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Car reviews - HSV - Maloo - range

Our Opinion

We like
Ride quality, central white instruments, remote tonneau opening, overall appearance, performance, seats
Room for improvement
Bouncy back end, visibility, cheap-feeling steering wheel, most interior surfaces, auto shift quality clunky sport/manual select gate

24 Oct 2007

ENGINEERING a ute must be one of the biggest challenges in the automotive business, given the compromises required between driving unladen and with a full load. Producing a high-performance version would appear to simplify the equation, though, as surely the balance would tip heavily in favour of the latter.

Holden Special Vehicles has plenty of experience producing hot utes, having introduced its first Maloo in 1990, when the company was only three years old, and the model is now said to be the second-highest-seller in the HSV portfolio behind the ClubSport sedan.

There is no questioning the desirability of the Maloo, especially in certain demographics. If you want to be noticed in the country, by schoolkids and by tradies, then Maloo is probably just the ticket – even though the HSV marketing men insist that it has gone upmarket and will now be bought primarily by company managers.

HSV is pushing the line that it is the sports coupe of the cities now, designed for young (35 to 40) sports types with high disposable incomes and few, if any, offspring. This is a vehicle designed to carry trail bikes and surfboards rather than circular saws and boxes of tiles.

You would have thought, then, that the latest Maloo R8 would have a suspension that was tightly tied down and settled firmly in favour of a light load, but this appears not to be the case. On the media launch drive, with empty trays, we found the rear end to be decidedly lighter than expected and prone to bouncing through long corners.

HSV claims the spring rates are 50 per cent stiffer at the front of the Maloo compared to the equivalent sedan and 40 per cent stiffer at the rear, but engineering guru John Clark admitted that the net result (taking into account other factors like shock absorber rates) was somewhat different, without being able to provide specific numbers.

Not that handling is everything, and the well-developed (switchable) stability control will keep everything headed in the right direction anyway, but we would have to suggest that a spirited drive in the Maloo might best be accompanied by some weight in the rear end.

The upside of the equation is that the Maloo displays impeccable manners over bumps, absorbing road irregularities with aplomb and in a manner we did not expect of a low-riding ute on relatively low-profile tyres. We found that you could barely even feel the cat’s eyes on the freeway, such is the compliant nature of the suspension and tyres. Impressive.

Steering, brakes and clutch are all light and progressive, while Holden’s six-speed manual gearshift is acceptable for a high-performance car.

GoAuto has previously been critical of the Holden six-speed auto transmission and in the Maloo it remains a little ponderous at times, though you can get some nice double-declutch downshifts when pressing along. We opted to leave it in ‘Sport’ mode the whole time because ‘Normal’ was just too sluggish.

We also found the newly-developed lateral gate to select the ‘Sport’ and ‘Manual’ modes (which thankfully replaces the previous centre console button) was a bit clunky and prone to sticking if you happen to push it slightly forward at the same time as across. You need to be quite precise with your lateral movement to slide it across without hesitation.

Of course, there was no problem with performance – this is, after all, the fastest ute ever produced in Australia.

It is hard to believe that, with 307kW of power (and 550Nm of torque), HSV’s mighty 6.0-litre Gen-IV V8 is almost twice as powerful as the first Brock HDT Commodore (160kW and 450Nm from 5.0 litres), the car that started the special vehicles movement in Australia in 1980.

It rockets the Maloo to highway speeds in no time with a rumble that errs on the side of quality over quantity. Personally, if we had more than 300 horses under the bonnet we’d like to hear more of them when we flick the reins.

Cruising is a near-silent affair, with the big bent-eight ticking over at only about 1650rpm at 100km/h and little road or wind noise to speak of. Unfortunately, that enables you to hear the odd squeak and rattle.

In terms of comfort, the Maloo scores heavily. The GTS-spec seats are suitably comfortable, with deep squabs, and offer plenty of lateral support with their new suede-covered bolsters.

We also like the HSV centre binnacle at the top of the dash holding three individual black-on-white gauges, even though the main instrument panel remains resolutely white-on-black, but were less impressed by the tactile characteristics of the harsh leather/cloth door inserts and the hard plastic steering wheel.

HSV had to work hard to create more visual impact than the regular Commodore Ute and has largely succeeded. It has eliminated the regular U-shaped ute rear profile in favour of a more horizontal appearance by moulding its own tailgate (which is said to be as much as 15 per cent lighter, but still weighs plenty).

We can see that plenty of work went into making the tail-light extensions on the tailgate match the original tail-lights but, despite the fact that they are actually three-dimensional, almost everyone who sees them agree they look two-dimensional. In fact, they look like those hologram stickers of old.

The vacuum-moulded tonneau usefully lifts up automatically at the push of the ‘boot’ button on the remote, which makes dumping gear in the back a breeze. It may not be very deep, but the tonneau can be removed if necessary.

Thank goodness HSV developed rear park sensors for the Maloo, though, because you would otherwise be hard-pressed backing it out of anywhere. With those twin tonneau bulges and broad sailplane behind the cockpit, visibility is severely compromised and even on the highway the bulges tend to catch your attention. Such is the price of fashion.

Of course, Maloo R8 buyers could probably not care less about such practical considerations, electing to buy based on a whole set of other more emotive reasons. If you want to impress your mates for less than $60K, you would still be hard-pressed to do better than one of these and a slab of beer.

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