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The new 2014 Holden Ute Storm marks the first time the meteorologically-inspired special edition badge has graced a Commodore-based utility since its introduction on the VZ back in 2005. And headlined by boosted equipment levels and model-specific features, the new VF-based product promises to pack quite a punch, particularly in SS guise.
Available from $35,990 driveaway for the SV6 variant (if sold and delivered before July 31), our Perfect Blue six-speed manual Holden Ute SS Storm starts at $39,990 – the six-speed automatic bumping things up to $42,190.
Mirroring the added spec bestowed on Commodore sedan and Sportwagon Storm models, the SS Storm ute comes standard with satellite navigation, unique 18-inch alloy wheels and exterior ‘Storm’ badging.
Fog lights previously reserved for SS V Series and SS V Series Redline also join the standard ute’s LED daytime running lights, while red interior stitching highlights and a ‘Storm’-stamped dash pad help tie the special edition together.
Costing $500 more than the standard SS ute, the SS Storm is powered by the same effortlessly torquey 6.0-litre V8.
Developing 270kW at 5600rpm and 530Nm at 4400rpm in manual specification, the engine is up 10kW and 13Nm on its six-speed auto trim.
But while the VF’s ‘improved’ noise suppression and refinement do far too good a job of hushing and muffling the iconic Aussie muscle car’s trademark V8 note, the engine is no less impressive.
Smooth and linear in its delivery, the big eight ensures the Holden Ute SS Storm is able to complete all but the most demanding of tasks with its rev counter needle never having to go north of 2000rpm.
Not even a slight exaggeration, driven sedately in everyday traffic, the V8 Storm is more than content barely ticking over at around 1250rpm.
And though the SS Storm’s quad exhausts remain relatively subdued – even when hunting down the engine’s 6000rpm rev limit – the ute will happily coast along at 100km/h in sixth gear at 1500rpm.
Unfortunately, even driving in a more socially acceptable manner can’t mask the large-capacity V8’s substantial thirst. Claiming 11.5 litres per 100km on the spec sheet (regardless of transmission), our 1720kg Holden Ute SS Storm recorded a 15.8L/100km on-test average with a best of 10.8L/100km – the latter achieved after a very cautious and accidental drive through some snow-dusted Victorian alpine roads.
On the plus side, it can be run on significantly cheaper but less commonly found E85 fuel (85 per cent ethanol-based).
Teamed with an easy to use, if a little bitey, clutch, the meaty gearbox is a slightly mixed bag.
Solid and sturdy in feel, the heavy shifting ‘box brings confidence, however, each gear change is also accompanied by an aural notification coming from beneath the car as the mechanicals do their work.
Not a sports car? Try telling that to the SS Storm ute.
Far from the traditional ute concept aimed at tradies and the like and attached to too much power and a loose rear end, when it comes to throttle response and balance, the VF Holden Ute SS Storm is more on-par with the previous generation E92 BMW M3. It’s simply sublime.
Prod the right pedal and engine surge is sharp and punchy, with any lift translated equally as quickly.
The Storm’s impressive chassis balance too is sweetly complimented by its harmonious blend of available power and copious grip – the latter provided by 245mm-wide Bridgestone Potenzas.
Even when pushing hard with an empty tray, the Storm’s front end turns in sharply enough, while the multi-link independent rear end only ever requires special consideration when throttle inputs sent to its limited-slip rear differential are clearly at odds with the conditions.
And while the SS-based ute offers only ‘On’ or ‘Off’ in the electronic stability control stakes, the system performs exceptionally well, particularly on wet or snow-covered roads.
Again appreciated when traversing cold, wet and snowy gravel roads, the Storm’s brakes are another strong point.
Not quite as large as the Brembo package fitted to the $48,490 SS V Redline ute, the SS Storm’s two-piston caliper front, single-piston rear set-up is amply capable and consistent. It’s also linked to a delightfully progressive pedal.
In keeping with most VF product these days, the modeless electro-mechanical steering is a joy and has plenty to show a substantial number of more premium marques reliant on variable systems.
Nicely weighted and full of positive feedback, the steering suits low speed manoeuvring as much as high-speed kilometre eating.
The Storm ute’s 11.6m turning circle, however, can prove challenging in tighter situations but is far from a major draw back.
Riding on the standard SS ute’s firmer sports suspension, the Storm is more heavily damped (firmer) in the rear than its 27kg heavier four-door compatriot and has heavier shocks and stiffer springs. And the combination works a treat.
The SS Storm brilliantly balances impressive levels of comfort and composure over everything from speed humps to road joins – only harsh cracks and man hole covers alert drivers to what’s below – while still providing little body roll and responsive direction changes.
The other big VF draw card, alongside suspension and steering upgrades, is interior quality.
Highlights of the Storm include comfortable and supportive ‘Sportec’ and ‘Kenetic Suede’ sport bucket seats, a nicely sized and shaped leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and Holden’s 8.0-inch touchscreen-based MyLink infotainment system.
Additional gloss black, faux carbon and chrome inserts all help to boost cabin feel, though, can’t be matched by the smattering of hard and scratchy trim and a low-rent plastic instrument binnacle hood.
Thanks to its handy reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, auto-parking function, blind-spot monitoring and voice commands, tech, however, wins plenty of brownie points.
Fast and intuitive sat-nav and Bluetooth phone pairing functionality – both of which can both be accessed when moving – also make life easy, though, an on-test MyLink lock-up did force one complete unit reset.
Annoyingly, given the four-speaker stereo outputs great sound quality and volume, any music streamed from a Bluetooth device will not auto-play upon returning to the vehicle – meaning a scan back through audio sources every time you get back in.
On a more practical note – it is a ute after all – the Holden Ute SS Storm’s 1600kg maximum braked towing capacity matches that of the $800 cheaper and 3Nm more torquey Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo equivalent.
And while the Ford continues to employ a leaf-sprung rear axle, the SS's 665kg payload (651kg for the auto) is up on its rival's 545kg rating. The entire Holden Ute line-up also boasts trailer sway control and hill start assist as standard.
The Holden’s tray also measures 1900mm long by 1200mm wide with a depth of 500mm (to tray top but 550mm to soft tonneau cover supports).
Taking the soft tonneau cover off is twice as easy as putting it back on, but both can be performed in a matter seconds.
The only catch, like all non-lockable alternatives, is that it also brings with it inevitable security concerns.
But while there has long been argument about the practicality of a ute compared to say a two-door coupe, the SS Storm offers stacks of room behind the seats and has plenty of smart storage areas including door pockets, cut-outs, cup holders and a rubber-topped centre console bin.
Plus, a two-door coupe will seem significantly less ‘practical’ when you want to shift dirt, sand, rocks, rubbish, tools or a fridge…
The Holden Ute SS Storm may be asking for more coin than its donor car and may not be quite as headline grabbing as the 340kW/570Nm HSV Maloo R8 SV we tested last year. But for more than $33k less, it’s a polished, dynamic and vastly capable package that’s hard to go past in Australia’s increasingly limited ute segment.