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Holden Monterey 4WD Wagon


The last time I drove a Holden Monterey it was called a Jackaroo.

That was also the first time, in the early to mid-1980s.

And like our road test vehicle, the Jackaroo was also known by another name, the Isuzu Trooper (the owner's handbook even featured side profiles of the 4WD wagon with occupants wearing what looked like steel helmets).

But we digress. The owner's handbook for the test Monterey had a cover which noted it was a Holden Monterey/Jackaroo and a sticker that rattled on about the Isuzu Bighorn which is what the Trooper is called in the 2000s.

So the vehicle could be known by one of three names, though I prefer the one on the badging - Monterey - even if it's a name that is etched on my mind as belonging to a Ford Mercury.

Jackaroo I could take or leave - though it's probably got too much of an Australian ring about it for most New Zealand buyers.

The Isuzu moniker doesn't hold much appeal: who wants to own a car named after a breed of sheep?

No doubt GM goes with the Holden Monterey name to avoid confusion with Japanese used import versions of the same wagon which are badged Isuzu Bighorns.

But now we've got the name issue out of the way, what about the vehicle itself?

Generally I'm no great fan of big four-wheel drive wagons for city use. They're usually clumsy in carparks, don't ride terribly well and feel as if they want to step out at the prod of the throttle on wet roads or tip over if you corner them vigorously in the dry.

Sure you get a panoramic view of the traffic ahead and there's an undoubted feeling of security from the cars' inherent ruggedness. People who zip in and out of lanes on city streets and motorways are less likely to chop you off if you're driving a big 4WD.

I have nothing against people wanting to drive them - unlike motorcycle-riding colleagues who loathe four-wheel drives and their drivers.

My only beef with them is the same one I have with vans and mini-coaches. As Car & Driver magazine's acerbic columnist Patrick Bedard notes, the worst thing about 4WD wagons (or SUVs as he calls them) is that they rob car drivers of their sightlines in traffic.

So I approached what I referred to as "the truck" with mixed feelings and few expectations.

It seemed business as usual as I clambered up into the cockpit, stepping on the running board and using the grab handle to lever myself into the cockpit. Into the seat and first good impression - a distinctly sports-style Recaro seat. Good side support, well-shaped backrest. The only quibble was the cushion height seemed a little high for my short-legged stature.

Switch on the ignition: nothing. Wait for the glowplug light to go out, you idiot.

The 3.0-litre four cylinder turbodiesel clattered into life and settled into the clatter-chatter that is typical of Isuzu diesels no matter what their size. It's not the nicest-sounding engine, but at cruising speeds is reasonably muted.

Reach for the gearshift and my hand is met by a long wand - worthy of a pre-World War 2 Ford V8 - that controlled the four-speed automatic gearbox.

Out on to the road, the steering nicely effort-free but still with plenty of feel.

And here I encountered the only thing that really bugged me about the Monterey.

Till the engine and gearbox warmed up, shifts were ultra-jerky and the box held low ratio too long.

Once everything was warmed up it was difficult to believe it was the same beast. The shifts were smooth, fast and right on cue.

The first foray into the Auto Trader parking building in any new 4WD is always a fraught time. You're convinced you'll smack the roof on the security gates' lifting arms (which has happened) or even on the lower of the "ceilings" between floors.

There were no worries, and despite a little clumsiness on the tighter turns on to the ramps between floors the Monterey was easy to manoeuvre.

Parking was no problem. It wasn't car-like in tight spots, but it was less clumsy and less of a handful than some 4WD wagons we've had.

It proved a comfortable and capable commuter, the monotony of the twice-daily journey relieved by the good quality cassette-playing sound system and the standard and highly-effective air-conditioning.

Ride was much better than I'd expected, the suspension and the big 245/70 R16 tyres soaking up the bumps most effectively.

It cruised well on the motorway, zipping up to three figures quickly and effortlessly. In fact I needed to keep a fairly close eye on the speedo to keep within the 100km/h limit.

The engine develops 118kW of power at 3900rpm and a chunky 333Nm of torque at 2200rpm, and they ensure plenty of zing. The Monterey never ever feels underpowered or lacking in go.

Open road handling proved to be much better than I had expected. The Monterey turned-in more crisply than most 4WD wagons we've driven and held its line well.

The suspension - independent front, live axle rear - was nicely compliant: firm, but not so firm that the car bounced around over bumps or was knocked off line of you encountered a nasty ridge or hollow mid-corner.

We managed good cross-country times on moderately demanding roads. It's not the sort of vehicle in which to storm a winding road at speed, but it will acquit itself much better than you'd expect.

There are masses of interior room - in both front and rear cabin - as well as a generous load space. A concealed compartment under the rear seats can take more valuable items. The dark-tinted rear windows make it difficult to see into the car anyway.

Windows are electrically-wound - in a nice touch the armrest-mounted master switches for the windows and door-locking are angled towards the driver - and the exterior mirrors are power-adjustable.

A limited slip diff is standard and the selectable four-wheel drive system can be engaged on the move (Holden/Isuzu call it Shift-on-the-Fly). In four-wheel drive the torque split is varied automatically to suit driving conditions.

ABS anti-skid braking is standard, and the four-wheel disc brakes provide excellent stopping power.

Other standard gear includes dual front airbags, central door-locking, cornering lights (a feature we like and which is handy on a car with such a high stance); power aerial; leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 70/30 split-opening rear door.

If the Monterey has a problem it may be its price. The original Jackaroo provided a rugged and useable four-wheel drive for a very competitive amount of cash.

When Isuzu took the parent vehicle upmarket with the Bighorn, the price reflected it.

But no big four-wheel drive wagons are cheap and at $00000 is not inordinately expensive.

For that you get an attractive, rugged-feeling, powerful Sports Utility Vehicle with enough power and handling to justify the Sports component in SUV.

As I said I'm no great fan of 4WDs for city use, but for the highly-capable Holden I might be persuaded to make an exception.

AutoPoint roade test team.

Auto Trader New Zealand