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Holden VE Ute: The Sports Utility Evolves

By Feann Torr - 22/August/2007

Holden VE Ute
Holden VE Ute

Holden VE Ute
The car literally glowed during the reveal

Holden VE Ute
It was quite a thrill exploring Holden's inner
sanctum, especially being able to chat with the
people who designed and engineered the car

Insider Information

Holden put together a very comprehensive launch for the Holden VE Ute, and as such there were staff members from every department on hand to talk about the fancy new model. Being nosy parkers, we did our best to squeeze all the juicy information from them that we could. Here's what we discovered:

VE Ute isn't slated for export to the US. But even the boss didn't rule it out in future.

Cab Chassis ute, 5-seater Crewman ute, and 4WD versions of the Holden ute have all been scrapped. We were told by one Holden staff member that even the new VE Ute we see here almost never saw the light of day due to evertightening purse strings.

Displacement on Demand, a new technology used on some V8 engine's in the General Motors group (that deactivate 4-cylinders and reduce fuel consumption), is currently being fine tuned for the G8 Pontiac model heading to the States. And yes, it will be coming to Ute and Commodore V8s near you. Just not yet... Perhaps when the VE Commodore Series II lobs.

Side airbags are not available on the new Holden VE Ute. Why? Because there's not enough room for them to deploy properly. But Holden is working on a solution.

Dual Fuel LPG models are on the way, but there's no firm release date, and dedicated LPG models have been ruled out.

Holden VE Ute
The VE Ute features the pumped wheel arches that
made the Commodore such a visual tour de force

Holden VE Ute
Holden's next generation 2-seater sports car
is powered by V6 or V8 engines, up to 270kW

Holden VE Ute
The smooth, integrated design is met with more cabin
space, more functionality, and an all-new hero colour

Holden VE Ute
The interior of the SS Ute gets cloth seats, as
do all trim levels except for the
$44,990 SSV

Melbourne, Australia — The cat is out of the bag: Holden's VE Ute has broken cover, and though there aren't any major surprises in terms of overall design - it incorporates the VE Commodore front end style - it makes a number of advances in areas such as storage, interior design, safety, and of course performance.

The new VE Ute is Holden's biggest new car launch this year: it's been seven years since an all-new ute has surfaced from the Aussie car maker. Far from just an appealing new look, the Holden VE Ute is a veritable treasure trove of new features.

Holden has added ESP to all models as standard, but it's also switchable in case owners want to 'test' the performance of the sports models. And how's this - Holden expects something like 80% of sales to be for the sports models! Evidently the humble ute has transformed into a sports car, doubling as a practical lifestyle vehicle.

The new VE Ute will be in dealerships in October, and Holden is drawing on the rich history of its utes to propel the new 2007 model VE Ute onto the main stage. And you'd be forgiven for thinking this new model was a superstar. If the launch was anything to go by - lights, cameras, plenty of action - Holden has massive plans for the new model.

On the subject of the VE Ute, General Motor's top brass is "...very excited by it" said Holden's CEO, Chris Gubbey. Asked if it would be exported to the States, he wasn't quite as ebullient, explaining it was less transferable to the North American market than VE Commodore. He also added that there was no American input into the design.

So for the time being, our American readers who have been dreaming of a reborn El Camino with a thumping 6.0-litre V8 may have settle for something else. That said, after talking to the engineering team who worked overtime on the new model, we discovered that like the VE Commodore, this new model is "easily" converted to left-hand drive. If the Pontiac G8 (a restyled, rebadged Commodore) sells well in the States, there's a possibility that this sedan-based pickup model could be next.

Update: According to the GM Inside News.com forums, the Vice Chairman of Product Development at General Motor's emailed a reader, saying he wants the Holden to come to the US, but that it won't be badged as a Chev. Forum member MonaroSS got an email back from Bob Lutz after asking if a restyled version of the Holden VE Ute would come to the USA, with the answer: "Well, that's what we want to do, but it won't be a Chevrolet!"

