Holden Ute Omega LPG 2013: Road Test

words - Matt Brogan
photos - John Wilson
Holden’s entry-spec gas Ute might be cheap to run. But is that enough to leave a positive impression?

Holden Ute Omega LPG VE Series II
Road Test

Price Guide (recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $37,990
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): Metallic Paint $550
Crash rating: Five-star (ANCAP)
Fuel: LPG
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 12.4
CO2 emissions (g/km): 200
Also consider: Ford Falcon Ute EcoLPi FG Mark II (from $31,490)

They say you never get a second chance at making a first impression, and were this review based upon first impressions it’s fair to say it would not have been as positive as it is now.

The Holden Ute Omega LPG, or Uteous Gaseous as it came to be known, felt coarse on initial start-up and sounded dry under throttle ahead of what was to be a three-week stint with yours truly. “Great,” I thought to myself sarcastically, knowing the many hours I’d be spending at the wheel.

Leaving Fisherman’s Bend, the transmission calibration began to fluctuate in the recalcitrant fashion we sometimes encounter from GM’s 6L50 six-speed automatic. But at least I’d have some tunes to listen to via Bluetooth and Holden’s nifty iQ audio system, right? Wrong. Seems Holden haven’t caught up with the likes of Apple’s high-tech iPhone 5.

Then there was the firm ride. The Ute felt incredibly firm, and confirming my suspicions a quick visit to the servo found the tyre pressure was set to high (39PSI!). Restored to the manufacturer's recommended pressure (33PSI) things soon improved.

And let’s not forget the VE Ute’s legacy issues, like small wing mirrors, central power window/mirror controls, fat A-pillars, bus-spec urethane steering wheel and ‘that’ handbrake. Or the fact the spare wheel takes up a significant portion of the tray, owing to positioning of the gas tank. The gas tank is also a bugger to fill in hot temperatures (find a servo with its gas storage located above ground and you'll have more luck filling up).

But after a few days (and many kays) had passed, the Ute seemed to unlearn its bad habits. The transmission softened as it adapted to my driving style and soon began to fade unnoticed into the background. Fuel economy also improved, significantly. It was obvious the previous driver had been needlessly hard on the entry-spec workhorse.

With major qualms diminishing, I had more time to appreciate just how much ‘car’ was on offer. Cruising comfortably on the open highway, the Ute comes into its own. The combination of higher-profile narrow rubber and car-like suspension offer the Ute a ride/handling compromise suitable not only for the vehicle’s purpose, but the pockmarked rural roads too.

Even on dirt roads, the Ute rides smoothly and is largely unfazed by corrugations. The steering responds quickly enough to input, and is well weighted, while the brakes have enough bite and the pedal enough modulation to feel your way to a quick and confident stop.

Connecting the Lightning Cable into the USB port got my tunes back on-line and with the dual-zone climate control keeping the temperature in check there was little to do but keep my eyes on the road and my hands upon the wheel… so to speak.

For the most part, I let the cruise control take care of proceedings that are usually dictated by my right foot. The system works impeccably and maintains speed effortlessly across undulating hills with only the steepest descents requiring intervention from the driver.

When summoned, however, the 3.6-litre V6 has enough in reserve to make overtaking slower traffic a doddle. Holden’s Vapour Injection system ensures the dedicated LPG engine offers almost the same level of power as its 3.0-litre V6 petrol sibling (180kW versus 190kW) with a handy 30Nm more torque (320Nm versus 290Nm).

So it’s fair to say I was now a little more content than when I first set out. With more than 1500km behind me I’d averaged 11.7L/100km at a cost of around $8.06 per hundred kay -- and that’s with just over 250kg of motorbike and gear on the back and two blokes in the cabin. Compared to the petrol-powered Omega Ute, that’s a saving of around $5.86 for every 100km travelled (based on current fuel prices and a combined cycle average of 9.6L/100km).

While I’m on the topic of price, here comes the one point that brings all my positive ponderings crashing back to earth. At $37,990 it’s fair to say that Uteous Gaseous is overpriced, especially when placed against Ford’s Falcon Ute EcoLPi at $31,490. Spec adjusted, the Holden Ute is still dearer, $3830 dearer to be precise.

The Holden offers more equipment, better carrying capacity (822kg versus 540kg) and better fuel economy (12.4L/100km versus 13.9L/100km). But the Falcon offers the choice of a cab-chassis configuration at no extra cost, more power and torque (198kW/409Nm) and a better towing capacity (1600kg versus 2300kg). You’d want to count on a fair bit of haggling methinks.

So while my time with Holden’s Omega Ute may have helped bolster my opinion of it, the list price, its value proposition against the Falcon and the fact there’s a new model just around the corner make its current position a bit of a mystery.

Yes, it’s a good ute that performed all the tasks I metered out with aplomb -- and it’s cheap to run. But with a swag of one-tonners out there boasting turbo-diesel power, and its nearest competitor undercutting it significantly, perhaps first impressions are worth something after all.

 

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Published : Monday, 7 January 2013
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