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Holden Commodore Ute 2001 Review

According to Paul Gover, the new Commodore ute is the most enjoyable workhorse he's ever driven.
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  • Car-like
  • Sporty
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  • Grumpy manual
  • Quality flaws

The battle for the bush has taken a twist. It's a city twist, as more sports trucks find their way into suburban driveways. The move to utes with attitude is a global shift, just like the boom in four-wheel drives. But this change has a home-grown angle with the Falcon and Commodore, both tribal Aussie brands that have working-class heroes.

Both have basic workhorses and flat-out two-door sporties with the SS and XR extremes. No wonder they're becoming more popular with people who want a dual-purpose work-and-play mobile. The rivals have done a good job splitting the scene -- Holden's emphasis is car-like fun, Ford's is truck-like strength.

Ford has topped the sales charts for a while with its utes, and the XRs in particular, but now Holden is hitting back with a Commodore-based contender that threatens to unseat the Falcon. The arrival of the VU means there is finally a pair of up-to-date, head-to-head rivals -- and a couple of cracking cars.

Ford and Holden both dragged the development of their workhorses to concentrate on the sedans. Ford let the EL-based machine run forever and Holden relied on a VS ute until January, but they're finally into the 21st century.

The most obvious change for the new Holden ute is the body, which includes everything from a modern dashboard and more cabin space to a bigger suspension footprint and better steering. It's a huge move forward from the old VS, without the VT step between, although Holden decided against going for a full 'one-tonner' tray on the back. It has boosted the carrying capacity to 830kg, up by 18 per cent, but the move to independent rear suspension and a more glamorous position has left the heavy work to the Falcon.

The tail-end work includes a snappy new tonneau design and tie-down hitches inside the reinforced galvanised bay, with a body-coloured hard tonneau and cargo liner on the options list. The petrol tank is also bigger at 70 litres, and Holden says the leg-head-shoulder measurements are all boosted, with longer seat travel. The range copies the Commodore sedan and starts at the basic V6 manual ute for $23,330 and moves up to the automatic SS V8 at $36,490. But there isn't as much between, just the S with a choice of six-pack or V8.

Standard equipment is pretty good for a worker, as the ordinary ute picks up a driver's airbag, CD sound and a six-function trip computer. The S also comes with a limited-slip differential and alloy wheels, electric windows, multi-adjustable driver's seat and audio controls on the wheel. The SS gets all the extras, including sports suspension, anti-skid brakes and 17-inch alloys.

DRIVING

The new Commodore ute is the most enjoyable workhorse I've driven. The S-pack test car drove almost the same as a Commodore sedan and had enough carrying capacity for some toys and weekend work on a two-hectare spread.

Its deadly Ford rival is a little tougher and feels as if it would be better for the long run, but doesn't drive as well. Holden is sending all its press test utes into action with around 200kg of ballast in the back, which, it says, simulates the sort of load they would normally carry. But people will drive them empty and you don't see other companies loading people movers with seven children to show how the vehicle would feel. It's a surprise from Holden, which is usually fearless and committed, to try and tip the balance in its ute's favour.

But, back to the road... The V6 test car came with the manual five-speed shift. The engine is so torquey it works best with an auto, and the gasping top end is no reward for pushing the pedal to the floor. But it gets along fairly briskly and has no trouble with a couple of heavy loads in the back end. Towing might be a job for the V8, but otherwise the V6, with 152kW and 305Nm against the 157/357 of the Falcon, is good enough for the job.

The biggest surprise in the Holden ute was its ride and handling. The independent rear suspension gives it great bite, helped by the limited-slip differential, and the cornering balance is surprisingly neutral. It bounces a bit, as you'd expect, with firm springs, but is really good fun to drive. It doesn't get nasty, or wag its tail without extreme provoking, and has a noticeable edge over the Falcon as a driver's ute.

The cabin is comfy and roomy, although not as big as the Falcon, with a useful cargo net below the rear window and a driver's seat that has electric adjustment for height and tilt. It's also easy to park, has great headlights, and looks as if it would stand up to a fair bit of owner abuse.

Using the tray back is easy. It has excellent protection with the standard tonneau, and the tie-down eyes are a good idea for people who carry anything from jetskis and motorcycles to furniture. It also has plenty of potential for customising work to suit tradespeople's needs. More worrying, the test ute had a couple of obvious problems. There was a nasty "klonk'' in the front end, right under the driver's feet, and a variety of thumps and bangs from the driveline, the most obvious a real thump from the differential. Those are the things that make you wonder about choosing the Holden for the long haul. They would be enough to make me take a closer look at the Falcon.

But for driving enjoyment and people who are choosing a ute for the choices it provides, the Commodore is a winner. It you want a sports ute, the Commodore is the first choice. But if you want a workhorse with a fun side, the Falcon is probably the better bet.

HOLDEN S-PACK UTE

Price: $27,690 as tested
Engine: 3.8-litre V6 with fuel injection
Power: 152kW/5200revs Torque: 305Nm/3600revs
Transmission: five-speed manual (or four auto), rear-wheel drive
Body: two-door utility
Dimensions: length 5049mm, width 1845mm, height 1462mm, wheelbase 2939mm, tracks 1569/1587mm front/rear
Weight: 1484kg
Fuel tank: 70 litres
Fuel consumption: average on test 13.4 litres/100km
Steering: power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension: fully independent with front MacPherson struts and rear semi-trailing arms and coil springs
Brakes: four-wheel discs, ABS optional
Wheels: 7x16 alloy Tyres: 225x55R16
Warranty: 3 years/100,00km

RIVALS

Commodore ute (from $23,330) 4 stars
Falcon ute (from $23,930) 4 stars
Toyota HiLux (from $18,170) 3 stars
Mazda Bravo (from $18,585) 3 stars

Pricing guides

$3,500
Based on 108 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$1,250
Highest Price
$10,999

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Acclaim 3.8L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,800 – 4,730 2001 Holden Commodore 2001 Acclaim Pricing and Specs
Berlina 5.7L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $4,100 – 6,600 2001 Holden Commodore 2001 Berlina Pricing and Specs
Equipe 3.8L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $1,850 – 3,190 2001 Holden Commodore 2001 Equipe Pricing and Specs
Executive 3.8L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,600 – 4,510 2001 Holden Commodore 2001 Executive Pricing and Specs