The iconic Holden Commodore SS Ute. Ownership of this prized possession has become all but a right of passage for young tradies with a passion for Holden V8s offering a bucket full of testosterone.
Mind you, with an entry-level price of just over $42,000 (before on-road costs) for the latest SS Z-Series ute it doesn’t exactly fall into the budget basket.
But the relatively humble Holden Commodore SS Ute is still the least expensive option in the Holden V8 range, with its Commodore SS sedan stable mate commanding a sizeable $5500 premium.
Rival car maker Ford doesn’t do an equivalent V8-powered Falcon ute (unless you step up to the pricier FPV range), but the Falcon XR6 Turbo lines up on the same grid at a slightly more attractive $39,190 (before on-road costs).
While the Ford is powered by a turbocharged 4.0-litre six-cylinder engine generating 270kW of power and 533Nm of torque, Holden’s naturally aspirated 6.0-litre V8 packs an almost identical punch with the same 270kW - making slightly less torque than the Ford, at 530Nm.
However, there’s nothing humble about a Holden Commodore Ute with a stomping 6.0-litre V8 under the bonnet. The SS rumbles and shakes at the lights, and it roars on the fly.
If you want all this V8 has to offer, though, you’ll need the six-speed manual, which pushes out marginally more grunt than the auto (up 10kW and 13Nm).
The downside of opting for the manual is that you lose the fuel-saving benefits of Holden’s Active Fuel Management (AFM), which given this vehicle’s propensity for gulping petrol might be worth consideration.
That said, there’s a difference of just 0.1L/100km, with the average combined fuel consumption falling from a claimed 12.4L/100km to 12.3L/100km.
We found the real-world fuel consumption to average out at quite a bit more - at 18L/100km. However, the SS Ute has flexi-fuel capability, meaning it can run on bio-ethanol, E10, unleaded and premium fuels.
The Holden Commodore SS Ute is unashamedly a blokey kind of car, at least in manual guise, as tested here.
The clutch is heavy and the shifter requires no small amount of elbow grease to lock it into the selected gear ratios. But you get used to it, and in some strange way you even feel better for it - like an unscheduled visit to the gym.
Drop the throttle in the SS Ute and the big V8 winds up to a delicious throaty roar that’s not quite V8 Supercar loud, but it’s getting there.
Actually, there’s less of the engine note coming into the cabin these days than what we got through the firewall on previous models, given the vast improvements in insulation on the Holden Commodore VE Series II Ute range.
While there’s a lot of torque available from almost anywhere in the rev range, it’s a lazy V8 that’s quite happy to cruise around in fifth and sixth without the need to shift back a gear or two for moderate-grade hills.
Apply full throttle and the SS Ute is anything but lazy. Quick escapes from standing starts are particularly satisfying. You’ll dump first and second gear reasonably quickly, then grab third for terrific in-gear acceleration bursts.
Although Holden doesn’t publish actual performance data for its vehicles, we’ve seen acceleration times for the Holden Commodore SS sedan with manual transmission at 5.3 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint and 13.5 seconds for the quarter-mile.
High-speed overtaking is consequently an effortless event for the SS Ute - again, the result of 530Nm of torque on tap from just 4400rpm.
Holden has made massive strides in recent years with handling and ride competency with the ute, especially with the high-powered SS variety.
There were times not so long ago when a light tickle of the throttle out of a corner in your SS V8 Ute would have had the rear wheels scurrying for grip with all sorts of dramatic remedial action required to keep the car straight. But these days, things have settled down nicely.
Unless drivers make the conscious effort to switch off the ute’s electronic stability program, there is little if any chance of the rear end stepping out - even with medium-to-heavy throttle work - such is the level of body control this vehicle displays.
By all means, turn the system off for some track day fun, but even then you’ll need to work hard to loosen up the rear tyres.
It’s a similarly positive experience when it comes to the SS Ute’s handling; it’s all very well behaved and that’s with only a light load in the tray. There’s some initial tip on turn in, but only if you’re pushing.
Even then, it remains steadfastly composed during quick changes of direction.
The ride is a pleasant surprise. There’s no harshness or crashing over speed humps and potholes. Even mid-corner bumps won’t unsettle the ute. This is a well-sprung, well-damped, sophisticated multi-link suspension system – that contrasts with the usual leaf-spring set-ups of commercial utes – that rewards with a high level of suppleness and comfort over any road surface.
We’re not fans of the standard-spec skinny, boat-size steering wheel, though, which seems out of place in what amounts to a sports coupe.
Buyers can tick an option box for an extra-thick HSV sports steering wheel if they feel that need to grip something more substantial and certainly more in keeping with the SS image.
Braking is solid from the SS Ute’s standard ventilated disc brakes, although by stepping up to the $47,490 SS-V model ute you’ll get the more powerful Brembo brake package.
Styling-wise the stock Holden Commodore SS Ute is the pick of the bunch. Aggressive but not overstated, and just enough macho with the extra-wide front wheel arches, 19-inch alloy wheels and the signature quad exhaust outlets to stand out in the crowd.
When Holden released the Z-Series in May 2012, the SV and SS Ute range picked up 19-inch alloy wheels, leather bolstered seats, Z-Series mats and badges. The SS-V added Brembo brakes (up front) and FE3 sports suspension.
There’s a ton of room in the tray, too. Long enough for a 7ft paddleboard and with plenty of width. The cargo tray measures about 1208 litres of volume from floor to the soft tonneau, which our test vehicle was fitted with.
You can get a more secure hard cover for the SS Ute, but that will set you back about $3000.
Inside there’s more luggage room. This reviewer managed to squeeze two medium-size suitcases behind the driver and passenger seats on top of the usual cubbyholes such as door pockets and the centre console bin.
The wide leather-bolstered buckets are superbly comfortable and offer armchair-like padding. The downside to the extra width is that there’s too much room to move around during cornering.
There’s the odd piece of nasty plastic inside the cabin, particularly the odd-shaped handbrake lever and centre-stack frame, but overall the range and shade of materials is pleasing on the eye and nice to touch.
Standard kit in the Holden Commodore SS Ute includes Holden’s iQ system with 6.5-inch touch screen, Bluetooth phone and music streaming (easy to pair), dual-zone electronic climate control, four-way electric driver’s seat, cruise control and six-speaker sound system.
Armed with a five-star ANCAP safety rating, the SS Ute ticks almost all the boxes when it comes to life-saving devices. There are six airbags, electronic stability control incorporating traction control, anti-locking brake system with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.
The glaring omission is the lack of a reverse camera or even rear parking sensors for the SS Ute. That’s an issue - particularly as rear vision isn’t great with the soft tonneau impeding some field of view.
While there are few downsides to the updated Holden Commodore SS Ute, it’s easy to see why they offer such wide appeal to the target audience.
It’s fast, looks the business, handles and rides well, has a great engine note, offers plenty of kit and is sufficiently practical