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First drive: Crewman works with pleasure

Country comforts: Holden has imbued the Crewman with Commodore-like cabin comfort and crash protection.

Holden's four-door Crewman is a workhorse also built for comfort

25 Aug 2003

THE whippersnappers will be well pleased that the Holden ute now has a rear seat. When it comes to fumbling and groping outside the local debutante or B&S ball, it will be much better there than in the cold, hard tub out the back.

But what the little upstarts might not realise is that the inaugural Commodore-based crew-cab, on sale from September 22, will also allow them, and their sweetheart, to have a chaperone. Or three.

As sure as rural town reservoir banks are not about to burst this winter, the first Australian-built five-seater ute is going to bring a smile to parents, tradesmen, council workers – all sorts of people, whatever the colour of their collar, who have outgrown traditional utes, have kids or colleagues to move and who have long wanted a comfortable, car-based four-door workhorse.

"It’s something that’s been missing for years in this market," said Holden light commercial vehicles marketing manager Alan Blazevic.

"Crewman buyers are going to come from a few markets. There will be sedan drivers, wagon drivers, there will be people getting out of utes because they’ve got additional responsibilities now with a family. You might even see some fleets get out of wagons and into this car, particularly because of the FBT (fringe benefits tax) classification that the Australian Taxation Office has given." Far from being a hardworking bullock like the imported Rodeo, Holden has imbued the Crewman with Commodore-like cabin comfort and crash protection, and included features anathema to the LCV world such as dual airbags, three child seat anchorage points and lap-sash seatbelts and adjustable headrests throughout.

As such, it expects to sell more than 8000 vehicles per annum with an even split between private and fleet customers and no more than 2 per cent cannibalisation from Rodeo or its Australian-built side-box or one-tonner two-door utilities.

This is double the volume Ford Australia figured it could achieve with its own dual-cab program based on the R5 concept car, which was aborted after the company deduced that more than 50 per cent would be substitutional sales for the Falcon ute and Courier.

"Part of the appeal with a two-door ute is the fact that it’s just you and your mate and it’s a sports machine," Mr Blazevic said. "So you’re not going to go out and buy a four-door car.

"As far as Rodeo goes, it’s a different vehicle altogether. You’re talking about a full ladder-chassis type vehicle, a car with much higher ground clearance, a car that’s more pragmatic in terms of finishing – it’s got a vinyl floor, for example. And there is an element of the marketplace that that still very much appeals to." Holden has sunk $60 million into the Crewman, almost half of the total $130m invested in the program spanning single-cab One Tonner and the Crewman Cross8 four-wheel drive.

The latter goes on sale during November with an outer skin akin to the Cross8 concept car and a sticker price close to $53,000. To be sold as a single model, the Cross8 is expected to account for 25 per cent of all Crewman sales.

In a similar fashion to the One-Tonner, the rear-drive dual-cab range will comprise a base Crewman and an S model using the 152kW/305Nm 3.8-litre Ecotec V6 mated to a fortified version of the 4L60 four-speed automatic. Limited demand for a manual gearbox, and considering the all-new HFV6 arrives in about 12 months, ruled out an alternative transmission.

A Crewman SS will also be available, bearing the 225kW/460Nm 5.7-litre Gen III V8 linked with either a six-speed manual or strengthened 4L65 four-speed auto at no additional cost.

Pricing is to start from $32,490 for the base model which, like the equivalent One-Tonner, will require $2250 for air-conditioning and limit high-grade features to a trip computer, six-speaker CD stereo, automatic headlights and four-way electric driver’s seat. At least dual airbags will be in there – and side airbags will be offered as well.

At $38,740, Crewman S will add the otherwise optional air-conditioning, anti-lock brakes, limited-slip differential, cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, chrome exhaust outlet and a soft tonneau cover. The S is also to include electric windows, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, sports seat trim, sunglasses holder, passenger seat lumbar support and an alarm.

The range-topping Crewman SS, to be priced from $46,140 and expected to capture 40 per cent of all Crewman sales, will have the same inducements as all other Holden SS derivatives including the aggressive outer-skin adornments, striking 17-inch wheels, stiffer suspension – and that stonking engine.

