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First drive: Holden's sporty new VE wagon

Family wagon: Cargo space gets traded for style and handling with the latest Commodore-based wagon.

Holden targets SUV buyers with sportier, more compact VE Sportwagon

11 Jul 2008

PRIVATE customers are the prime target for the sleek new Holden Sportwagon, which goes on sale nationally from next week.

Fleets accounted for 90 per of the previous Commodore wagon sales, but Holden is determined to spread the appeal of the new wagon beyond company car barriers.

Holden spent $105 million on the new Sportwagon over and above the $1.03 billion it laid down for the VE Commodore program and officially calls it the VE Sportwagon, although the Commodore badge is still present on the boot.

It designed a smaller, more attractive and, as the name suggests, sporty car than the VZ Commodore wagon that was phased-out towards the end of last year.

Previous Commodore wagons were based on the long-wheelbase platform, which gave the cars a massive cargo area, but also brought disadvantages like handling trade-offs and made them harder to park.

The new Sportwagon is built on the same platform as the Commodore sedan. In fact, the wheelbase has even reduced slightly, from 2939mm to 2915mm, while the track is wider by 43mm at the front and 31mm at the back.

It is 4897mm long, making it 136mm shorter than the previous model, but is 53mm wider at 1899mm.

The attractive Sportwagon has a sloping tail that looks more like a hatchback than a traditional wagon and the cargo space has been reduced as a result.

With the rear seats in place, the Sportwagon has a bootspace of only 895 litres compared to the whopping 1402 litres for the previous model. When the rear seats are folded down, the Sportwagon can carry 2000 litres of gear versus 2752 litres for the VZ.

13 center image GM Holden sales and marketing manager Alan Batey said existing fleet customers are not worried about the reduced cargo space.

“We’ve had a lot of fleet customers in over the last 12 months and taken them through the car individually because obviously they need to be able to carry what they need to carry,” said Mr Batey.

“They have no issues with the car. They love the rear tailgate from an accessibility point of view and the users (user-choosers) just look at it and say they want to drive it.” Chief designer Richard Ferlazzo said the Sportwagon still had a large amount of useable space and added that both the old Commodore wagon and the existing Ford Falcon wagon were bigger than required.

“The Falcon and Commodore wagon are the largest kind of (car-based) wagon in the world, no-one else builds them that big,” he said.

“They had their place, but they were designed in the 1990s and the world has moved on.” Unlike the previous Commodore wagon, the Sportwagon is purely a five-seater and there is no seven-seat option. Holden says that customers requiring seven seats can opt for a Captiva SUV instead.

While fleets are still expected to make up a large proportion of Sportwagon sales, Holden is not offering an LPG option with the new model.

Holden hopes that the improved handling and attractiveness of the Sportwagon will win over SUV customers. Despite selling around 1000 Captiva SUVs a month, Holden will have a crack at that style of vehicle with an advertising campaign that suggests SUVs are “so 1994”.

The new Sportwagon represents a $1000 premium over a comparable VE Commodore model, whereas the VZ wagon carried a $2000 premium. The specification of the Sportwagon models is identical to the equivalent sedans, but all Sportwagon models gain rear parking sensors as standard.

While Holden only offered the VZ in three model grades, the Sportwagon is available in seven model guises, from Omega to Calais V V8. There is even an SS manual.

The front half of the Sportwagon is the same as the sedan, with the rear doors, roof and tail section being unique. In all, there are 72 wagon-specific parts.

The tail-lights may look like those from the Holden Ute, but they are a slightly different shape, and those on the SS and SV6 are slightly darker than other Sportwagon models.

Rear headroom is greater than in the sedan and the Sportwagon has more knee and legroom than the VZ wagon, despite the shorter wheelbase.

Holden says access to the boot is aided by a tailgate hinge point that is much further forward, requiring less space (apparently just 268mm) behind the vehicle to open the hatch.

A cargo blind, which can be vertically adjusted, comes standard, along with two shopping bag hooks, a 12-volt power outlet and a low-mounted light that casts light on the area even when the cargo blind is in place.

Of course, the Sportwagon use the same powertrains as the sedan equivalents, but there is a fuel economy penalty because they are around 90kg heavier.

The Omega and Berlina use an average of 11.1L/100km, the SV6, Calais V6 and Calais V V6 use 11.3L/100km, the SS auto, SSV auto and Calais V V8 auto use 13.8L/100km and the manual SS and manual SSV use 14.4L/100km.

All models use the ‘FE1’ suspension while the SS and SSV have the firmer ‘FE2’ set-up.

Holden engineers have tweaked the rear suspension, modifying spring rates to cope with the extra weight and fitting three cross axle ball-joints instead of two for improved toe link stiffness to help prevent oversteer.

Holden had plenty of time to test these settings, with engineers notching up 513,000km of wagon-specific testing in an 18-month period using 60 test cars. They also carried out 1500 virtual barrier tests and four real-life barrier tests to ensure the safety of the wagon matched the sedan.

Like the sedan, the Sportwagon comes standard with electronic stability control and front, side and curtain airbags.

Holden VE Sportwagon range pricing:
Omega $37,790
Berlina $41,290
SV6 $42,290
SS $46,290
SS (a) $48,290
SS V $53,790
SS V (a) $55,790
Calais $46,790
Calais V V6 (a) $55,290
Calais V V8 (a) $60,290

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