2018 HSV Colorado SportsCat+ review

$68,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    8.7L
  • Engine Power
    147kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    210g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

This is HSV, but not as we know it. Now that the hot-shop is out of Aussie-built Commodores to tinker with, another Aussie favourite, the dual-cab ute, has become the centre of attention. Enter the Colorado SportsCat.

Because the Holden Colorado SportsCat+ isn’t a traditional HSV product, it isn’t technically an HSV at all. Sure, there are HSV logos on the grille, alloy wheels and steering wheel, but this is still a Holden with ‘by HSV’ nomenclature attached at the end.

The idea is a work-around that allows HSV to leave the 2.8-litre diesel engine of the regular Colorado unfettled, instead of the usual trick of jamming the biggest, baddest V8 under the bonnet, as the brand had done with the Holden Commodore in the past.

The result is the same 147kW of power and 500Nm of torque when tied to a six-speed automatic as a garden-variety Colorado. Still decent amongst the diesel ute class, but nothing like the kind of glorious-sounding 400+ kilowatt madness past HSV buyers have enjoyed.

Considering HSV has previously lent its name to utterly uninspiring versions of the VN Commodore V6, Jackaroo and Astra in the late ’80s and early ’90s, this isn’t the worst thing to wear the helmet and lion badge by far.

The real HSV story takes place via an engineering rework that sees specially developed suspension fitted, delivering a 25mm raise in ride height at the front and stiffened spring rates to help reduce body roll.

The SportsCat+ also adds in a decoupling rear anti-roll bar that disengages when low-range is engaged for added off-road prowess. Optional SupaShock remote-reservoir dampers can also be fitted to the SportsCat+, with reduced frictional losses via a larger diameter, promising to maintain ride quality without compromising body control.

The brakes get a once-over too. In this instance, AP Racing four-piston calipers clamp 362mm front rotors (62mm larger than the standard discs) with an upgraded master cylinder to reduce pedal travel and firm up feel underfoot. The rear holds onto its regular drum set-up, though.

The final engineering change concerns the Colorado’s stability and traction control systems, which have a ‘less aggressive’ intervention threshold. HSV-speak for more tail-out antics on corner exits before the fun-police electronics step in.

Put those elements together and the SportsCat models have the potential to transform the way the HSV model drives, but without driving the standard model back-to-back with the HSV-enhanced Colorado, it's possible to miss some of the changes.

The standouts are the tighter ride control and the stiffer brake pedal, which feels more like that of a passenger car than the usual soft and long-travel pedal typical of the class.

Delve a little deeper and the SupaShock suspension’s resistance to roll reveals itself. That’s a positive change too, particularly for anyone who doesn’t enjoy the soft and rolling nature of high-riding utes.

Away from the tarmac, the SportsCat feels a lot like the regular Colorado in terms of capability, dispatching steep loosely gravelled fire trails easily, but the standard 285/60R18 Cooper Zeon LTZ Pro Sports All-Terrain tyres are more road-biased, meaning mud runs and wet-weather trails won’t be as easily dealt with short of a change in rolling stock.

You might also expect the SportsCat+ to match the pre-release promo videos of Ford Ranger Raptors belting over ferocious terrain at questionably high speeds, but trying to replicate Baja-style runs in the HSV shows there’s neither the suppleness nor wheel travel available. It comes close, sure, but the bouncy coil-sprung rear spoils the fun.

By HSV’s own admission, the focus was on urban ride, which is where most SportsCats are expected to live out the bulk of their working lives. The fly in the ointment here is that HSV has actually dialled out a little bit of the Colorado’s all-round comfort, making it firmer over small bumps, but more fluid at speed over bigger jolts.

The suspension tune of the regular Colorado gives it a decent ride on urban-rough road surfaces (in leaf-sprung dual-cab ute terms, that is), whereas the SportsCat tends to feed more road surface changes into the cabin, along with – a little oddly – more engine vibration too.

HSV’s changes to the stability-control system are far more fun. HSV certainly knows its brand here, adding in licks of tail-out oversteer before stepping in, opening the door to all kinds of socially unacceptable fun on gravel.

HSV has butched-up the already square-jawed styling of the Colorado with six-spoke 18x10-inch alloy wheels to go with the chubby Cooper tyres, which boost the rolling radius compared to a regular Colorado and provide a further 20mm of overall lift.

There’s a total of 36mm of lift overall between suspension and tyre upgrades, with HSV claiming 251mm of ground clearance versus the 215mm for the Z71, resulting in improved approach, departure and ramp-over angles (32°, 24° and 27° respectively).

Although we asked for details on payload and fuel consumption relating to HSV's changes, we weren't contacted back with confirmation, however expect figures similar to the Z71's 1007kg carrying capacity and 8.7L/100km combined fuel use. Towing capacity remains at 3500kg.

Then there are unique styling elements like an HSV front bumper pumped full of vented air intakes, a wide-open grille, front recovery points, faux front bash plating, LED fog lights, wheel arch extensions, a hard tonneau, and stick-on tailgate and bonnet mouldings.

Be prepared to plonk down plenty of your hard-earned for the SportsCat+ too. It’s priced from a rather bold $68,990 plus on-roads in six-speed automatic guise, $11,800 more than a Colorado Z71.

