Priced from $42,490 ‘MLRP’ (SS “Black” Edition)
Growing up as a fan of Australian motor racing, there was only two options of cars. Falcon or Commodore. I chose team Blue at a very young age and I never looked back. So when I was handed the keys to the new 2016 Holden SSV Ute… it’s safe to say I was worried about my bias.
I’ve driven dozens of Holden’s in the past – Captiva’s, Barina’s, Malibu’s, even V6 and V8 Commodores – and never once have any of them lived up to my expectations. The only Holden’s that ever impressed me were the HSV range and the old Statesman’s. So yeah, I was nervous. I’d heard great things about this new car – that the 6.2 Litre LS3 was outstanding, that the exhaust would deafen me, that the interior was of European quality – but I had my doubts.
You know how they say don’t judge a book by it’s cover? Yeah, that was my mistake…
The first thing you notice is the power. Most Naturally-Aspirated V8’s struggle off the line, but this car rockets. It almost feels like it’s supercharged the way it delivers the constant power. Then there’s the exhaust. Holden have been advertising the hell out of this car in a last ditch attempt to sell as many as possible before closing their local manufacturing operations and almost every single advertisement has touted to exhaust as a draw point. Whilst it is louder than previous Commodore’s (and a number of HSV’s) it was really underwhelming when I actually planted the load pedal. But we will touch more on that later. Let’s get stuck into it.
The last* of the local V8 Holden’s comes in a variety of specs, starting with the entry level “Commodore Black” edition. Credit where credit is due, Holden have actually been quiet clever with this iteration. They have taken the stock standard Commodore, added some shiny black bits, then they visited their tech stockpile and found they had a surplus of unused parts and went completely mad! Included in the sub-$45k price is Auto Park Assist, Rear View Camera with Reverse Traffic Alert, MyLink infotainment system, 8-inch colour touch screen, 18-inch alloys, Sat-Nav and a coloured heads-up display that not only shows your speed and revs, but utilises the GPS to let you know what the local speed limit is.
From there we jump up to the SSV – the model I drove. It is around $2000 more than the “Black” and for that price you actually get quiet a lot. 19-inch alloys, Leather trim on the seats, leather steering wheel and a 6 speaker stereo.
Then there’s the SSV Redline. This is where is get’s serious. With a price tag upwards of $54,000, the Redline comes jam packed with a lot of features. Big Brembo’s all round, upgraded Sports Suspension, 19-inch staggered alloys, tyre sealant and air compressor for when one of those classic Aussie potholes jump in your way, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Rain Sensing Wipers and for those who are of the Automatic Persuasion, Flappy Paddles (note: these can be optioned on the other two variants.)
The best part about the range is by far and away the engine. The Corvette derived 6.2L LS3 V8 delivers a monstrous 304kw at 6000rpm but a rather weak 570Nm of torque. Now I say weak with some hesitation. It is still a lot of torque don’t get me wrong, but out of such a big engine they could have pushed for a bit extra – I mean the 5.0L Mustang is pushing out 530Nm – but alas, we continue.
The entire range also comes with the Bi-Modal exhaust. This is by far the biggest let down of the vehicle. Whilst it does purr under acceleration and pop on the overrun, you don’t really get the V8 factor that you should get from it. It feels as if Holden has held back a bit with it when they should have gone all out like Ford did with the final XR8.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Being the SSV, the ride was actually rather pleasant. With the stiff sports suspension I was prepared for a bone-jarring, spine-shattering ride but it absorbed the bumps and potholes of the country roads we were testing on with ease. The leather sports seats were comfortable and held me in place but I couldn’t help but feel they had really been designed for someone who was closer to 6 foot, not my 5’7” frame.
The handling on the other hand was sublime. Throw it into a corner and it gripped like a cheetah. I was completely sold on the stability control system within seconds until the inevitable happened. To many berries and it’s arse decided to come out and play. This of course is a great delight to a revhead like myself but it really didn’t take much – and this was with the traction control turned on!
So I decided to gamble. I held down the little button and disengaged the traction control. Second gear, light tap of the throttle and that was all it took. The back end stepped out and for a second I thought I had cooked it. But then it held and when I decided it was time to drive straight, it stepped back into line and easily as it had stepped out.
This is how a sports ute should be. Easy to throw into a corner and drive out in one piece, or just as easy to Ken Block it until you’re out of rubber.
