We’re going sideways in a rear-wheel-drive, four-door HSV. Nothing unusual about that. Much weirder is the fact the vehicle in question isn’t a hotted-up Commodore, but instead a wilder-looking Colorado dual-cab ute.
When you consider the last HSV launched was the GTSR W1, and its next release will be this Colorado SportsCat, it’s a contrast perfectly encapsulating the changing of eras for Holden Special Vehicles – forced out of its Commodore-enhancing comfort zone by Holden’s cessation of local production.
HSV is no stranger to utes, of course, but after cars like the Avalanche XUV and far more successful Maloo, this is the brand’s first stab at the one-tonne workhorse variety.
The SportsCat, due in February, is more than a cosmetically-enhanced Holden – although without any extra engine performance, it’s more of a rival to the upcoming Ford Ranger Raptor than a response to Germany’s two six-cylinder dual-cabs, the Volkswagen Amarok V6 and upcoming Mercedes-Benz X350d.
HSV’s enhancements, however, target dynamics leadership in the segment.
But let’s start with the styling overhaul that will play a key role in showroom appeal.
Although we were presented with a range of “bitsa” pre-production SportsCat mules at a first-quick-drive event at Queensland’s Mount Cotton driver training facility, it’s clear HSV designer Julian Quincey, at least in our view, has given the Colorado its most purposeful look yet.
The extra-tough stance is delivered immediately by an increased ride height, widened tracks and wider hybrid Cooper tyres. Then there’s a front end that masterfully integrates major design revisions – new one-piece (rather than split) grille, restyled lower bumper with LED fog-lights, forged red tow hooks, and a bash plate.
The SportsCat+ guise takes aggression a step up, with a honeycomb air intake which, to our eyes, looks like someone took a magnifying glass to a Golf GTI grille, “rugged” wheel-arch surrounds, and a matte-black Sail Plane on the hard tonneau instead of an alloy sports bar.
The HSV-badged Colorado’s quick-release hard tonneau incorporates rails for securing lifestyle items such as bikes (the tray’s inner rails can also be used), and an 'Ezy-down' strut facilitates soft lowering of the tailgate.
Accessories are big business in the one-tonner segment and a handful are available for the SportsCat, including a custom-moulded thermos-plastic tub-liner, Load Master steel and fabric partitioner with pockets, roof rack that slots into the tonneau’s integrated accessory rails (or tray’s inner rails), and Eye-Bolt inner-rail lashing system.
HSV hasn’t gone mad with cabin upgrades, though. The key SportsCat differentiators are Jasmine leather and Windsor suede SV sports seats featuring a unique foam base and increased bolstering, the same leather/suede combination used on the dash, and twin-needle red stitching applied generously throughout the interior.
There will also be SportsCat-branded floor mats, though a sportier steering wheel would have been more in keeping with the HSV brand.
Otherwise it’s the familiar Colorado cabin given a desperately-needed facelift in 2016. That includes the centre console dial that allows drivers to switch electronically between 2WD, 4WD High and 4WD Low on the fly.
We’re in 2WD, of course, for our sliding antics, though the purpose on Mt Cotton’s greasy skidpan – covered in a mixture of water and grease – is more about testing HSV’s stability and traction control calibrations.
When we switch stability control on, but keep traction control off, the system allows partial movement of the back end before subtly bringing it back into check. With both systems on, the sense is of a dual-cab ute capable of keeping its occupants secure on the bitumen in the most treacherous of conditions.
The SportsCat also impressed in a wet braking-steering exercise, where we were asked to yank on half a lock of steering as soon as we hit the stoppers at 80km/h. The electronics did their thing to ensure the Colorado turned under ABS before coming to a halt, where you would expect your average dual-cab to have plough-understeered in a straighter direction.
(It’s an ESC calibration that would be welcome on my brother-in-law’s sketchy-in-the-wet Toyota HiLux TRD, one of the original performance dual-cabs.)
As we move on to a few laps of the country-road-mimicking Circuit, the SportsCat by HSV proves to be a better drive than that HiLux in other respects – though the entire one-tonne ute segment has come a long way in the past decade.
Extensive would be a fair word to use for HSV’s underbody modifications.
