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New models - Holden - Crewman - Cross8 4-dr utility

First drive: Holden’s AWD Crewman Cross8

All-paw Crewman: the longest vehicle Holden has ever produced.

Meet Cross8, Australia’s only locally-built four-door all-wheel drive V8 ute

Holden logo27 Oct 2003

HOLDEN stops short of calling its new Crewman Cross8 the definitive B&S ball ute. Instead, The General’s spin doctors dub it Australia’s ultimate recreational ute.

Which is a broader but far more accurate description, because its shorter tray and all-wheel drive make both sleeping in it and conducting circle work at the local B&S more difficult than in a regular ute.

And, given its kids-only rear seats and expected mid-$55K pricetag, Cross8 would be among the most expensive cars in the B&S carpark – and the only to contain child seats.

Whatever one calls it, there’s no denying Cross8 is a unique vehicle.

Representing a merger between the half chassis, half monocoque "torque arm" construction of Holden’s born-again One-Tonner and dual-cab Crewman utes with the Adventra’s brilliant new Cross Trac all-wheel drivetrain, Cross8 is the 35th model to spring from Holden’s all-encompassing V-car Commodore architecture, which now spawns 13 bodystyle variants.

The result is the only passenger car-derived V8 crew-cab ute produced in Australia - and possibly the world. As such, Holden’s most expensive ute is very much a niche vehicle, with just 2000 buyers expected annually.

Holden’s last vehicle to be launched in a stellar 2003, Cross8 features the same L-arm front suspension, same wider wheel tracks, same 38/62 front/rear torque split, same AWD slip targets and even the same plastic external bodywork as the Adventra AWD wagon.

Developed in conjunction with Adventra at a total cost of about $125 million, the single-specification Cross8 also shares Adventra 17-inch alloy wheels and larger brake rotors all round.

Compared with V6 and V8 Crewmans, the V8 auto-only Cross8 adds Adventra bodywork and the Cross Trac AWD system with 205mm ride height. It features an interior identical to that of Crewman SS (leather trim, climate control and cup-holders are optional) and uses the same 225kW/460Nm version of Holden’s GenIII Chev V8, while Adventra employs the 235kW V8 that is optional across the Commodore range.

Cross8 weighs in at 1947kg – 163kg heavier than Crewman SS - making it the heaviest Commodore-based vehicle in Holden’s line-up as well as the longest vehicle the company has ever produced at 5323mm.

With a payload of 738kg, Cross8’s load lugging ability is inferior to that of Crewman S and SS, and while it betters Commodore Ute S and SS, Cross8’s payload falls 35kg short of the base Ute. Of course, payload figures include the weight of passengers, and with Cross8 able to carry five of them it’s possible to be left with just a few hundred kilos of payload available.

Like Crewman, Cross8’s tray is slightly wider but some 730mm shorter than the regular ute’s, while towing capacity is a handy 2500kg.

Holden says Cross8, the new hero of its burgeoning light commercial vehicle range, will deliver the company incremental rather than substitutional sales in an LCV market that’s doubled in Australia since 1999.

It says Cross8’s all-wheel drive system, V8 power, street cred and additional safety items like standard side airbags will give it the aspirational appeal Rodeo can’t much. A host of optional accessories, such as a sports bar, bullbar and tonneau covers, aims to increase Cross8’s appeal.

As such, Holden hopes Cross8 will attract outdoor types, first-time Holden buyers and white collar professionals in even greater proportion than Crewman.

To be available as a single model only from December for around $53,000, Holden expects Cross8 to attract about 25 per cent of the 8000 Crewman sales forecast annually.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

AS leaf-sprung utes go, Cross8 is a fairly civilised vehicle. Despite the all-wheel drive system’s greater ride height, getting in and out of the equally imposing Cross8 is no more difficult than with Adventra, which is lower to the ground than most crossovers.

Along with the wheelarch flares and side skirts, the full SS-spec interior rams home the fact this is no ordinary Crewman. The standard kit includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cloth-trimmed SS sports bucket seats, cruise control, trip computer, air-conditioning, six-speaker six-CD audio system, power driver’s seat, pitch/roll gauges and twin front and side airbags.

But that’s about where the similarities with the SS sedan – and SS Ute, for that matter, end.

Cross8 is an extraordinarily long vehicle - longer than most car parking spaces, in fact. Throw in a centre head restraint for the second row and restricted rear vision makes reverse parking this 5.3-metre ute even more of a challenge. And then there’s the poor, 12.4-metre turning circle. And the tray isn’t even long enough to cope with a couple of dirtbikes.

In fairness, good rear three-quarter vision blesses Crewman and Cross8 with less of a blindspot than regular utes, and the larger cabin reduces much of the boom effect that echoes off the rear glass in two-seater utes.

But there’s no getting away from the leaf springs, the likes of which haven’t graced a Commodore ute for more than five years – so long that Holden had to source them from as far afield as Thailand.

Not as refined on the road nor as capable off it as the IRS-equipped Adventra, Cross8 is easily upset by mid-corner bumps, which can cause fairly violent kicking and bucking at even mediocre speeds. While the live rear axle is quick to settle, the fact is Crewman/Cross8’s lighter rear-end is less planted than Adventra's or even Holden’s regular ute.

That said, the launch drive from Sydney to the Gold Coast - encompassing many gravel roads - proved the AWD system’s worth and we’d happily trade its significant extra weight (and the reduced performance and higher running costs it brings) for Cross Trac’s greater all-road traction.

Grip levels are surprisingly good even on wet bitumen and AWD system does a remarkable job of keeping the V8’s relentless urge in check. Combined with the extra-long wheelbase and a super-slow yaw rate, Cross8 proves surprisingly neutral and predictable - despite the cumbersome four-speed GM auto that remains Holden’s Achilles heel.

So while Cross8’s slower steering, thumpy leaf-sprung rear axle and plenty of fore-aft movement over bumps can never disguise Cross8’s utility origins, Cross8 impresses with traction levels the Crewman can’t match and the sort of cabin quietness ute drivers would die for.

Cross8 performs far better than a vehicle this big and heavy has any right to, and Holden has done well to prevent Cross8 feeling much different from Crewman during spirited going – despite the extra weight and ride height.

When it comes to rear seat comfort, however, Cross8 doesn’t raise the bar beyond what a Japanese twin-cab already offers. Despite running changes (5mm more foam in the lower back area) that will come into effect during production and can be retro-fitted, Cross8’s rear pew remains under-padded and far too upright.

It’s so upright, in fact, that regular child seats are too reclined to fit properly. The result is legroom that’s too restrictive even for kids over long distances, and makes Holden’s claims of accommodating five burly workmen between worksites seem a little ambitious.

Which is a shame, because Cross8 offers a number of clever amenities for rear seat occupants, such as particularly wide-opening rear doors, rear ventilation ducts, extra rear lighting, three lap/sash seatbelts, three adjustable head restraints and a seat cushion that tilts up to expose a storage compartment beneath it. Still, you can always simply fold it up and leave it to improve the cabin’s cargo space.

Therein lies Cross8’s fatal flaw. The (V6 and V8) Crewman and AWD Adventra offer obvious advantages over their rivals, and Cross8 also offers passenger car-like comfort for front-seat passengers. But is too tight for serious outback family adventures and its AWD/V8 system seems unnecessary anywhere else.

And it’s this limited appeal that means the few that buy Cross8 will do so because it’s the only Australian twin-cab ute with all-wheel drive and V8 grunt. Oh, and it’s a Holden.

GoAuto can help you buy a new Crewman

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