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Holden SS V Ute 2008 Review

The sports and prestige leader in the new VE Ute stable is a class act.

Now that it is forced to build cars for the world rather than just the nation, GM Holden has declared it will not turn its hand to workhorse utes like it did earlier this decade. It's under stricter financial constraints, so no more One Tonners or Crewmans.

The $105 million sunk into the new VE Ute may not sound like fiscal conservatism — especially after $1 billion was directed into the Commodore donor car. But the more favourable economic climate which allowed Holden to engineer workhorse variants of the previous generation ute has gone.

Those models are considered failures, as they were unable to stop buyers flocking to budget commercial vehicles imported from Thailand.

For maximum return on investment this time around, GMH has stuck with its core two-seater ute roots and fashioned a vehicle that, like never before, serves more as a weekend sports and recreation tool than a light commercial vehicle.

While its street cred is as strong as ever at the construction site, the VE extends the successful formula it began with the 2000 VU series, which switched the emphasis from LCV to practical performance car.

And nowhere is this more obvious than with the beautiful, menacing, series-leading SS V Ute. Whether blue, white or a shade in between, the colour of a customer's collar counts for nought in 2008. Holden is catering to the desires of its core constituents — Australian men across all spheres of life — who want a freedom machine with macho looks, a powerful V8 and plenty of mod cons.

An incredible 90 per cent of VE Ute sales are V8 models — and we can understand why. Belting down a stretch of the M1 road that follows our continent's coastline, we soon discovered that the SS V encourages its driver to just keep on driving, so intoxicating is the sound and strength of the engine.

Transplanted from the VE sedan, and producing 270kW at 5700rpm and 530Nm at 4400rpm, the 6.0-litre Gen IV V8 is a familiar beast and even better here, with the primeval note from four exhaust outlets flowing readily through the load area to the cabin.

The engine rocks in its cradle at idle like a restless infant, then turns on an irresistible tantrum under full acceleration, catapulting car and driver to the legal limit in about five-and-a-half seconds. This is around the mark of the SS V sedan — or even a touch quicker.

There is no need to couple this engine with the Tremec T56 six-speed manual gearbox on offer. In outright acceleration terms, there is nothing in it between the manual and the six-speed auto tested here. As well as taking the effort out of the process, the self-shifter delivers smooth and clean shifts — and the right gear at the right time. It also offers a sequential-manual mode which hands full control to the driver, although the shift action with the T-bar does lack refinement.

Minor letdowns like this are few and far between. The brake feel could be better and the V-series could feel more exclusive, with more distance between it and the standard SS. Then there's the consternation even recreational owners could face with the 500kg payload restriction.

On the other hand, accomplishments come to the fore with each changing scene. These range from admiring glances in town to burbling along Highway One with consummate comfort and ease. From surefooted, intimate handling on winding roads to the consumption of 14.2 litres per 100km across our test — a figure even lower than the maker's claim.

Notwithstanding some tonneau thrum in the unladen ute, too much dust entering the tub after a dirt-road stretch, and complications with manoeuvres on multi-lane roads and in parking lots, our drive in the SS V was nothing short of sensational.

Holden has increased the level of sophistication in its high-performance ute, but not applied an anaesthetic.

The electronic stability control, for example, can be switched off for the driver to gain a full appreciation of the vehicle's power and traction at the rear end but, when left on, the precisely tuned ESC works like a watchful parent — unobtrusive for the most part, lenient enough to allow the rear wheels to break traction, intervening at a sensible point.

This might be another global car from GM Holden, one destined to be the next pick-up truck for Pontiac in the US, but it's a ute which feels right at home in our world.

We expected no less with its use of the proven new Commodore architecture, the extra strength embedded into this version, new work carried out on the all-independent suspension and, not least of all, its development in Australian conditions.

Translate that to the road and the SS V feels solid, taut, well balanced and well controlled. Grip from the 19-inch 245/40 Bridgestone Potenzas is outstanding. The steering is an instrument of fine precision. The ride is firm but not unforgiving. General refinement levels are high for a ute. Even without the desired level of feel and some squeal toward the end of our test, the brakes never failed to offer strong performance.

Considering all that we've written, and the SS V Ute's $44,990 sticker price, it would be difficult for us to imagine an owner feeling short-changed. Standard features include climate control, leather-faced sports seats, aluminium pedal inserts, a Bluetooth phone connection and sports steering wheel.

However, there are some obvious omissions and disappointing details in the cabin — some of which could be fixed at a moment's notice, others that could not.

