The Commodore name may be living on but the Holden Ute passes away officially on 20October when production of that most Australian of icons end.
And uncertainty surrounding the future of Nissan’s legendary Z-series means the 370Z Nismo could be the last hurrah for a lineage that runs back nearly 50 years – to the original, 1969 Datsun 240Z.
So, this left-field, non-traditional comparison line-up is a potential double swansong for two cars that also have more in common that you might initially think.
Firstly, the tray-backed Commodore is still technically a coupe – it’s just Australia’s distinctive take on one. Both are front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layouts. Both are two-seaters. Both feature torquey, vee-angled engines free of turbochargers, albeit one with eight cylinders and one with six.
The SS-V Redline Ute is part of the last-of-the-line VFII range introduced in late 2015 and given a mild, final tickle at the start of 2017 for its final year on the assembly line.
With the SS-V variant now dropped, your V8 Ute choice is a simple one between the SS and SS-V Redline. Some extra features have been added, though both get price hikes over their 2015 release stickers. The SS now costs $3000 more (from $43,990) and the latter is priced $2000 higher (from $54,990).
The SS now features a head-up display, navigation and 19-inch alloy wheels. The Redline adopts black trim for the grille, front-guard vents, side mirrors and daytime running light surrounds, plus a black sports bar and ‘V’ sill plates. Our test car was also painted in a new Light My Fire – including the doors, appropriately! – which is a nod to Holden’s classic burnt-orange.
Both SS Utes are powered by the ‘LS3’ 6.2-litre V8, but the Redline’s $9500 premium brings extras such as leather-accented upholstery (instead of Sportec/suede), Brembo rear brakes (fronts only on SS), stiffer suspension, forward collision alert and lane departure warning.
The Nissan 370Z Nismo is an even bigger jump over the ‘regular’ model in terms of its standard gear.
The exterior gains a host of Nismo parts: aerodynamic body kit, new front and rear fascias, rear spoiler, and 19-inch “super-lightweight” forged aluminium RAYS wheels – wrapped in track-worthy Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 600 rubber.
Increased body rigidity stems from a three-point front strut tower brace, and body vibrations are said to be tempered by front and rear performance body dampers.
Inside, leather-accented Recaro front seats are joined by an Alcantara/leather steering wheel, red interior stitching, black-out vent surrounds, and a Nismo tachometer.
And to ensure it’s about go as well as show, Nismo engineers have ramped up the Z’s springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, beefed-up the brake lines and brake fluid (but with the same brake system), and tuned the dual exhaust.
The newly designed exhaust, along with an engine software tweak, is responsible for lifting the 370Z’s 3.7-litre aluminium V6 outputs by the number eight for both power and torque: now 252kW and 371Nm.
Think we can safely say the Nismo justifies its $61,490 starting price despite the standard 370Z being dropped below $50K, to $49,990.
We hit the road in the Holden first. All-round vision isn’t great. The view over your right shoulder is severely limited by the thick door pillar, and tiny side mirrors don’t help watching out for vehicles coming up from the side (so the blind spot system is welcome). The rear view is good despite that long tray out back.
But when you stir the big V8 up front into action, it’s all about the front view anyway. And the last of the Holden V8s – at least for now – is a cracker.
Tractable off idle, linear, and responsive to even small applications of right-foot pressure, the 6.2-litre is also a willing revver to ensure the variant name is no misnomer. It comes complete with an old-school sound – especially great above 3000rpm, and enhanced by a bi-model exhaust (and Mechanical Sound Enhancer).
It’s literally a crying shame this engine is going to disappear into the ether (at least as far as this country is concerned).
It takes a toll on the wallet, though. Our paddle-shifter-equipped-auto test car is fractionally better than the manual on the official fuel consumption scorecard, but it’s still thirsty at 12.8 litres per 100km. And that’s an optimistic figure, especially considering how the V8 tempts you to use it in a purposeful manner.
The theoretical range is 550km with the Ute’s 71-litre tank; expect closer to 350km if you enjoy driving.
And enjoyment is derived from more than just the engine.
While you’ll still be able to buy a Holden ute, a leaf-sprung, high-riding Colorado just isn’t the same as the multi-linked, car-based SS-V when it comes to quality steering, good ride comfort, and composed handling.
