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First drive Holden VE Sportswagon

image Sporty touches: the Sportwagon interior is familiar VE, and the wheel well is under the wagon floor. Photo Gallery

Holden has moved the goalposts when it comes to the family wagon.

A lot is riding on the new-age Commodore wagon. The VE Sportwagon is a fresh new look but, far more importantly, an all-new direction for GM Holden's family favourite.

It has to fight against the surging tide of family four-wheel drives and win ordinary Aussies back to a more-traditional local purchase.

It also must add an essential sales boost that has been missing from Team Red since the loss of the VZ Commodore wagon.

But things are very different with the Sportwagon. Fleet companies bought up to 90 per cent of VZ wagons, but Holden believes the future is all about people buying for themselves.

Holden believes drivers want something versatile, not just a family van for kids and dogs.

They are going in hard with the Sportwagon, pegging the price of every model at $1000 above the equivalent VE sedan. It knows there will be some substitution with the sedan, but still expects to sell 800-900 wagons a month.

That means a starting-money Omega Sportwagon comes in at $37,790, down $440 from its VZ Executive equivalent. Among its key features are a multi-function steering wheel, 16-inch alloys, cruise control, trip computer, rear parking radar, a single-CD sound system and automatic headlights.

But bargain buyers looking for an LPG hook-up for a V6 or V8 will have to wait. The Sportwagon's tail space — already smaller than the VZ wagon — will be compromised by the addition of an LPG tank.

Still, Holden says it is responding to petrol pressures, even if nothing is coming until the next update of the whole VE line.

“Rapidly rising fuel prices are a challenge for all manufacturers. Holden is responding by looking at a range of alternative technologies and fuels to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” GM Holden sales, marketing and aftersales executive director Alan Batey says.

“You can expect to see dedicated LPG, ethanol and diesel engines, more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines and hybrids. We're not just betting on one type.”

The VE Sportwagon goes on sale later this month and should give Holden an edge over Ford, which is still working on its wagon plans. Nothing is firm yet on an FG-based successor to the original Territory.

The Sportwagon weighs 91kg more than the VE sedan, but has a good-looking back end that Holden says maintains the car's 50:50 weight balance.

The wagons have 72 unique body panels and, for safety, retain the front, side and curtain airbags and stability control of the sedan.

All Sportwagons get a 17-inch steel spare as standard. A full-sized wheel is a $250 option.

The wagon sits on a slightly shorter wheelbase than its VZ predecessor (down 24mm) and is shorter overall by 36mm, cutting load space from 1402 litres to 895 litres with the seats up. Fold them flat and the VE takes 2000 litres, still less than the VZ's 2752 litres.

Holden's engineering team says the sedan platform was chosen for the wagon because the long-wheelbase Statesman would not have increased the load area, just the rear legroom.

The bodyshell is stiffer and stronger, and Holden says it reduces booming and road noise from the tail.

The front multi-link suspension is largely a carryover, apart from a slight increase (1mm) in the stabiliser bar (the sports suspension spring rate is up 23 per cent), but the rear multi-link suspension has an upgraded spring rate and a stabiliser bar that has shed 4mm to a 12mm-diameter.

The rear end has also been tweaked with three cross-axis ball joints (up from two).

Inside, it's familiar VE in the front, but the rear seat has had the expected alterations, though anyone looking for a seven-seater will have to think about a Captiva.

The 60:40 rear seat can fold nearly flat. There's a two-position cargo blind, four load hooks on the floor, an extra four hooks, two retractable shopping bag hooks, a storage bin, a 12V power outlet and a low-mounted light in the load area. Rear headroom is unchanged from the sedan's.

Regarding cost, the Berlina is $38,240 — $5600 below the VZ equivalent — and gets 17-inch alloys, front fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, six-stack CD sound, power-adjustment for the driver's seat and dual-zone climate control as extras.

The SV6 starts the sports range at $42,290 with sports suspension, 18-inch alloys, a body kit, dual exhausts and a sports interior.

The SS V8 six-speed manual costs from $46,290, and the six-speed auto $48,290 with a limited-slip differential. The SS V costs from $53,790 as a manual or $55,790 with automatic transmission.

The Calais is $46,790 and gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, and electric seats with leather bolsters.

