Performance utes such as the HSV Maloo R8 are a quintessentially Australian beast. Up there with Vegemite and Aussie rules football, people not from our great land often can’t quite understand our local passion for them.
With the new Gen-F version now unleashed, though, it might just prove to be the perfect conduit.
At $68,290 the HSV Maloo R8 is the flagship ute in Holden Special Vehicle’s range. Cheaper than the model it replaces by $210, it’s also $9300 more than the standard Maloo.
With our Sting red test car fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission ($2000) and the exclusive ‘R8 SV Enhanced’ package ($4995), the total rises to $75,285.
For the extra spend, the SV pack adds 20-inch Satin Graphite SV Performance forged alloy wheels, black plastic fender vents and black side mirror caps. It also boosts power and torque of the R8’s already uprated 325kW/550Nm naturally aspirated 6.2-litre ‘LS3’ V8 by 15kW and 20Nm thanks to a new bi-modal air intake.
That means the rear-wheel-drive ute gets a total output of 340kW at 6100rpm and 570Nm at 4650rpm. That’s more than the supercharged FPV Pursuit Ute, and V8 performance car greats such as the BMW M3 and Audi R8.
Much of the Maloo R8’s standard equipment is shared with the base 317kW/550Nm Maloo, including front and rear parking sensors, automatic park assist, automatic headlights, LED daytime running lights, blind spot assist and an electric park brake. Cruise control, dual-zone climate control and a six-speaker audio system with USB/AUX inputs and iPod integration are also common to both.
The same eight-inch, high-resolution touchscreen seen in the Holden VF Commodore also joins the list. Coming with Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, it integrates satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, and the display for the standard reversing camera.
Additionally the new R8 gains a head-up display, lane departure warning, forward collision alert and rain-sensing wipers, as well as a remote-locking hard tonneau cover and HSV performance sail plane.
The R8’s Electronic Driver Interface (EDI) is carried over from the preceding model, now displaying interactive mapping for the bi-modal exhaust, bi-modal air intake and stability control functions via an app on the MyLink system. While providing entertaining and interesting information, the EDI app’s lower resolution looks poor compared with the rest of the MyLink graphics.
As good as the previous VE-based E Series Maloo R8 was – and it was very good –the latest HSV Maloo R8 marks the biggest milestone in the utility’s almost 23-year history.
Based on the upgraded Holden VF Commodore platform, the new Gen-F range of HSVs were developed by the Melbourne-based firm alongside Holden – in a first for both brands – rather than being transformed into HSV products after the Commodore’s completion.
Inside, the Gen-F Maloo R8 has clearly benefited from the huge leap forward already seen in the VF range.
Soft-touch materials on top of the instrument binnacle and on the gear lever work cohesively with suede and piano black inserts on the dash, doors and centre console. Harder plastics on the dash-top are offset by silver and carbonfibre-look trim highlights that combine for a sporty ambience that avoids being tacky.
What does feel somewhat aftermarket, however, is the twin oil pressure and battery voltage gauge pod located between the easy-to-use climate control dials and the centre console-mounted ‘R8’ model ID plate. Not soundly secured, the pod moves easily if poked or prodded and is accompanied by very Fast and Furious-style blue lighting.
The flat-bottom steering wheel is chunky in the hands – despite being dimensionally smaller than before – with well-defined thumb cut-outs that complement intelligently placed audio, phone and cruise control buttons.
There’s adequate space for backpacks and laptop bags behind the manually adjustable HSV-branded black leather and suede seats, as well as small, netted pockets. A lack of a quick-release mechanism common in two-door hatches, though, means drivers are forced to reset their driving position every time the rear space is accessed.
The HSV Maloo misses out, too, on the eight-way electrically adjustable driver and passenger seats standard on the Clubsport and Clubsport R8. Supportive and heavily bolstered, though, and with power-adjustable lumbar support, the seats still do a solid job of holding both driver and passenger in place, even when travelling at pace (an exceptionally easy thing to do in this vehicle).
