We take an early ver­sion of Holden's new ute off the pro­duc­tion line and straight off-road

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Car News -

Glenn But­ler gets a Chev-badged Colorado ute straight off the pro­duc­tion line and rum­bles through the jun­gles

Weaus­tralians like our utes. Wein­vented the genre, af­ter all. But our love af­fair with the work­ing truck is noth­ing com­pared to the at­ten­tion the new Holden Colorado is get­ting on the streets of Thai­land’s big­gest north­ern city, Chiang Mai.

We’re in Thai­land to drive the new Colorado be­cause that’s where they’re built. In fact most of the util­ity ve­hi­cles sold in Australia — Toy­ota Hilux, Nis­san Navara, Mit­subishi Tri­ton, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50 — are built here. Thai­land is cur­rently the 14th big­gest car-mak­ing na­tion and is on track to make the top 10 within three years.

In Thai­land, light com­mer­cials such as the Colorado and Hilux ac­count for more than six out of 10 new ve­hi­cle sales. In Australia, they ac­count for 14 per cent (and grow­ing) of the mar­ket. Un­like Australia, the trays of many of the util­i­ties we pass are loaded with peo­ple, in some cases a dozen are crammed in, shield­ing their eyes against the wind and dust.

Those not car­ry­ing hu­man cargo are weighed down by bags of pro­duce stacked some­times twice the height of the labour­ing ve­hi­cle.

There are build­ing ma­te­ri­als and mar­ket goods, bags of rice, and pro­duce of all kinds, much of which I fail to iden­tify.

Pineap­ples seem par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar in this re­gion and along one stretch of road we pass dozens of ven­dors, each one a pineap­ple’s throw from the last. Their rick­ety bam­boo stands hud­dle be­side the road and the sweet smell quickly in­vades the Colorado’s cabin through my open win­dow.

Driv­ing win­dows-down may seem strange when it’s 38 de­grees out­side and so hu­mid you can al­most see the water in the air. I try driv­ing win­dows-up with the air­con on but when I step out of the cab I start sweat­ing like a sumo wrestler do­ing push-ups in a sauna.

It’s hot work but it al­lows the sights, sounds and smells of Thai­land to waft in. Dur­ing the seven days of Cars­guide’s visit, the

Bangkok Post re­ported 320 road fa­tal­i­ties from 3129 ac­ci­dents, the vast ma­jor­ity of which were moped and mo­tor­cy­cle riders. Of the 26 mil­lion ve­hi­cles on Thai­land’s roads, 17 mil­lion are of the two-wheeled mo­torised va­ri­ety. Al­most five mil­lion are utes and about 4.5 mil­lion are pas­sen­ger cars.

Our route into town is lined with spec­ta­tors, cu­ri­ous about the 20 spank­ing new Colorados fly­ing past. Some are sin­gle cabs, some space cabs with ex­tra stor­age be­hind the seats, and some ex­tra cabs with four doors and a sec­ond row — the main ben­e­fit from the Colorado’s 350mm in­crease in length.

Some are rear-drive, some are 4WD, but all are what Holden calls High Stance bod­ies, and all are diesels. And this con­voy cer­tainly stands out among the seething traf­fic.

Per­haps the po­lice es­cort has some­thing to do with our ap­peal. Four mo­tor­cy­cle cops have been with us since we left Chiang Rai, 260km north­east, three hours ago, and have done a ster­ling job main­tain­ing our progress through the chaos.

They block in­ter­sec­tions, wave over­loaded cars and trucks off the road ahead and stop pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists in their tracks. Lights flash­ing and sirens scream­ing, they leapfrog us at speed to beat us to the next log­jam.

The po­lice es­cort didn’t stay with us the whole day, be­cause part of our jour­ney took in dirt roads that wound through the hills around Chiang Rai to­wards the Burmese bor­der.

These roads test the Colorado’s off-road met­tle, which Holden be­lieves will play a big part in the car’s sales ap­peal in Australia. In fact, Holden’s bank­ing on the Colorado pick­ing up its act in all ar­eas of the mar­ket — re­cre­ation, work­horse, fleet and pri­vate.

A dial near the hand­brake on4wd­col­orados cy­cles be­tween rear-drive, 4WD high range, and4wd­low range, the last for par­tic­u­larly gnarly con­di­tions. Noth­ing we come across on the off-road sec­tion re­ally trou­bles the high-rid­ing ute, which picks its way along like a sure­footed moun­tain goat.

Over two days it be­comes ap­par­ent that the big­gest ar­eas of im­prove­ment are the Colorado’s driv­e­train and in­te­rior. There will be two en­gine op­tions in Australia, both diesel — less than 5 per cent of al­l4wd­light com­mer­cials are petrol.

We­drove the stronger 2.8-litre turbo diesel which will be in 25 of the 26 Aus­tralian vari­ants when the Colorado hits show­rooms in

GLENN BUT­LER glenn.but­ler@cars­

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