Around fifty grand on the road for a Holden ute! Jeez, what’s the world coming to?
At $46,990 plus ORC, the SSV Holden Ute is no cheap plumber’s hack. But then again, it doesn’t drive like one either. The top-of-the-line model is loaded with in-cabin equipment and looks the part with its quad exhausts, projector headlights and 19 x 8 alloy wheels. Under the bonnet there’s a 270kW 6-litre V8 connected (in the case of the test car) to a 6-speed auto.
Maybe don’t think of it as a Holden ute... instead think of it as a sports car. Before you choke on your cornflakes, consider the way the Ute handles, brakes and goes.
The Ute’s rear suspension is lifted in the main straight from the Commodore sedan: it retains the new-for-VE multi-link design with coil springs and an anti-roll bar. No leaf-sprung beam axle in this ute... The SSV runs sports tuned dampers and springs with a lower ride height. On 245/40 directional Bridgestone Potenzas, turn-in in is sharp with a heap of front-end grip. Sudden power oversteer – the traditional bane of utes with relatively stiff rear springs – is completely absent as the Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control systems (standard on all models, not just the SSV) are brilliantly calibrated to still allow plenty of fun without ever letting the car get away.
The variable ratio rack and pinion steering (controlled by a wheel that has a rim too large for small hands) is excellent, with great on-centre feel and linear weight.
Performance is everything you’d expect from a 6-litre, 270kW (on 98 RON fuel) V8. Peak torque is 530Nm at 4400 rpm but with the accessibility of performance allowed by the auto trans, a simple ankle twitch gives strong acceleration anywhere in the rev range. The car launches off the line (again with no drama – the electronics taking care of wheelspin) and then simply hauls arse to the redline. The auto is able to be manually controlled but except for engine braking down hills, it’s unlikely many drivers will ever want to use this function. Unlike a previous model VE V8 auto we’ve driven, this car had no trans glitches – it worked seamlessly. The cruise control and trans are also a well calibrated match.
Braking is by ventilated discs front and back, with twin piston front calipers. The brakes are up to the job.
So dynamically the Ute is every bit a sports machine – fast, precise and safe.
So that’s it then? Well, not really - the Ute also has some deficiencies.
Foremost negative for us was visibility. The stupidly wide A pillars – the same on all VE Commodores – horrendously block vision, especially when cornering on tight country roads. The over-the-shoulder view is also poor, with the B-pillar creating wide blind-spots on both sides. (External wide-angle rear vision mirrors would help overcome this problem.) Depending on the height the seat is set at, the internal rear vision mirror can also block the view. For what is a very large car, the lack of good visibility points to basic design errors. Compounding the feeling of an enclosing cabin was the all-black interior trim used in the test car.
The ride is also a mixed bag. Low shaft-speed damping (as achieved over waves in the road, for example) is excellent, with the body movements well controlled. But high speed damping can be overly firm, and when the very low profile tyres fall into a hole, you sure know all about it. On rough roads the Ute can be uncomfortable (and for those thinking of these sorts of surfaces, ground clearance is only 100mm).
The handling delights also need to be tempered by a note of caution about size and weight. The Ute – like all VE models – is a very large and heavy car. Some would call it ‘huge’ and no one could understate the 1.8 tonne kerb mass... So yes, the Ute handles very well indeed but you’re always taking up a lot of road – on any given stretch of bendy blacktop, smaller and less powerful cars can be just as fast.
And despite being apparently lavishly equipped – there’s dual climate control, large colour LCD, leather everywhere, sports seats and 6 CD changer – some obvious equipment is not on the list. Missing in action are side and A-pillar airbags – incredibly, only driver and passenger front airbags are fitted. That’s a glaring omission in a car of this price and equipment level. The passenger side airbag also cannot be switched off, making the carriage of a child in the front passenger seat a dangerous exercise.
The passenger side seat misses out on all electrics and the driver’s seat does not use electric fore/aft movement. Sure, no big deal – but this is no cheap car!
Carrying capacity is also a bit of a worry. Holden gives you a complicated worksheet to asses how much you can actually put in the back (see www.holden.com.au/pdf) but we figure that with two occupants and with the vehicle equipped with a towbar, the SSV Ute’s good for only about 300kg load in the tray. (At least the tray comes with a plastic liner and tie-down hooks and is covered by a neat clip-down tonneau cover.) Another spec buried in Holden’s information is that the Ute, while rated to tow up to 1600kg with appropriate trailer braking, is limited in manual trans form to a maximum towing speed of 100 km/h.
Finally, fuel consumption is as you’d expect with the size of the engine. We recorded 12 litres/100km in about the most gentle country driving possible; we doubt if it would be possible in any real world driving to ever do better. The official test figure is 14 litres/100 but with a load around town, expect to get far worse.
So does the SSV Ute hit the spot? In the main, yes. It has on-road dynamics that only a few years ago would have been the province of very expensive European sports machines, makes a visual and aural splash, and goes hard. Much more ‘lifestyle’ than ‘tradie’, the Ute in this top-line package needs more airbags and some attention paid to rough road ride quality – but it’s still a class act.