Side-impact or head-protecting airbags have not been engineered into the VE Ute. Electric seat adjustment is limited to height/tilt. There are no overhead grab-handles or map-lights. The speedo graphics are too small. The battery voltage and oil pressure gauges look completely out of place. The dash and centre console are screaming for elegant trim. Rear parking sensors are optional. And there is no slide function for the front seats to facilitate access to the storage space now available behind them.

The load area is about the same size as the previous generation — 193cm in length from tailgate to cab, 47cm in height from the permanent plastic liner to the tonneau, and 122cm in width between the wheel housings.

The flush-fitting soft tonneau cover is simple enough to remove and replace, although parts of the cord used for securing odd-sized loads had corroded on our test car. There are six tie-down points in the tub and, on the folded tailgate, four recesses for cans, thermoses and the like. A full-size alloy spare wheel is located underneath the vehicle.

When it comes right down to it, there is little need to lament the loss of the cramped Crewman or the ultra-niche One Tonner.

Holden can't be all things to all people, but in directing its energies into the sports ute market, it has turned out one of the best examples Australia, and the world for that matter, has ever seen.




Daniel Brooker, 26

Occupation: Banking executive

Location: Penrith, NSW

Current car: Holden SS V Ute

Previous car: Nissan R33 Skyline

Other cars considered: None

We have talked to car owners from all walks of life about their chosen vehicle in this column, but few have been as archetypical as Daniel Brooker. Indeed, when Holden's marketing executives talk about their target audience for the SS Ute, Daniel is the person they describe — a young man who has a passion for performance cars and rides dirt bikes on the weekend.

“I'm very impressed with how the car runs,” he says. “Utes tend to be a rougher ride than a normal sedan, but the new SS V is very, very smooth.

“My Skyline got written off and I'd always wanted a ute — I'd driven an VZ SS ute, and really liked it, and when I saw that a new one (the VE) was coming out, I got really rapt about the way it looked. It's a very sexy car. I didn't even take one for a test drive — I bought it straight off the bat. But Holden makes great cars ...

“I find the 6.0-litre is a lot more responsive (than the previous 5.7-litre V8), especially in the high gears — it has just that bit more pull. You can be sitting in fifth gear at around 1500rpm and it still pulls as if it's in third gear. Whereas in the VZ, it does tend to lag in high gears.

“It handles well, with or without a load. Utes have always tended be very light in the back, so it's not hard to lose control of the rear end. But with this one, when coming into corners at a little bit higher than normal speed, I don't know whether it's the stability control or not, but it handles just as good as the SS sedan.

“It steers very well, pulls up on a dime — the ABS brakes are unreal — and it's the quietest ute I've driven. I'm contemplating getting a sports exhaust so I can hear the engine more!

“Behind the seats you've got phenomenal room to put gear. I'm a pretty tall fellow, but even behind my seat there is still enough room to put a bag.”



Verdict * * * *

FOR: Potent V8 engine. Brilliant ute handling. Long-overdue behind-seat storage.

AGAINST: No side airbags. Various cabin shortfalls. Insufficient dust sealing.




Holden SS V Ute

The sports and prestige leader in the new VE Ute stable is a class act, offering a chest-thumping mix of V8 performance and solid handling. That said, the V-series cabin needs more cache.


Price ................ $44,990

Warranty ........... 3 years/100,000km

Engine .............. 6.0-litre V8

Power/Torque .... 270kW/530Nm

Transmission ..... Rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual (six-speed auto $2000)

Seats/Weight .... Two/1786kg

Fuel tank/type ... 73 litres/normal unleaded

Litres/100km ..... 14.5 city/highway combined

0-100km/h ......... N/A

Turning circle ..... 11.7m

Airbags/ESC ..... Two/Yes

Value ................ * * * 1/2

Performance ...... * * * *

Overall .............. * * * *



Ford Falcon XR8 Ute

In the blue corner, Ford is gearing up for the launch of its new generation ute. The next XR8 will be a great rival to the SS V, but will it turn the tables? Current model has traction control, but not ESC.


Price ................ $41,595

Warranty ........... 3 years/100,000km

Engine .............. 5.4-litre V8

Power/Torque .... 260kW/500Nm

Transmission ..... Rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual (six-speed auto $1500)

Seats/Weight .... Two/1830kg

Fuel tank/type ... 75 litres/premium unleaded

Litres/100km ..... 13.8 city/highway combined

0-100km/h ......... N/A

Turning circle ..... 11.5m

Airbags/ESC ..... Two/No

Value ................ * * * 1/2

Performance ...... * * * 1/2

Overall .............. * * * 1/2


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