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First drive: Holden's classier VZ Crewman

Crew-cabbed: VZ facelift brings an Alloytec V6 and six-speed manual to Crewman for the first time.

VZ Crewman brings an Alloytec V6 and, for the first time, a manual transmission

Holden logo26 Aug 2004

IT may be less than 12 months old, but Holden’s popular Commodore-based four-door Crewman ute has already come in for its first facelift.

With Holden’s longest rear-drive model on target to meet its 2004 sales target of some 8000 units – or a staggering two-thirds the number of Commodore Utes that will be sold this year – The General hasn’t seen fit to address Crewman’s greatest shortcoming, a tight rear seat.

Holden has, however, blessed VZ Crewman with its all-new 3.6-litre DOHC Alloytec V6, along with a new six-speed manual gearbox as standard and revisions to the SS Crewman’s 5.7-litre Gen III V8 and both engines’ four-speed auto transmissions.

Of course, the updated VZ cosmetic package also applies to Crewman and includes a new, twin-spear bonnet, more aggressive front bumper, more compact headlights sans the “Bull’s eye” parking lights of the VY-based version and a larger Holden Lion logo in the middle of a larger single-bar grille.

Reflecting the VZ Commodores sedan, wagon and ute facelift, Crewman’s look has been lifted a notch or two at base level, with the entry level Crewman V6 scoring a body-coloured front skirt and side rocker mouldings, although the baser’s 15 x 7.0-inch steel wheels remain.

While base VZ Crewmans also get silver chrome bezelled headlights and a new Gable cloth interior trim, Crewman S gains Sonic sports fabric trim and both S and SS get Bermuda cloth trim. A new Odyssey paint colour is available for all VZ Crewmans, with S and SS variants also gaining a new Impulse paint option.

Crewman SS raises the bar again by adding projector headlights with black bezels and twin horizontal parking lights, clear-lens foglights and a centre console storage compartment.

But, like SS sedan and Ute, the Crewman SS styling drawcard is a pair of front quarter "fender vents", which actually don’t channel air but are blocked and simply house a couple of chromed fins and the side repeater lens.

At the business end of VZ Crewman lies a modified version of Holden’s base Alloytec V6, with the same 175kW and 320Nm performance peaks as found in VZ Executive, Acclaim and Berlina sedan models – and all VZ Utes, for that matter.

The difference is that, for both Crewman and One Tonner, the V6’s maximum torque output is available 400rpm lower at 2400rpm, courtesy of a higher back-pressure exhaust.

That’s 14 per cent more power and five per cent more torque than the defunct 152kW/305Nm 3.8-litre pushrod Ecotec V6.

An all-alloy 24-valve DOHC design, the 60-degree V6 employs a sand-cast alloy block, forged steel crankshaft, twin knock sensors, stainless steel exhaust, roller finger valve followers, 32-bit engine management system, coil-on-plug ignition, an electronic throttle and variable inlet valve timing.

The new 3.565-litre engine, with oversquare 94 x 85.6mm bore and stroke dimensions, runs a relatively high 10.2:1 compression ratio and continues with the 15,000km regular service intervals introduced with VY Commodore’s 3.8 Ecotec V6, but it misses out on the variable exhaust valve timing and two-stage inlet manifold of the premium Alloytec 190 V6 found in SV6, Calais, Statesman and Caprice sedans.

Similarly, Crewman misses out on those models’ new five-speed automatic transmission featuring Active Select steering wheel-mounted gearshift buttons.

Instead, there’s a comprehensively upgraded version of Commodore’s current GM four-speed auto, which features a new torque converter, smarter control module and new calibration to improve shift-to-shift variation.

But the big transmission news for Crewman is the standard fitment of a brand-new D173 Aisin six-speed manual.

Not only is it the first time Crewman V6 has been available with a manual, but it’s also the first time the Japanese-built gearbox has been employed in a production vehicle anywhere in the world.

When it comes to V8 power for Crewman, the SS flagship may score fender vents but it misses out on its sedan and ute-bodied namesakes’ upgraded 250kW/470Nm V8. Instead, exhaust packaging limitations see SS Crewman’s peak power raises 10kW to 235kW at 5600rpm, while torque remains at 460Nm at 4000rpm.

While Crewman SS’s six-speed Tremec manual is carried over, SS autos receive a new torque converter with 13 times greater electronic smarts, plus a new hydraulic controller aimer at delivering smoother, less shocking shifts.

VZ Crewman variants receive the same steering and braking tweaks as VZ Utes, plus a 14mm rear anti-roll bar.

Steering tweaks across the VZ Commodore range include a different front anti-roll bar pickup point (now ball-jointed, not rubber bushed) which reduces both its mass and bar crank length by 40mm to "increase the range of mild understeer at low to mid lateral G-forces".

While all VZ Crewmans score a new brake master-cylinder and booster claimed to achieve ABS-invoking pressure in half the time and to reduce stopping distances by four per cent, only ABS-equipped V6 Crewmans offer the latest Bosch 8.0 ABS system with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.

So ABS remains optional on the base Crewman, Crewman SS continues with Bosch 5.3 ABS and there is no traction control, let alone selected V6 VZ sedans’ ESP stability control.

There is, however, extra standard equipment for the base Crewman in the shape of power windows and cruise control, which on top of the cosmetic re-style, new V6/manual and revised V8 and autos seems reasonable for the $650 price rise.

With the more complex overhead-cam cylinder-heads of the new V6 negating much of the alloy engine construction’s weight savings, VZ Crewman kerb weights remain almost lineball with the outgoing VYII.

At around 200kg up on their two-door ute siblings, for the base Crewman V6 they are 1754kg manual and 1757kg auto, with Ute S weighing 1755kg manual and 1758kg auto and Ute SS weighing 1814kg manual and 1820kg auto.

Similarly, Crewman payloads remain up on the regular ute thanks to a leaf-sprung rear-end and are 1072kg manual/1069kg auto, with Ute S able to haul 1071kg manual and 1068kg auto and Ute SS 721kg manual and 715kg auto.

Crewman pricing starts at $34,540 (including optional air-conditioning worth $2250), on top of which ABS is available only in a $3780 Smartpack that also includes air-conditioning and a passenger airbag.

Auto is a $770 option, as it is with the $38,620 Crewman S, while both manual and auto Crewman SS variants are priced at $46,890.

New Crewman features:


175kW Alloytec V6 (base and S)
320Nm of torque at 2400rpm (base and S)
235kW/460Nm Gen III V8 (SS)
Standard D173 six-speed manual (base and S)
Revised 4L65 four-speed auto (all variants)
Power windows (base)
Cruise control (base)
Power steering pump and hoses (all variants)
Front anti-roll bar pick-up (all variants)
Brake master-cylinder and booster (all ABS variants)
Bosch ABS 8.0 (V6 variants)
Electronic brake-force distribution (V6 ABS variants)
Brake Assist (V6 ABS variants)
14mm rear anti-roll bar (all variants)
Gable cloth trim (base)
Sonic sports fabric trim (S)
Bermuda cloth trim (S and SS)
Centre console storage compartment (SS)
Body coloured side rockers (base)
Twin-spear bonnet (all variants)
Compact headlights with silver chrome bezels (base)
Projector headlights with black bezels (SS)
Clear lens foglights (SS)
Wide-intake front bumper (all variants)
Sports grille with large Holden logo (all variants)
Fender vents (SS)
Twin horizontal parking lights (SS)
Odyssey paint colour (all variants)
Impulse paint colour (S and SS)

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