Peer under the front wheel-arches and you’ll spot a U-shaped strut-brace bolted to the Colorado’s ladder-frame chassis. Stiffer front springs are designed to reduce body roll and improve front-end response, and there are MTV dampers tuned accordingly.
Additions signalled by the ‘plus’ sign in SportsCat+ bring an AP Racing brake package and a rear-decoupling anti-roll bar designed to benefit both on- and off-road driving.
Three laps behind a ‘pace car’ - which could have gone faster - compounded our limited time behind the wheel, though the brief session did reveal some insights into the SportsCat’s dynamics.
One is the excellent pedal feel and strength of the SportsCat+’s exclusive braking package, which combines AP Racing four-piston calipers and 362mm front discs, 62mm larger than the regular Colorado’s. Drum brakes remain on the rear, though.
Braking is an area where we’ve criticised the Holden Colorado, and both SportsCat models have an enlarged master brake cylinder for shorter pedal travel and better response.
Confident braking and easy modulation are a bonus when trying to stop what's expected to be heaviest Colorado, and when trail-braking is a prerequisite for guiding the dual-cab’s heavy nose into corners.
There’s certainly a predictability to the way the HSV-tuned Colorado handles, though understeer management, as well as weight management, remains the name of the game.
The forged alloy wheels and Cooper tyres save about a kilo per wheel, according to HSV, though at between 2250 and 2281 kilograms this will still be the heaviest Colorado.
HSV, perhaps surprisingly, hasn’t changed the ratio of the electric steering. Holden improved the Colorado’s steering – along with many other aspects – with the 2016 update, though we think it could be quicker still.
Another surprise, though, was the limited howling from the hybrid Cooper tyres through corners as we asked plenty of them.
There’s nothing sporty about the Colorado’s 2.8-litre turbo-diesel, and HSV determined it couldn’t wrangle any worthwhile extra performance out of the four-cylinder.
Alternative engine options are being investigated for a potential 100 per cent HSV (or even Walkinshaw) version of the Colorado, though noises from the company suggest it isn't worth getting your hopes us for anything soon.
The Duramax engine is as strong as the auto’s 500Nm output suggests, even if its gruff and rattly nature is a constant reminder that you’re driving a workhorse diesel, not a purebred performance engine.
The six-speed auto also shifts smoothly when left in D; there’s a tipshift function, though paddle-shifters might have offered a good alternative for an HSV-branded vehicle.
Our last test drive of the day took us onto Mount Cotton’s 4WD course. While short, it also incorporated a sterner off-road test than others we’ve experienced on launches.
A sequence of large mounds proved the SportsCat’s ground clearance and increased approach and departure – 32 and 24 degrees respectively – were more than adequate.
The Holden-HSV’s 251mm ground clearance is well above the Colorado’s 210mm, as well as the Ranger Wildtrak’s 237mm.
The by-HSV dual-cab was most impressive up a steep, rutted hill climb.
HSV managed to eke out a slightly better departure angle by angling the underbody spare wheel, using a wedge.
With the SportsCat+ electronically in 4WD Low to disengage the electro-hydraulic rear stabiliser bar for better wheel articulation, as well as a crawling ratio, the ute scrambled up successfully – despite momentum being tricky to maintain with a need for caution over the sizeable ruts.
The purposeful-looking tread of the Cooper tyres helped no doubt.
We’ll get a more definitive view on the Holden Colorado SportsCat by HSV when we get to spend more time with a proper production version, on proper roads, in early 2018.
Our first taste suggests some worthwhile upgrades for this HSV-tweaked Colorado, which retains the ute’s 3500kg braked towing capacity and circa-1000kg payload.
The SportsCat+’s greater visual aggression certainly won’t harm the model’s efforts to establish itself in a growing category of higher-end dual-cabs, which in 2018 will add the Ranger Raptor and Mercedes-Benz X-Class, while Toyota is expected to attempt another TRD performance version of the HiLux.
And if it does prove successful, it may well give HSV the hurry-up to create a proper high-performance dual-cab.
As a 'quick drive', the scoring for this review includes a fuel-consumption figure based on the existing Z71 ute.
And, as a pre-production drive, HSV elected to not provide or allow on-location or driving photography of the still incomplete vehicles.
Click through to our gallery for more images of the new SportsCat ute.