Holden Cruze Hatchback

Price range

$19,490 – $31,790

Overall

Good: Sporty exterior and tasteful interior design; lots of storage compartments; good value for money; 1.4-litre turbo petrol and the 2.0-litre turbo diesel engines

Not so Good: The dated 1.8-litre petrol engine is only slightly cheaper than the newer 1.4-litre turbo option.

Design and Engineering

Good : The Holden Cruze hatch arrived Down Under in November 2011, joining the successful Cruze sedan.

Featuring the same dynamic proportions that have seen the Cruze sedan win favour around the world, the hatch stands out for its short front, rear overhangs and wide stance. The design gives the Cruze hatch a sporty and athletic appearance.

Not so good : However, the Cruze’s athletic and sharp lines do get lost in the lighter exterior body colours.

Interior and Styling

Good : Inside, the Cruze hatch makes use of the sedan’s ‘dual’ cockpit design with quality soft touch plastics covering the dash and other components instead of the usual hard stuff that Holden usually use. There is also a fabric insert on the dash that we think is a neat touch.

The instrument cluster is very clear and concise, and is easily read at a glance. The driving position is fantastic with firm, supportive front seats. Both tilt and reach steering controls make it easy to find the perfect driving position for you. There are lots of useful storage compartments around the cabin with decent room provided for both front and rear passengers.

The Holden Cruze hatch offers up a fairly generous 413-litre boot that can expand to a 1254-litres when the 60/40 split rear seat backs are folded flat.

Not so good : Rear seats could offer more under-thigh support for adult passengers, and though the front seats are sporty, they’re also a little tight, and could be a tad uncomfortable for larger drivers. Noticeably, there is no driver’s footrest.

Performance

Good : The Cruze hatch offers customers the choice of three four-cylinder engines. The entry level petrol is a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre with 104kW of power and 176Nm of torque.

Next up is a sporty 1.4-litre turbo petrol offering 103kW of power and 200Nm of torque.

And rounding out the engine line up is a 2.0-litre turbo diesel producing 120kW of power and 360Nm of torque.

The 1.4-litre turbo petrol accelerates smoothly with minimal turbo lag and the six-speed automatic transmission offers smooth shifts for effortless driving.

Not so good : The 1.8-litre petrol is by no means quick and doesn’t sound sporty and is the Cruze’s weakest link in our opinion.

While the 1.4-litre turbo petrol sounds a little harsh as the revs rise and its real world fuel economy is thirstier than it should be.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Cruze’s suspension has been specifically calibrated for Australian roads, providing a smooth, uninterrupted ride. It is perfect for daily driving, equally in traffic or on the open road. All grades fitted with the 1.4-litre turbo gain electric power assisted steering and a Watts link rear suspension set-up. The steering is smooth and direct while the ride is comfortable. While it won’t out-handle a Volkswagen Golf GTI, the steering and suspension setup in the 1.4-litre does do a commendable job while on a budget.

Not so good : The entry and mid spec Cruze’s suspension feel like they’re tuned more for comfortable cruising than carving up a mountain side, but with the engines that are available that is not such a disadvantage. It’s a notch behind the best small class “drivers” cars.

Buying and Owning

Good : All grades score a five-star ANCAP safety rating. Safety features include six airbags (driver and front passenger front and side and full-length side curtain), Electronic Stability Control incorporating anti-lock braking system, brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution and traction control. High levels of equipment come standard, with entry models coming with standard features like Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free mobile phone use from compatible devices, cruise control, rear power windows, six-way adjustable driver and front passenger seats, automatic lights with programmable “follow-me home” headlight functionality and remote keyless entry and advanced six-speaker multimedia audio system with AM/FM radio, in-dash MP3 compatible CD player, and USB input with iPod compatibility to enable complete control of the device through the audio system controls.

Not so good : The 1.8-litre petrol engine is not outstandingly economical even with its 6-speed automatic transmission.

Holden Epica Sedan

Price range

$28,490 – $33,490

Overall

Good: NOTE: DISCONTINUED IN AUSTRALIA JAN 2012 With the Epica’s low pricing it easily ticks the value box; there are high levels of safety features as standard and plenty of room inside… The economical Turbo Diesel is our pick over the Petrol.

Not so Good: Dated and bland interior. The turbo diesel is far too noisy on take-off.

Design and Engineering

Good : Well done to Holden for fitting a 6 speed automatic as standard to the current facelift model. If you squint it looks like a BMW 5-Series from side on!

Not so good:  The styling is starting to show its age inside and out. ‘Busy’ rear end design.

