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First look: Clean sheet for Holden VE Ute

Safety push: All VE Utes come standard with stability control.

GM Holden's VE Ute is roomier, racier and safer

23 Aug 2007

GM HOLDEN has given its all-new utility the “clean sheet” VE treatment – and at the light commercial vehicle’s market release in October, it will be become the first Australian-built ute to offer the life-saving electronic stability control (ESC) technology as standard across the entire range.

To be priced from $30,990 for the base model in either manual or automatic guises (with air-conditioning), the ute is based on the current Commodore sedan platform released in August 2006 and has variations of the VE sedan’s monocoque body, interior, and engineering technologies including the sophisticated multi-link independent suspension set-up which was eight years in the making.

More interior space and comfort, improved performance, greater levels of crash avoidance and protection and a higher degree of flexibility are the upshot.

Adding a further $105 million to the VE sedan’s $1 billion expenditure, Holden is hoping that its latest ute – only the third all-new version since the Commodore-based era began with the VN-derived VG in 1990 – decisively outsells its Ford Falcon ute nemesis.

This is something that the second-generation versions since 2000 (the VU-VZ) have been unable to achieve, in stark contrast to the Commodore-based sedans over the years.

Stylistically, the VE Ute adopts the sedan’s aggressive long-bonnet silhouette, as well as the flared wheelarches, steeply raked windscreen and clean body surfaces.

At first glance, much of the outgoing VZ Ute’s proportions have been retained, but there is more of a coupe-like shape to the cabin – revealing significantly more interior space – while the side body panel is now a single piece running from the A-pillar to the tailgate. According to Holden, this aids quality “through dimensional stability and repeatability”.

The wrap-around tail-lights are larger than before, while the tailgate’s hinges are now concealed.

Compared to the VE sedan, more than 60 body panels are unique to the Ute, with the rear structure having been substantially reinforced to accommodate the load-bearing forces, capacity and robustness that are needed on such a vehicle.

13 center imageFrom top: SS, SS V (rear), Omega (front and rear), SS interior, design and development, SS V interior and Ute tray (below).

A heavy-duty cargo liner – moulded to fit snugly – is fitted on every model, the floor is corrugated to allow for easy cleaning and water run-off, while six cargo tie-down hooks have been incorporated. They now are of a more functional design.

All but the base model boasts a tonneau cover featuring the “snap lock” clipping system.

It is all-change inside compared to the VZ model, with the VE sedan lending its basic interior architecture as well as its model-specific centre console features, mouldings, displays and illumination colours in order to create differentiation between each grade.

Improved rear compartment access (a quick-release seat latch is now included in every model), storage spaces (the area behind the rear seats has expanded from 90 litres to 245L), convenience features (items like Bluetooth connectivity are now available) and build quality (tighter panel fit) ranked highest in Holden’s priorities for the VE Ute’s cabin.

All V8 Utes also include dual cargo nets in the rear panels, while all vehicles come with two storage compartments beneath the load floor and a rear-sited centre T-panel that is meant to add a little visual titivation to the interior.

Aping the current Commodore sedan, the VE Ute introduces the Omega name at the bottom of the range, and the SS V model at the top.

Unsurprisingly then, the Omega Ute uses the Melbourne-made 3.6-litre Alloytec V6 engine, delivering 180kW of power at 6000rpm and 330Nm of torque at 2600rpm. However, this just applies to the automatic Omega, utilising the decades-old US-made 4L60E four-speed automatic transmission.

Unlike the Omega sedan, Omega in Ute guise can be had with a manual gearbox – the Japanese-built AY6 six-speed manual only found with the LY7 High Output Alloytec V6. As a result, power and torque rises to 195kW at 6500rpm and 340Nm at 2600rpm respectively – partly due to the use of a dual-exhaust system.

Next up is the VE SV6 Ute. It, too, uses the LY7 V6 in six-speed manual mode, but then switches to the upgraded, French-sourced 5L40E five-speed automatic gearbox with a Tiptronic-style sequential-shift facility that Holden dubs “Active Select”.

Among other items, the SV6’s suspension is in a firmer – or sportier – state of tune.

Topping the VE Ute range are the V8s, which use the American L98 6.0-litre GEN IV unit producing (on 98 RON premium unleaded) 270kW at 5700rpm and 530Nm at 4400rpm. Like the VE sedan, the V8 is mated to either the US-made 6L80E six-speed automatic or long-lived T56 six-speed manual gearbox.

