– Review by Karl Peskett – Photography by Tom Jakovljevic
So, the family needs a bit of urge. What do you buy? You could go out and buy another SUV, use it on the blacktop and never let its transmission work out what off-roading feels like.
I feel for those poor Haldex-style systems. Waiting to be used, and never realising their full potential. Rather than waste fuel lugging around pieces of the car which don’t ever get worked, why not dispense with the madness and just buy a stationwagon.
“A wagon?” I hear you cry. Well, it’s not an iPhone-esque yuppie chew toy like the faux-four-wheelies we see everywhere these days. However it’s spacious, practical, more wieldy, and just as safe.
These days, too, it’s also a design you’d be happy to be seen in. In the instance of the Holden Commodore Sportwagon it no longer looks like a rep’s car, either, and it doesn’t look like a hearse. In SS form, the Sportwagon, in this testers eyes at least, is quite an attractive vehicle.
The way that the rear slopes downwards certainly eats into the cargo space, but that’s the price you pay for not having a bloated backside that dominates the rest of the design. It also keeps the centre of gravity down, too, which means that the car handles fairly well.
The handling is still not to the sedan’s standards – having that much metal up top, it never would be – but it’s not bad at all. Probably the car’s biggest failing is that the rear suspension doesn’t quite match the front.
Going over speed bumps, or evenly spaced undulations, you can feel the back end heaving and wallowing a bit. It seems the damping is not up to par. Even when cornering, it’s the rear that rolls a bit more.
It’s not exactly dangerous, however it is a bit disconcerting. It’s also one of two real issues with this car, the other is the brakes.
Given that this has 6.0-litres of swept displacement, putting out 270kW and 530Nm, it’s capable of reaching some serious speed, and reasonably quickly, too. So why is it, then, that Holden chooses to fit its SS cars with brakes that are underdone?
In normal, day to day, stop start traffic they’re fine. Pedal feel is pretty good, progression is alright, except there’s not a lot of grab up front. You need to push a bit to get any result. However, one or two hard stops at freeway or highway speed and you can feel them fading off pretty quickly. A simple change of pad compound would probably help here, especially when the weight of this car is getting close to 1.9-tonnes.
Other than that, it’s a pretty good package, especially for a home-grown vehicle. Finally, too, the automatic has been fiddled with, until it shifts decently. It will still hesitate on kickdown occasionally, but there’s little clunk as was apparent in early versions of the six-speed.
Given the amount of torque available, too, it makes for a nice, smooth shift. Compared to the clunky manual, it would be worth ticking the auto box every time, considering you also get a tiptronic-style function with which you can change gears yourself.
As far as other control surfaces go, the steering is typical VE. Enough weight without being overbearing and nice feedback, although it doesn’t have the sharpness on turn-in of the SS-V with its 19-inch wheels and tyres. The larger alloys seem to endow the V with crisper feel, too, and unfortunately the SS also misses out on the V’s shapely wheel.
It’s not quite as chuckable, therefore, but it is still a family car. Having said that, the handling isn’t bad for a car of this size and weight. The VE Sportwagon also comes with one of the best stability programs available, too, giving you an excellent safety net.
Certainly on long sweeping country roads, the SS Sportwagon holds its own quite well. High speed stability is very good, too, which is reassuring if you’re hauling the wife and kids across the outback.
If you are going on a long haul, you’ll appreciate that the VE Sportwagon is one of the most spacious cars for the price around. Front seat room is excellent, but it’s the back seat that really impresses. Adults can stretch out with a minimum of fuss, and with the optional overhead DVD player, you can keep the back-half of the car entertained.
Even the boot, although not as big as previous wagons, is still very useable. There’s plenty of depth and width, it’s just the height that loses out. If you’re just wanting space, then the Falcon wagon’s got it covered. Drive a Falcon BFIII back to back with the VE Sportwagon and suddenly you’ve come out of the cave, stood erect and started using tools and building things.
Sadly the interior is getting left behind these days. The masses of dark grey are not lifted by the occasional alloy-look trim, and the centre console plastic is starting to feel very cheap.
The seats bound in leather are very comfortable though, and with the bolstering, are quite nice in comparison to other wagon’s lower down in the range. We must also make mention of the Bluetooth.
Jumping in and out of press cars every week, you get to see how long it takes to hook up your Bluetooth. In some cars you end up giving up – the Volvo V70 is a good example – and in others it takes a good five minutes to pair, enter the codes and wait for the system to realise the phone is there.
Not so, the SS Sportwagon. There’s no need to switch the Bluetooth on in the car – it’s permanently activated. So, hop in, ask your phone to find the device, enter the code, and you’re done. It took us all of about 15 seconds. It’s also very clear.
If you’ve got a budget for fuel (as this motor can be VERY thirsty with an enthusiastic right hoof – think 18’s and above), the SS Sportwagon is a nice package. It’s not perfect – no Australian car ever is – but there are things you can be fond of.
The engine makes such a good, deep, rumbly V8 noise that it’s hard not to take an instant liking to it. It gets up and goes for such a heavy car. It’s smooth, comfortable, spacious, rides quite well on 18s, and handles reasonably, too.
Here’s what the SS Sportwagon boils down to: If the family’s got the urge to feel a surge, then you’re going to have to splurge.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: