What's it like to drive?
The true measure of any car is in the driving. Looks are important, but more as a stimulant to the emotional matter of the buying decision. A car can look great but be not so hot to drive.
Conversely, a car like a Caterham Seven is short on traditional good looks, but long on driving pleasure.
There are cars that combine both – like Porsche’s 911 or Holden’s VE Commodore.
The VE is a good drive across the spectrum, from the utilitarian Omega Ute to the Calais. And in that range is one of the greatest sporting four-doors yet manufactured by a mainstream car maker, the SS V.
The factory hot-rod Holden is sensational, with handling capabilities once undreamt of in a family-oriented car from a mainstream manufacturer. Its cornering capabilities are phenomenal, its roadholding unshakable. The rigid body/chassis contributes greatly to that, and gives the car grip that is truly mechanical and not entirely dependent on high-class exotic tyre rubber.
We sampled the VE Sportwagon on a varied course that began in Adelaide, wound through the demanding, narrow switchbacks of the Adelaide Hills and ended with a run through strangling rush-hour traffic in the South Australian capital. There was a little something for everyone.
I started with the Omega V6, the logical place for an introduction.
Capable, quiet, refined with accurate steering and the trademark VE chassis composure. The low rear body height means there is little feel of a tall structure over the rear wheels that was evident in earlier Commodore wagons.
It all feels nicely tied down, thanks in part to the standard ESP stability control, and refreshingly nimble for a vehicle designed to lead a dual life as a load hauler and satisfying driver’s car.
No hint here of the tail wanting to step out, but nor has that been killed by dialing in too much understeer.
The best drive of the day? A no-brainer of a question. The SS V is every bit as enjoyable to drive as its sedan counterpart.
I drove a manual, with a Holden designer along riding shotgun and navigating, and being in unfamiliar territory I was circumspect.Crisp turn-in, unflappable grip, a nice linearity of steering, everything feeling as tied down as it was nimble.
The steering wheel rim was chunky and thick and an important factor in the car’s feel-good nature – along with the spectacular exhaust snarl when I floored the throttle coming off a second or third gear corner. The gearshift was smooth and precise, a far cry from the old manual six-speeders in Holdens and HSVs.
The importance of the steering wheel to the driving satisfaction was underscored when I got into the final car in the session, the V6-powered SV6. It felt a little less composed – still good but not as in touch with the road as the sublime SS V – but scored high on refinement.
Threading through the Adelaide traffic as dusk turned to night, the engine was imperceptible, the car gliding along.
On first taste, Holden seems to have got it right – hit the sweet spot – with the Sportwagon. And the SS V offers keen drivers who need some hauling capacity a wagon that can hold its own with its sedan equivalent.
Bring on a New Zealand test.
The rear end structure and 60/40 split rear seats provide a virtually flat load floor.
With the rear seats folded flat, the bed length extends to almost two metres.
“You can still sleep in the back of a wagon [presumably if your find yourself tossed out of the family home],” - Ed.
Despite that slinky roofline, the Sportwagon has the largest amount of rear headroom of any VE variants, and more rear knee and leg room than the VZ wagon.
The cargo space is 895 litres with the seats up and 2000 litres with them folded down.
A cargo blind slides up the D pillar, allowing easy access to the rear storage area without having to fully release the blind.
There are retractable shopping bag hooks, four floor tie-down hooks, a 12 volt power outlet, a four-position luggage net on the Calais and Calais V, and a low-mounted cargo light.
Ferlazzo says the Sportwagon is “about combining driving pleasure with functionality. We didn’t invent the wagon concept, but I believe we have created one of the best examples of this body style.”
“It’s now a purchase decision driven by desire, not merely necessity.”