From an initial bark on start-up, the V8 settles into a throbbing 600rpm idle. Though the raw figures of the unit are attractive, as is the deep, smirk-inducing growl emanated from the R8’s bi-modal quad-pipe exhaust, the engine’s sheer grunt and flexibility impresses the most.
Cruising around town at 60km/h, there’s very little need to see much above 2000rpm with the R8 happy to sit at about 1200rpm. A light squeeze of the throttle is all that’s required to complete overtaking manoeuvres.
Even at 80km/h the needle is rarely excited past 1500rpm. Driving like this returns fuel figures of about 13.4 litres per 100km, not far off the R8’s claimed 12.9L/100km (HSV claims 12.6L/100km for the manual).
Once the road clears and the revs rise, though, the Maloo R8 simply surges.
By 4000rpm the thrust is just as brutal as the exhaust note. While still very much linear in its delivery, the V8’s push is unwavering, not letting up until you either lift your right foot or hit the 6500rpm rev limit.
Driving this enthusiastically results in fuel figures of about 20.7L/100km – though our nearly 240km test loop, comprising varying road and traffic types, netted an average figure of 19.9L/100km.
Spirited driving also results, inevitably, in encouraging more of the same. Helping the cause is the Maloo’s excellent six-speed automatic gearbox. Thankfully employing Holden’s proven Active Select ‘Sport’ mode wizardry – seen in the VF Commodore and Holden Cruze SRi – the ‘box selects the correct gear at the correct time, again and again.
Equally confidence-inspiring are the R8’s AP brakes. Comprising 367mm ventilated discs and forged four-piston calipers (front and rear), the strong brakes, linked to a firm yet progressive pedal, continue to impress even after repeated heavy stops in the 1795kg Ute.
The electro-mechanical steering, too, is superb. Weighted slightly heavier than in the luxury-biased Holden VF Calais, it’s consistent from centre to full lock and remains sharp and accurate providing loads of feedback even when tackling corners of varying speeds and radii.
And it’s here that the apparently humble utility reveals its ultimate party trick: grip.
Working in tandem with the limited-slip differential, astonishing traction from the 255mm front/275mm rear 35-profile Continental tyres allows drivers to fully exploit the thumping V8 under the bonnet and take full advantage of HSV’s composed, compliant and well-balanced Performance suspension.
The Maloo R8 competently covers ground at pace without getting unsettled or knocked off-line by road imperfections of differing degrees. It stays flat over big undulations and rides more subtly than any car on 20-inch rims has any right to.
Road joins, potholes and cat eyes are still felt in the cabin and through the steering wheel but there is no shuddering through the body that can occur in some VF-based Holden sedans.
Even over wet, pockmarked roads the R8 is planted enough to be let off the lead via the Driver Preference Dial (DPD). Allowing adjustment of the stability and traction control systems, as well as influencing steering weight and the bi-modal exhaust, DPD offers three driver modes – ‘Tour’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Performance’ – to be selected at any given time. A launch control function is also included in the system but only accompanies manual transmission models.
It’s not all snags and slabs for the Maloo, though.
The Ute’s low ride height requires drivers to have patience and a basic understanding of trigonometry before tackling steep driveways and poor rear, and over the shoulder vision – due to the low seating position and performance sail plane – ensures reliance on the electronic driver aids are a must. Removal of the R8’s hard tonneau cover is also a two-person task.
HSV’s capped-price servicing program helps running costs, with the first four nine-month/15,000km scheduled services fixed at $220 per service – service costs thereafter are determined by individual dealers. Totalling $880 for the first 60,000km, the Maloo R8 comes in $1655 cheaper to service than the FPV Pursuit Ute over the same period (though the FPV includes one additional service).
Previous Maloos have already found a cult following in the UK – where some HSVs have become rebadged Vauxhalls – but other foreign countries, including the US, are missing out on an extraordinarily well-sorted performance option.