The launch of the 2001 VU utility marks the first completely new Holden utility since the VG model was released back in 1990. Where the VG utility was based around the then current VN Commodore, the all new VU range of utilities shares its roots with the VX Commodore passenger cars.
The VU utility is smartly styled featuring the same design forward of the B pillar as the VX Commodore while the smooth elongated lines of the rear body hint that the rear tray is now longer than the previous model. Holden has stayed with a unitary body construction for the VU utility acknowledging that it is a smart workhorse with a sports/recreational theme. In contrast, Ford's AU utility is essentially a chassis cab with a choice of rear trays that is designed more along the lines of the traditional rugged light commercial vehicle.
Features and equipment
New features of the VU utility include a stronger body, an increased wheelbase and a longer body, improved levels of comfort, safety and refinement and better performance, and independent rear suspension (IRS) is now fitted across the full range. In line with the move to IRS, ride comfort and vehicle handling are now similar to the VX Commodore passenger cars. The load carrying capacity of the VU utilities has also increased over their predecessors despite the switch to IRS, although it still falls short of a genuine one tonne load capacity.
There are three models in the new Holden utility line-up. The base model is called the Ute, the mid-spec version is designated the S and at the top of the range is the sporty SS.
Pricing for the entry level VU starts from $23,330 when fitted with a five speed manual transmission, while the optional four speed automatic transmission raises the price of the Ute to $24,040. Presently, the Ute is only available with a 3.8 litre V6 engine. The automatic Ute has a maximum payload of 830 kg, the highest payload of the new VU range. Prospective buyers will be pleasantly surprised by the good level of standard equipment that is available across the VU range. The entry level Ute features IRS, power steering, body coloured bumpers and door handles, a full stainless steel exhaust system, steering wheel height and reach adjustment, intermittent wipers, electric exterior mirrors, electric rear window demister with auto off function, tachometer, a multi function trip computer, mobile phone power point, headlamps auto off after leaving the vehicle parked, lamp and chime warning for low fuel and parking brake on while moving, electronic tune AM/FM stereo with clock, a single compact disc player, bucket seats, driver airbag, webbing clamps and pyrotechnic pre-tensioners on lap/sash seat belts, cut pile carpet, twin cup holders, centre console storage compartment, generous door pockets, remote central locking with deadlock facility and eight load tie down hooks to secure goods carried in the rear tray.
The VU S utility is available with a choice of either the 3.8 litre V6 engine or a 5.7 litre V8 engine. A four speed automatic transmission is on offer for both engine options in addition to a manual transmission. While the V6 engine is mated to a five speed Getrag gearbox, the manual transmission coupled to the V8 engine is a six speed unit. Prices for the S utility start at $27,690 for the manual V6 version and rise to $34,520 for the V8 engine option equipped with either the six speed manual or the four speed automatic transmission. In addition to the many standard features already listed for the Ute, the S utility receives a limited slip differential, cruise control, 16 inch alloy wheels, body coloured exterior mirrors, a chromed exhaust outlet, remote controls for the sound system on the steering wheel, an automatic power antenna, electric driver's seat height adjustment, power windows and a new flush fitting soft tonneau cover. The maximum recommended payload for the S utility (available when fitted with the V6 engine and manual transmission) is 735 kg.
The sportiest and best equipped utility in the new VU range is the SS. The SS offers strong performance courtesy of the 5.7 litre V8 engine which is the standard powerplant fitted to the SS. There is a choice of the four speed automatic transmission or the six speed manual gearbox and the price of both options is $36,490. Side skirts and a redesigned front spoiler that incorporates fog lamps as standard helps to give the SS utility a distinctive and an appealing new look. Some of the additional standard items fitted to the SS include 17 inch alloy wheels, distinctive sports seats with SS logo, anti-lock braking system (ABS), roof spoiler with brake light, air conditioning, four spoke leather steering wheel, passenger airbag, colour coded instrument surround and sports suspension. The maximum recommended payload for the SS utility range is 665 kg when fitted with a manual transmission.
A dual fuel, petrol and lpg, option is available for vehicles fitted with a V6 engine and automatic transmission. It should be noted that the payloads of these vehicles have been reduced by 95 kg to allow for the additional mass of the lpg system.
In it's latest guise, Holden's 3.8 litre ECOTEC V6 engine produces 152 kW of power at 5200 rpm and 305 Nm of torque at 3600 rpm. The GENERATION (GEN) III V8 engine with 5.7 litre displacement has maximum power and torque outputs of 225 kW at 5200 rpm and 460 Nm at 4400 rpm respectively. The GEN III engine differs from the ECCOTEC engine by featuring an aluminium alloy block and cylinder heads. Both engines are an overhead valve design and use sequential fuel injection, high energy distributorless ignition, knock control sensors and sophisticated computer diagnostics. Standard unleaded petrol (91 octane) is the recommended fuel for both engines.
Body and finish
The VU body structure now shares the same wheelbase as the VX Commodore wagon which is significantly longer than the wheelbase of the outgoing model. The new body provides more load space and is substantially stronger and more rigid. Holden has achieved enhanced driving refinement and improved crash protection for vehicle occupants in the VU series by using the passenger car standards of the VX Commodore as a benchmark.
While the frontal design of the VU utilities uses the same contemporary styling as the VX Commodore, the lines of the rear body are unique. The new utilities use a new 'snap lock' flush fitting tonneau cover that requires no external tie down hooks and offers a more integrated appearance.
Both the Ute and the SS models evaluated exhibited a good level of finish which was on par with Holden's passenger vehicle range and above average by commercial standards. Heavy duty, fully galvanised panels are a feature of the rear load compartment which is now longer, wider and deeper.
Comfort and space
As a derivative of the VX, the new VU series offers significantly more in cabin space than the outgoing VS model. More space equates to increased head, shoulder and leg room, as well as longer seat travel. The cabin interior and layout is almost identical to the VX Commodore which is modern and user friendly. The seating in both the Ute and the SS is comfortable and supportive with a good range of adjustments available.
While passenger space is excellent in the new VU range, storage space is unfortunately a bit limited. The utilities are equipped with a lockable glovebox, door pockets and a useful centre console storage bin arrangement for small items. However, there is insufficient space behind the seats for larger objects.
On the road
Equally as impressive as the bold new styling of the VU series is the way the new utilities drive. Assisted by a wider track, longer wheelbase and IRS, both utilities evaluated delivered a smooth ride and displayed sure-footed handling over a variety of road surfaces. A stronger and more aerodynamic body and the flush fitting tonneau cover combine to significantly reduce the interior noise level.
Even with the standard V6 engine, the entry level Ute provides solid performance and should easily cope with loads right up to its maximum payload. The four speed automatic transmission is a proven combination from the Commodore range and gives smooth and definite changes that are well matched to the engine's characteristics.
The GEN III V8 engine is a deceptively quick unit that is happy to trundle around the city at low engine speeds with a minimum of fuss. However, higher up in the rev range the V8 really flexes its muscles and delivers the sort of performance often only found in true sports cars. The six speed manual gearbox is easy enough to operate provided gearchanges are not rushed. Cruising in top gear on the open road at 100 km/h will see the V8 revving at a ridiculously low 1500 rpm (saving fuel and engine wear and tear).
The new VU utility is a smartly styled load carrier that is based on the VX Commodore passenger car. An all new larger body on a longer wheelbase offers increased cabin space as well as more load space. Highlights of the new Holden utilities include a good level of standard equipment, excellent on-road manners and a high level of driving refinement without compromising its load carrying ability.