An unlikely motor vehicle purchase topic of conversation in the office recently revolved around Chevrolet's Silverado, a large US-built 4x4 pick-up. It has been bought by one of The Star's young reporter's parents and has undergone a right-hand-drive conversion through an Auckland company.
I've yet to sight the Silverado, but I'm very keen on seeing it, it is one of ever-growing number of US-made trucks that are finding their way onto New Zealand roads such as the Ford F-Series and Dodge Ram.
I was particularly keen to get up close and personal with the Silverado while I was driving Holden's Commodore wagon-based Crewman Cross 6. While it certainly wouldn't compete in size, it shares the same concept ? four-wheel-drive, double-cab and handy wellside load area ? and they do come from the same stable, General Motors.
The Crewman, which this evaluation focuses on, is the V6-powered model, the new engine to come out of Holden's Melbourne engine building facility.
The quad-camshaft, 24-valve, 3.6-litre unit is an option beside the 5.7-litre V8 across the entire Commodore range, and would by far be my preference. As much as I like the feel of lazy, unstressed V8 power, sometimes it isn't always necessary and the 190kW V6 does a mighty fine job in the Crewman.
I remember making much the same comment when I tested Holden's Adventra in these columns in September and my feeling hasn't changed.
Holden's new V6 is state-of-the-art in terms of design, and its power outputs are structured so that it works away tirelessly. It isn't the smoothest V6 I've driven, it gets a bit raspy up top and breathes hard when the revolutions rise, but it is a torquey engine and that's the most important aspect. Holden rate it at 320Nm available at 3600rpm; consequently, it has strong bottom end response, and works away at that part of the rev band constantly, given the engine management protocols and the gearing.
On that subject, the Crewman only gets General Motor's four-speed automatic gearbox, as opposed to the flash five-speeder available in other Commodore product. Even so, the four-speeder is not disgraced and it is a well proven, smooth shifting unit which has a power mode to hasten engine response, and to quicken shifts if required.
While the Crewman is more like a workhorse rather than a racehorse, it does have a good turn of speed, the engine/gearbox combination providing feisty performance with a 0-100kmh time of 8sec and 5.1sec to make 120kmh from 80kmh.
Drive is delivered to all four wheels through a power proportioning system, altered from a 38:62 front to rear normal drive split depending on traction and grip. The Crewman rides on street-treaded Japanese-made Bridgestone Turanza tyres (225/55 x 17in), yet I was impressed with the ute's all round off-road ability. No, it isn't a serious off-roader, its ground clearance at just 174mm always needs to be kept in consideration, but the drive system is reasonably clever and creates traction in conditions that I often thought would be beyond its capability.
The Crewman has an interesting suspension set-up. MacPherson struts are used up front while the rear axle is a live beam-type with good old fashioned leaf springs. I still like leaf springs, and even though ride quality is compromised, if the axle is located well it still provides reasonable handling and extraordinary load carrying opportunity.
Incidentally, Holden claim a 781kg payload in an area which measures 1463mm x 1468mm x 500mm.
I took the test ute through some of my old haunts near Hororata, the old forestry tracks well rutted and a bit slippery after some overnight rain. Ride comfort is fine, there is a definite light commercial feel with stiff springing and firm shocks, but it is far from uncomfortable; besides, brilliant seats absorb much of the in-cabin shock.
I was a little circumspect about giving the underneath a wash in the Hororata River, but a slow crossing and low water levels lessened the risk of water being drawn into the engine.
Inside, the usual Commodore-like fitment is included, and the layout much the same as it is in the Executive or Acclaim. The specification list is healthy, air conditioning, electric windows, central locking with remote (alarm and immobiliser), cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel on tilt and reach-adjustable column, and fully integrated CD audio are all fitted.
Comfort levels up front are high, and the driving feel is informative. Sadly, though the same can't be said for those in the rear. It is short journey only comfort back there, the seat backs are too rigid and upright and leg room is compromised. But, you can't have it all, the deck area is purposeful and that has been given priority.
I know I've got a bit of fast talking to do to get myself behind the wheel of the Silverado, the feel of that big 6-litre V8 diesel must be felt to be believed, but it is my impression that the Crewman would be by far the better bet in terms of fuel consumption. At highway speed the on board trip computer registers 10.9 litres usage per 100km (engine speed 2000rpm at 100kmh in fourth), while my test average including an inner-city commute of 14.2l/100km was indicative of a vehicle which weighs in at 1904kg. These figures translate to 26mpg and 20mpg respectively.
Holden's Crewman provided a satisfying evaluation. It isn't perfect, but its place in the recreational or working market is well substantiated.
Price: Holden Crewman Cross 6, $54,300.
Dimensions: Length, 5306mm; width, 2046mm; height, 1543mm.
Configuration: V6 longitudinal, rear-wheel-drive, 3565cc, 175kW/6000rpm, 320Nm/3600rpm, four-speed automatic.
Performance: 0-100kmh, 8sec.