The Holden Adventra is a fascinating car. As the first locally-developed crossover all-wheel drive, it succeeds admirably in meeting its design intentions. Yes, this is a car that can genuinely take (some) rough with the smooth, cope with a rutted dirt trail or be equally at home taking the kids to school or doing the shopping. Its on-road dynamics are excellent, its four-wheel drive system seamless and effective, and with a huge interior, its packaging practical.
But it has one problem. A drawback that's so severe we think for many potential buyers it will invalidate the Adventra. Something which no matter how much we liked about other aspects of the car, we just had to keep coming back to.
The Adventra has a raging thirst for fuel.
In fact, with an average consumption of 20.0 litres/100 km over our test period, it takes the dubious prize of having the worst fuel consumption of any car we've ever tested. Our most recent four-wheel drive - the Honda MDX - revealed a fuel consumption of 12.6 litres/100 km... and has similar performance to the Adventra. However, the consumption of the Adventra is only a tad worse than we expected: we typically get a pretty horrendous 16 litres/100 km from any of the V8 Holdens, and with the extra drag of the four wheel drive system, 200kg of extra mass, a large frontal area and the presence of the optional roof-rack, the fuel consumption was always going to be b-a-d.
So was our week spent ploughing up and down sand dunes, first gear selected in the auto four-speed? Or was it all pedal-to-the-metal in the Northern Territory, that land of no open road speed limits? Not at all. The Adventra did about a third of its total test distance on freeways, about a third up and down a country road that climbs a steep hill, and the rest performing urban duties. Experience tells us that this regime gives fuel consumption a bit greater (about 10 - 15 per cent worse) than many people will experience in normal use.
Which still makes the expected consumption of the Adventra eye-wateringly bad....
The Adventra is currently available only with the Gen III 5.7-litre V8; the fuel consumption issue may well change when Holden's new - and very sophisticated - V6 engine appears in the car next year.
So what exactly is the Adventra? Firstly, it's the beginning of a new breed of Holden where all four wheels are driven all of the time. Using a system with all open diffs (ie no limited slip diffs), the CrossTrac system uses the brakes to determine the torque split. It does this by slowing any wheel that is spinning, so transferring drive to any of the other wheels. It's not a 'serious' four wheel drive system of the sort you might find in a dedicated off-roader, but neither is it cheap and nasty. In fact, depending on the sophistication of the software used to control it, this type of four-wheel drive system is almost ideal in crossover vehicle applications.
And on the road the system works superbly. With a starting front/rear torque split of 38:62, the Cross Trac approach avoids the power-on understeer associated with many constant four-wheel drive cars. In fact the Adventra has excellent dynamics - even with the raised ride height and relatively soft, long-travel suspension, the car grips and grips with poise and precision. Compared with a conventional V8 Commodore wagon, the Adventra is in another - far better - league. This is one four-wheel drive car where the safety advantages of having all wheels driving is clear and demonstrable.
Of course, with just under 2 tonnes being thrown around, it can't be expected to corner like a sports car... and it doesn't. On very tight corners it will stay neutral then progress into understeer - despite the Cross Trac, the inside rear wheel spinning. On more open corners it's simply neutral and stable.
And on dirt? On loose surfaces the Adventra is simply brilliant, with an ability to put power down which is amazingly good. Partly helped by the 235kW V8's reluctance to develop a lot of torque at very low revs, it's impossible in any normal driving situation to spin the wheels on a level dirt surface. Even wind-on some lock and floor the throttle and the car just goes where it's pointed.
Off the road and onto the rubble, the soft suspension and low ground clearance (compared with an off-road four-wheel drive) combine to allow the engine and transmission guards to scrape rocks and mounds - but walk the car slowly over an uneven surface, and it's fine. Rather like Subaru used to claim decades ago, the Adventra is an 'all-road' vehicle rather than 'off-road'.
As the looks clearly show, the Adventra is based on the Commodore wagon - although with $125 million spent over three years, the transformation is major. In addition to the four-wheel drive hardware (including a transfer case as well as the front diff and driveshafts) the Adventra boasts a slightly longer wheelbase and much wider track, plastic guard extensions, a lift-up rear door modified to include a separately-operable rear window, and specific interior trim and specification differences.
In the LX8 luxury form shown here, the equipment list is long. In addition to a sunroof and leather trim there's also dual-zone climate control, cruise, three-window (and excellent) trip computer, reversing park assist beeper, in-dash 6-CD stacker, electric front seats (the driver's has memories), and a new centrally-mounted panel with lateral and longitudinal clinometers.
Refinement isn't quite up to normal Commodore standards: the steering wheel transmits vibration back from the front wheels and can also show at times a little torque steer. In addition, despite Holden claiming that the front suspension is "redesigned for better isolation and absorption of impact harshness", the front suspension feels (as of course it actually is) heavier in unsprung weight, and on the test car had a clunk from the left-hand front corner. The steering - by a hugely thick wheel which is uncomfortable for those with small hands - is heavy at low speeds. The optional roof rack creates a good deal of wind noise - in fact, the sunroof blind (let along the roof itself!) has to be closed at highway speeds if wind whistles from the roof-rack aren't to become intrusive. The test car also had a deep resonant boom through the cabin - some people barely noticed it, but one person found it excruciating.
The body has been strengthened for its new role. In addition the underfloor bash plates covering the engine and transmission sumps, a heavy duty engine cradle and front upper strut brace are fitted. The modified transmission is mounted in such a way that it acts as an extra body brace. Brakes are up in size to cope with the extra mass.
The rear load area of the Adventra features lidded side compartments, and in our optioned-up test car a cargo net and sophisticated tie-down system. A retractable roller blind is standard fitment and the available volume remains normal Commodore wagon huge: with the rear 60/40 seats folded, a massive 2683 litres of cargo space is to be had.
Both dynamic and passive safety are high - with this much grip and stability, the ability to avoid accidents is heightened, and should the worst happen, the standard four airbags, head restraints for all five passengers, pyrotechnic seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters will help.
Minus the accessories like the aluminium roof rack, the LX8 Adventra costs $60,990. Direct competition among car-based crossovers is hard to find, although of course if you're also prepared to look at the more boxy traditionally-shaped four-wheel drives, there are plenty of others in the same price range (and don't forget that some of that breed now drive extremely well).
But as it stands, Holden has done a brilliant job of diversifying its range into this booming market segment. The Cross Trac all-wheel drive system works exceptionally well and the car is practical and effective.
But if you drive the Adventra hard or in stop/start urban conditions, expect to pay and pay and pay at the bowser...