Add options like the rear sail plane ($1300), SupaShock suspension ($3600), and a tub liner and Loadmaster rear storage system ($300 and $795 respectively), and the as-tested price of this particular ute nudges $74,985 before on-road costs.

Competition also rears its ugly head. By the end of the year, you could also have the equally tough-looking Ford Ranger Raptor equipped with a 10-speed auto, Fox Racing suspension, and a host of other goodies, in completely factory-built form (rather than being touched up between factory and dealership à la HSV) for $74,990.

The more powerful V6 Volkswagen Amarok TDI550 Ultimate asks $68,490, and Mercedes-Benz is trying to attract premium buyers to the world of dual-cab utes with the newly launched X-Class, asking $64,500 for the four-cylinder X250d Power (with a V6 version on the way) and making HSV’s attempt far from unique.

The biggest stumbling block on the SportsCat’s road to success, though, comes immediately after you turn the key: with no HSV influence to be found, the experience is 100 per cent Holden Colorado.

HSV has, however, turned its attention to reworking the Colorado’s interior, something General Motors itself invested heavily in for the Colorado’s mid-life update in 2016. While the overall design is mostly unchanged, HSV has applied additional leather and suede inserts in the dash and doors.

The front seats score heating (like the Colorado Z71) along with re-profiled foams for a more sporty shape. Coverings in Jasmine leather and Windsor suede with double-stitched red accents lift the tone of the otherwise plain Colorado immensely, as well as maintaining factory standards of fit and finish.

The news isn’t all good. Some things simply couldn’t be changed, like the Colorado’s uninspiring and utterly downmarket-looking steering wheel (aside from the addition of an HSV logo), a lack of reach adjustment for the steering column, and the pale-grey headliner – not a deal-breaker, but not as sports-tough as the Ranger Wildtrak’s all-dark treatment.

Bad news too for current Colorado owners hoping HSV might have found a way to add lumbar support – the backrests of the SportsCat are just as flat as they ever were, and comfort starts to wane after even mid-length stints behind the wheel.

There have been no changes to specification next to the Z71 either. The starting point isn’t badly equipped amongst 4x4 ute peers with single-zone climate control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, seven speakers, remote start, auto wipers and lights, side steps, and roof rails.

That’s all well and good, but for any vehicle (ute or otherwise) knocking on the door of $70K, it wouldn’t be out of place to expect something along the lines of keyless start, dual-zone climate control, LED or xenon headlights, rear air vents, a powered passenger seat, cooled front seats, steering wheel paddle-shifters, or premium audio – none of which are anywhere to be seen on the SportsCat+.

At the rear, the SportsCat+ comes standard with the hard tonneau cover shown, with load rail provisions built in to accept an accessory load rack. The rear ‘sail plane’ is an accessory, and somewhat unusually lifts with the hard lid rather than staying mounted to the tub sides.

There’s an LED light under the lid, but security still comes manually with both the hard cover and the tailgate requiring independent manual locking, and not linked to the central locking system. Getting the hard lid to latch properly requires more effort than it should, too.

The tonneau is dust-sealed at the front, sides and rear too, but the tailgate isn’t ruling the tray out as a clean storage space. On the upside, the tailgate gains a ‘soft-open’ damper to stop it crashing down when opened.

On the safety front, the SportsCat+ again aligns with the Z71 thanks to features like forward collision warning, lane departure warning, seven airbags, front and rear park sensors and a reverse camera, but no provision in the Colorado’s available tech catalogue for additions like surround-view cameras, autonomous braking, blind spot or rear cross traffic alert, or adaptive cruise control.

So, is the SportsCat worthy of its HSV badge?

The handling revisions deliver questionable benefits. HSV claims the goal was to improve urban ride, but if anything the SportsCat+ with SupaShock suspension feels more brittle over small bumps and divots, although less body roll through bends is welcomed.

Demanding drivers, and those used to the ride of a Clubsport or Maloo, will be able to get behind the changes, but average ute buyers may not see the point.

The interior rework, while not overtly sporting, also goes a long way to helping the SportsCat feel different from a regular Colorado, though the window-dressing work doesn’t notch up equipment in any significant way compared to a standard Z71.

The big letdown, however, is the engine. Not because it isn’t up to the task – the Colorado’s 2.8-litre turbo diesel is a class-competitive unit straight out of the box. HSV claims its research indicated that buyers weren’t interested in more grunt (something that seems almost implausible knowing HSV’s target demographic) and that there weren’t significant gains to be made with the current engine anyway.

With the rest of the package sharpened and bulked up like it is, a feeling of greater urgency and a more melodic exhaust note would do wonders for the SportsCat’s perception.

That’s why this particular product isn’t an HSV, though. The 'by HSV' tag allows the SportsCat+ to theoretically dodge direct comparison with the kind of uprated performance machinery the brand used to build in the Commodore era, while still laying the bait for past Maloo owners to come sniffing around HSV showrooms when it comes time to trade their hi-po utes for a new kind of tough truck.

It doesn’t do anything the strongly supported aftermarket couldn’t already do for you. But it does at least provide a turn-key solution for buyers looking to customise a Colorado, giving them full warranty coverage in the process and unique badge cachet that hardened HSV fans won’t want to go anywhere else for.