Is it a station wagon, or a hatchback – albeit a large one – or a harkback to that largely extinct breed, the liftback?
Holden’s new Sportwagon doesn’t look like a station wagon as we’ve come to know it, and on the model’s media launch in South Australia last week, one of the New Zealand motoring writers kept referring to it as a hatchback.
Richard Ferlazzo, who headed the team that created the Sportwagon, prefers to say they came up with a design that hits “the sweet spot between form and function”.
The nearest thing we’ve seen to this is the Chrysler 300 wagon, but the 300 has an air of menace that’s absent from the Holden which marries the muscular front end of the VE Commodore to a tapering tail that has European overtones.
Ferlazzo is adamant the marriage works – but then he’s the car’s proud father, and anyone who has worked successfully to get a car this radically different through the corporate hoops is bound to be passionate about his creation.
Some of the journos at last week’s launch weren’t so convinced, suggesting the Sportwagon looked like two separate designs, joined at the middle – aggressively styled at the front, less so at the rear.
For me, the jury is still out. You can’t really judge the look of a car till you see it in familiar surroundings – and the Adelaide Hills are unfamiliar territory. That said, it’s an impressive achievement and a testimony to the open-mindedness of Holden.
Looking at it and driving it, the Sportwagon makes a persuasive case for buying a car that has sedan-quality handling with a highly-usable loadspace, wrapped up in a distinctly different yet elegant body.
Ferlazzo says wagons have long suffered something of an image crisis, second only to people movers in lack of sex appeal. They’re practical, but not always desirable, and for some people, the long, stretched proportion of large wagons had become unfashionable.
Ferlazzo’s squad had one aim – designing a wagon that was an object of desire, not derision. He says SUVs’ popularity suggests buyers are willing to trade some outright space for functionality and style, and even if their needs dictate a certain size vehicle, they still want an image that reflects an active lifestyle. “We felt we could achieve the same objectives with a Euro-style Sportwagon as a sensible alternative, so we focused our energies into balancing the essential factors of style and space, and I believe Holden’s new Sportwagon hits that sweet spot between form and function.
“What we achieved is a fresh, stylish, athletic proportion – yet it delivers flexibility and functionality, with more floorspace than many SUVs.”
The Sportwagon uses the VE sedan’s short wheelbase underbody rather than the stretched platforms used traditionally on Holden wagons.
“The VE wheelbase fits nicely between the previous VZ SWB and LWB, so we found we could maintain the great proportions and driving dynamics of the sedan, yet still deliver a spacious cargo area.”
The roofline sweeps down at the back to achieve a sleek, sporty silhouette. That dictated a change to the way the upward lifting tailgate was hinged.
“We slid the tailgate hinge point well forward into the roof – almost like a hatchback.
“This improves accessibility by allowing better reach into the vehicle and it provides a more vertical tailgate opening action, which requires less clearance behind the car, only 268mm.”
The Sportwagon is the same length as the VE sedan, yet is a very spacious wagon.
Check back over the next few days as we take the Sportwagon to the road and let you know what it's like to drive.