The Calais V V6 starts at $55,290 for the five-speed automatic and the V8 six-speed automatic is $60,290. It's equipped with 18-inch alloys, a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel, front and rear park assist, rain-sensing wipers, a rear DVD player, power-adjustable leather seats and the option of the six-speed automatic transmission.

 

DRIVING

Wheel time in the Sportwagon is much the same as in a VE sedan. It feels a bit heavier and the base model tends to lean a bit more in the corners, but there are few compromises for the extra space.

That's not surprising — the Sportwagon is now built off the same base as the Commodore sedan, not the long-wheelbase Statesman.

It feels like a sports car compared with the rival Ford Falcon wagon, but has a lot less space. And the load space is also less than that of the old VZ wagon, though the effect of the change depends on what it will be asked to do.

Company drivers carrying a lot of gear might struggle, but it will be more than enough for most families.

And, finally, someone who wants to carry a bike or weekend toys can have a Commodore, because the Sportwagon seats — unlike the sedan's — fold flat. There is enough space, Holden says, to sleep in the tail.

We like small touches such as shopping-bag hooks on each side of the cargo area and the fact the boot can open in tight areas, which will be handy in car parks.

The design and engineering of the Sportwagon mean a lot of families could be lured to the new Holden as an alternative to their big four-wheel-drives. It handles a lot better, has comparably better fuel economy and looks dead sexy, especially as an SS.

So what's not to like? The basic V6 engine in the Omega and Berlina still lacks torque and is thrashy when you try to push it. The four-speed automatic is totally out of date, is ponderous when downshifting and slurs away when the torque converter locks up.

This auto is worse than the antique four-speed in the Falcon wagon and a big weak point.

The premium Calais and SV6 engine is better, as is the automatic, but it is not as smooth or torquey as an FG Falcon engine.

If you can afford the fuel, the SS is a ripper. Like the sedan it has great performance and sounds fantastic with a rorty note.

The Sportwagon interior is the same as the sedan's, which means it generally looks cheap and is already starting to date. The A-pillar is too chunky and obscures vision quite badly, a big safety shortcoming.

So the VE Sportwagon is not perfect, but Holden's brave new move is a serious alternative to a four-wheel-drive. It looks great and, in most cases, drives very well.

 

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Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 20 comments

  • I have just purchased an SS sportwagon, 6 litre, 6 speed manual and I absolutely love it! I drove it 1300km from Mackay to the Gold Coast & 100kph on cruise control I averaged 8.9litres per 100km and overall stoping and starting through towns I got 9.4litres per 100km for the whole trip. Around town I average 12-14litres per 100km pending on traffic and my foot! It has more than enough power & the gear changes are as smooth as a small car & the clutch is surprisingly light. Have owned 6 Holden wagons over the years from VL, VT & VY & this is by far the best apart from the fact it looks unreal, Aussie muscle with Euro styling. The leather interior is easy to look after & although physically smaller it feels like a bigger car. As a surfer the boot space has not been an issue & the tailgate is a blessing in tight situations although it has less protection in the rain at the previous models. I have taken my previous wagons out on track days at Lakeside & although I have yet to do this in my new BABY it feel like it will out perform & out handle the others easily. Standard they need to be lowered & with the 19inch rims they look so much better than the 18’s, just LOVE this car!

    Greg of Gold Coast Posted on 14 November 2010 10:06pm
  • I purchased the SS V8 wagon in black, motor lasted only 800km before it dropped a lifter… Holden refused to replace the car so here I am 2 weeks later waiting for them to find a new motor? I decided to go back to the local car, support the Oz fellow? what a mistake.

    Gary lane of Townsville Posted on 05 November 2010 10:49pm
  • Well I just brought a 2010 Series 1 SSV Sportswagon in Voodoo Blue…. & Let me just say I’ve got only Praise for Holden & their awesome Idea’s Sleek Lines & affordability…. Its a Grouse Car with everything in it…. Thanks holden…. I feel Safer now than I ever have driving any other vehicle I’ve ever owned…

    You’ve made my Dreams come true, Driving a SSV Sportswagon is the most Amazing Feeling….
    I would have No trouble in telling everyone that they should be driving one of theses vehicles if they wish to feel Safe on the Road…
    Sincerely Chris Chapman

    Chris Chapman of Cranbourne Posted on 14 October 2010 11:48am
  • I love the new sport wagon. It has been a long time time coming. No longer is luxury driving only for the sedans. Finally there is a wagon made with the luxuries that wagons always miss out on.
    What’s even better is there is still a large enough back to carry dogs in. The kids wont be embarrased to be seen in this car!

