highly specified and currently the most powerful one-tonne ute on the market, the 165kW/550Nm V6 diesel Amarok has only a few shortcomings and must be on the shortlist.
Mercedes-Benz X250d Power from $61,600 plus on-road costs
New entrant to class that uses the Nissan Navara as its basis and takes the one-tonne ute experience to a higher plain in areas such as specification and refinement – and a V6 is coming later in the year.
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