The cabin will hold front side airbags, better-bolstered front bucket seats, a sportier steering wheel, aluminium pedals, colour-coded instruments and an in-dash six-disc audio unit. Leather trim and single-zone climate control air-conditioning will be lumped into a $2490 package.

The Holden Assist telematics rescue service will be offered across the range for $1990, while various other accessories are to be made available such as a hard tonneau cover, sports bar and bullbar. Owners wanting to custom-build bodies will also be able to delete the tub.

At a pinch over 5300mm in length, these crew-cabs are to become the longest vehicles ever to roll off the Holden production line.

The same basic architecture as the One-Tonner single-cab was used, which means the continued use of the unique part-monocoque and part-chassis frame construction where the two sections are bolted together using “torque arms”.

Other commonalities include the front strut and live axle/semi-elliptic leaf spring rear suspension – tuned on Crewman to be a little more compliant – the reinforced prop shaft and rear axle housing, upgraded brakes and high-load rated wheels.

The wheelbase, front and rear track, overall width and height and the front end from the B-pillar forward are also comparable.

Where it departs, of course, is in the rear cabin section where various pieces from the long-wheelbase sedans – doorframe openings, windows, etc. – were re-cut to suit the design. Structural strength was enhanced, in part, through two high-strength boxes (one for general storage, the other housing the jack) under the rear bench seat.

The tub borrows much from the standard Holden Ute. Dimensions are 1463mm in length, 1438mm width and 484mm height. The tailgate, when flat, is rated to one strapping lad and his girlfriend – 200kg.

Other figures? These vehicles are no lightweights, with kerb weight ranging from 1739kg on the base model to 1784kg on the SS auto. The V6s share the One-Tonner’s 2826kg GVM and front/rear axle loads (1180kg/1800kg), while the V8 has a 2535kg GVM and 1460kg rear axle load.

Load capacity varies from 1087kg on the V6s to 750kg on the V8. Towing capacities are 2100kg for the sixes and 2500kg on SS.

Exports to the Middle East are being sought, while on the home front several police forces are said to have shown strong interest in the vehicle.

Holden Crewman auto: $32,490
Holden Crewman S auto: $38,740
Holden Crewman SS manual: $46,140
Holden Crewman SS auto: $46,140


Just like a Commodore? No.

Crewman has the same excellent dashboard, the familiar armchair-like front seats and, across the rear bench, three child seat anchorage points (mounted behind removable cushions in the seatback) and three lap-sash seatbelts. Five adjustable head restraints – something not even a Calais can manage – are also included.

But it should not be mistaken for the sedan.

Narrow door openings restrict access to the rear compartment and, once there, adult occupants will find there is not much legroom behind the front seats and not much comfort at all from the near-vertical seatbacks. Enough to deter romantic teenagers? Never.

The rear seatbase on the pre-production Crewman base model we tested was also not well secured and the open storage box underneath the seat – access to which is a doddle – does not hold much gear.

The rear tub, on the other hand, is large enough for basic trade applications and recreational pursuits, and includes useful tie-down hooks on the box sides. The fold-down tailgate is also simple to use, however we noticed the wire cords attaching it to the main frame getting caught upon closure. Some of these wires had visible signs of damage.

Further work is needed here before rolling out next month, as is attention to the front suspension of the Crewman SS. On both front corners of the car, the suspension produced some loud knocking noises during tight downhill turns.

That aside, Crewman SS is a most impressive vehicle in its engine performance and road behaviour. Handling-biased suspension, LSD, big wheels, low-profile rubber – we all know, and love, this combination which enables even an unladen long hauler like this to sit flat and stick like contact cement to the road before rear-wheel traction wanes at high cornering speeds.

High fuel consumption is there, too.

Road manners are less proficient on the lower-series models, in particular the rear end of the base Crewman stepping out of line whenever it meets a rough surface and at times sending some road shock through to the cabin.

This is unladen, of course. And as a workhorse-cum-recreational tool, this is far removed from the harshness found in traditional light commercials.

In terms of steering, braking, ride comfort and general refinement, Crewman does indeed have more in common with passenger cars – and that is an enormous drawcard for people used to the old guard.

Parking? Reversing? Now there is a challenge. But selling truckloads of this thing? Despite what Ford might think, Holden is not going to have a problem.

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