By on July 3, 2014

ute

 

Luke Vandezande, Managing Editor of AutoGuide.com, submits his review of the Holden Ute.

What if I told you that there’s a parallel universe where Europeans love muscle cars, have their own country music artists and care less for political correctness than Howard Stern in his heyday. Welcome to Australia.

Holden is a subsidiary of General Motors that develops, builds and sells cars for the island. Much the same as the fierce yet faded loyalty to old Detroit iron is found among Michiganders, Aussies harbor a passion for Holden as a beacon of the country’s once-glorious auto industry.

Now, most of Holden’s products are re-badged global products. For example, there’s a version of the Spark sub-compact and Colorado mid-size pickup truck bearing the lionized badge.

Genuine Aussie cars are failing to stack up against cheaper imported products. The Holden Commodore is one of the last legitimately domestic vehicles down under and it’s sold in several variations. There’s a sedan, wagon and most notably the uniquely Australian “Ute.” It’s a modern day version of the Chevrolet El Camino, muscle car status and all.

It also might be one of the most heavily hyped obscurities among automotive enthusiasts. It has all the right stuff: an available 6.0-liter V8 powering the rear wheels, a manual transmission and looks mean enough to curdle milk. With virtually no weight over the rear end, breaking the tail loose is easier than slipping back into smoking cigarettes.

Having spent over 30 hours travelling (including layovers), I couldn’t help but wonder if I was in for a disappointment. To a certain extent, I already knew things wouldn’t be as sweet as I had originally planned. The range-topping SS-V Redline model was booked by other members of the media until long after my planned departure. So instead I borrowed the SV6 model with an automatic transmission.

It seemed the sort of hooliganism I had been dreaming of for so long would have to remain a fantasy. Still, it will be a cold day in hell when I forget exactly how fortunate I am to be in the position to borrow cars in the first place. Color me grateful for the chance to drive one at all.

I set about familiarizing myself with the car by spending two hours bombing through the winding roads west of Adelaide. The 3.6-liter V6 and automatic does not disappoint. It makes about 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque (converted from metric figures advertised there). It’s still worth noting that the stick is a better choice for more than the fun it offers. The SV6 is Holden’s entry-level sport Ute and as such it comes with a suspension better tuned for sporty driving than you’d expect. Manual models also come with a limited slip differential, but the automatic doesn’t.

I wasn’t in a position to drive anywhere near the point at which that sort of equipment would yield dividends, but it’s hard to ignore nonetheless. Consequently, I can’t speak to its merits. I can tell you how the slushbox V6 drives: surprisingly well.

Throttle tip in feels natural and linear. A light foot delivers moderate power while speed builds progressively when pressing the pedal further toward the floor. It allows driving for fuel economy to be easy without sacrificing any of the spirit that makes the Ute so much fun.

Electrically boosted steering essentially mutes feedback from the road, but the act of actually turning the tiller still feels responsive.

The SV6 model also comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, blind spot monitoring, reverse traffic alert, sport seats trimmed in either faux suede or leather and a soft tonneau cover. A rear-view camera, parking sensors, hill start assistance, six airbags, trail sway control, dual-zone climate control and a remote starter (auto only) are also all included in the standard equipment list across the model range.

The blind spot monitoring and parking assistance are both welcome features in the low-slung vehicle with challenging sightlines. Large a-pillars can make it tough to see through tight corners and looking for oncoming cars while waiting to turn is equally tough. At least the rear-view camera and radar sensors both make navigating tight spaces easy.

Of course, it isn’t a full-fledged truck and its ability to serve in that capacity is limited. It has almost no ground clearance and a payload capacity well under one ton, meaning any legitimate pickup truck will beat it on a job site with one proverbial hand tied.

In an effort to test how the pseudo-truck drives with a heavy load, I put approximately 525 lbs worth of beer and wine into the bed. Yes, Australians love to drink. No, this wasn’t a normal Thursday. I was helping a friend prepare for his wedding the next day. Impressively, the car’s trip computer reported 9.1 liters per 100 kilometers in fuel consumption (25.8 mpg), including cargo that would make Bo and Luke Duke blush.

Even with the multi-link rear suspension squatting under such a heavy burden, passing tractor-trailers on the highway presented little difficulty. Everything about driving it feels understandably more sluggish when loaded up, but performance remains admirably intact. Six cylinders are enough; the other two are like Vegemite on toast. It’s a lot of extra flavor, but you might not want it every day.

The two-seat trucklet is pretty tight on cabin storage space depending on driver and passenger height. You’ll have some storage to speak of with the seats slid back for maximum legroom, but it’s sparse.

Even halfway around the world, General Motors’ penchant for “frugal” interior materials is alive and well. That’s probably not enough to scare off patriotic purchasers, but the widely-used hard plastics are a weak point. Cheesy checker-pattern faux carbon fiber accents don’t help though the light blue accent lighting in the interior door latches is a nice touch.

With power adjustable lumbar support for the driver and well-bolstered sides, it might be a bit of a tight ride but at least its comfortable. You’ll feel bumps and imperfections, but it’s a pleasant place to be; even over dirt roads littered with little ridges from rainwater.

