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Edmunds Evaluates The Holden UTE

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So, You Need To Haul? Oh, You Need To Haul Something...

By Michael Stahl, Contributor Email

Date posted: 11-25-2007

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Well, it's practically official. Sometime after the 2008 Pontiac G8 goes on sale next year, a truck-style utility will join the G8 family as kind of a throwback to the Chevy El Camino. Only Pontiac will get this version of the Australian-built Holden Commodore SS, so GMC is out of luck.

We saw an article recently about the latest personal fashion statement — a wristwatch that doesn't actually tell the time. The most Zen-like of the bunch we saw was the one that simply had "NOW" stamped on its face. The idea here is that a thing becomes more exclusive by not doing the job expected of it.

And there, pretty much explained, is the 2007 Holden VE Ute.

It's a pickup truck, only it doesn't have much payload. That's because this pickup is trying to imitate a sport sedan, and a sport sedan that also happens to be fast, sophisticated and highly acclaimed. And to wrap up the wrongness, this pickup is not only cheaper than its sport sedan sibling, it's also faster.

So That's What You Mean by "Out Back"?

The "coupe-utility" passenger car/pickup truck crossover was invented by Ford Australia in 1934, and then Holden followed with the first all-Australian design in 1951. But for the ute's transition to luxury-performance territory, we have to thank the Yanks.

Two examples of the first Ford ute (based on the 1932 Ford coupe) were shipped to Detroit in 1935. Henry Ford personally told his designers to do something similar to these "kangaroo chasers." It took them 20 years to get around to it, but the 1957 Ford Ranchero was far more luxurious and potent than any skinny-assed, six-cylinder Aussie ute of the next decade or two. Successful, too. So much so that Chevy created the El Camino to take it on.

The new Holden VE ute continues the coupelike evolution of the ute into a unified body that really began with Holden's VU-VZ generation, launched in 2001. Ford's rival Falcon utility still separates the cabin from the cargo bed.

Style is important, because many of the people who'll be buying the VE ute are tradesmen made good. With a fleet of Japanese pickups to do his dirty work for the employees, a $42,000 ute full of sport-sedan fixings is the boss' way of saying that he hasn't forgotten his roots.

Weighty Matters, or Are They?

Holden had a hard act to follow in the VU-VZ, which had blossomed into models that ranged from crude 1-ton V6s to four-wheel-drive crew cabs and even included a lowered SS sports powered by a 6.0-liter L76 V8, plus a bunch of iterations in between.

Only one of the four new Holden VE models — the steel-wheeled, 260-horsepower V6 Omega — is an obvious workhorse. The luxed-up SS V with a six-speed automatic as seen here is rated for a payload of 1,120 pounds.

Built on the long-wheelbase architecture of the Holden WM Statesman/Caprice, this ute's cabin is every inch as spacious as the sedan for its two occupants. Special thought has been given to storage space in the doors, behind the seats (a motorcycle helmet fits behind the driver) and even in a pair of telephone book-size compartments in the rear bulkhead.

Underneath, 77 percent of the ute's toughed-up structure is made from high-strength steel, a key to Holden's boast that the ute's torsional strength is within 10 percent of that of the VE Commodore sedan.

Suspension is fundamentally the same as the VE sedan's, with struts and a wishbone up front and a multilink independent rear arrangement. Comparing the SS V ute with the similar sedan, the truck's rear spring rates are 58 percent stiffer and there's a stiffer front antiroll bar.

Making Some Noise

The sedan-sourced interior brings firmly supportive yet adequately spacious seats, a mile of headroom and a widely adjustable driving position, including a height-adjustable seat cushion and a tilt-telescoping adjustable steering wheel.

The SS V's sporting theme goes a tad OTT with our example's bold, baboon's-ass interior, as a bright red color features in the almost illegible instrumentation and cheesy gauges.

Despite first impressions of a lower beltline than the sedan's, visibility is an issue in the ute. The windscreen is framed by thick A-pillars (the side curtain airbags are inside, something Aussies are just getting used to), the small windows behind the B-pillar aren't particularly useful for making safe lane changes and the tall tailgate makes one wish for a proximity sensor to register distances during parking. (You get one up front, when the low-hanging spoiler grinds onto a curb.)