    Susan of Terrigal Posted on 26 July 2010 10:48pm
  • “Has moved the goalpost for a family wagon” - but they don’t care about the saftey of your kids!
    I can’t believe that Holden builds a “family” car without any proper headrests for the backseat passenger. They boost about the safety rating (curtain airbags, stability control etc), but completely ignore the safety of the backseat passengers. 2 little “humps” is certainly not enough as a head rest and the middle passenger doesn’t get any at all. Very poor. They should loose a couple of “safety starts” for this. I’d certainly wouldn’t buy that car, just for that reason alone…

    Beat Posted on 02 June 2009 4:52pm
  • Well im a very big Holden fan but the best ve they have brought out is the VE SS ute it runs smooth and is very comfortable, but thinking of buying the Holden VE Sportswagon look forward to it i hope the handling and performance is as good as the VE SS ute. Id would like 2 take the the 60th Aniversary Monaro for a spin it will fly i reckon ( we shall c ) I would also like to take ago at the R8 NICE!!!!!!!. Well does everyone no what FPV stands for yeahhh i do FAT POOFY VEAHICLES lol!!!!!!! Holdens will also rule remember that ford lovers, FORD SUCKS raspberry lol ........ I will never own a euro car of any fords its holden all the way a complete aussie car aussie aussie aussie oi oi oi GO HARDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! yeahhhhhhhh !!!  im out!

    james Posted on 13 August 2008 11:56pm
  • Keiran,U R so wrong,U R a Boring git,if u had ur way wed all be driving tiny 2 door deisels.This is Australia mate,Euro cars are for europe and CaffeLatte sippers,and u lost all credit when u said bring back the Vectra,then with Euro resales are better,check the Redbook,re volvo alfa etc as for German cars check the reliability forums and Ive NEVER met a German with passion Automotively.Ive had many Euros and Never again.Holden IS WORLD CLASS and I dont like wasting $$$$

    Phil De-Ath Posted on 06 August 2008 10:17pm
  • Started seeing them on the road for the first time. Looks good. Look forward to a test run. As a VE owner I hope that the quality control has been sorted. Dont know if my dog will fit in the boot. Not much good to me if he doesnt.

    Steven K Posted on 21 July 2008 11:43pm
  • Holden, give us an economical diesel engine in all your models!  Not just the Astra!  Bring back the Vectra, and give us a decent Barina (not these crappy little tins from Daewoo), and start selling quality cars at a good price.  Give us diesel instead of LPG which is even less efficient than petrol.  Yes, it’s cheaper now, but just you wait until the government ramps up their taxes on it, having successfully lured everyone in with their petty conversion compensation.  WHY buy a Commodore Berlina, when - for the same price - I could get a 2L, 6-speed DSG, diesel Passat from Volkswagen?  Fuel efficiency: VW Passat, 6.6L/100km; Commodore Berlina, 10.8L/100km.  Furthermore, look to the resale values!  European cars’ resale values are WAY higher than Commodores’ and Falcons’.  Oh, and Mr Garnaut, they won’t stuff up the environment as much as the Government’s fleet of gas-guzzling Commodores, Falcons, Statesmans, and Fairlanes.  Move on, Australia.  The time of V6s and V8s is OVER.  It’s time now to scale back to 4-cylinder cars, as our friends in Europe have done.  It’s also high time Diesel fuel was used more.  Modern diesel technology has become far better than any petrol technology, anywhere in the world.

    Kieran Posted on 18 July 2008 4:00pm
  • Great a proper wagon (sportswagon), it is good to see a wagon hit the new car market that is not an SUV. Styling looks great, look forward to seeing them on the road. At last we have a complete VE lineup. Lots of clever cargo area features and a set of new engines on the way. People complaining about gearboxes and dash quality or cruise control - No car is perfect. Finally, being based on a passenger car, it will be much safer in an accident than any SUV.

    PS: Holden - dont forget the Crewman

    dave Posted on 15 July 2008 10:20pm
  • Seems to be a common thing with people saying they rather buy imports. Thats all well and good, but remember, every time you buy an import, you are helping close a plant in Oz, causing job losses, etc.