With a relatively low entry-level price and the potential for hair-raising hoonage, it’s hard not to agree with the Holden Ute’s generally positive reputation. Despite that, it’s a far-fetched option as a primary vehicle. On the other hand, it would make a hell of a supplemental choice.

And to a certain extent, it’s priced that way. Holden dropped the price of its SV6 Ute by $5,500 (AUD) for a suggested starting tag of $32,990. Strangely enough, that means the base version and uplevel SV6 carry the same MSRP. For some perspective, an SV6 Commodore sedan costs almost $5,000 more.

In an unusual twist, the current VF Commodore is much cheaper than the VE it replaces. In some cases by almost $10,000. Holden’s big rear-drivers are struggling to sell and it’s a damn shame.

GM won’t ever offer what would likely be a new El Camino to the U.S., but if that ever changed it would sure be a tempting alternative for anyone with a taste for muscle cars and a need to haul heaps of junk.

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39 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2013 Holden Commodore Ute...”


  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Definitely a consideration for boat ramp duty if it ever came here.

    • 0 avatar

      A few years back my wife got hooked on an Aussie soap opera, “MacLeods Daughters”. I watched for the vehicle choices…like one rancher had a Ford Explorer which looked exactly like ours, but the wheel was on the wrong side….

      The farm boys who lived next door each drove high end Utes, one a Ford and one a GM (holden). At some point I researched the trucks, and in the trim level on the show, they were over 60K in USD. There was some good footage of them ripping up dirt roads in them…

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Struggling? Commodore is sitting solid at #4 this year.

    Try to get your hands on a GTS.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    the reality is that and Ford and Holden full sized sedan is very heavily discounted EXCEPT for the special limited edition cars

    if you want a 360hp 4,000lb turbo six Ford sedan with a German zf 6 spd auto that gets mpg in the teens then yeah, you can get an effective $15,000 discount on a car that retails at $50,000

    no one wants large sedans with terrible fuel economy from dying companies moreso sedans that have an image problem

    better off with a mazda or VW or a korean

    at least the dealers dont treat you like a fool

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I am suprised The Humongous let you use all that juice.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    One of these days I’ll get around to importing a Ute under our grey market rules. I’ve always liked the look of the BF Falcon FPV utes. Some day.

  • avatar
    OzSRV

    It’s a shame our utes turned into sports poser-machines. Useless at being a load carrying working vehicle.
    I have a 2000 (VS) Commodore ute, it’s arguably the last model they made that you can really use properly; I drive it in paddocks, carry car parts in it, firewood, motorcycles, tools, engine blocks. After the VS they started getting more and more about style and power, now the plain looking built-for-work overseas models outsell it massively. Many serious tradespeople are still using the “one-tonner” HQ through WB models from the 70s and 80s because they can’t be beaten for toughness, load capacity and reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      Correct, that and the Falcon 1 Tonner could carry from 2,500- 2700lb., very substantial chassis’s and lasted forever . No sports ute though, the Maloo being the ultimate

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i think the sports version cant even hold 1,000lb let alone a ton

    then again these sports utes are more a reaction to the govt. allowing tax breaks for ‘work trucks’

    so you have the situation that IT professionals buy V8 utes to haul around those super heavy desktop pcs and laptops

    also these car based utes are too expensive

    you can buy true one ton japanese utes from as low as $20,000 but they dont do 0-60mph in 5 seconds and 13 sec quarters so whats the point?

    • 0 avatar
      dartman

      BS–The Ford Falcon Ute in the highest performance version has a payload of 545 kg (1202 lbs)and the “1 Tonne” model has a payload of 1215 kg (2676 lbs!) Compare that to equivalent 1/2 ton US pick-ups. You can order the Holden or Ford Utes in Cab/Chassis configuration and mount flat/stake beds which many “tradies” (tradesmen) do. Cars in general are more expensive in Australia, but think about this: the minimum wage is $18 AUD/Hour.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        @dartmam,
        Correct, the Cab Chassis Ford Falcon ute has a 2,700lb payload, handles and rides like a car. That is why very popular in urban areas, what goes against them is the price caompred to the Asian competition. Similar price then the Car based Utes would probably be outselling the Asian Pickup based ones, that do not ride or handle as well.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          @Robert Ryan – The Cab Chassis Falcon has a “payload” not compatible with USDOT regs. It’s a sky high rating given by OEM marketing, not a regulatory body. And that’s a “gross” rating. Subtract for the weight of the flatbed, stakes, etc.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            You are right an equivalent US Pickup, would have vastly less payload, sorry about that.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            @Robert Ryan – I’m mot talking about the equivalent truck. Equivalent rating. Aussie capacity ratings are grossly overrated. Ratings are left entirely to the OEM’s sense of humour!

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            Yes I am aware that US Pickups are not as capable, but that goes with their “SUV’s with Beds” they were designed to be comfortable cruisers rather than a proper work vehicle.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            From the simple and max payload work truck, you work your way down by adding more doors, 4wd, diesel engine, sunroof and other luxury stuff and comfort features. But it’s a consumer’s choice to make.

