You might not look at a wagon as a fun vehicle to drive, but you'd be wide of the mark.
Stuart Martin road tests and reviews the new Holden Commodore VEII SS-V Sportwagon with specs, fuel economy and verdict.
A big V8 Commodore Sportwagon, an SS V no less, can arrive or depart as noisily as the driver dare.
The Sportwagon is a lot of metal for the money - priced from $55,290 (or $ $57,290 for the auto as tested), the SS-V six-speed auto is a family wagon that the driver in the family will want to drive solo.
The features list has the touchscreen satnav and entertainment system, with hard drive and USB input for the iPod, leather trim, 19in alloys, a limited slip differential, 19in alloy wheels, sports front seats, a power-adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, rear parking sensors and camera, reach'n'rake adjustable steering, automatic headlights (but no auto wipers, that's Calais V only), dual zone climate control (with rear vents), power windows, Bluetooth phone and audio link, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with phone, audio, trip computer buttons.
The six-litre overhead valve V8 is not exactly cutting edge but when teamed to the six speed automatic gets the brand's Active Fuel Management (AFM) cylinder drop-out system, which aims to save fuel by cutting supply to four of the eight cylinders when not required.
The only drawback is slightly less urge - power (measured on 98RON PULP) drops 10kW to 260kW and peak torque is 517Nm, down from the manual model's 530Nm. And it lays claim to an ADR figure of 12.3, but the more powerful six-speed manual (that doesn't drop four cylinders) boasts an ADR consumption figure of 12.2.
The test car finished it's time with us sporting a 17.7 litres per 100km trip computer figure - with more demure driving that figure would be reduced but the V8 needs some throttle pressure to make the right noises and solid forward progress.
Flared wheel arches, an aggressive road stance, quad exhausts and a svelte rump - for a wagon - shows the family load lugger doesn't need to look dowdy or plain. The driver can get a good driving position in the Commodore, something the Adelaide car has over its Melbourne opposition - the seat and steering wheel have decent adjustment range and the dashboard doesn't feel like it’s going to squash your knees.
Forward vision is only marred by the thick A-pillars, which is something not limited to Holden - the extra crash performance strength has come at the cost of a blindspot for the driver that needs careful attention, particularly at T-junction turns into traffic.
The interior is starting to age but is well-laid out and useful - apart from the annoying power window and mirror switchgear in the centre - and while the cargo area might not be as voluminous as the old repmobile Commodore wagon, it still has 895 litres of cargo space, or 2000 if you drop the rear seats.
The big Holden kid-carter wears five stars from ANCAP - stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, front seatbelts with load limiters and pretensioners, dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags all appear on the safety features list.
Much was made about the VE's body strength when it was launched, including the use of ultra-high strength steel particularly in the B-pillar. The test car also had the optional full-size spare tyre fitted.
You might not look at a wagon as a fun vehicle to drive, but you'd be wide of the mark. The SS V - even in the automatic - is capable of covering ground at a considerable rate, without feeling like the additions to the rear end detract from the experience.
If anything, a little extra weight over the rear makes things more amusing. The steering is light but accurate and the wagon is a doddle to pilot around town, with ample low-end grunt from the engine. The transmission is not as smart as some of the opposition's transmissions but it remains an improvement over some of the earlier Holden autos.
Ride quality is testimony to the good work of Holden's engineers, dealing with bumps without resorting to rattling teeth out to maintain cornering ability. On a familiar back road the Commodore wagon turns in with enthusiasm and hangs on with gusto - only the overly-aggressive Sport mode is a negative, one that prompts the driver to opt for manual changes.
Making the V8 sing and making more use of the upper rev range does have its drawbacks, mainly at the petrol pump. If you want to get the most out of the engine then PULP is a must-have, so when the trip computer is regularly in the mid-teens the V8 Orchestra's novelty might wear off at $1.40-plus a litre eith the electronics off there's scope for anti-social behaviour, or a little wag of the tail, depending on your right foot.
Cabin accommodation is good, with rear passengers getting decent space on comfy pews, with easy installation of child booster seats thanks to an anchor point on the backrest, which doesn't restrict the load space. They also get aircon vents without the overhead glare coming through the sedan's rear window, which can get rough on rear occupants in summer.
If you can't resist the hotrod Holden V8 but family duties have a strong influence on the purchase, then the SS V Sportwagon will satisfy the horsepower craving instead of opting for the growing band of rear-drive SUVs, but I'd be tempted to go against market trends and buy a manual.
Holden Commodore VEII SS-V Sportwagon
Price: from $57,290
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: 38 per cent (Source: Glass's Guide)
Service interval: 15,000km/9 months
Safety rating: five-star
Spare: steel spare
Engine: 6-litre V8, 260kW/517Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; RWD
Body: 4.9m (L); 1.9m (w); 1.5m (h)
Thirst: 12.31/100km, on test 17.6, tank 71 litres; 292g/km CO2
Ford Territory Titanium RWD
Price: from $54,990
Engine: 4-litre, 6-cyl petrol, 195kW/391Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, rear drive
Body: 5-door wagon
Thirst: 10.6l/100km, 91RON, CO2 249g/km
Toyota Kluger Grande FWD
Price: from $60,490
Engine: 3.5-litre, 6-cyl petrol, 201kW/337Nm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic, front drive
Body: 5-door wagon
Thirst: 11l/100km, 91RON, CO2 259g/km
Skoda Superb 5D wagon
Price: from $58,490
Engine: 3.6-litre, direct-injection V6 petrol, 191kW/350Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Body: 5-door wagon
Thirst: 10.4l/100km, 95RON, CO2 242g/km