This is where it got a little tricky, especially when sliding around. Holden has incorporated Electric Power Steering into it’s Commodore models. Whilst EPS has its benefits – there are a few – it has a number of downsides too. The biggest of which is the loss of that true driver-car relationship. The whole, man and machine spiritually connected on the road.
When you drive a car like this, especially when you drive it hard, you rely on the vehicle giving you feedback as you go. Bumps through the seats, vibration through the pedals and resistance through the wheel. With Electric Power Steering, most of that resistance is gone; so, you could be turning on full lock but it’s hard to know because there’s no power steering pump to fight you. You could be understeering but you don’t get that snap through the wheel that you rely on to really know.
So when you decide to slide the tail out, it’s almost too easy. It shouldn’t be. It should be a battle with the car. You’re knuckles should be white and your veins bulging and you force the car to oversteer and stay that way until you’re ready to be sensible again but you just don’t get that feeling anymore.
I understand the reason for this but I also hate it with a passion. Sure, put it in your Toyota Corolla but leave the muscle cars alone.
Aside from the minor downside of EPS, the car is ridiculously easy to drive around town. It’s big, and bulgy, but with all the driver aids, it’s no harder to live with than a regular Japanese sedan. It cruises around town effortlessly and almost parks itself (see Holden’s 2013 demonstration of self-parking) and should you decide to hit the open road but want a relaxed drive, cruise-control is ready to take over the hard work.
The 6 speed manuals in Commodore’s have always been a source of frustration for me. They always seem stiff and clunky and they feel like they want to fight you instead of just doing what they’re told. The Auto is fantastic but only worth it if you option the Flappy Paddle shifters.
The diff is nice and offers smooth delivery of power to the rear wheels. If you don’t want wheel spin off the line you don’t have to have any which sometimes comes in handy when a particular car with lights on it’s roof is nearby.
The engine, as mentioned earlier, is by far the best decision Holden have made for the Commodore. It’s big and fun but smart and refined when it needs to be – a bold statement being made of something from America but also true.
This is what has put Holden on top of the Australian car market in recent times. Almost everything is finished to a European standard. The dash cluster is tidy and stylish, the Infotainment system is one of the best there is and the SSV stitching on the dash is a nice, subtle touch to remind you that you didn’t skimp on the base model (not that it’s really skimping considering what you get with the “Commodore Black”.)
The touch screen is so simple to navigate that almost anyone who has ever said the phrase “I can’t stand these new fan-dangled phones, they’re so confusing” could work it out. It’s clear, precise and if you want to go to a particular screen, you press the button and it takes you straight there, not via London unlike some cars.
It has Dual-Zone Climate control that is operated by some tidy dials and individual buttons dictate the direction of the air flow. The steering wheel has nice, simple controls for volume and phone calls and the Push Button Start/Stop is by far one of the nicest looking ones on the market.
The seats are comfortable, finished to a high standard and have multiple adjusting options for lumbar, height and distance. The only part where it feels cheap is the door trims. The gloss black plastic just feels too cheap to fit into a car that has been finished so well. Again, a minor problem really.
The true issues, as with Falcon’s too, is the placement of the cup holders. They sit between the gear shift and the centre storage console. As soon as you put anything bigger than a paper clip in the drivers side, you can’t grab the gear stick. Thankfully, there are holders in the door, but I don’t recommend putting your morning coffee in it…
It’s bold. That’s the first think I thought. Then I thought more. It’s kind of sleek too. Then I retracted the second part and went back to bold only. There is a lot of plastic, a lot of plastic! The whole front fascia is made up of black gloss plastic. From a distance it looks great but up close you start to remember this is the famous Australian Commodore. It’s not bad, not at all, but it takes away from all the European-ness of the car.
The fog lights/DRL’s have these odd gills around them, but then there’s gills just in front of the doors too – not sure that all that’s about. Holden have tried to do what Ford did with the XR8 Bonnet Bulge and stuck some black plastic vents on the bonnet. These seems really cool at first, but upon closer inspection it was discovered that they were actually sealed and didn’t proved any benefit except a look.
All that said, it’s a great looking car.
The last* Holden Commodore Ute is a real treasure. Holden have put everything into it and it shows. A lot of care, attention to detail and what I can only describe as passion has gone into this car. By rights, it should become a future classic. Whether it will of not remains to be seen. I’m still a Ford guy through and through, but one thing is for sure. The 2016 Holden SSV Ute is a true muscle car, Electric Power Steering and all.