There are four models in the Holden VE Commodore range, and the pricing starts at $30,990 for Omega Ute. Here's the pricing rundown:

Omega 6-speed manual V6: $30,990 (w/air-con)
Omega 4-speed automatic V6: $30,990 (w/air-con)
SV6 6-speed manual V6: $35,990
SV6 5-speed automatic V6: $36,990

SS 6-speed manual V8: $39,990
SS 6-speed automatic V8: $41,990
SS V 6-speed manual V8: $44,990
SS V 6-speed automatic V8: $46,990

Based on the VE architecture, with redeveloped front and rear suspension, the VE Ute is a $105 million dollar project that builds on the success of the billion dollar VE Commodore sedan and makes advances in terms of ride and handling. With the aforementioned suspension update, not to mention increased torsional rigidity, the new Holden VE Ute is expected to be more car-like to drive (read: enjoyable) than any ute before it. Although GM Holden didn't let us play with them, it claims that the new 2-seater drives very similarly to the VE Commodore sedan. That's a good thing.

During the launch debrief at Holden's headquarters in Port Melbourne, the company explained that one of the biggest complaints from previous customers was a lack of interior room, and this has been addressed with the VE Ute.

Where the previous model VZ Ute had 90 litres of storage space, the new VE Ute has 245 litres of space, and after sitting in the car this becomes obvious. The seats track further backwards on their rails than the previous model and it just feels a lot roomier. The cockpit also has a more modern look, again using the same interior and dash pad from the VE Commodore.

The seats also get quick 'dump' handles, most often seen on coupe cars. They allow for easy access to the cargo area behind the seats. Holden's marketing team have named the larger cabin a 'Spacecab', and other interior extras include cargo nets, underfloor storage compartments, and even hidden jack tools.

Power for the entire range of Holden VE Ute models has been beefed up, and the range-topping 8-cylinder models now get the gargantuan LS2 6.0-litre V8 with bone-jarring 270kW of power and a mind-melting 530Nm of torque. Thank the heavens ESP is standard...

The VZ SS Ute was a real handful when we drove it back in October 2004 and that had 'only' 470Nm of torque from the 5.7-litre LS1 V8. Holden's powertrain engineers say they've taken on board criticism of the VZ Ute's unforgiving power delivery and have tweaked the throttle mapping to deliver a somewhat smoother surge of small block V8 power. 

Weight distribution is 53:47 front to rear, and as the lighter rear end can often magnify the cars power delivery, so this throttle mapping tweak should smooth out the Ute's rough edges. Interesting, most models are some 150 to 160kg heavier than their predecessors, which is due to the new VE underpinnings - suspension, frame, safety systems etc.

Holden has also added the SSV model to the line-up, the range-topping quasi-luxury Holden VE Ute, which adds 19-inch wheels, leather seats (a $1250 option for the SS), dual zone electronic climate control, projector headlamps,alloy faced pedals and a seriously trendy colour coded interior as standard. Is that worth five grand over the SS? It sure will be for a lot of buyers.

The new V6 models output 195kW and 340Nm and are standard with the Omega 6-speed manual, and the SV6 6-speed manual and 5-speed automatic models. The entry-level Omega is only offered with a 4-speed automatic, and as such gets the slightly lower Alloytec V6 engine tune of 180kW and 330Nm.

Fuel consumption figures have improved in most models, but as the figures show the V8s are still fairly thirsty:

Omega (auto) 11.3L/km
Omega (manual) 11.4L/km
SV6 (auto) 11.6L/km
SV6 (manual) 11.4L/km
SS & SS V (auto) 14.0L/km
SS & SS V (manual) 14.5L/km

Spending a day in the presence of the new ute, it's clear that the new model makes significant progress over it's predecessor. Almost all of the problems of the VZ Ute have been ironed out, and with competitive pricing, impressive safety, and sh*t hot performance, the new models could be just what the General ordered. 

Here are my thoughts upon first seeing the car at the unveiling:

  • The design isn't anything you wouldn't expect. It's pure VE Commodore from the front, complete with flared wheel arches, a European styled front end and a steeply raked windscreen. If you saw it pulling slowly out of a tunnel and only saw the front end you'd think it was a VE Commodore sedan. But the rear is where the new stuff has been added, both in terms of design and engineering.

