With Australia being home to one of the world's most competitive new-car markets, it's not often you come across a car or model that can genuinely be referred to as 'peerless'. But in the case of the last-ever locally-produced Holden Ute, the term couldn't be more apt.
Unequalled, unrivalled, unmatched, unparalleled. Since the last Ford Falcon ute left the Blue Oval's Broadmeadows production line on July 29, 2016, the Holden Ute has been 'it' when it comes to buying a traditional utility. Not a pickup, not a dual-cab 'lifestyle ute’, but a proper, two-door 'bogan's coupe'.
With time short, then, let's not muck about.
The car you see pictured here is the 2017 Holden Ute SS V Redline.
Equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, our SS V Redline starts at $54,690 (before on-road costs), or $550.00 dearer thanks to its hero ‘Light My Fire’ bronze paint – a finish strikingly reminiscent of Holden’s Tiger Mica hue, seen on the Series II VT Commodore and VX Commodore-based VU ute, and one of three new metallic paint colours released for 2017, along with the retina-searing ‘Spitfire Green’ and classy ‘Son of a Gun Grey’.
More of a mild refresh than a conventional ‘update’, for 2017, the SS V Redline Holden Ute gains new gloss-black highlights for its grille, fender vents, and daytime-running light surrounds, new gloss-black mirror caps, and new ‘Jade Black’ interior treatments.
The tidy black sports bar seen on the reimagined 2015 Sandman Ute has also now been tacked onto the back of the SS V Redline ute for its final year of production.
Now, two things worth noting about the MY17 Holden Ute line-up: the mid-spec SS V has been dropped, as has the sturdy GM manual transmission from all V6-powered variants – so if you want a stick, you’re getting the eight.
Luckily, with our test car proudly wearing its ‘LS3 6.2-litre V8’ badge, that’s just what we have here… albeit partnered with Holden’s six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. For shame.
The good news? Opt for the LS3 engine and you get 304kW of power at 6000rpm and 570Nm of torque at 4400rpm. The bad news? The big V8 ain’t what you’d call ‘efficient’, with the Local Lion claiming 12.9 litres per 100km on the combined cycle (a far cry from the much more reasonable 12.8L/100km if you go with the six-speed manual).
With changes minimal, the usual suspects are still there.
There’s a push-button start (if you choose to ignore the gimmickry of a remote-start function), LED daytime running lights, automatic projector headlights and rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, an 8.0-inch MyLink infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation, in-built apps, and support for Siri Eyes Free, and a highly capable six-speaker stereo with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming capability, and voice control.
Technology is decent, with a multi-mode head-up display joined by a rear-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as front and rear parking sensors, semi-automatic park assist, an adjustable forward-collision alert system, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring.
Keeping the loved ones happy – and safe – is a five-star ANCAP safety rating, six airbags, electronic stability control (with ‘Competitive mode’), trailer-sway control, tyre pressure monitoring, and an electric parking brake with hill-start assist.
Keeping owners happy and mates jealous, the top-spec SS ute also comes with 19-inch alloy wheels (8.5-inches-wide up front and 9.0-inches-wide out back), four-piston Brembo brakes all around, a limited-slip rear differential, Holden’s ‘FE3’ ultra-sports suspension with sports tuned springs and dampers, and a bi-modal quad-exit exhaust with a mechanical sound enhancer.
Inside, drivers get to enjoy super-comfy and highly supportive leather-appointed sports seats (with power-height and -lumbar adjustment), a reach- and rake-adjustable leather-wrapped multi-function sports profile steering wheel, a leather-wrapped gear selector, and alloy sports pedals.
From the second you wake the beast under the bonnet, the revs rise, and the post-start up burbling stops, there’s a lot about the latest Holden Ute to make you smile. That said, it’s important to call out some negatives first up.
We’ve previously called out the SS V Redline’s stiffer ‘FE3’ suspension for being significantly firmer than the expertly well-measured, and far more supple, ‘FE2’ suspension found beneath the regular SS.
Although its standard 19-inch wheels – with relatively low-profile rubber (40-aspect front, 35-aspect rear) – don’t likely aid the cause, the Redline package is notably fidgety and busy around town, when negotiating tram track-riddled suburban roads and the like, and can even be a bit ‘thumpy’ in the rear over speed humps.
With various road imperfections near-on constantly translated through the wheel and into the cabin, the setup can, depending on your regular route to and from work, make for a potentially tiresome experience.
But, while the incessant shimmying from one pothole to the next can be frustrating at times, even harsher hits aren’t often enough to shift the 5081mm-long, 1898mm-wide ute off its line, or ever make the ride feel skittish or brittle.
For the record, it’s not something we’d consider to be a deal breaker, in this case, however, it is our role to call these things out to potential buyers.
Along with the SS V Redline’s less forgiving suspension, some other previously noted foibles again made themselves known over our week with the 2017-spec car.
Key among these was the occasionally glitchy MyLink infotainment system – Bluetooth failing to re-connect and stream music without issue, as well as buttons or the touchscreen itself locking out and freezing up – and the somewhat restricted vision that is part and parcel of driving a car without back seats and (useful) rear windows.
Although a V8-powered Holden Ute is most definitely a car you just want to sink the boot into pretty much all the time – because it sounds so good and is far too much fun – if you can restrict any juvenile tendencies long enough to drive conservatively for a significant amount of time, the big V8 offers so much low-down torque, that ‘normal’ daily driving can be comfortably handled without ever exceeding 1500rpm. Which is nice.
