Mark Higgins’ first drive 2014 Holden VF Commodore SS Ute review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

In a nutshell Having kick started the sports ute phenomenon with the introduction of the SS 16 years ago, Holden’s VF model which is the last of the breed, gets a good dollop of refinement to add to its street cred, performance and sleek looks.

Practical Motoring says For the money there’s little that touches the SS Ute in terms of bang for your buck and practicality, and when we say practicality we mean performance with a big boot. While a sports ute might not make much sense if you need something for work and play (and you have a family), but for those who only need two seats, well, it’s hard to go past.

IT’S ODD HOW we sometimes go backwards to go forwards. Take the aviation industry. We started with prop planes, moved to jets, then supersonic aircraft and now we’ve retreated to jets again. And we’re about to do the same with the Aussie ute. We started off with pick up bodies or tray-on chassis trucks to cart things about, then 80 years ago we got passenger-car bodied utes. However, once local production ends here we’ll revert to pick up bodies or trays over the chassis once again.

The passenger car based ute can be traced back to a farmer’s wife from Gippsland, Victoria. She wanted the one vehicle to go to church on Sunday and take the pigs to market on Monday. She sent her thoughts to Ford and Lewis Bandt, a young designer penned the first of its kind.

Holden rolled out their first ute in 1951 and in 1977 had a crack at a sport ute with the launch of the Sandman. It caused a ripple on the sales chart. Then in 1998, the limited edition SS ute arrived on the scene, with a 5.7 litre V8 shoehorned under the bonnet, a sports bodykit, big alloy wheels and an interior akin to a sedan. Sales went off the richter scale and the sports ute, as we know it was born.

The SS ute, sedan and wagon share the same face with projector headlights, daytime running lights and gloss black grille, lower panels and air intake panels with chrome edgings. Its silhouette shows flared front guards with chrome air vents, a long bonnet, side skirts, a steeply angled windscreen and a short roof with aero style B-pillar. Although it wears 18-inch alloy wheels, they actually look a bit small. The ute shares its wheelbase with the Statesman and is 94mm longer (3009mm v 2915mm) than the VF Commodore sedan/wagon, for extra load-lugging capability.

Its passenger car heritage means you sit down low and in front of the same chunky multifunction steering wheel and dash as its SS brethren, with analogue instruments and an LED trip information display. The centre dash features the MyLink screen with functions for the phone, audio and the reverse camera, but satnav’s an option. The wide console includes storage bins, a centre armrest, the electric park brake and two large cupholders that somewhat impede gear shifting when utilised.

There’s abundance of leg, head and shoulder room and even a bit of space behind the extremely comfortable and supportive Sportec cloth sports seats that are manually adjusted, with the driver’s pew getting electric height and lumbar adjustment. Splashed across the dash, door panels and gearshift surround is carbon look trim that blends nicely with the textured surfaces used throughout the cabin for an upmarket feel.

Rear three-quarter vision is hampered by the large B-pillars but thankfully the SS ute comes with blind spot assist that displays a light in the exterior mirrors when another vehicles is close by or unsighted from the drivers seat.

Behind the rear window is the large, deep, hard plastic lined carrying area, with six tie-down hooks that can hold up to 500kgs. A heavy-duty tonneau does a good job of keeping the dust, rain and prying eyes out and unlike the utes of old, getting the cover secured is child’s play. For all its grunt, the SS only tows 1600kgs, but it does so effortlessly and for added safety there’s trailer sway control and hill start assist.

At its heart is Holden’s 6.0-litre Generation IV Alloy V8, producing 270kw at 5700rpm and 530Nm at 4400rpm, coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox that has a precise shifting action, but requires a bit of muscle to use. The big V8 happily lumbers along with a nice growl from the exhaust but when you awaken the 270 kilowatts with a shove of your right foot, it changes a glorious roar. The generous 530Nm gives the SS impressive urge from just off idle and right through the rev range. Fuel efficiency and V8’s are like oil and water, they don’t mix, and the big V8drank 13.6L/100km of 91RON while we had it (Holden claims 11.5L/100km combined).

The MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension of the SS Ute gets Holden’s sports steering and second-tier FE2 suspension tune, that delivers a solid ride, being tuned for both ‘performance’ driving and load-lugging requirements. Despite the lack of weight over the back end, the ride is surprisingly accommodating and it does a reasonably god job of taming road blemishes. This also rings true of the handling. The variable electric power steering is relatively light at low speed for maneuverability and agreeably precise at higher speeds. The chassis is well balanced and negotiates corners with a reassuring level of composure, aided by the limited-slip diff and sticky 245/45 R18 Bridgestone Potenza tyres on 18×8-inch alloy rims. The disc brakes do a good job of hauling up the 1720kg SS with the pedal having a progressive feel.

The SS ute has a five-star ANCAP safety rating safety technologies including Lane Change Assist, Blind Spot Monitoring and Forward Collision Alert, stability control, switchable traction control and anti-lock brakes. There’s also trailer sway control, hill start assist and reverse cross traffic alert, plus six airbags. Parking should never be an issue with front and rear parking sensors and 90-degree electronic park assist.

Equipment highlights include: Dual-zone climate control, Electric Power Steering, Auto Park Assist, Front and Rear Park Assist, electric park brake, Hill Hold Control and Hill Start Assist, Trailer Sway Control, MyLink Infotainment System, Front & rear sports fascia, 18” alloy wheels, LED daylight running lamps, Blind Spot Alert and Reverse Traffic Alert. Ownership costs are low with the SS getting a three-year 100,000km warranty, and servicing required every nine-months or 15,000km, which is capped at $185 for a three-year/60,000km period.

Holden VF Commodore SS Ute

Price $39,490 (+ORC)

Warranty three years, 100,000 kilometres

Safety five-star ANCAP

Engine 6.0-litre, 90-degree V8 petrol (91RON)

Power/Torque 270kW/530Nm

Transmission six-speed manual (standard)

Body 5083mm (L); 1898mm (W); 1494mm (H)

Weight 1720kg

Thirst 11.5L/100km (combined)


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