After years of seeing tradesmen flocking to Ford to buy Falcon cab chassis vehicles, Holden has bitten the bullet and reintroduced the One Tonner. (The last One Tonner was the WB model, phased out way back in 1985.) But while the new One Tonner is unashamedly a commercial vehicle, with its leaf-sprung solid rear axle and large payload, it's also one available in S configuration with the high-stepping 5.7-litre V8 and manual 6-speed 'box.
Perhaps it can be a good recreational toy as well? We decided to find out.
Equipped with the optional hardwood and steel tray (it's $1903, taking the total price to $38,373), the One Tonner S gets an interior equipment level close to the SV8 Commodore model - but misses out an a passenger side airbag (it's available as an optional extra). The cabin is all-Commodore - the instrument cluster, trip computer, seats, steering wheel, door trims, dashboard, HVAC controls and so on are straight out of other models.
But something that we haven't experienced before in a Commodore V8 is the gearbox noise - presumably because of reduced soundproofing, the noise of cog-swapper was obvious. In fact, noise levels are up a bit all-round - at highway speeds there's the deep thrumming noise generated by the aerodynamic wake departing only centimetres behind the occupants' heads, and the suspension in the test car could be heard creaking and groaning occasionally. However, for a commercial vehicle, NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) is very well suppressed.
Despite the change in rear suspension from the semi-trailing arms (with a toe-control link) design used on the rest of the Commodore range to a very basic leaf-sprung solid rear axle, and despite the fitment of Bridgestone Dueller A/T 215/65 light truck tyres, the engine in the S remains the familiar 225kW Gen III 5.7 V8. When you look the chassis tune, that's an awful lot of power ...
However, the Holden engineers have done a very good job of taming the handling. Sure, the One Tonner will power-oversteer quite easily (there's no traction control) and in wet conditions the tail can easily go walkabout under power. But the standard LSD, progressive tune of the rear leafs, and long wheelbase of the vehicle means that things happen relatively slowly: perhaps surprisingly, this isn't a vehicle to snap-out on you.
The ride is also far better than we expected. When unladen, the stiffness of the rear can be felt, but it's much less than that of the Rodeo that we recently tested (which has a far lower load carrying capacity, too!). Even on a bumpy country road, the rear doesn't hop around much at all.
All that said, this is the worse-handling full-size Holden that we have driven in recent memory - the tyres also having little grip and adding a large dose of vagueness to the steering. It's all dynamically light-years away from the excellent Holden SS ute - before we go any further, the question above can be answered. This is much more a tradesman's vehicle than one that'll be happy with a few trailbikes on the back and towing a ski boat a few hundred kilometres.
So as a commercial vehicle, how does it stack up? Pretty well - but it could be so much better.
The biggest downer is that the driveline retains the same stupid moonshot gearing of the V8 sedans. We're talking gearing so high that down-changes from 6th need to be made for the (unladen!) One Tonner to climb relatively slight freeway hills, gearing so tall that even up to 80 km/h it's best to not be higher in the 'box than 4th. The engine really only becomes responsive above 2000 rpm, and that means 6th is a largely useless gear and even 5th is rarely used.
Add a load on the back and a heavy trailer and the tallness of the gearing - even first - would be a major hindrance.
The conversion from sedan to One Tonner has also highlighted two other aspects that could have been done better. At waist height the optional tray's about 150mm wider each side than the cabin - but the outside rear vision mirrors remain standard Commodore. The result is that most of the rear view is filled with a nice image of the tray.... The inside mirror, too, should have been altered in design for the new vehicle. With the rear window much closer to the windscreen than in the sedan, the mirror could have been lengthened to take advantage of the wider rear view that's now possible.
The ventilation also doesn't seem to have made the transition from ute or sedan to One Tonner with its integrity kept intact. Flow-through ventilation in the vehicle is poor, needing the fan speed set to '2' even in 20 degree C ambient conditions.
Storage space inside the cabin is adequate. In addition to the normal Commodore centre console compartment and door pockets, there are two storage compartments located in the rear bulkhead. Items can also be put on the floor behind the seats - but since there's already a jack and jack-handle there, the utility of the space is reduced. Talking of the spare wheel, it's a non-standard steel rim fitted with a normal tyre - not the specially developed light truck tyres found on the other four wheels. The spare wheel is mounted under the rear of the vehicle.
The whole reason for existence of the One Tonner is carrying things - and at that it's excellent. The tray is enormous; you don't realise just how big until you start stacking goods in there. All three sides drop down, but it has a very high loading lip (odd, when there's plenty of clear space to be seen beneath the hardwood floor). However the tray metalwork isn't powdercoated - it's just normal paint - and the test vehicle had all the bolt heads handpainted in matt black paint, rather than the sprayed gloss of the rest of the tray sides. A good safety feature is the extensive protective grille over the rear window, while another trick feature is the step built into either side of the front of the tray.
The performance is much as you'll find in any other V8 Commodore - which is to say, very good. We recorded an unladen 0-100 km/h in the mid sevens, but - and as we've found with all cars equipped with these motors - very poor fuel consumption. Despite a large proportion of the test being with the vehicle unladen and driven on freeways, we struggled to achieve better than 15 litres/100km.
In short, if you're after a practical recreational toy with two doors and a tray, go for the Ute. But if you need a tray-top with greater carrying capacity but all the comforts of home, the One Tonner meets the needs admirably.