Be warned, however: even the most conscientious driving and diligent throttle use can’t mask the V8’s impressive thirst.
To be fair, constantly hammer a relatively archaic 6.2-litre pushrod eight-cylinder engine and, yeah, it’s going to drink fuel. But on test, while we averaged 14.0L/100km, we saw highs beyond 20L/100km and lows of 7.7L/100km.
A clear standout of the Holden, though, is its excellent six-speed automatic transmission.
Smooth, smart, and never suffering from any of the sort of hesitation commonly attached to the majority of dual-clutch DSG-style transmissions out there, the auto ‘box responds well to throttle inputs, and always ensures a quick and tidy traffic-light take-off.
There to help rather than hinder, even die-hard manual drivers can appreciate how clever and easy the transmission is.
Leave it in ‘Drive’ for consistent and reliable trouble-free shifts, or flick the lever across to ‘Sport’ for an even more responsive and proactive calibration – the gearbox intuitively gearing down while you’re braking on the approach to a corner, for example.
And, cleverly, while a great number of ‘sports cars’ tend to drop back a couple of gears and flare the revs up the second you select ‘Sport’ mode, the Holden only makes you aware of the mode change once you up the pace, meaning no unnecessary buzzing of the tower. Of course, if you want to feel more involved, there’s also the paddle shifters.
On the freeway at 100km/h at 1800rpm, a bit of wind noise and some road noise are both present, but overall, the cabin insulates and cocoons its occupants better than a traditional workhorse vehicle probably ever has. No rattles, no creaks. Just a planted, solid, and secure feeling that, in this thing, long-distance miles would be no issue at all.
The super-comfortable seats are top-notch – if no doubt built for those perhaps a little wider of frame – with good support, shape, and bolstering, and plenty of under-thigh support. The only real catch is, because they are a wider, broader seat, those slighter of build may find themselves sliding around in them a touch, particularly as cornering speeds and driver enthusiasm increase.
Overall, given it’s been four years since the VF Commodore first broke cover, fit and finish inside isn’t bad. The mix of chrome, gloss-black, and suede trims is positive, however, they are accompanied by a decent smattering of harder, scratchier plastics, and some more budget-feeling switchgear.
All instruments and controls are clear, simple, and easy to read and use. Storage is addressed by a good-sized centre console bin and glovebox, two cup holders, narrow but useful door pockets, an additional storage space below the centre stack, and a roof-mounted sunglasses holder. Larger items can be tucked in behind the seats, and recharging devices can be done via two 12-volt outlets or a sole USB input.
Being a ute, after all, it’s also good to know that the Holden’s 1.9m-long, 1.2m-wide, and 0.5m-deep tray – coated as standard in a protective high-density polyethylene tub liner – is rated to carry up to 632kg of payload (646kg for manual models), while the car’s maximum braked towing capacity is 1600kg (750kg unbraked).
Head out of the city and onto some better quality blacktop, and all (or at least most) of the Redline’s firm-riding faults are forgotten.
Find yourself on the right sequence of corners and the whole grin-inducing package comes into its own, the big boy SS staying flat, willing, and composed – even when encountering nasty mid-corer ruts.
Helped by its well-sorted multi-link independent rear end, even when pushing on, the SS V Redline Holden Ute remains controllable, agile, and communicative, equally welcoming changes of direction as much as spirited enthusiasm.
Teamed with good front-end turn in, the Holden’s electric-assisted constant-ratio rack and pinion power steering, while quite light, presents drivers with a quality balance of accuracy, response, and feedback.
Unintentionally ‘tested’, with the assistance of some overly-friendly local wildlife (it survived and so did the car), the SS V Redline’s Brembo brake package is able to deliver serious stopping power. Attached to a beautifully natural and linear brake pedal, the setup makes modulation easy, while providing loads of confidence.
Speaking of which, the Holden Ute’s three-year/100,000km warranty might be a step behind some market leaders in the area these days, but, owners do get the piece-of-mind of one year roadside assistance and lifetime capped-priced servicing – with scheduled services required every 15,000km or nine months (whichever occurs first) and costing $239.00 per service for the first three years of ownership or up to 60,000km.
However you view the end of local production in Australia, the 2017 Holden Ute is the final page of a book that began its story more than 66 years ago, with the Holden 50-2106 coupe utility of 1951. Emotional? Bloody oath. And praise for a Holden Ute at this point in the model’s life cycle risks being clouded in sentimentality rather than objective fact.
Well, while a ute might not be everyone's cup of tea – it might not suit your family or your lifestyle – all Australians should feel a challenging mix of pride and sadness as this amazing era in Australian motoring draws to a close. No one else in the world is making a 304kW, rear-wheel-drive ute at the moment. And, come October 20, no one in the world will be.
Thirst, firm ride, and occasionally buggy infotainment aside, the 2017 Holden Ute SS V Redline is simply a lovely car to drive and enjoy. It’s flexible enough to drive sedately every day, with an abundance of meaty torque available from bugger-all revs, yet, it’s also dynamic, capable, and entertaining enough to easily affix a smile to your face within seconds behind the wheel.
So, while it may have its flaws, if you dig a ute as much as we do, go and get one before they're all well and truly gone.
Click the Photos tab for more 2017 Holden Ute SS V Redline images by Tom Fraser.