Holden Commodore SV6 Ute 2013: Road Test

words - Adam Davis
There’s a lot to like about the latest example of Australia’s own ute

Holden Commodore SV6 Ute 2013
Road Test

Price Guide (recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $32,990
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): Sat Nav ($750); Prestige Paint ($550)
Crash rating: Five stars (ANCAP)
Fuel: 91 RON ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 9.0
CO2 emissions (g/km): 215
Also consider: Ford Falcon XR6 Ute (from $35,190); Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo Ute (from $38,190); Holden Commodore SS Ute (from $38,990)

In reviewing Holden’s latest VF-series SV6 Ute, please excuse the rather vanilla list of rivals above. Try as I might, suggesting a 210kW petrol V6-powered ‘sports’ ute is being cross-shopped with a raised, dual-cab utility that offers diesel and four-wheel drive options is a stretch too far.

Holden has made no secret of the VF Ute’s intent, even heading to the infamous Nurburgring in Germany with an SS-V Redline variant to prove its sporting-biased credentials. In essence (with the entry-level VE Omega not yet replaced) it appears to be an extended-length coupe rather than a traditional load-lugging utility. The fact that Holden’s website mentions only the SV6’s braked towing capacity (1600kg) and not the tray’s payload (VE had 634kg) is perhaps another indicator of its position.

Externally, the new SV6 benefits from updated front styling and an aluminium bonnet, though from the A-pillar back the exterior remains essentially unchanged. Instead, the Holden engineers have focused on the internals to move the model forward, with improved sound insulation, smoother control weights and improved efficiency.

Under that aluminium bonnet is the familiar direct-injected 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine. Its outputs remain the same as VE -- 210kW and 350Nm -- but claimed fuel economy improves from 9.8L/100km to 9.0L/100, thanks largely to software calibration changes. Our test vehicle was matched to a six-speed manual transmission, though a six-speed automatic variant is available for an additional $2200.

The first impression of the interior -- trimmed nicely, with ‘partial leather-accented’ seats and a useful behind-seat storage area -- was one of space, the seats offering good support but plenty of room. It’s a feeling aped largely by the cabin itself -- only the high-set section aft of the seats (where the tray meets the cabin) felt slightly claustrophobic.

Holden’s impressive 8.0-inch ‘MyLink’ infotainment screen, fitted with satellite navigation in the tested example, added to a classy cabin ambience which felt more expensive than the list price suggests, despite the flimsy column stalks. Some may also wish for a traditional handbrake lever, rather than the electric switch found in the VF.

From behind the wheel, the heavy springing of the clutch pedal was immediately apparent. The pedal would lift off from the floor so eagerly that some downward pressure was required to prevent stalling. Despite appearances and hardware improvements to enrich the driving experience, this was curios. Another issue centred on the gearshift, which had no firm ‘stop’ in the shifter to prevent an accidental selection of reverse (far-left-up) when heading for first. I did get used to it, but it shouldn’t be an issue in 2013.

Once underway the gearbox smoothed out, being an improvement over its predecessor while still requiring a firm, deliberate hand to guide through the gate. In short, it doesn’t like to be rushed, but that’s okay because the torquey ‘big six’ meant regular shifting wasn’t a must. Fourth gear was capable of being lugged from under 40km/h through school zones up to the freeway speed limit without hesitation, acceleration intensifying from a tick under 2000rpm. In regular driving there was no need to extend the engine towards 6000rpm, for the best momentum was found in that seam between 1500-4000rpm. It was also the range where the engine sounded its sportiest, with none of the slightly strained acoustic found at higher revs.

Driven in such a way, the SV6 Ute was able to generate economy figures superior to its claimed figure (I can’t recall testing another vehicle that’s achieved this feat), with a recorded 8.5L/100km. Mind you, cycling through this example’s consumption history displayed a worst of 11.7L/100km, so the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

The SV6 Ute now gains electrically-assisted power steering which, guided by the leather-wrapped steering wheel, proved faithful in reading the road surface without obviously varying the level of assistance imparted.

Also improved was the ride/handling balance. The way the SV6 damped road imperfections was highly impressive given its remit. Its front-end remained well tied-down over varied surfaces; however the rear still felt delayed in its response to the steering, not moving with the all-in-one fluency of the VF-series sedan.

Once into a corner, the grip generated by the Bridgestone RE050A tyres, here in 245/45/18 form on alloy wheels, was impressive, and there was little in the way of body-roll. Find the throttle’s sweet-spot and you could feel the rear slowly giving up grip, suggesting there were oversteer options available should you wish to venture onto a circuit. Braking, never a strong-suit of previous-generation SV6s, was reasonable without being great.

At a cruise, the level of sound insulation also impressed, with little engine or wind intrusion to interrupt the decent four-speaker stereo. The window ‘extension’ behind the A-pillar was welcomed for the improved visibility it brought, however, all-round vision was heavily restricted by the height of the tray and small side mirrors, demanding double head-checks.

Taken as a whole, the latest in the long line of Commodore-based Utes was more impressive than I expected. It was smoother, better appointed and more efficient than ever, while the freshened-up styling drew many admiring looks. As a workhorse, the ‘S’ in its title suggests you look elsewhere, but think of it as a big-hearted, big-value sports coupe with added storage capability and there’s a lot to like about the latest example of Australia’s own.

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Published : Thursday, 22 August 2013
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