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Review: Holden Commodore Sportwagon SS-V, The Coolest Wagon

November 27th, 2008
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Holden Commodore Sportwagon Review

Once upon a time families would go on holidays, mothers would travel to the shops for groceries, you’d go surfing with ya mates to Bondi or Bells and you’d take you’re girlfriend on a date to the drive-in. You’re probably thinking that things haven’t changed too much (except for the drive-in bit), so what are you talking about? You ask. Well things have changed, thanks to the SUV that became popular about 8-10 years ago. People stopped buying station wagons because they were perceived as ‘not cool’ or ‘mum's car’ and started buying SUVs and four wheel drives.

Over the past decade consumer needs have shifted, the reasons for purchasing a car has differed and car manufacturers have reacted to supply us with the goods. When the SUV segment really boomed it was an exciting time for Australians, consumers had the versatility of taking their vehicles off road.  But how many did? Not too many is my guess.

I remember reading SUV reviews ten years ago, of critics belittling these vehicles because they couldn’t handle off road tracks. These days people are complaining that their SUVs are too high or they never take them off the bitumen so what’s next?

It’s the 21st century and one billion dollars later, Holden has re-invented the wheel, re-invigorated transportation and re-energised the large car segment with its new cool Commodore Sportwagon.

Sportwagon SS-V

The Sportwagon is a member of the VE Commodore family, think of it like your cool uncle, always up for a good time, the popular one at the family Christmas party, doesn’t mind a drink, and acts like a 45 year old on Prozac. Here at PressPortal we test the SS-V Sportwagon and tell you why Wagons are cool again, in particular this one.

What is cool and how can a car be that… cool that is? Cool cars make people look twice, cool cars never date, cool cars are on young kids wish list, cool cars get restored 25 years from now, and cool cars simply go fast.

Sportwagon SS-V

The first thing people notice when they look twice is the rear tailgate, notice it is not the shape of a traditional nor typical wagon, it denotes a hatchback design appealing to a younger audience of people who want to feel more youthful. However the shape of the tailgate is not only appealing to the eyes as it has a functional advantage over competing wagons and SUVs. The tailgate can rise with a shorter vertical swing allowing owners to park close to walls and still be able to open the tailgate to load in the shopping.

When the tailgate is fully open it appears to be large enough to swallow itself, similar to that of a brown snake only this one won’t bite. The second row seats fold conveniently flat to transport large items such as a bike or a 6.4” surf board or 2000 litres of something according to Holden. I’m still not sure why boots are measured in litres; it should be measured in something more relevant such as slabs of beer, golf bags, camping equipment etc but anyway, it’s a massive boot.

Sportwagon SS-V Sportwagon SS-V
Sportwagon SS-V Sportwagon SS-V

To secure loads in the rear is a convenient luggage net, shopping bag hooks and floor tie down anchorages, and when you want your valuable items hidden from prying eyes there is a retractable cargo cover.

The Sportwagon provides a comfortable ride for passengers, and although physically the Sportwagon is a large car, everyday driving felt no different to many a smaller sized vehicle. The sports suspension in the SS-V is an enjoyable compromise between sports handling and a firm ride.

Holden has fitted it out with safety features including dual front airbags, front side and curtain airbags. Adding to this list is Anti-lock brakes, EBD, EBA, traction control and electronic stability control as standard.

The steering is nice and tight, light for parking and firm enough for freeway speed spirited driving. Doing a three point turn is easier than you would think; the turning circle is 11.3 metres meaning it is capable of turning around in narrow streets.

One difficulty is reverse parking in the Sportwagon, however the rear parking sensors take some stress out of parking close to walls or other cars. An image is displayed on the front LCD screen giving guidance to the proximity of close objects.

Holden has managed to keep the weight down with SS-V automatic Sportwagon, its only 85kg heavier than the sedan equivalent. Its official combined fuel economy is 13.8L per 100km, in peek hour traffic we experienced a higher figure of 18.6L per 100km but on the freeway sitting on 100km/h in 6th we managed to see 8.9L per 100km.

Sitting in the driver’s seat of the Sportwagon gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling, an eloquent 270kW on tap just under my right sneaker that will purr along at low rpm and when needed will create what feels like a storm with full throttle, very cool. The transmission as mentioned has six gears that can be changed like a sequential box, it’s not as smooth as rival gearboxes, downshifting can incur some clunks but nothing too serious.

Sportwagon SS-V Sportwagon SS-V
Sportwagon SS-V Sportwagon SS-V

The interior is the same as the sedan equivalent; with easy to reach switchgear, the pumping blaupunkt stereo is cool and will keep the kids quiet or play over them as they fight over which DVD to watch in the back seat.

The climate control air conditioning system is cool, it has individual zones for the driver and front passenger, and the fan is pretty quiet which is important for Australian summers.

Holden use an alloy look trim to highlight the interior of the SS-V, found on the dashboard, steering wheel, centre console, gear shifter, door handles, cup holders and the pedals. The quality of the alloy is good and simple, not too shiny like a number of other sports cars.

The cool SS-V grade is the pick of the bunch for me, 6.0 Litres of American muscle under its bonnet matched to a 6 speed active select transmission that features a sport shift program extending the rev range. It has enough power and torque to tow 2100 kgs which is a descent sized ski boat or caravan ample for any Aussie.

Driving the SS-V Sportwagon gives the impression of being in a cockpit, the body computer customises features such as the security and interior lighting times via the steering wheel controls. The dashboard also features a volt metre and oil pressure gauge, not sure how much use you’d get out of it but it’s a cool feature if the battery is getting flat.

Sportwagon SS-V

The rear seats are large and can fit three adults comfortably in width and head room, rear leg room is large like any other Commodore. To keep the kids or your mates entertained is a roof mounted DVD player with infra red head phones.

The rear seats have a 60/40 split folding backrest for larger items that don’t fit in the cargo compartment, the centre seat has a built in armrest for those long trips adding extra comfort.

Commodore’s are sometimes labeled Common-dores, and I’ll admit over the past few years some of the entry level models and the wagons have been a bit plain Jane, but not now. Holden have a great product with the VE, the Sportwagon in particular is good looking, and will attract new customers that never necessarily considered a wagon before.

The 6.0L SS-V Sportwagon is a powerful, comfortable, eager and ambitious vehicle. It’s the kind of car we’ll remember fondly in years to come as we go from A-B on our electric scooters. Fewer cars look as good from any angle.

To me, this is the cool car; HSV also think so and have created their high performance version badged the Tourer. Buying a vehicle must be a balance between style and function, Holden has created a stylish vehicle that is practical and appealing and bottled it Sportwagon, only this one you can enjoy straight away.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Competitors:

 Make Model  Price* Cylinders  Litres  Power (kW)  Torque (Nm)
 Chrysler  300C Hemi Touring  $63,290  8  5.7  250  525
 Ford  Territory Ghia Turbo  $65,920  6  4.0  245  480
 Holden  Sportwagon SS-V  $55,790  8  6.0  270  530
 Volkswagen  Passat R36 FSI Wagon  $67,590  6  3.6  220  350
 Volvo  V70 T6 AWD  $68,950  6  3.0  210  400

*Australian RRP as at 27th November 2008


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