    Alex of SA Posted on 15 July 2008 8:24pm
  • This is a mad car… looks awesome (for those who prefer the falcon, I liked it’s looks for the first few weeks but now it just looks old ...except the G6). Who needs an auto anyway?... manual tranny all the way (solved ray’s problem).

    tim Posted on 15 July 2008 6:07pm
  • It always surprises me when people say the Falcon and Commodore are becoming Dinosaurs. Especially when their reasoning is really based on incorrect info.
    If you think a Commodore and Falcon have put on weight in the past 10 years, then maybe you should take a look at ALL Japanese Mid Sizers!!! Even the Small Jap cars have increased in all dimensions… A 2008 Corrolla the size of the 1990 Camry….. And it still uses a 4 speed auto… whose the dinosaur????

    And Aussie Engine Tech is up there with the best, especially the Falcon Inline 6
    While I dont argue that ALL cars could lose weight and would be wrapped if the FG actually weighed 1600kgs instead of the 17-1800kg, I still live in the real world and realise that many small cars now weigh 1300kg PLUS and most Mid Sizers are up around 1500 PLUS KG’s.
    My falcon gets the same, if not better economay than a camry.
    The days of the ‘thirsty’ aussie 6 are over, some of those mid size imported V6’s drink well above their weight!!!!

    If it makes some pessimistic people happy, I will settle by saying the Commodore and Falcon are ‘NO WORSE’ than any of the other mid-large vehicles for sale when it comes to technology and weight.
    But when it comes to drivability….. I think they are superior

    Alec Posted on 15 July 2008 5:04pm
  • Why does the SV6 still have the 5-speed gearbox and where is the surpercharger on this model? It is still the VZ’s SV6 engine and gearbox.

    D. Mitchell of Brisbane Posted on 15 July 2008 4:54pm
  • Col, if you are worried about fuel prices, buy a barina, not a Commodore with more power than you could handle anyway.
    Tell you s BIG secret guys… No one would build these if people were no longer buying them.
    So you all go off and buy your little imports, pay the massive insurance premiums instead of massive petrol prices, while we Australians buy vehicles we like because we can afford to run them.
    Needless to say I’ll be the first in line when HSV released their 317kW version (which will CHEW fuel and destroy the environment) in October.

    JSM of Melbourne Posted on 15 July 2008 4:46pm
  • Wow what an ugly car, I will never buy a holden or ford, they are such junk

    EURO all the way

    alastair of Perth Posted on 14 July 2008 3:41am
  • After seeing this car at the sydney motor show i thought it was going to have the engine displacement technology.I am either not seeing that written here or it doesnt have it , id like to know why , i am afraid HOLDEN and FORD are becoming the dinosaurs of the motor industry. All the new models of the commodore and ford are bigger and heavier each time , weight is the killer of economy.Surely they can make it lighter we are in the 21st century after all.Looks are one thing but with petrol at nearly $1.80 recently and going north i find these cars old technology in a modern day.

    col of syd Posted on 13 July 2008 8:59pm
  • Why is it that many people I talk to reckons that the Commodore is an ugly thing to behold, yet the motoring press is trying to convince us it looks great? Sports Wagon is a waste of time. People want lots of space in a wagon. Not less space…

    Amazed of warner Posted on 12 July 2008 10:07am
  • Looks awesome for a surf wagon.
    If only it came in LPG i would sign up now.

    Gavin M of sydney Posted on 11 July 2008 4:55pm
  • Over the last year I have driven many K’s in various cars. Mitsubishi 380, Subaru Impreza, Fords Fairlane, Holden Statesman, Holden Omega, Falcon BA2 XR6, Honda CRV, VW Jetta, Mazda 6. Without question the Holdens were the worst by a mile. V6 engine and 4 speed transmission are just plain junk. Poor performance, noisy, clunky changes, something from the 60’s. Speaking of which the Holden cruise control should be put in a museum, maybe that’s where they found it? Is there another system anywhere in the world that requires the user to take their hand off the wheel to make adjustments? This is dangerous. To add insult to injury, the systems has to be turned on with every engine start up and the ancient transmission drops/clunks a gear to maintain speed on the slightest inclines. The same system has been around for years and to think someone at Holden signed off on this in a 21st century car is a disgrace. Ride and handling are first class but the interior fit and quality of materials plus the above certainly are not.

    Ray of Bayside Posted on 11 July 2008 4:31pm
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