Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame certainly applies to the Holden VZ Adventra.
Released a year ago to a heap of hype and brouhaha, there was a real buzz surrounding the first Australian wagon-cum-4WD crossdresser.
For about $4,000 more than the equivalent Commodore wagon, the Adventra added extensive re-engineering that ranged from a trick 4WD system to a redesigned tailgate -“ 350 new bits all up.
It’s roughly the same difference that the Subaru Outback, Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70 enjoy over their respective Liberty, A6 and V70 siblings.
But not at all like the much bigger differences Ford’s Territory, the BMW X5 or Lexus RX330 have compared to their respective Falcon, 5-Series and Camry counterparts.
And therein lies the Adventra’s misadventure. First Toyota (with the popular Prado and Kluger) and then the acclaimed Territory rained on the Holden’s big parade.
Yet the Adventra deserves success.
For one thing, it’s distinctly butch-looking, if that’s your thing. No soft clean Euro styling (hello, Territory!) for this Automotive Muscle Mary.
Like a sustained steroid regime, beefy bumpers, new headlights, taillights and roof rack designs, extended wheel arches and side sills, revised rear window surrounds, and a restyled tailgate with a nifty glass hatch separate Adventra from common Commodores.
In effect they serve to transmogrify the Holden in much the same way that Batman’s body suit alters Bruce Wayne.
Revised suspension components at both ends accommodate the new front drive shafts, while an 80mm ride rise and a longer and wider footprint (hence the wheel arch extensions) than its 200kg lighter donor car also buff this Holden right up.
Drive is split 38/62 front-rear and is controlled by an electronic traction device via a sophisticated differential system (known as CrossTrac) for excellent on-road dynamics.
Powering all this is a 235kW/460Nm version of the punchy Chevrolet-sourced 5.7-litre V8 mated to a four-speed automatic.
By the time you read this, Holden will have launched V6 versions of a revised VZ-model Adventra, using a variation of the recent VZ Commodore’s all-new Aussie-made 190kW 3.6-litre DOHC 24V V6 and five-speed auto trannie.
Along with a corresponding price drop to around $40,000, this should be the plum Adventra, as well as the model to reverse its sales misfortune.
Step inside and a similar story unfolds.
Always a roomy, comfortable and practical hold-all, the Commodore wagon’s cabin makeover extends to lashings of leather and metal-look trim, sports seats and revised instrumentation.
Besides front and side airbags, the base CV8’s amenities list runs to cruise control, trip computer, power windows/mirrors, climate control air-con, a CD stacker, and a rear parking buzzer.
But it’s in the way the Adventra drives that impresses -“ with one exception.
The key is its excellent permanently rear-biased torque split drivetrain. Because most of the drive is to the rear wheels, it helps give the Holden a sporty attitude to the way it steers, corners and rides.
For such a heavy wagon, the (admittedly surprisingly hefty) steering is sharp and responsive, the handling keen and pleasingly roll-free, and the grip on any road surface lockjaw tight.
The Holden’s formidable power is put to the ground in a fuss-free and confident manner, making progress unexpectedly nimble and fleet-footed.
Off-roaders will appreciate the extra ground clearance, suspension travel and SUV tyres that help it to dig deep into softer surfaces for maximum traction, all along aided by the CrossTrac drivetrain that appropriates to each wheel the right level of torque.
But it isn’t all roses. One big V8 plus a two-tonne wagon equals appalling fuel economy. This drinks like Liz Taylor used to.
Plus the auto trannie is a bit clunky and there’s still too much low-fi Commodore ambience inside.
But the Adventra still has a place in Australia’s wide and varied automotive landscape. It looks mean, drives hard, handles well, and can go quite a ways off-road, all in a traditional and familiar wagon silhouette.
Sure, the Territory roundly beats it in most areas (although not fuel economy, which is a disgrace, Ford).
Yet there’s no denying the Adventra is a remarkable transformation and a very likeable car. Just be sure to take it on more than just a 15-minute test drive; the Adventra deserves better.