All of which might encourage one to avoid obstacle-strewn construction sites and head for one's favorite roads.

Keep on Truckin'

We head for a lumpy, patched section of asphalt that shimmies through bushland outside Sydney. A well-sorted sedan will soak up the low-amplitude bumps and maintain its composure through the heavier hits; a crude pickup will bounce, shudder and struggle for traction out of the tight corners. The Holden ute is somewhere in between.

At cruise on the highway, the SS V ute is a real license-loser.

Oh, sure, there's performance available from this 362-hp V8. Testing indicates this ute will get to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds and then cross the line in the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds, making this trick truck a tenth or two faster than an equivalent four-door.

Weight doesn't explain it, since this 3,981-pound ute actually pips the sedan's weight by 2 pounds.

As quick as this ute runs, you're encouraged to leave the six-speed automatic transmission in Sport mode. While the drivetrain feels lazy and indecisive in Normal, the Sport gets this pickup on the ball, and you hold gears almost to the V8's 6,000-rpm redline and then get throttle blips on downshifts. The overall gearing is generally tall, with the engine turning just 1,500 rpm at 62 mph.

The (Speed) Building Industry

What'll lose your license, however, is that this ute builds inertia with deceptive quietness and comfort. Aside from the rather noisy but supremely grippy 19-inch Bridgestone RE050 tires, there's disappointingly little aural input from the V8 up front or the quad exhaust pipes out back.

And this is also just a damn fast and fine-handling car. Next to the VE Commodore, the ute shows an amazingly similar ability to soak up smaller bumps within its otherwise firm ride. Only in faster going do the firm steering and suspension lack the subtlety of balance and feedback that makes the sedan such a standout.

There's less roll during cornering than in the sedan, but you feel the consequences because the suspension is more easily flustered by heavy hits to the wheels. With a surprising amount of initial suspension compliance and tire grip from the rear — even in damp corners, where the stability control only rarely cuts in — the ute feels more like an especially heavy sedan than a flighty buckboard-style truck.

Time Traveller

Critics can point to the new VE ute's slight compromise in practicality with its unimpressive payload rating, but they'll generally be the same sort of folks who still think it's remarkable to see a stockbroker astride a Harley-Davidson.

Fact is, most Aussies believe the ute has been transformed in recent years into a two-door sport coupe with a unique ability to swallow several other lifestyles. And in filling this role, the 2007 Holden VE Ute is very NOW — totally functional in a fashion sort of way.

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So, You Need To Haul? Oh, You Need To Haul Something...

By Michael Stahl, Contributor Email

Date posted: 11-25-2007

Posted Image

Making Some Noise

The sedan-sourced interior brings firmly supportive yet adequately spacious seats, a mile of headroom and a widely adjustable driving position, including a height-adjustable seat cushion and a tilt-telescoping adjustable steering wheel.

The SS V's sporting theme goes a tad OTT with our example's bold, baboon's-ass interior, as a bright red color features in the almost illegible instrumentation and cheesy gauges.


"Baboon's Ass" .... kinda harsh. I never heard of any thing compared to a baboon's ass

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I'd rather have the all-black interior, myself... not the baboon's ass red, so I cannot blame them there. This obsession with payload, though, is ludicrous on a vehicle like this. Its primary purpose is as a car with occasional hauling abilities, who the hell cares what the payload is?
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Rules for evaluating automobiles.

1. Expectations to be based on the intended purpose of the vehicle.

2. Spell everything correctly.

3. Never never mention the rear end of an email in you review.

4. Use proper punctuation.

5. Never ever try to write your article using the dialects from other countries..

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  • 1 month later...

The writer, Michael Stahl, is a well known motoring journo down here, who writes for Wheels amoungst others. If you don't like its style, it might be because he was trying to tailor it for American tastes.

Though he did call me a Citroen'sicko once cos I sent him a tape of Jane Child doing a song about her beloved DS 21. Still, got me in the mag!

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