            Everything you add to a truck, is “payload”. That’s the way it works, actually. You can’t have it both ways.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            As a result the “payload” of a US Pickup is tiny. If Chrysler starts out with 900lbs, how can you possibly put more than one person into the vehicle?

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Tiny? Or just realistic? U.S. 1/2 tons start out with up to 3,100 lbs payload. Then subtract as you add stuff. The bed is already included in payload capacity, as they don’t sell Cab Chassis’ 1/2 or 3/4 tons.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            DenMike,
            Actually both, considering how they are built, that is what you can only expect.They are not really designed to do any “heavy lifting”, SUV with a Bed and in that role ey are fine.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            @Rob Ryan – It has nothing to do with how it’s built. You obviously don’t have the lawyers we do. And the regulatory bodies to go along with that. It’s how things are done here. It’s not the Wild West you’re living in.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            Nothing to do with lawyers legislation( some of the things I saw in the US would be VERY Illegal here), it is what the vehicles primary function is i e SUV with a Bed

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            OK, what’s allowed here that’s Very Illegal in OZ? The mind boggles…

            But you don’t have to get the Lyfestile Pickup with not much payload. That’s not my trucks. So what do YOU drive?

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            Triple Towing, could not believe it. Most States in the US do not allow it thankfully. Your MOD checks, some of the wrecks I saw on US roads, unbelievable. I guess having a vehicle you can almost see through is not a big deal in the Midwest.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            I guess you don’t have serious wrecks in OZ?

            But triple towing is a rare occurrence in the US, in low populated states. And we’re talking just 3 short trailers. Or 2 long. Clearly this is NOT illegal, anywhere OZ.

            OZ actually has the longest (legal) roadtrains in the world. That’s 3 long trailers. Quad trailers in some OZ states.

            But where’s that “illegal in OZ” stuff you were talking about being “allowed” in the U.S.???

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            No wrecks as in badly maintained rusted vehicles. Triple Towing as in RV’s, not combined Tractor Trailer combinations. Most US States do the right thing, and ban the practice, but some US States allow it.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Do you have to be in a badly rusted vehicle to have a bad accident?

            But by “triple towing” RVs, you’re talking a pickup towing a 5th wheel trailer with a boat behind that. But you’re not talking Pensioners here. That requires a Commercial Class A (big rig), drivers licence to do that.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            No it does not require a special licence.Rusted and mechanically unreliblec

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            You’ve got us on mechanical inspections of autos? Are they tough to pass? Who Checks?

            What about commercial trucks? Are your inspections as tough as our road side spot-inspections and weigh station shakedowns?

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            Automobile shows the sort of rust I saw in the US straight to the crusher. If heavy trucks fail roadside weigh stations or surprise inspections by Roads Authorities, individual trucks are not allowed to be used, till defects fixed, or if overloaded massive fines. If a fleet then either fined or have the whole fleet taken off the road. If really bad, the company can be deregistrated as a haulage company.
            Individual Automobiles have to pass annual safety and vehicle compliance regulations. Failure means that the vehicle either goes to the crusher or it has to be as compliant as a would be a brand new vehicle, expensive option.

  • avatar
    Pebble

    If I lived in Oz I’d be a total bogan with a ute and a crate of XXXX Bitter.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    CR Aug 14 carries sports car tests, Porsche 911, Corvette Z51, BMW 325i, and Chevrolet SS.
    The SS is a Holden, 415hp 6.2l, 6 speed auto, RWD.
    “Our car carried a $47,170 sticker price, which might seem a lot for a Chevy sedan. But the inviting blend of performance, livability make the SS a convincing sport sedan that boasts a Vette’s soul but without that car’s pushy personality.”
    Both Holden and Ford are ending auto manufacturing in AUS.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Doesn’t somebody, maybe in Grand Junction, CO, bring these in as gray market cars?

    I thought I read that in one of the glossies.

  • avatar
    Loser

    I want to like this ute but the proportions just look odd to me. Might look better in person though.

  • avatar
    dartman

    I was in Melbourne for a week last month and saw all sorts of performance iron. Hot “utes” were a dime a dozen, and the Aussies are as car crazy and sports mad as any state in the US….Here’s the thing though; my Aussie business friend tells me a speeding ticket for 30km (19 mph)over the limit is grounds for a mandatory one year suspension of your license! There were speed cameras everywhere. I told him in Cali normal traffic (when clear) runs 15-20 mph over posted limits with little care from CHP. My friend has purchased a slightly used Bentley Continental GT Speed convertible in the UK that he is waiting on 6 months to pass so he can import it to Oz. I loved the country and the people, but their level of regulation makes Cali/NY/Mass. look positively libertarian.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    It’s a pity I missed this article when published. I’m enjoying the US at the moment and will be hitting car yards and hopefully a few rentals.

    When the demise of the Holden ute occurs I would like to see Holden adopt and fit one of those 6.2 litre GM donks into it, with a HSV badge.

    I would also like to see the global Ranger fitted with a decent EcoBoost.


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