Holden is chasing the image-conscious and what car companies like to call the “lifestyle” market with the new VE Commodore Ute, emphasising its style, performance and car-like handling.
But it hasn’t forgotten the Holden ute’s workhorse roots, and includes in the range a bare-bones version, the Omega which is aimed squarely at the contractor and tradesman markets. The shift away from a workhorse and towards a lifestyle truck shows up when you compare a VE Ute’s payload with its VZ predecessor. Some models’ capacity has dropped by more than 40kg, and is as low as 508kg on the range-topping SS-V auto, a vehicle Holden markets as a sports car with a load tray. But the VE Omega’s payload is useful enough, at 775kg with the six-speed manual and 794kg with the four-speed automatic gearbox. So it retains a workhorse focus (the drop from the equivalent VZs is 42kg on the manual but only 24 on the auto).
Holden has followed Ford’s lead by increasing cabin room in its ute, and with storage space behind the seats and underfloor, the VE has a cargo volume of 245 litres – up from 90 in the VZ. That’s a useful increase and gives the cabin a less-cramped feel. No longer do you feel as if you’re slammed back up against the rear bulkhead. The VE Ute is heavier, stronger and bigger in all dimensions than its predecessor. Wheelbase increases 70mm (to 3009mm), and the truck is 54mm wider (2100mm), 10mm higher (1497mm), but only 2mm longer at 5055mm. More significant, though, are the increases in track: 33mm at the front (1602mm); 31mm at the rear (1618mm). Those increases, along with the longer wheelbase, give the VE Ute great stability on the move. The trade-off is a slight increase in turning circle – up by 0.2 of a metre over the VZ Ute, to 11.7 metres.
The VE Commodore sedan is one of the world’s best-handling family cars, with a precision of turn-in and levels of cornering ability and roadholding that inspire great confidence; and the VE Ute isn’t far behind. Holden promotes the upmarket V8 ute models as sports cars with a touch of the workhorse, and the base model Omega V6 – a genuine workhorse – could lay claim to that description too, despite its lack of cosmetic frills. It rides on 16-inch steel wheels with small caps over the hub centres. Tyres are 225/60 R16. They provide good grip, and the Omega is entertaining to drive at speed. Turn-in to corners is crisp, the truck goes exactly where it’s pointed and is unfazed by mid-corner bumps. On demanding roads where turn follows turn, the Omega proved unflappable, never getting wrong-footed. There was a nice feeling of rear-end movement, a hint of oversteer but the car never stepped out of line.
The standard ESP stability control, which incorporates ABS anti-lock braking, electronic brake force distribution and traction control, helps keep everything pointing in the right direction, and keeps the tail under control even with no cargo on board. As with all big cars, the Ute responds best to a light touch on the steering. Ride quality is good and the steering is accurate and informative. Holden puts great store on its Australian-developed utes and cars being good in rough conditions, and the Omega Ute is stable and predictable on loose-surfaced roads. The test vehicle – painted plain white – ran the four-speed auto which is available only with the 180kW version of the 3.6-litre V6 (six-sped manuals have the 195kW six). The 180Kw unit develops a useful 330Nm of torque, peaking at 2600rpm. That’s 10Nm less than the 195.
However, you’re not going to notice the difference, except if you’re running back-to-back sprints against a stopwatch. The 180kW V6 gives the Omega sparkling performance and eager acceleration – 0-100kph in the six-second bracket and plenty of punch for open road passing moves. It’s a fast vehicle. The gearbox is smooth-shifting and well-matched to the engine. Standard equipment includes a single-disc Blaupunkt CD player (you can order a six-disc MP3 compatible as an accessory); air-conditioning; power windows and door mirrors; a polyetheline m moulded liner for the car bed; a tonneau cover for the car go area; electrically-adjustable driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support; rear mudflaps; automatic headlight switch on/switch off; trip computer; height-adjustable steering wheel; cruise control, and front airbags.
So, it’s nicely-equipped and offers a cabin that is a pleasant place to be, with supportive, comfortable seats and low noise levels.
The Omega lacks cosmetic frills, but doesn’t skimp on performance, comfort or driving dynamics. It feels rugged and robust, yet drives with the ease and aplomb of a car – a stylish alternative to a wellside Japanese ute.
What will the Omega Ute do?
Fuel consumption (officials Australian government tests): 11.3litres/100km (automatic); 11.4 litres/100km (manual).
Fuel tank capacity: 73 litres of 91 octane petrol.
Payload: 794kg (automatic); 775kg (manual).
In-cabin storage capacity: 245 litres.
Towing capacity: 1600kg with Holden-appoved towing kit.
Service intervals: 16,000km or 12 months.