Interior and Styling

Good : Plenty of standard equipment and creature comforts. The instrument dials are clear and easy to read, there’s decent amounts of space and a large 480L boot.

Not so good : Interior feels dated and dark with only strips of stainless steel-ish plastic to brighten things up. Money was saved with this interior – little things such as the inside of the hard plastic glovebox missing out on a flock lining and a fairly cheap-looking dashboard (compared to leading Medium’s). The driver’s seat is big but lacking in thigh support PLUS there’s no left footrest for the driver. The rear seats folds 60/40 to gain boot access however the actual opening could/should be bigger.

Performance

Good : Turbo Diesel is definitely torquey. The 6-speed automatic gearbox is smooth, as is the Petrol six cylinder…

Not so good : The Petrol engine is lacking in torque. The Turbo Diesel engine is far too loud – it almost sounds like a truck and you can feel it rattling (especially when taking off from standstill) and it has excessive turbo lag.

Ride and Handling

Good : Feels at home on the freeway.

Not so good : Electric power steering takes some getting used to and the feedback from the road is lacking. The heavy turbo diesel engine affects the car’s weight distribution, and handling is behind the segment leaders. Ride & chassis suffers over poor road surfaces (especially if you encounter a pothole). Look elsewhere for spirited driving.

Buying and Owning

Good : High levels of standard safety equipment & high levels of features for the price. The Turbo Diesel engine coupled to the 6-speed auto provides good fuel economy.

Not so good : Resale value is behind the Medium class best.

Holden Statesman Sedan

Price range

$63,990 – $67,990

Overall

Good: NOTE: DISCONTINUED IN AUSTRALIA SEP 2010. The WM Statesman has come a long way from the model it replaced; the exterior is stylish and modern and doesn’t seek too much attention PLUS there’s a great list of standard safety features. Many are used by Hotels and Limousine companies thanks to its appearance, ample rear leg room and comfort (& affordability).

Not so Good: Fuel economy is average even with the AFM system; choice of only two engines. The interior is nice but not ground breaking. Discontinued in September 2010 – with Holden retiring the Statesman brand name.

Design and Engineering

Good : A modern design with influences from its parent company GM. We like the bold front and the attractive short front overhang also means the engine gets positioned behind the front axle, therefore improving handling & weight distribution. The rear-end has presence on the road – especially when admired from side on. Plus, some nice touches on the rear including ‘Statesman’ engraved into the rear garnish and a chrome number plate surround.

Not so good:  The 17-inch alloy wheels look too small for the 5m long & 2m wide Executive (however, bigger rims are only an option away!). The extra legroom comes at a cost as the Statesman is a bit on the heavy side weighing in at 1781kg for the V6 & 1822kg for the V8.

Interior and Styling

Good : A classy interior not overcomplicated with difficult switchgear; everything is easy to see, reach and operate. The leather-trimmed seats are very comfortable and supportive for long drives with excellent thigh support. Loaded with standard features. The dual-zone climate control performs exceptionally well on a warm day; the luggage capacity proves size does matter – with 535L of space, it’s big enough for the golf clubs and the esky.

Not so good : The optional satellite navigation LCD screen is out of direct view meaning more time is spent looking at the screen rather than on the road ahead (and the navigation graphics are starting to look very outdated). The switchgear around the centre console is clearly where development $$$ were saved, well behind the class best.

Performance

Good : Holden’s big 6.0 Litre V8 now features Active Fuel Management (AFM) system. Power and torque is reduced for the sake of better fuel economy and emissions; however the V8 still sounds impressive. Holden also offers a V6 engine which still offers more than adequate performance in this five metre long saloon.

Not so good : Performance comes at a price – this V8 still likes to drink; the six-speed auto transmission can be caught out selecting a gear too low or high at times; V6 prefers relaxed driving as it gets all too noisy should you spend much time with the tachometer pointed all the way around to the right…

Ride and Handling

Good : Very comfortable and less sporty than the more expensive Caprice. Around town it’s great to drive and handles inner-city traffic with ease. On the open road is where the Statesman really want to be; its long wheelbase and good-sized profile tyres means this car just floats over the harshest of bumps in the road. Steering dynamics are pleasing and still uses a hydraulic power steering set-up.

Not so good : This car is built for the daily commuter who lives out of town and for those that enjoy the long weekend drives; hard braking makes you notice the Statesman is nearly a two tonne car.

