New an­gle on wag­ons

Holden has moved the goal­posts when it comes to the fam­ily wagon, writes the cars­Guide team

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive Commodore Sportwagon -

ALOT is rid­ing on the newage Com­modore wagon. The VE Sport­wagon is a fresh new look but, far more im­por­tantly, an all-new di­rec­tion for GM Holden’s fam­ily favourite.

It has to fight against the surg­ing tide of fam­ily four-wheel drives and win or­di­nary Aussies back to a more-tra­di­tional lo­cal pur­chase.

It also must add an es­sen­tial sales boost that has been miss­ing from Team Red since the loss of the VZ Com­modore wagon.

But things are very dif­fer­ent with the Sport­wagon. Fleet com­pa­nies bought up to 90 per cent of VZ wag­ons, but Holden be­lieves the fu­ture is all about peo­ple buy­ing for them­selves.

Holden be­lieves driv­ers want some­thing ver­sa­tile, not just a fam­ily van for kids and dogs.

They are go­ing in hard with the Sport­wagon, peg­ging the price of ev­ery model at $1000 above the equiv­a­lent VE sedan. It knows there will be some sub­sti­tu­tion with the sedan, but still ex­pects to sell 800-900 wag­ons a month.

That means a start­ing-money Omega Sport­wagon comes in at $37,790, down $440 from its VZ Ex­ec­u­tive equiv­a­lent. Among its key fea­tures are a multi-func­tion steer­ing wheel, 16-inch al­loys, cruise con­trol, trip com­puter, rear park­ing radar, a sin­gle-CD sound sys­tem and au­to­matic head­lights.

But bar­gain buy­ers look­ing for an LPG hook-up for a V6 or V8 will have to wait. The Sport­wagon’s tail space— al­ready smaller than the VZ wagon — will be com­pro­mised by the ad­di­tion of an LPG tank.

Still, Holden says it is re­spond­ing to petrol pres­sures, even if noth­ing is com­ing un­til the next up­date of the whole VE line.

‘‘Rapidly ris­ing fuel prices are a chal­lenge for all man­u­fac­tur­ers. Holden is re­spond­ing by look­ing at a range of al­ter­na­tive tech­nolo­gies and fu­els to re­duce our de­pen­dence on for­eign oil,’’ GM Holden sales, mar­ket­ing and af­ter­sales ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Alan Batey says.

‘‘You can ex­pect to see ded­i­cated LPG, ethanol and diesel en­gines, more fuel-ef­fi­cient in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines and hy­brids. We’re not just bet­ting on one type.’’

The VE Sport­wagon goes on sale later this month and should give Holden an edge over Ford, which is still work­ing on its wagon plans. Noth­ing is firm yet on an FG-based suc­ces­sor to the orig­i­nal Ter­ri­tory.

The Sport­wagon weighs 91kg more than the VE sedan, but has a good-look­ing back end that Holden says main­tains the car’s 50:50 weight bal­ance.

The wag­ons have 72 unique body pan­els and, for safety, re­tain the front, side and cur­tain airbags and sta­bil­ity con­trol of the sedan.

All Sport­wag­ons get a 17-inch steel spare as stan­dard. A full-sized wheel is a $250 op­tion.

The wagon sits on a slightly shorter wheel­base than its VZ pre­de­ces­sor (down 24mm) and is shorter over­all by 36mm, cut­ting load space from 1402 litres to 895 litres with the seats up. Fold them flat and the VE takes 2000 litres, still less than the VZ’s 2752 litres.

Holden’s en­gi­neer­ing team says the sedan plat­form was cho­sen for the wagon be­cause the long­wheel­base States­man would not have in­creased the load area, just the rear legroom.

The bodyshell is stiffer and stronger, and Holden says it re­duces boom­ing and road noise from the tail.

The front multi-link sus­pen­sion is largely a car­ry­over, apart from a slight in­crease (1mm) in the sta­biliser bar (the sports sus­pen­sion spring rate is up 23 per cent), but the rear multi-link sus­pen­sion has an up­graded spring rate and a sta­biliser bar that has shed 4mm to a 12mm­di­am­e­ter.

The rear end has also been tweaked with three cross-axis ball joints (up from two).

Inside, it’s familiar VE in the front, but the rear seat has had the ex­pected al­ter­ations, though any­one look­ing for a seven-seater will have to think about a Cap­tiva.

The 60:40 rear seat can fold nearly flat. There’s a two-po­si­tion cargo blind, four load hooks on the floor, an ex­tra four hooks, two re­tractable shop­ping bag hooks, a stor­age bin, a 12V power out­let and a low­mounted light in the load area. Rear head­room is un­changed from the sedan’s.

Re­gard­ing cost, the Ber­lina is $38,240 — $5600 be­low the VZ equiv­a­lent — and gets 17-inch al­loys, front fog lights, a leather­wrapped steer­ing wheel, Blue­tooth, six- stack CD sound, pow­er­ad­just­ment for the driver’s seat and dual-zone cli­mate con­trol as ex­tras.

The SV6 starts the sports range at $42,290 with sports sus­pen­sion, 18-inch al­loys, a body kit, dual ex­hausts and a sports in­te­rior.

The SS V8 six-speed man­ual costs from $46,290, and the six-speed auto $48,290 with a lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial. The SS V costs from $53,790 as a man­ual or $55,790 with au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

The Calais is $46,790 and gets a leather-wrapped steer­ing wheel and gear se­lec­tor, and elec­tric seats with leather bol­sters.

The Calais V V6 starts at $55,290 for the five-speed au­to­matic and the V8 six-speed au­to­matic is $60,290. It’s equipped with 18-inch al­loys, a leather-wrapped sports steer­ing wheel, front and rear park as­sist, rain-sens­ing wipers, a rear DVD player, power-ad­justable leather seats and the op­tion of the six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

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