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Road Test: Holden VE Sportwagon SS V

Review by Feann Torr - 11/December/2008

Holden Sportwagon SS V reviewThe VE Commodore was an acclaimed success when it launched in 2006 but for too long the Holden Commodore range has been without a station wagon.

It was always a goal for Holden to make a brand-spanking new wagon, but the designers down at Fisherman's Bend weren't content to build another mundane wagon. 

Holden wanted to change the way we view the humble Aussie station wagon.

And so the Sportwagon was born.

It looks like a wagon - the long body - it smells like a wagon and feels like one too, but there's something different about this new model. 

What is it...

It's got style. Lots of style.

This most elusive of qualities seems to come as easily to Holden's design team as fish to the sea, and with a number of practical, sensible features, the Holden Sportwagon could just be the best thing since French Toast.

Make: Holden
Model: Sportwagon SS V
Price: $54,290
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine: 6.0-litre Vee 8-cylinder petrol
Seats: 5
Safety: 6 airbags (front and front side driver and passenger airbags (x2), front/rear curtain airbags (x2)), ESP, EBD, ABS, EBA
Car SupplierHolden Australia


Holden Sportwagon SS V review

Holden VE Sportwagon SS V

Holden Sportwagon SS V review

At the top end of the Sportwagon range,
the SS V comes with lots of luxury features

Engine: 6.0-litre V8 Petrol

The longitudinally mounted 5967cc V8 engine has an aluminium alloy cylinder head and engine block. The valvetrain includes 2-valves per cylinder (one inlet, one exhaust) actuated by gear-driven pushrods (OHV).

The 6.0-litre engine features a 10.4:1 compression ratio, and can use 91 RON petroleum fuel, and the SS V has a 73 litre fuel tank capacity.

Fuel consumption: 14.4L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 343g/km

Max Power: 270kW @ 5700rpm
Max Torque: 530Nm @ 4400rpm
Top Speed: 260km/h (approx.)
0-100km/h: 6.4 secondsHolden VE Sportwagon SS V

Holden Sportwagon SS V review

When pushed to the limit, the Holden Sportwagon
SS V steers well and is very satisfying to drive hard

Holden Sportwagon SS V review

A practical family wagon that's a blast to drive and
has heaps of room inside?
Surely this can't be right

Holden Sportwagon SS V review

The interior of the SS V can be customised for a
flashy look, but even in dark tones it looks good

Holden Sportwagon SS V review

The idea is simple - take the Holden Commodore sedan and raise the boot so it becomes a wagon.

But it's the execution of this idea that makes this vehicle so appealing.

Instead of creating a bland, ultra-utilitarian vehicle suited for fleet purposes only, Holden has crafted one of the best-looking vehicles this country has ever seen.

The SS V model we're looking at here sits on chubby 19-inch alloy wheels and when surrounded by the vehicle's sporty body work and flared wheel arches it comes across as both tough and sophisticated.

It not only looks good, but it goes like a rocket with the big 6.0-litre V8 propelling the vehicle's obese mass with ease.

Like the Commodore sedan, the wagon is easy to drive and unlike a lot of European cars it's got a real sense of occasion. 

It drives smoothly and is not without sophistication, and there's a feeling of refinement about it that belies its origins.

Hop in, start the engine and you can feel the colossal V8 pulsing away which gives it an appealing local flavour (even though the engine's built overseas). 

But while the engine has a brash character, the chassis is all sophistication.

Even the SS V model, which comes standard with sports suspension, rides and handles with a good level of refinement which keeps everyone in the vehicle relatively happy and comfortable.

It motivates very nicely in everyday traffic with excellent throttle response and only over really deep pot holes and raised level crossings did the car jostle around on its suspension. 

In general it's a pleasant car to drive from A to B and isn't bad at commuting either.

On the highway it's a lot more efficient than in stop-start traffic, but at the end of the seven day test I averaged 14.3L/100km, which is impressive considering that freeway driving made up only a small portion of the overall mileage.

Nevertheless, the SS's 6.0-litre V8 is a fairly thirsty engine and traffic is not its natural habitat.

If muscle-car engines aren't your thing or fuel consumption is a big issue, there is always the 3.6-litre SV6 model which is more efficient.

So the SS V is not an ideal city car, but it absolutely eats up kilometres on the open road and doesn't mind of a bit of tomfoolery either.

With 270 kilowatts of power and 530 Newton metres of torque on tap, the Holden SS V Sportwagon has a phenomenal turn of speed. 

Nail the throttle at the traffic lights and you'll leave all but the most exotic machinery in your wake.

The V8 may not be the most advanced lump on the market, but by gum it goes. 

The torque is progressive and really loads up the rear wheels at around 3000rpm, giving the car an astonishingly strong midrange.

I have to say that I like the GM V8 better than Ford's in manual guise. It's easier to pedal along, the clutch is lighter and the gearshift not as rapaciously rigid.

This glut of power and torque from the hulking V8 is useful for removing yourself from dangerous situations - such as being wedged between a B-double and wayward caravan on the freeway - and also comes in handy if when you hit a winding section of road.

