Brenton O’Connor and Ed Higginson find purrfect harmony in the HSV SportsCat

The Brenton O’Connor viewpoint

Given that dual-cab utes are far more than a load carrying workhorse with steel wheels, vinyl seats and flooring, powered by gutless four-cylinder non-turbo diesel engines, the Australian buyer has been swamped with a range of high quality options from a range of manufacturers. Given two of the three best-selling vehicles in Australia are now dual-cab utes, it is testimony to their success and their high uptake by Aussie buyers.

HSV’s aim was to make the new vehicles known as the SportsCat and SportsCat+ the most advanced 4x4s on the market. Starting from the already proven Holden Colorado dual-cab, HSV has taken the vehicle and fitted a range of equipment both internally and externally to not only make it look more impressive and less of a workhorse, but more of a luxury SUV.

Powering the SportsCats is the 2.8-litre Duramax four-cylinder turbodiesel. Power for both variants is set at 147 kW at 3600 rpm, and the diesel produces 440 Nm at 2000 rpm when fitted with the manual gearbox. If you select the optional automatic, torque is increased to 500 Nm, also produced at 2000 rpm.

The six-speed manual gearbox is the standard transmission on both models, but for a further $2200 buyers can select a slick six-speed automatic transmission with ‘active select’. With the added torque and also the ease of drivability with the automatic, particularly on city driving, why anyone would choose the manual is questionable.

Pricing for the SportsCat is $60,770, whereas the range topping SportsCat+ increases the price to $66,790, both prices are for the manual transmission and also exclude on-road pricing. Service intervals are a rather standard 15,000 km. In terms of payload and towing the SportsCat excels, by offering a 1.0-tonne payload and also a 3500 kg towing option for those wanting to tow boats, caravans or horse floats.

What most impressed about the SportsCat is the level of standard equipment and also the fit and finish of the cabin, so much so, that it would have the most luxurious and high-quality finish in its class. The seats are covered in “Jasmine” leather and stitched with red stitches to offer a contrast look. Also, the dashboard and steering wheel are also covered in leather or suede finish, also stitched with red leather. The standard infotainment system was not only easy to use but included everything one could hope for including Apple CarPlay, navigation, digital radio, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, and the list goes on. Also included as standard were heated seats and electric seats. The seats were supremely comfortable, albeit they were positioned too high in the cabin, which is discussed later.

The SportsCat+ offers some key differences over the standard SportsCat, particularly visually to create a more aggressive look including a bulge in the bonnet, different alloy wheels, different grille inserts, larger wheel arches and a different roll-bar in the tub area. The changes are not limited to aesthetics, with the Plus model featuring rear decoupling anti-roll bar, optional SupaShock suspension, and AP racing four-piston brake callipers.

Standard equipment on both models is first rate, with the only option that would be required being the six-speed automatic transmission. The other worthwhile option could be the tub liner at a RRP of $300. Included as standard on both models is the hardcover lid, which is certainly a nice touch.

Both utes are equipped with 18” wheels, finished in matte black, although the Plus variant has a machine finished face that does indeed look better. Cooper tires are fitted as standard on both models, which will be appealing to 4WD enthusiasts due to their reputation off-road for traction and floatation.

Personally, I’d purchase the cheaper of the two options as I found the regular SportsCat rode better, as the amended suspension on the Plus model made the ride much stiffer and consequently less pleasant for everyday driving.

I preferred the styling of the standard SportsCat, and the lack of the bonnet bulge helped improve visibility. I would, however, prefer the machine-finished face on the black matte wheels included on the Plus model.

The SportsCat was certainly comfortable to travel in, and on the regular route of a mixture of city and regional driving it was by no means a chore to drive. The fuel economy experienced on the testing of the vehicle was 9.1 litres per 100 km, which was a combination of city and highway driving.

Acceleration of the automatic version of the SportsCat was very good, and the engine never felt lacking in terms of power at any times. It would certainly be interesting to trial the vehicle towing a heavy trailer up to its 3500 kg limit; however, due to a lack of towbar on the test vehicle this was not possible.

I found the driving position uncomfortable, which could be due to my height of 6’4”, as the driver’s seat position was too high, and could not be lowered sufficiently. This also impinged on my line of sight from where the windscreen meets the roof, and the tinted top area of the windscreen.

Like most dual-cab utes, the steering column has minimal vertical adjustment and no adjustment for reach, which I find quite pathetic on the behalf of all manufacturers, given that it’s included on much cheaper passenger cars as standard equipment.

As mentioned earlier, the interior fit and finish is best-in-class, and it’s just disappointing the high ride height of the driver’s seat makes the driving position uncomfortable.

The SportsCat is an impressive vehicle and offers excellent value for money given the amount of standard equipment included, with only the automatic transmission option required above the otherwise excellent level of standard equipment.

The HSV styling cues certainly differentiate the vehicle from lesser Colorado models. Thanks to the input from HSV, it’s a good choice for combining work and play in a vehicle that’s suitable for carrying and towing decent weights, while being well equipped for the modern motorist to enjoy in regular city and regional driving.

The Ed Higginson viewpoint

Any product that boasts the HSV nameplate immediately sets a higher standard for driver expectation than the original run of the mill versions. Having run out of Aussie-made Commodores to improve, the Colorado SportsCat was the obvious choice for a performance and visual upgrade.

As soon as you see the SportsCat you can tell the engineers at HSV have added plenty of spice to the Holden Colorado Z71 donor vehicle, with a range of styling and handling improvements.

On the outside, the SportsCat gets a unique grille, bonnet bulge, fascia, wheelarch flares, 18”x10” alloy wheels with Cooper Sports tyres, new tailgate, hard tonneau cover and sports bar/sail plane.

