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Holden Commodore Ute: first drive

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Holden Commodore Ute: first drive

The Drive Team , drive.com.au, 21/09/07

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It’s taken a while, but finally the Drive Team has got behind the wheel of the all-new Holden Commodore VE Ute.

Holden’s new VE Commodore SS Ute – the tradies’ favourite supercar – does little to challenge the growing impression that it’s more of a two-door sporty car with a big boot than the historical idea of an open-backed commercial vehicle.

Holden tells us that the majority of early orders for the Commodore Ute are for the three sports models (SV6, SS and SS-V), not for the workhorse Omega.

Powered by a 270kW 6.0-litre V8 and with a firm, sports suspension set-up identical to the Commodore SS sedan, the Ute is quite the uncompromising two-door Commodore for the enthusiast. Australia’s answer to the sports coupe, a substitute for the Monaro coupe maybe?

With its tough, wedge shape, and big tyres and wheels filling the flared guards, the SS Ute looks the business - if the business is sporty driving.

The aggressive styling and four exhausts translate to hot performance, too. The SS Ute gets the same engine, transmission and suspension as the regular SS sedan.

Being lighter than the four-door, the Commodore SS Ute has the edge in the power-to-weight contest, though it is yet to be confirmed if this translates to an unambiguous advantage in standing-start acceleration times.

The SS Ute certainly feels very fast in both six-speed-manual and -auto guises. It is no surprise that it is quicker than its predecessor, the lighter, superseded VZ, which made do with 260kW of power.

The VE’s flexible engine – and we do love the guttural bark it makes as it races to the 6000rpm redline – reaches maximum revs so quickly and fluently.

In stop-start city driving or on the highway, the V8’s brilliant 530Nm of torque is a terrific asset and, with the manual transmission, gearchanging is almost redundant.

There's also an improvement to the power delivery under full throttle, with a more refined and progressive feel.

The six-speed manual gearbox is no sweet surgical instrument but it is an improvement on the old model. The shift is shorter, and the clutch action lighter.

The ease of the six-speed automatic will win more buyers, especially when they realise there is no performance trade off. The push forward/back function of the auto transmission lets the driver change manually.

Dynamically, too, the Holden Ute is an impressive device.

Punting the long-wheelbase SS Ute along in the way that many owners will is rewarding. It changes direction without fuss or noticeable body lean, and is more planted in the rear-end, with impressive grip and poise.

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Electronic Stability Control (which can individually brake wheels to help control a slide) is standard across the VE Ute range and, given the performance potential of the V8, this is a sensible inclusion.

With the ESP off, on slippery surfaces the Ute is more than happy to break traction, such is the power coming from the rear wheels. The ESP works differently to the one in the regular Commodore sedans; in the Ute, if the ESP is switched off and the driver touches the brake pedal, the ESP is instantly reactivated. Think of it as the perfect way to have a bit of fun at the B&S ball and then have the control back instantly.

That’s clever, and will certainly save some owners a chat with their panel beater.

Like its sedan sibling, the SS Ute has 18-inch alloy wheels. The pricier SS-V comes standard with 19s.

Repeated hard stops on the brakes (with ventilated calipers front and rear) brought no hint of brake fade and the pedal feel is an improvement over the VZ.

The ride of the Holden SS Ute is quite firm. We didn’t try it with a load of cement in the tray so can’t verify Holden’s claims to have met the dual needs of owners.

Impressive is the way it retains its poise over pocked road surfaces, without unsettling bobbing. It’s easy to forget that it’s not a coupe but a utility.

Inside the Holden Commodore Ute

Sitting inside the latest Holden VE Commodore Ute is, unsurprisingly, very similar to a VE sedan. The dashboard, steering wheel and controls are all borrowed from the regular Commodore. As are the thick A-pillars that add strength and safety to the car but hinder forward vision.

The excellent seats, too, are shared with the sedan, ensuring a decent blend of ride comfort and support.

Behind the two seats, though – a three-seat bench seat set-up is not available – is where things change for the Holden Ute.

Holden’s gone to a lot of effort to provide more useable space behind the seats for odds and ends, a toolbox, a computer or other valuables owners would prefer not to leave in the tray.

There’s also a nifty hole that slides under the load tray (behind the rear seat) to store valuable items. It’s about the size of a laptop computer, which has obvious benefits.

Still, the Commodore Ute gets the occasional tweak – or running change – that will eventually flow through to the Commodore sedan.

The most obvious is the abolition of the 'power' button for the automatic transmission used on the V8s. Instead, Holden has chosen to follow the likes of BMW and Ford by allowing the power mode to be selected simply by shifting the gear selector into its manually operated mode (the left-hand side of the selector gate).

Holden VE Commodore Ute: Out back

In the tray, Holden has fitted a plastic liner that better resists the knocks and scrapes that could otherwise easily inflict a more traditional steel tray.

The grooved liner is slightly shorter than the outgoing Commodore Ute, but it is wider and deeper, making it more practical for carrying bulky loads.

There are some carefully positioned slots to allow a piece of timber to separate the tray at predetermined spots. Rumour has it that the rearmost separator is tailor made for a slab of VB.



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Pretty good review. Look forward to seeing more reviews of the Ute. Some things that were mentioned were no-brainers, such as turning the ESP off will make the Ute break traction, and at the same time over bumps the rear end doesn't sway and bounce like some trucks. That's a well buttoned down vehicle with good suspension and handling dynamics. I hope to get to drive one some day. :thumbsup:

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