Station wagons have never been alluring, but the latest family hold-alls are a different beast altogether, reports NICK DALTON
FOR starters they look sensational and Holden’s Sportwagon is one of the best. Gone is the boxiness of the VZ Commodore series and along has come the stylish, Euro-look of the Sportwagon.
No longer will mum feel as though she is driving an elongated carton on wheels. Here’s a svelte five door that just looks great.
The latest sport wagons make a lot of sense and present a great counter argument to SUVs which yummy mummies seem to love in droves.
This is mainly because of the superior commanding driving position but they are harder to park, thirstier, heavier and more cumbersome than the car-like wagons such as the VE Sportwagon, the Mazda6 wagon and the Volkswagen Passat.
Holden is making the only Australian sport wagon while Ford continues with the old style Falcon load lugger as well as the Territory SUV.
The beauty of this wagon is that it drives like a car because it is built on the same platform as the VE sedan and hasn’t been stretched.
That means all the top attributes of the VE sedan’s handling, roadholding and ride are shared by the wagon.
PRICING AND EQUIPMENT
The test vehicle was the special Edition Commodore International Sportwagon which is $35,990 drive away.
Special features include 18in alloy wheels, fog lamps, a six-disc CD changer, leather seat trim and steering wheel, Bluetooth connection for compatible mobile phones and rear park assist.
That’s on top of the usual Omega Sportwagon equipment levels including cruise control, Electronic Stability Control, front and side impact airbags for driver and passenger, side curtain airbags, five-star ANCAP rating, ABS brakes, traction control, power front and rear windows, mirrors and steering, trip computer, multi-function steering wheel controls, automatic headlights, four-way electric driver’s seat adjustment, airconditioning and a cargo blind.
So it offers good value when the base model Omega is $41,290 and adds more equipment.
THE ENGINE ROOM
The Alloytec V6 is not the most refined six cylinder. Driven moderately and it’s not bad but give it a bootful and it becomes noisy and harsh.
Being attached to an old style four-speed auto doesn’t help the cause either.
But around town and on the highway it remains calm and collected, as long as you don’t call up all the horses.
It does surprisingly well at the petrol pump. The Holden V6 has always been economical for its size.
The official figure is 10.7L/100km fuel use average on standard unleaded for the Sportwagon and 256g CO2/km and that’s certainly achievable.
I averaged 13.7L/100km over a weekend which included city driving, a stint up the Kuranda Range to Mareeba, Mt Molloy, Julatten, down the Rex Range and along the Captain Cook Highway to Cairns.
I was not mucking around either, so moderate driving will allow you to undercut the official figure.
In fact, I decided to drive the Sportwagon as gently as possible from Mossman to Cairns and watched the figures fall on the trip computer.
Despite the lack of smoothness, the Sportwagon has strong initial performance for stop-start traffic and also provides good overtaking and hill-climbing power on the open road.
ON THE ROAD
The Sportwagon’s relationship to the Commodore sedan is obvious, with the same crisp steering, tight body control and nimble handling.
But because it has been designed as a load carrier, the independent rear suspension has been firmed up and it feels that way. The front end is more compliant.
Around town forward vision is good, although the thick A pillars do block the line of view when cornering.
Rear-parking sensors help when the going gets tight when reversing.
The Sportwagon has sacrificed luggage space for style. The tailgate fashionably cuts into the body with a coupe-like rearward slope. But the forward hinging aids access into the cargo bay and allows it to be opened in tight spaces.
With all seats in place, there is 895 litres of luggage space. The loading height is low and two curry, four side and four floor tie-down hooks help keep cargo altogether.
There also is a light, a 12-volt outlet and a security blind that can slide up the D-pillar out of the way when loading goods.
Split-fold the 60:40 bench seat and 2000 litres and 2m of almost flat space is opened up. But the tailgate glass does not open separately, the bench seat does not slide or recline and there is no under-floor storage such as a wet bin. Rear-seat passengers will find the bench plush and space plentiful although the middle position is for short trips or young children only.
Behind the steering wheel everything is Commodore familiar, including the centre console power window switches and parking brake lever. The size of buttons in the centre stack and their labels are large and clear, but the green digital readouts, the cruise control stalk and the trip computer system are a bit dated.
The driver has a comfortable and broad bucket seat, reach and rake-adjustable steering and a good left footrest.
Storage options up front include long door bins with 600mm bottle holders, a lidded centre box and a decent-sized glove box. In the rear there are smaller door bins and cup holders that pop out of the seat base.
The Omega Sportwagon was the first locally manufactured wagon to receive a maximum five star safety rating from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).
The result reflects the long list of safety features found standard across the range including six airbags, rear park assist and Electronic Stability Control ( ESC) which incorporates Anti-lock Braking System ( ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution ( EBD), Electronic Brake Assist ( EBA) and Traction Control System ( TCS).
The Sportwagon range also has a steering column shroud energy absorber that helps to reduce driver knee injuries. The Omega model features a passenger seat belt reminder.
Holden has helped revitalise the family wagon segment which in recent years has been taken over by soft roaders.
The company has cleverly based the wagon on the standard sedan’s platform which has meant a loss of luggage room but it retains the car’s excellent roadholding/handling/ride equation.
In fact, unless you looked behind, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference on the road between sedan and wagon.
So the wagon has all the great attributes of the sedan and its flaws too.
If only the drive train had better refinement and grace.
Most people would be happy with the Alloytec V6 and the four speeder but if I was in the market I would step up to a V8 and the six-speeder.
And there are plenty of choices too from the $ 49,790 SS, all the way up to the Calais V Series at $63,990.
>>TEST VEHICLE COURTESY OF IRELAND HOLDEN, MULGRAVE RD, CAIRNS, PH: 4052 3666.