On the fuel-economy front, it is the Omega auto that records the lowest ADR 81/01 combined average result, beating the Omega and SV6 manual’s 11.4L/100km reading by 0.1L/100km. The SV6 auto registers 11.6L/100km, while the V8 auto and manual use 14.0 and 14.5L/100km respectively. Holden says all these figures were ascertained on pre-production vehicles.

A new engine cradle – another VE sedan application for the Ute – is significantly stiffer and stronger than the VZ’s, aiding crash protection in the process, helping to quell noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), and improving dynamic abilities.

Unlike all Falcon utilities since 1960, the VE continues with Commodore Ute tradition by not employing rear leaf springs. Ditching the 1970s Opel-derived independent system found in the VZ, the VE’s so-called Linear Control Suspension adds a far-higher degree of sophistication to Holden’s latest commercial vehicle.

The front end comprises a multi-link strut with a direct-acting anti-roll bar. Along with a forward-mounted, powered rack-and-pinion-type steering rack, it helps the driver have a better connection with the road, as well as improved on-centre steering feel and directional stability during certain sudden manoeuvres, while filtering out undesirable forces created by things such as crosswinds and unexpected road camber changes.

Holden claim some of this design’s characteristics include improved ride isolation due to a hydraulically damped bush in the forward spherical joint, and greater lateral stiffness for precise handling as a result of having a rubber spherical joint in the lateral link.

The front geometry also features negative scrub radius, short spindle length, high castor and short mechanical trail, while there is full adjustability for camber, caster and toe characteristics.

Out back, a four-link independent rear suspension features coil-over shock absorbers and a decoupled anti-roll bar, which together help create high lateral stiffness for better handling attributes and improved longitudinal compliance for the benefit of ride comfort thanks to the inclusion of elastic bushes fore and aft.

A rubber-isolated rear suspension frame dramatically reduces NVH.

Like the front, the camber and toe are fully adjustable, with the upshot here being improved vehicle responses, sharper handling, better isolation and ride comfort and reduced sensitivity to payload changes, according to Holden.

The Omega Ute has suspension that is biased to higher ground clearance than the sportier set-up found in the other, more expensive models.

Beefed up for its commercial vehicle application, the VE Ute’s suspension has been tweaked so it can more ably cope with the load demands placed on it.

The aforementioned front anti-roll bar’s diameter drops from 16 to 12mm to further reduce any oversteering tendencies.

Wheel-and-tyre packages have seen upgrades across the range, with the Omega’s 16-inch steel wheels being one inch larger than before. The SV6 and SS wheels rise from 17 to 18 inch alloys, while the SS V tops that with a 19-inch alloy set.

Compared to the outgoing VZ, the brakes are bigger, quieter (an apply sensor replaces two switches), offer a stiffer pedal feel, and have a stopping distance advantage.

Some of the new-to-Ute features developed for the VE sedan and found on every vehicle include a completely revamped heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, larger and more legible instrumentation dials with Night Mode illumination, satellite navigation and telematics capability (although these are options), new-generation Blaupunkt audio systems, Bluetooth connectivity, flat wiper blades, a locking fuel-filler door and one-touch lane-change indicators.

The SS V panders to a perceived growing demand for upmarket commercial vehicles. Above the SS’s sports-contoured seats and six-disc CD audio, it includes dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, projector headlights and alloy-faced pedals.

Accessories include a “Super Box”, hard tonneau cover, cargo tie-down rails, sports bar, ladder and roof rack, sports decal kit and an interior luggage organiser. A leather pack will be available on SV6 and SS for $1,250.

Holden claims it has undertaken over 650,000km of reliability testing on the VE Ute alone. The company is expected to release further product, engineering and marketing details later this week. The first media drive impressions will come next month.

Holden VE Ute range pricing:
Omega 195kW HFV6 $30,990
Omega 180kW V6 (a) $30,990
SV6 $35,990
SV6 (a) $36,990
SS $39,990
SS (a) $41,990
SS V $44,990
SS V (a) $46,990

Holden VE Ute at a glance:

- All-new VE Commodore sedan-derived platform

- Larger, roomier, more refined cabin

- Improved safety, including standard ESC

- Better dynamics

- Greater performance

- Standard air-conditioning

- More high-tech features

- New models names: Omega (base) and SS V (range-topper)

Read more:

VE Ute confirmed for US, but not as a Chev

First look: VE wagon and HSV's smokin' new Maloo

VE Ute design: An alter ego

VE Ute tech: Raising the (sports) bar

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