HOLDEN SSV UTE REVIEW
It’s the Australian interpretation of the modern sports car, the performance ute. And no-one, but no-one, anywhere, does them better than Holden and Ford.
We had the VE Series II SSV Ute. It’s a muscle-car bargain.
The Series II update brings new colours, some subtle styling revisions and some equally subtle (but effective) driver enhancements.
The clutch is lighter (it’s still relatively heavy) and has better feel; there are also revisions to the damping and suspension tune.
The SSV ‘tracks’ the contours of the road better than before and, while firm, the initial compliance provides a comfortable ride that is all-but free (we’re talking about a ute here) of jarring and rear-end jiggle.
What’s the appeal?
With both Holden’s and Ford’s V8 utes, you get stonkin’ performance in a tough muscled-up package. It’s a ‘Tonka Toy’ thing: the appeal is simply irresistible.
Take Holden’s VE Series II SSV Ute driven for this test. Low, long, a two-up sports car cabin, black leather throughout, ‘Poison Ivy’ green, six-speed manual, a thunderous 270kW under the toe, and sharp nose-in handling… what is there not to like?
What features does it have?
Essentially, the SSV is an up-specced SS.
It shares the 270kW V8 and six-speed manual or automatic transmission, but comes with 19-inch alloys and fat lower-profile rubber, enhanced interior features and navigation with live traffic uploads (as part of the iQ system).
Holden’s all-new iQ touch-screen infotainment system with 6.5-inch multi-function display featured across the range is masterful.
Whether hooking up to the Bluetooth, programming the sat-nav or flicking through the song list, the touch-screen functionality of the iQ is brilliantly easy to use.
The sound system can rip and store up to 15 CDs and is compatible with MP3, WMA, CDDA, CD-R and DVD. You can also hook up the iPod or USB.
Cruise control, road-speed sensing intermittent wipers and automatic headlights are also fitted as standard
Importantly, given that some will be buying the SSV Ute for work duties, it can tow 2100kg behind the auto, 1600kg with manual. (The maximum towing speed with the manual transmission is 100km/h.)
What’s under the bonnet?
At the heart of the SSV Ute is GM’s 6.0 litre OHV Gen-IV alloy V8.
With a thumping 270kW @ 5,700rpm (260kW @ 5,700rpm in automatic versions) and 530Nm @ 4,400rpm (517Nm @ 4,400rpm, automatic), it is simply a superb unit.
Featuring cross-flow heads, twin knock control sensors, it is engineered for bio flex-fuel capability (allowing it to run happily on bio-ethanol E85, E10, unleaded or premium) and improved fuel consumption.
The six-speed transmission is also engineered for improved consumption with a tall fifth ratio (for lazy around town cruising) and a very tall loping sixth gear.
Down below are coil springs front and rear, with a direct acting stabiliser bar up front and multi-link independent rear – also with stabiliser bar.
The SSV features a firmer spring rate and reduced ride height for sharpened handling and feel.
How does it drive?
First thing you’ll notice is that the clutch is still a bit too heavy – it’s improved but not enough – and the manual shift needs a bit of muscle.
The ratios are good though, fifth and sixth are very long-legged, and you can forget about first gear for unladen take-offs.
The steering too is good. It’s nicely weighted but light enough for around town work.
The turning circle, kerb to kerb just 11.4 metres, is particularly user-friendly; that’s tight for such a long car and the SSV’s ute back offers good over the shoulder rearward visibility (though there is a hefty B-pillar blind spot).
Also appealing is that it is quiet on the road. Road-roar, despite the big boots, is very well isolated. On only the coarsest of road surfaces does it find its way into the cabin.
Nor was there any knocking at the front end over broken tarmac.
But there is one glorious noise: the gruffest of V8 rumbles from under the bonnet that rises to a rich bellow when shown the whip.
If you’re prepared to exploit its masses of power, the SSV is one very quick car. It will suck the doors off most things this side of an M3 and can be an entertaining drive around a mountain pass.
If you get onto the sauce too quickly, that’s when you will notice the Ute’s lighter rear. It will step out readily before the ESC brings it quickly to heel.
But Holden has got this calibrated just right. You can bring the tail around with a stamp on the gas to tighten a line out of a corner.
And while the ESC will in chime in quickly, it doesn’t shut the show down – it allows enough movement to keep things interesting but with enough intervention to stop it becoming messy.
While you are always aware that the SS-V is big, it feels very agile and ‘light on its feet’, and can be very accurately placed in a corner.
Holden’s suspension refinements have produced a car of surprising agility and capability. It is so well executed it barely feels like a ute.
Interior quality and feel
Our tester, trimmed in high-quality black leather, was very impressive.
There is a sports-style instrument binnacle with ‘white on red’ illumination, high-mounted circular air-vents, and heavily bolstered and well shaped the seats. The chunky leather-wrapped multi-function wheel feels ‘just right’.
Piano-black facings and brushed alloy trim highlights add to the sense of quality, as do the high-quality tactile surfaces and the robust well-built feel.
Being a ute, there isn’t a lot of cabin room, but the SS-V feels more like a snug two-seater sports car anyway (no room to swing the cat here).
What did our passenger think?
Everyone loves a ute. The first thing that will enter your passenger’s head is how long they should wait before asking if they can borrow it (“… got a few things to move mate…”).
This thought will be followed by a comment about the cosseting luxury of the sports seats and the super sound system. That the system can rip and store up to 15 CDs will also garner some interest.
But it’s that big lined tub that will be the winner with most.
How does it compare?
It’s a market of two… Holden and Ford. Both are great driving, both look great, both can lug half a quarry around while towing a Collins Class submarine, and both are very sharply priced.
This car, Holden’s SS and SSV ute, like Ford’s stonkin’ XR6 Turbo ute, is an absolute performance-car bargain.
The Falcon may still have the edge for driving finesse and feel, the Holden the edge for style. But there is hardly the width of a tram ticket between them.
But until Ford's XR8 badge returns with the company's 'coyote' V8 underhood, Holden holds a distinct advantage over Ford on the V8 front.
How safe is it?
It may have work ute origins, but there is no lack of safety features. Hence the 5-Star ANCAP safety rating.
Brakes are discs all round, ventilated front and rear. Twin piston alloy front caliper and single piston alloy rear caliper (Redline models get Brembo stoppers as part of the package).
There is electronic stability control (ESC), anti-lock braking (ABS), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), electronic brake assist (EBA), and traction control. That’s enough acronyms to keep anyone happy.
The SS-V also comes with dual stage driver and passenger airbags, side impact airbags and curtain airbags.
SSV Ute manual, 12.3 l/100km (auto, 12.4 l/100km)
Three years or 100,000 kilometres, whichever comes first.
SSV Series II Ute manual $47,490 plus on-road costs and dealer delivery. For the auto, add $2000.
For the Redline addition, also add $2000.
You don’t need to spend long behind the wheel of the SSV to work out why so many Australian buyers love their performance utes.
For a start, the SSV is very fast. It also turns like a performance car should, and, if you like your creature comforts, there is a very un-tradesman-like luxurious feel to the leather-trimmed interior.
It also looks tough; its lines are better than simply good.
So, if you only need seating for two, and want muscle-car power and the versatility of that big tub in the back, at $47,490 the SSV Ute almost buys itself.
But it’s a lot more than just a potent two-door load-carrier. Holden’s VE Series II SSV Ute is a very well executed car and a genuinely good drive.
It is, as we commented earlier, a performance car bargain.