The FE3 Ultra Sport tune of the SS-V Redline’s suspension can feel a little too stiff for bumpy country roads, and getting the V8’s 304kW/570Nm to the ground cleanly isn’t always achievable. This author, at least, prefers the extra suppleness of the SS’s FE2 Sport set-up, though the Redline never becomes unmanageable.
Just don’t be a lead-foot. The SS-V Redline Ute steers with rewarding poise along flowing, curving roads, but the inherent lightness of its back end means mid-corner patience is a necessity if you’re looking to keep things neat, tidy and quick.
The Nissan 370Z Nismo is a vastly different experience, of course, despite the many similarities between the two vehicles we set out earlier.
With dramatically more compact dimensions and more balanced weight distribution (53:47), the stubby, harder-core Z inevitably feels more agile and confidence-inspiring, especially in tighter stuff.
If you wanted to compare it to the conceptually similar but much more expensive Cayman, the Nismo doesn’t have the Porsche’s compliance – so it can also struggle to get all the power you’ve requested to the bitumen and it tends to bully its way across pockmarked surfaces where the Cayman waltzes.
But it’s never unsettled, and it suits the character of a car that – also benefitting from wider tracks and wider rear rubber over the regular Z – feels very much like a track car that’s been made road legal.
The Alcantara your hands grip on the steering wheel contributes to this sense. But more to love about the steering is that you’re kept properly busy with it as the Z’s stiff chassis responds to cambers and imperfections in the road. It loads up nicely through corners, too.
You’re wedged into the Recaro seats – which include slots if you’re inclined to fit a six-point harness for track days.
Then there’s the noise. Tyre roar dominates the cabin, there’s transmission whine… and we’re told this version features more sound insulation than the original Nismo 370Z that wasn’t sold here.
The V6’s output bumps aren’t obvious, if we’re to be honest. And there’s a familiar coarseness. But peak power is also 400rpm further up the rev range – now 7400rpm – and if you’re not rewarded with the sweetest of sounds as you strive for it, you are with pace.
Most 370Z buyers go for the optional auto but we’d be among the third choosing the six-speed manual. The heavy-ish weighting of the clutch pedal and gearlever are in keeping with the hairy-chested nature of this car, and the short-throw shifts are a joy.
The Nismo retains the regular 370Z’s SyncroRev Match system. It’s a controversial system for some purists as it dispenses with the need for heel-and-toeing with its automatic blipping of throttle on downshifts, yet it’s difficult to deny this Nissan-pioneered tech is clever. And you can switch it off via a button on the console.
Simply, if you’re not begging to go for another steer in the 370Z Nismo after stopping, you’re probably more suited to a Nissan Qashqai.
And while this is a mini-brute of a sports car, it won’t brutalise your body when living with it. The ultra-firm suspension copes with low-speed urban bumps far better than you might expect for a car with track-car traits. It’s relative comfort, of course.
Nismo touches also can’t disguise a 370Z interior that is well into its twilight years. The Casio-watch-style clock that forms part of three dash-top pod gauges looks almost comically old.
The audio and heating/ventilation controls are also from previous-generation Nissan interiors.
It feels a bit roomier in the SS-V Ute, and storage is excellent considering this is a half-cabin car. This includes four net pockets behind the rear seats – where there’s also space for laptop bags.
And while hard plastics can be conspicuous, there’s a cohesion to the interior’s mixture of materials and the design. The suede trim with SS-V logo on the passenger side of the dash is a nice touch, too – even if it may look like Nanna has embroidered it especially for your new car.
No contest which car has the biggest ‘boot’, of course.
Areas such as practicality and quality aren’t important today, though. As we mentioned at the start of the feature, this isn’t a traditional comparison test assessing every pro and con of these two models. And as such there are no ratings (you can find them on the individual reviews of each, however). It’s a celebration of two cars that aren’t long for this world.
While it would be a shock if Nissan terminated its long-running Z series, the replacement for the 370Z may not be a sports car. The 2015 Gripz concept pointed to a potential crossover model for the future.
We can only hope it may prove to be a badge extension rather than a complete change of philosophy – and more like a Nissan Zzzzz.
As we head for a new era without local manufacturing, Holden – and Australia – can be proud of the last-of-their-kind Aussie Commodores. And especially in their most iconic form. RIP the Australian V8 ute.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.