Gay boys love a ute -“ especially one that’s slick, shiny and masculine looking. Oh heck, without stereotyping let’s be honest -“ there are a lot of lesbians out there who love them too.
But no matter what recent advances there have been in the arcane and dark art of suspension, it can’t be easy to make a ute behave like a sedan. The main hindrance, in simple terms, is that you have much less weight over the back wheels to pin it to the road.
But Holden has come close with the new VE ute, which has been engineered to mimic the ride and handling characteristics of the sedan that arrived late last year after a $billion-plus development program.
The results are most noticeable in the sports suspension that underpins the SV6, SS and SSV. But even the base model Omega is reasonably well-behaved -“ although the engineers have obviously tuned it to work better with a load.
That won’t be necessary of course, because the Omega is the one that will mainly be the tradies’ workhorse and most of them will carry at least a mammoth -“ and weighty -“ toolbox. Which is not to say tradies won’t head for the dressier variants, but many of them will throw their tools in a trailer and tow it behind rather than risk scratching the (standard across the range) tray liner. The styled-up end of the range will certainly look the goods sitting outside any worksite, but it would look equally swish on the beach or the latte strip.
The utes are identical to the corresponding sedans from the nose to the front pillar, after which a strongly inclined -“ and somewhat vision-blocking -“ rear pillar leads down to the tray. This business end of the vehicle has been given a more streamlined appearance at the rear with the help of hidden tailgate hinges, while wraparound tail-light clusters visually shorten the overhang to give the ute more dynamic proportions. But the tub itself has lost some capacity, which signals who the VE is largely aimed at.
Extra bodykit and other useful bits are added as you climb the levels, topping out at the SSV’s chiselled nose and quad exhaust tips. You can get the vehicle in the usual colours, and some very unusual new ones: a psychedelically colour-shifting blue/purple, radioactive mutant ninja turtle green and bilious metallic yellow. The interiors follow the styling of the sedans, but the designers have been at work to dress up the panel behind the seats and highlight the 245 litres of extra storage space behind there.
The model line-up starts with the $30,990 Omega. Standard equipment includes the ESP stability control, anti-skid brakes with brake assist, twin front airbags and cruise control -“ but just 16 steel wheels and no air-conditioning. The top level SSV peaks at $46,990 for the auto, but includes 19 alloys, leather upholstery, leather wrapping the sports steering wheel and shifter, quad exhausts, projector headlights, alloy pedals, dual-zone climate control air-con and a colour-coded interior.
The new Holden ute is leaps and bounds ahead of the model it replaced with driving and handling close to that of the sedan. And you can have nearly as much fun, as long as you don’t forget to pack that huge toolbox.
Engine: 3.6-litre V6, 6.0-litre V8
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 4-speed automatic, 6-speed automatic
Power: 180kW/330Nm (4-speed auto), 195kW/340Nm (6-speed manual), 270kW/530Nm
Fuel: 11.4, 14.0