HSV has also added its touch to the interior, with premium HSV Sports seats wrapped in leather and suede, along with the dash, whilst the doors get brushed alloy touches.

You start to get a sense something is amiss when you go to start the car. With an old key ignition rather than a touch button, no steering-wheel adjustment forward or back and a cheap plastic cover on the steering wheel, it doesn’t match the $60,790 price tag for the base SportsCat manual.

Prices then rise to $66,790 for the SportsCat+. Add $2200 for the six-speed auto with Active select, $3600 for the SupaShock suspension (+ model only), and a further $647 for the roof rack. Additional options on the SportsCat+ press car push the price closer to $77,000 plus on-roads.

In this price bracket, there is some serious competition in the dual-cab arena. With the SportsCat starting at $66k drive away, it goes directly up against the Ford Ranger Wildtrak. But the choices don’t stop there, with many other credible options for similar money.

How about the Toyota HiLux Rugged X from $68k, or the VW Amarok Dark Label V6 for $70k? For a little more, you could choose the new Mercedes X350d starting around $76k, or the impressive Ford Ranger Raptor from $80k. If you want the V8 and true American heritage, why not save up and go for the new RAM 1500 starting at $80k, fitted with the impressive 5.7-litre eight-cylinder giving 291 kW of power and 556 Nm of torque?

When you are looking at utes in this price range, there are long lists of options that can easily push up the prices quickly. Manufacturers have focused their dollars in different ways, so your choice will come down to what you value most – brand, looks, performance or handling.

Like the SportsCat, the Ford Wildtrak has taken the previous top-of-the-range ute and added cosmetic features both inside and out. It doesn’t have the brash appearance of the SportsCat or Rugged X, going for a more refined muscle look.

From the front, the Ranger has a great appearance, and the Wildtrak adds to it with the black grille and bumper, a bush guard, shoulder bulges, chrome side steps, and, around the back, a black moulded tray-top spoiler, bumper and roller shutter tray lid that you either love or hate.

As the Wildtrak has been around for a couple of years, and with great success, Ford is stepping it up with the Ranger Raptor starting from $80,000. With the help of the Ford Performance Team, they have added a suspension upgrade to achieve an increased ride height, wider track and improved approach and departure angles for better off-road performance and on-road dynamics.

With the Raptor, FPT have also changed the engine to increase power from 147 kW to 157 kW, and torque goes from 470 Nm to 500 Nm, thanks to the new 2.0-litre bi-turbo. With the addition of a 10-speed torque converter automatic transmission, the Raptor gets the performance to match the looks.

If you can look past the Ford and Holden badges, then the Toyota HiLux Rugged X should be next on the list. Based on the highly successful HiLux SR5, meaning that you get a push-button start unlike the SportsCat, the Rugged X adds a lot of black cosmetics to make it stand out.

For an additional $7k over the SR5, you get a redesigned grille, heavy-duty steel front bumper, alloy bash plate, 120-watt LED light bar, LED driving lights, wheelarch mouldings and black taillight surrounds. On the inside, you get black perforated leather accented electric seats, new instrument clusters and black roof liner.

Where the Toyota misses out to the other contenders is on performance. With the standard 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, the Rugged X offers 130 kW of power and 450 Nm in the automatic transmission, while the manual is rated at just 130 kW/420 Nm.

If you are looking for performance, then the VW Amarok V6 may be the way to go with its mighty 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel, offering 165 kW of power, rising to 180 kW on overboost, and 550 Nm of torque.

With the Ultimate Dark range, VW has also gone with the black theme, adding matte black sports bar and side steps, black wheelarch flares, black interior trim and Vienna leather trim.

With similar performance, the Mercedes X350d packs a mighty V6 engine into an already impressive ute. It might not have the bonnet bulges or flared wheels, but with 190 kW and 550 Nm along with typical Mercedes refinement and ride, if your budget hits the high-70s then this may be your choice.

At these prices, you are climbing ever closer to the ultimate range of imported American utes. Until recently, the expense of importing them and converting a small number to right-hand-drive pushed their prices into the mid-100s, but RAM Trucks Australia has changed the game with the launch of the RAM 1500. Prices kick off from $79,950 drive away, which may be the real challenge to the standard utes with their additional kit.

In the SportsCat, even though HSV hasn’t touched the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine, it has great performance for a dual-cab ute with 147 kW of power and 500 Nm of torque, but it might not quench your thirst if you’ve grown up on HSV products. With the high-end ute market increasing in size, many aftermarket specialists are starting to put their focus into improving the stock engine’s performance, so you may have options to explore.

The real appeal of the SportsCat is in its looks and riding dynamics, and, with the SportsCat+, people stop to admire its looks as it stands out from the ever-increasing range of competition. The riding dynamics are also impressive over the stock Colorado.

The rear decoupling anti-roll bar on the SportsCat+ makes a real difference when travelling on fast twisty country roads, as it controls the rear roll and therefore the overall balance. When taking it onto dirt roads for the photo shoot, the Cooper Tyres and HSV suspension did a great job of keeping the ute planted, providing confidence off the bitumen.

When you select four-wheel low, the system automatically deactivates the anti-roll bar for improved off-road performance. We also got the chance to compare the SportsCat against the SportsCat+ with the SupaShock suspension (a $3600 option), but we found this only made the ride stiffer rather than substantially improved.

Overall, the SportsCat is a good step up from the Colorado, which is gaining many fans since its model updates in 2016. There needs to be some more work, such as an adjustable steering wheel (forward and back), push-button start, more HSV branding, and, most importantly, some HSV magic on the stock engine. With these additions, the SportsCat could lead in performance, looks, riding dynamics, and, with its HSV pedigree, it would be at the front of the pack.

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