Has the V8 ute done its dash? We look at the reality of excess
“Ah, so we’ve got a fancy pants ute”, said the girl in the local farm supplies centre as she hoisted four bales of hay and two 25 kilo bags of lucerne chaff into the back of the SS-V Ute.
I am not sure whether she was outstandingly impressed with the latest iridescent green, V8 powered, rural rocket or whether she thought it wasn’t a practical alternative to a traditional tray back off the farm. But either way, it seemed a pretty good summing up at the time.
There was a time when I would have thought I had really made the grade by steering a V8, complete with eight-cylinder exhaust burble, down the main street of the local town as you complete the grand parade doing laps past the pub. Perhaps it’s the increase in age, or perhaps it’s the result of the onslaught of publicity surrounding global warming and the quest for a brave new eco-friendly world, but, somewhere along the way, the V8 ute seems to have lost its appeal.
In this age of political correctness, the inclusion of electronic technology in new vehicles actually can work against its approval. Take, for example, the instant readout of fuel consumption. Without onboard electronics you could ignore the fact that trips to the fuel bowser were costing rather more than you wanted to mention to anyone.
But now, there it all is, in a brightly lit digital display. With adjustment in microseconds, it’s there to remind you, on the readout, that you are using fuel at a rate of 21 litres/100km while chugging around town. Oh, for a piece of open road where, with a spot of ultra-light toe pressure, you can actually reduce that fuel burn figure down to a readout as low as 7 litres/100 km. Yes, it’s achievable, but no, it’s not something you can do all the time, neither is it why you bought the V8 in the first place.
Buying a Commodore SS-V Ute, with its 6.0-litre, Generation IV alloy V8 that pumps out 270 kW at 5,700 rpm and 530 Nm of torque rated at 4,400 rpm, probably occurs because you’ve had enough with ‘making do’ through the years of hard labour. This is something you are doing just for yourself. And if it makes you feel good every time you sit behind the wheel, then so be it.
Choosing the V8 option gives you 50 kW more oomph than the highest rated V6 from Holden, plus you’ve also got the full added grunt of a further 180 Nm of torque. And yet ironically, you don’t need high octane fuel to prove your superiority of pleasure. In this new format, the V8 6.0-litre will happily run on standard unleaded, or ethanol mixed with petrol at the standard ten percent mix of the E10 bowser, right up to the latest 85 percent mix of Caltex Bio E-Flex fuel.
When you run on Bio E-Flex Fuel you can cut your emissions levels down by 40 percent, perhaps ever so slightly justifying your indulgence. You also get to pay perhaps 20 percent less, in cost per litre, than pure petrol, while benefitting from more power thanks to the increased ethanol content. After all, that’s what the V8 Supercars have been running on for the past two years. But, and isn’t there always a but, when running on E85 your fuel economy could suffer by up to 30 percent. Perhaps that’s something that Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup don’t agonise over, as they try to sleep at night before another round of the championship.
Let’s just concentrate here on the positives. We’ll start with safety, and you kick off the chart with a full five-star ANCAP rating. You’ve got Electronic Stability Control incorporating an Anti-Lock Braking System, Elelctronic Brakeforce Distribution, Electronic Brake Assist and a Traction Control System.
Under the car you’ll find sports tuned spring and damper rates, and reduced ride height. There are dual-stage airbags, side impact airbags and side curtain airbags for the driver and passenger. The seatbelts have load limiters and pyrotechnic pre-tensioners that fire off, at the first sign of a nasty impact coming your way, and tighten you into your seat.
At each corner of the SS-V you’ll find 19-inch alloys shod with 245/90R19 tyres. Whether you insist on a full sized alloy 19 x 8 spare, or accept a 17 x 7 steel spare, is actually your call at purchase time. At the front you’ll find fog lamps and projector headlamps, while down at the back you’ll find a sparkly set of four chrome tips on the end of the four exhaust pipes.
Climb back inside, and behind your leather wrapped steering wheel you’ll find the onboard data that earlier we wished we didn’t necessarily have all the time. This is the purveyor of knowledge such as average fuel consumption, average speed, digital speed display, distance and time remaining, fuel used and impending range, odometer, trip meter, trip time and a visual and audible speed warning.
And, of course, there’s more. The problem here, though, is whether or not you actually think that more equates with better.
Holden is very proud of its multifunction driver display that links controls on the steering wheel with a big 6.5-inch touchy, feely digital display screen.
The multifunction aspect features illuminated controls for the audio system, trip computer, enhanced Bluetooth matching for your mobile phone, satellite navigation with live traffic updates, plus iPod integration with touch screen access for playlists, artist selection, album choice or individual song choice. The internal flash drive can rip a copy of a CD, while it’s playing, and store it into its internal memory, and, of course, you can pick and choose between music stored on your USB stick, your MP3 system, your phone or your iPad.
With a sound system that is so interactive and offers such a vast amount of optional entertainment, I am left wondering just how much time will be spent, by the driver, accessing, or altering, the multifunction system while on the move.
Fortunately, the audio system does actually include a radio, and it is possible to turn it on or off by pressing one button. But, and here’s another major but, how distracting are these sound systems becoming, and, rather than helping the driver to relax, will they intrude on driver concentration to the extent they contribute to an increase in accident rates?
The level of stored intelligence in your car has reached epic proportions, and even the key plays its contribution. The key itself stores settings for the sound system, trip computer, speed alert, headlamp and interior lighting time delay options and climate control. Remember when the key just opened the door?
With the six-speed manual gearbox behind the Generation IV, eight-cylinder engine, you get to tow a braked trailer up to a maximum weight of 1,600 kg. Go for the six-speed automatic transmission and you drop 10 kW of power and 13 Nm of torque, but you can increase braked trailer weight to 2,100 kg. Something upon which to ponder if you want to cruise up to your destination hauling a ski boat. Also, with all the added performance of the SS-V your payload drops back to around the 570 kg mark.
So far, we’ve mentioned most of the things that come with the SS-V Ute, but not what it’s actually like to drive.
For those who can ignore the complexity of the audio multifunction unit and actually drive the thing, it’s all you’d expect from a Holden V8. The clutch pedal pressure is on the heavy side, but the subsequently bulging calf muscles will match the biceps and six pack you need to keep the hyper fit illusion alive.
With six gear ratios, and so much torque, we’d actually suggest the automatic is a better alternative, as around town you can get a serious case of the stutters if you don’t keep in a low enough ratio. It heads around corners surprisingly well, for a ute, and it’s easier to get in and out of than its corresponding Ford alternative, largely because of the relationship between the steering wheel depth and the seat squab.
Choosing the SS-V Ute really has nothing to do with performance and handling, and everything to do with image and presentation. If you want better handling you’ll probably go for something European, but none of those options can match the sound of a V8 on full song. So, that’s where the SS-V sits in the grand pecking order of things. It’s supremely impractical as a load carrier, it’s not up to much when towing, you can’t carry your girlfriend and her mother at the same time and the fuel economy is crippling around town. But, if it makes you feel good about yourself, then it’s much cheaper than going to see a shrink.