  • The rear wheel arches aren't quite as flared as the fronts but they are rather bold, and the new brake light clusters at the rear will define the new model to trailing traffic. The brake lights are not so much like the sedan's, but they do comprehensively wrap around to the cars flanks, adding a car-like design cue. If there was no badging on the car, some people might mistake it for an HSV model, because the rear end now features a deep fascia, with semi-integrated exhaust mouldings.

  • The verdict? Well, I'm thinking at first glance the Holden VE Ute looks pretty good, particularly when combined with the twin exhaust system that all models except the 4-speed automatic Omega come standard with, which adds a sporty dimension to even the entry level model. The new brake light cluster and rear apron are the major styling updates and they work well in this instance. Something tells me it's going to be a popular sports car.

Tony Stolfo, the current director of design at GM Holden, says the ute is "Australia's own vehicle" and the Holden ute represents 60 years of ute design. "VE ute is long wheel base," Mr Stolfo continued, "it's 3009mm wheel base shares all the underpinnings of Statesman."

Overall the new Ute is slightly shorter than the VZ model, measuring 5040mm, and as Mr Stolfo stated, the new model is "no longer just a workhorse, but a 2-door sports car with practicality". Tony Stolfo added that there were many features they couldn't include in the design, such as a drop down rear window, but overall he was extremely pleased with the end result.

Its high belt line and low roof give it a true performance aesthetic, while the smooth integrated cabin adds a sleek element  to the car's silhouette. Hidden tailgate hinges are new, and the fold-down tailgate also features small grooves to hold ramps for motorbike loading. There's also six tie points with rope cleats that are screwed into metal frame, not just plastic, but total payload limits have dropped somewhat, but about 20 to 40 kilograms across the range.

That said, the tray measures 1878mm, and even with the improved interior space the tray is longer by 14mm compared to its predecessor. Accessories include items such as a clever lockable modular box that can slide on rails, aerodynamic sports bars, a hard tonneau cover, and even GT stripe decals.

There are nine colours in total for the new VE Ute, with a trio of brand newies. Here are the three new colours and please, no sniggering:

Crunch: an almost neon yellow colour with a subtle green tinge.
K-Pow: blue with a hint of purple.
Atomic: the new hero colour - a bright metallic green.

On top of improved interior space, the swanky new look, boosted performance, and other new features, Holden claims the new Ute is safer than ever before. With dual stage airbags for driver and passenger, a more rigid and hence crashworthy body structure, and the addition of ESP all combine to deliver a strong safety suite for the new 2-seater sports car.

Holden's best ever annual sales for a recent ute model was roughly 12,000 units, and it hopes the VE model will eclipse this. Not surprisingly, Holden's research suggests that some 95 per cent of buyers will be blokes, and more than three quarters of sales will be for the sports models, such as SV6, SS, and SSV.

An Australian icon has begun afresh, and the Holden VE Ute looks like repeating the VE Commodore's success. No longer aimed at brickies and carpenters, Holden's VE Ute moves beyond load lugging to include dirt bike riders, snowboarders, and mountain bikers in it's target demographic. Three of the four models on offer are high performance sports utes, catering for owners who have penchant for adventure.

Launching in October 2007, we'll have full drive impressions of this intriguing new ute very soon.

Related articles:
Holden VE Commodore vs Ford BF Falcon (Road Test)
Holden Commodore SS V vs Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo (Road Test)
- HSV Senator vs FPV Force6 (Road Test)
- Holden VE Ute Spied (2007)
- Holden EFIJY Wins U.S. Concept Car Award (2007)
Holden Astra Diesel (Road Test)
Holden Barina (Road Test)
Holden Astra SRi Turbo (Road Test)
- Holden VE Commodore - Dual-Fuel LPG (2006)
Holden Captiva (2006)
Holden - Melbourne Motor Show (2006)
- Sydney Motor Show (2006)

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