While the car's practical aspects are not in question, I did have reservations about the SS V's handling prowess. 

A few hours in the saddle at a launch drive is a good indicator, but it's not until you test a car on your favourite roads that you begin to see the product more critically.

The verdict? It gets better the more you drive it. 

It handles very nicely in and out of corners and though there is some body roll as the car loads up its suspension tipping into a corner, the wide 245/40 R19 tyres keep the car firmly adhered to the road.

With excellent grip and a positive feel, the Holden Sportwagon SS V holds its line through corners fairly well and it handles predictably when you really start to shove it around.

There's a touch of oversteer on gentle, open corners when you apply throttle as the V8 pushes the rear wheels, but it does tend to nudge a little wide and understeer on the tighter stuff, a symptom of too much weight hanging over the front axle.

As a drivers car it can be rewarding and after a dozen corners you forget that its a wagon. 

The harder I drove it, the more fun I had and like the SS V Commodore sedan this car is decisive in the way it attacks corners and overall its an involving drive.

Twin piston front and single piston rear brake calipers clamp 321mm and 324mm front and rear discs respectively, and in general the brakes do a good job. 

After an hour of at-the-limit driving however the brakes did leave a bit to be desired and are perhaps the only part of the chassis that aren't up to scratch.

Safety systems such as electronic stability control (ESP), anti-lock braking system (ABS), and traction control (TCS) allow you to push hard in the twisties without being bitten, and you can turn off ESP if you really want to let rip.

Though the steering is lighter than the new FG Falcon's, it suits the the car well. Feedback isn't too bad through the tiller and there's none of the rack-rattle that seems to have permeated the Falcon range. 

In general I prefer the Ford Falcon's steering, but in this instance the lighter Holden steering rack works in its favour and comes in very handy when parking the4.89 metre long Sportwagon.

Parking the SS V would ordinarily be a right royal pain. It's long, the rear window isn't very large and the rear D-pillars are fairly chunky which obscures your vision.

But with the aid of parking proximity sensors, which are standard across the Sportwagon range, and now the option of a reversing camera, reverse parking the Holden wagon is far easier than it should be.

In traffic rearward vision is not perfect, but it is manageable and isn't as bad as in the Holden Ute for example.

A lot has been said of the tailgate on the Holden Sportwagon, and getting to use it in a crowded carpark confirmed that it is indeed one of the best station wagon boot doors ever made.

Because its hinges are deep within the roof it needs very little room to swing open, and it's not what I'd call a heavy door either. It swings open effortlessly, though closing it requires a bit effort.

The high boot floor also makes loading and unloading goods fairly simple and with 895 litres of space there's enough room for mountain bikes and even lumber should you be building a shed.

Shopping bags will never fall over again, thanks to the little hooks in the boot and with the rear seats folded down the 895 litres of space opens up to 2000 litres which is enough room to plonk a mattress on and sleep in. And if you forget a pillow its got six airbags.

The SS V model we drove was optioned out with Calais-like upgrades including a nicely integrated rear DVD system, along with standard features like dual zone climate control and leather absolutely everywhere.

Like the sedans there's a good deal of space for all occupants in the Sportwagon, especially leg room for rear seat passengers.

It's a very sporty car as well, with drilled alloy pedals, leather steering wheel and impressively designed sports instruments giving the driver something inspired. The steering wheel controls are also convenient and intuitive - one of the areas it trumps the new Falcon

Comfortable semi-sports seats for driver and front occupant are very welcoming but could have used more lateral bolstering, and the rear bench seat is fairly comfy too.

The Holden VE Sportwagon is a very practical car, and this SS V model is also a very enjoyable vehicle to drive, both of which are reasons to take a closer look.

At the end of the day, if I was looking at buying a wagon that was partly for the family, but also for enjoyment, the Holden Sportwagon SS V would be high on my list, but the deal maker that lifts it above its rivals is the look. 

Holden has taken the VE Commodore sedan and instead of just extending the rear they've put some thought - and style - into the design so that the vehicle delivers an integrated, athletic look.

Never has an Australian-made station wagon looked so good.

Granted, the Holden SS V Sportwagon comes with 19-inch wheels and a sports body kit which adds even more machismo to the Sportwagon, but it's still an attractive vehicle in its own right.

The roof spoiler, the quad exhaust pipes, the blistered wheel arches, the projector headlamps -- I can't say enough about the design of this vehicle. It's just magnificent.

Overall: 4/5


If you drive a large sedan and have always dreamed of more boot space, the Sportwagon may already be on your shortlist.

While it does offer a lot more practicality and - to my mind - a more sophisticated look than the sedan, the basics of the Commodore have been retained. At it's most basic level, the car is still a lot of fun to drive and the SS V model we tested is also an accomplished sports car with a very positive and progressive power-down feel.

Holden has produced what is one of the best-looking cars to ever designed in Australia, and the fact that it's practical and it drives well says a lot about the engineering talent in this country. Highly recommended.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Ride & Handling
  • Practical Interior/Large Boot
  • Strong Performance
  • Safety Features
  • Fuel Consumption
  • Rearward Vision
  • Overall Weight

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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