words - Philip Lord
Holden's entry-level VE Commodore Omega Sportwagon does a more than adequate job of towing, writes Philip Lord

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Tow better

The Commodore wagon, by the time the last of the VZ series was made, was as big as a hearse and dependable as the sunrise, but even the fleets were losing interest in its utilitarian style - it did nothing for resale and user-choosers were beginning to choose something else that looked better. But now Holden has returned to the market with a new wagon, based on the VE sedan and called it the Sportwagon. This new wagon has lost some of the cargo capacity of its predecessors, but with its new name comes a new, far more stylish design.

While the Sportwagon shares much with the VE sedan, there are more than 72 body components that are only used on the Sportwagon. The Sportwagon's tailgate, rear doors, single-piece bodyside stamping, roof structure and rear side inner structure are not shared with the sedan or ute. The Sportwagon also requires a specific floor structure to accommodate the folding rear seat and the rear end assembly.

The Sportwagon shares the same wheelbase as the sedan and most of the car ahead of the B-pillars is identical. Development of the wagon cost Holden $110 million above the $1 billion it spent in development of the VE sedan.

In the VZ series, the wagon range was restricted to Executive, Acclaim and Berlina, but with the introduction of the Sportwagon, Holden has increased the number of wagon variants to match the sedan. So Sportwagon comes in entry-level Omega and Berlina, the sports versions SV6, SS and SS V, and in the Calais and Calais V luxury models.

We tested the Sportwagon in entry-level Omega trim, which has a recommended retail price of $38,290 (excluding on-road costs or options) - exactly $1000 more than the Omega sedan. The most significant difference in specification over the sedan is the Sportwagon's standard park distance control.

The Omega Sportwagon comes standard with stability and traction control, ABS brakes, six airbags, rear park assist, 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, power driver's seat height adjustment, steering wheel rake and reach adjustment, audio and trip computer controls mounted on the steering wheel, cruise control, park distance control, power windows and mirrors, and keyless central locking.

Options fitted to the test vehicle included turn-by-turn Satellite Navigation ($1290), integrated Bluetooth ($395), metallic paint ($400) and the 2100kg towbar package. This package is $990 for the towbar kit and the load distribution bars, $478 for the electric trailer brakes (totalling $1470, plus fitting, at around five hours' labour).

The Alloytec 3.6lt V6 is the same unit fitted to the VE sedan and in Omega specification it produces 175kW and 325Nm. The Alloytec is an all-alloy engine featuring four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts, and variable intake manifold runners.

The 3.6-litre is quite smooth and inoffensive at low revs, but extend it towards the 6000rpm rev limit and it begins to suffer some harshness and noise. The 3.6 V6 is very responsive, though, when driving unladen - there is no lack of performance available, but if you need to delve deep into its power band, don't expect the silken experience you might get from other multi-valve, quad-cam V6s.

The 4L60E four-speed automatic transmission is an acceptable match for the 3.6 and has a Sport mode to enhance gearshifts. There's no lack of smoothness to the gearchanges in general driving, but the lack of enough ratios becomes obvious under full throttle - the step down in revs from first to second gear is a considerable 2500rpm.

Like the VE sedan (and like the VZ Wagon before it) the Sportwagon uses a unitary body suspended on independent coil springs.

The Sportwagon's rear spring rates have been increased over the VE sedan. The front suspension spring rates on Omega are the same as on the sedan.

The Sportwagon handles and rides very well, with the grip levels not quite as high as the upper-spec models on their grippy lower-profile tyres but it is more than enough for the average driver to enjoy. Its general performance and dynamics will come as a revelation, though, for anyone coming from a medium or large SUV wagon.

The interior is very practical with comfortable seats front and rear with plenty of space for five occupants.
The instrument pack is easy to see and use, but the A-pillars are thick and over-shoulder and rear vision are not ideal. Convenience items and storage are well executed in the Sportwagon, with a 12V accessory socket in the centre console bin and on the right cargo wall, and two centre console cupholders, plus a cupholder in each of the door's wide, long pockets.

Holden claims an average fuel consumption figure of 10.7lt/100km. On test, the Sportwagon achieved a low of 9.7lt/100km on the freeway driving solo and around 15lt/100km on traffic in the city. With an 1880kg trailer behind, the Sportwagon achieved 18.7lt/100km.

The Sportwagon is available with three different towing packages according to maximum permitted towing weight: 1200kg, 1600kg or 2100kg. We tested with the maximum 2100kg towing package.

Holden requires mandatory use of load levelling devices when towing trailers weighing between 1600 and 2100kg.

The side mirrors - just too small even when driving solo, with noticeable blind spots - were not really up to the job when hitched up with a wide trailer behind.

The Sportwagon tows as well as most vehicles of its type, but it's fair to say that in this combination some yawing and pitching could be felt. Concentration was needed when trucks overtook or when a gust of wind caught the rig, as a small amount of steering correction was required. Using engine braking while descending a reasonably open 70kmh corner also resulted in the stability control being set off for a moment (in response to a relatively innocuous yawing motion) although Holden says that this is a normal occurrence while towing.

At least slowing down a little can solve most of these stability issues and if we had played with the load levelling bars some more, this, perhaps, would have also improved matters.

Holden does not have a towing speed limit restriction for the automatic version of the V6 (manuals are restricted to 100kmh). We tested at a 100kmh cruising maximum on the freeway in any case.

The owner's manual recommends keeping the transmission in 'D' but to select 'Sport' mode. For city use Holden recommends selecting '3' and 'Sport' mode. Holden also says to use cruise control on the highway.

Holden recommends that a new Sportwagon not be used to tow with until it has reached 1500km, and if it must be used before this, then to not exceed 80kmh.

Additional service requirements when towing include changing automatic transmission fluid at 75,000km, changing engine oil and oil filter every 7500km/six months, change brake fluid every 12 months (if towing 1600kg or more) and change the power steering fluid every 60,000km.

The Sportwagon has great dynamics, is well-featured for an entry-level wagon and its performance/economy blend is reasonable. It isn't quite as stable when towing as a good 4WD and towing fuel economy won't match a good small-displacement diesel 4WD either. Yet the Sportwagon does a more than adequate job of towing and has plenty more practicality on offer for around-town driving and when touring without a boat behind.

For further information, visit www.holden.com.au

Priced from: $38,290
Engine: V6 petrol
Max. power: 175kW at 6500rpm
Max. torque: 325Nm at 2400rpm
Length: 4870mm
Width: 1899mm
Height: 1476mm
Wheelbase: 2915mm
Kerb mass: 1785kg
Gross Vehicle Mass: 2265kg
Gross Combined Mass: 4365kg
Fuel: 73lt
Roof load: 75kg
Towing capacity: 750kg (unbraked); 2100kg (braked)
TBM maximum: 210kg

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Published : Monday, 22 December 2008

Prices and specifications supplied are for the market in Australia only and were correct at time of first publication. boatsales.com.au makes no warranty as to the accuracy of specifications or prices. Please check with manufacturer or local dealer for current pricing and specifications.