Weekend Courier - - Driveway - Bill McKin­non

THESE are des­per­ate days for Holden.

The core ap­peal and iden­tity of the brand – its Aus­tralian engi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing her­itage – va­por­ised when the VFII se­ries Com­modore ceased pro­duc­tion in Oc­to­ber.

In March, its mar­ket share dropped to 4.8 per cent, its worst ever re­sult. Holden faces a mon­u­men­tal task just to stay alive, let alone rein­vent it­self, be­cause it had so much in­vested in its ‘Aus­tralian­ness’.

Drive-away prices for the mid-spec RS Sport­wagon, which we’re in to­day, kick off at $43,800. It’s pow­ered by a 2.0-litre four­cylin­der turbo that drives the front wheels via a nine-speed au­to­matic.

In ad­di­tion to the LT spec, the pseu­dosporty RS has stylish 18-inch al­loys and a body kit, plus more sup­port­ive, power-ad­justable front seats, leather-wrapped steer­ing wheel, and power tail­gate with hands­free foot swipe op­er­a­tion.

Starter kit in­cludes a seven-inch screen, Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto, semi-au­to­matic per­pen­dic­u­lar and par­al­lel park­ing, re­mote start­ing, key­less en­try, cruise con­trol, rain-sens­ing wipers and au­to­matic head­lights.

Holden is try­ing to give sales a rev up with a seven-year/un­lim­ited kilo­me­tre war­ranty deal. Ser­vic­ing, for the first three years at least, is cheap. So run­ning costs should be low, apart from the 2.0-litre’s pref­er­ence for 95 oc­tane pre­mium fuel.

The sports driver’s seat in the RS, with a firm, ex­tend­able cush­ion and sup­port­ive side bol­ster­ing, is ex­cep­tion­ally com­fort­able for tall driv­ers on a long jour­ney.

Rear legroom is vast, head­room is fine and the firm, high bench will suit kids in re­straints. A low, long boot floor eas­ily ex­tends via the 60-40 split-fold­ing rear seat back to a flat two me­tres, and even in fiveseater mode you get greater load ca­pac­ity than many SUVs.

The LT has au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing, ef­fec­tive lane-keep­ing as­sist, dis­tance in­di­ca­tor to the car in front plus au­di­ble and vis­ual for­ward col­li­sion alerts. The RS adds blind spot mon­i­tor­ing and rear cross-traf­fic alert.

Peak torque of 350Nm kicks in at a high 3000rpm. This lack of bot­tom end grunt is ef­fec­tively masked by tightly packed lower trans­mis­sion ra­tios, so re­spon­sive­ness is rea­son­able and, in the main, the nine-speed works un­ob­tru­sively and ef­fi­ciently.

Holden’s lo­cal engi­neer­ing in­put and the rel­a­tively light weight of the four-cylin­der mod­els (a trim 1569kg for the RS Sport­wagon) show in its rock-solid road­hold­ing, con­fi­dent, ag­ile han­dling, light, pre­cise steer­ing and firm, yet com­pli­ant and com­fort­able ride.

It’s a lot more en­joy­able to drive at speed than any com­pa­ra­bly sized SUV.

Ver­dict: Ca­pable, com­fort­able, spa­cious and prac­ti­cal, the RS Sport­wagon is com­pet­i­tive.

The Holden Com­modore RS Sport­wagon.

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