Buying and Owning

Good : This is a bit like Vegemite, there are similar products – but there also kind-of isn’t if you know what we mean; the Chrysler 300C is a more extrovert choice. Finding another vehicle with as much charisma or with as many features for the same price means you will have to sacrifice something in the nature of space and/or engine size. For long-term ownership keep in mind the Statesman is built locally and uses the same power train and componentry as the high selling VE Commodore – meaning parts and service costs are likely to be lower than luxury competitors…

Not so good : A significant number of sales go to taxi’s and luxury hire cars, which will likely result in a lower resale value than a number of Euro competitors.

Holden Volt Sedan

Price range

$59,990 – $59,990

Overall

Good: Instant torque that puts you back in your seat; Futuristic interior design; Great multimedia touch screen system.

Not so Good: Low fitted front spoiler; A little on the pricey side; Only one model variant to choose from; Regenerative braking system.

Design and Engineering

Good : The truly electrifying Holden Volt hit Australian shores in November 2012. The Volts design is geared towards aerodynamic styling to help deliver the best economic performance.

The front diffuser and extended rear spoiler create an extremely low drag coefficient of 0.28, this basically means the Volt can move more freely through the air at higher speeds; Pretty cool huh?

The alloy front grille really gives the front of the Volt some bling while the menacing front headlights feature a unique styling line. The bonnet is made from aluminium to help save weight and has an aerodynamic dam that allows for better airflow.

From the rear, the Volt features a squared off design that is matched to a futuristic rear tail light cluster.

Not so good : Design wise we’ve got a little soft spot for the Volt, we like the pimped out front grille and squared off rear design. But, the design might not appeal to the likes of everyone.

Interior and Styling

Good : Holden has taken a big risk with the Volts interior design and it kind of works. The centre stack features touch sensitive controls that allow occupants to change climate setting, access phone, sound levels and Satellite Navigation.

The touch sensitive centre stack also houses a 7-inch LCD colour touch screen that allows occupants to see real-time information on energy use and power flow.

The Volt also features voice recognition that allows voice control on certain Bluetooth radio, audio system and navigation functions, including selecting radio stations, audio tracks, navigation settings and preset destinations.

Holden has made a bold statement with the Volts flowing interior lines that sweep from the door panels all the way up and into the dash. And, while most of the interior is black, large dabs of glossy white plastic highlight the centre dash, gear shifter and door trims.

Not so good : We like the overall design of the cabin with its futuristic lines, but, the bold contrast between glossy white and muted blacks don’t seem to gel that well. But that’s just our opinion.

Performance

Good : The Volt is powered by an electric propulsion system; consisting of a 16.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and electric drive unit that is capable of achieving a range of up to 87 kilometres on pure electric depending on driving conditions. The battery pack is good for around 111kW and 370Nm of torque.

There is also a 1.4-litre petrol-powered generator that recharges the battery pack, giving the Volt a total range of around 600 kilometres depending on driving conditions.

Drivers can choose from three different driving modes – normal, sport and hold.

Normal mode allows you to drive around unassisted with just the battery pack, when the battery pack runs flat the petrol-powered generator kicks in to keep you going until you reach a destination that you can suitably recharge.

Hold mode forces the Volt to use the petrol generator to charge the battery while driving.

And probably the most fun of the modes, Sport mode heightens response and acceleration times.

The Volt has plenty of torque that is available at pretty much any speed. You could be cruising along at 60km/h, plant your right foot and the Volt instantly kicks you back into your seat, it’s that much fun.

Not so good : Although the Volt takes off like a bat out of hell performance starts to curve off sharply, with the official 0-100km/h time coming in at 9.0 seconds. The fully regenerative braking system feels a little course while pulling to a halt.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Volt has a smooth and comfortable ride that is most definitely geared towards the comfort end of the spectrum. However, the Volt does remain low and flat when thrown through some corners, but the 1700kgs odd of mass does give a little body roll. But, the Volt is more at home just cruising around in utter silence.

Not so good : Because of the low nature of the Volt and the even lower front lip spoiler, the Volt scraps over pretty much anything, speed humps, pot holes, supermarket driveways, you name it. However, Holden reassures that the spoiler is made of soft materials that flex and that it’s designed to improve overall aerodynamics.

Buying and Owning

Good : Holden offer capped price servicing on Volt’s first four standard scheduled log book services for the first three years or 60,000km, whichever comes first, and an eight year / 160,000 kilometre transferrable warranty that covers the battery and Voltec components. Plus a three year/ 100,000 kilometre warranty on the vehicle.

So this should give you some peace of mind when thinking of purchasing an EV. The battery pack / petrol generator rids any concern of ‘range anxiety’; it’s pretty sweet as a town car or the short commute to and from work.

Not so good : The asking price might be a little bit of a stretch for most buyers, considering the price point puts the Volt into European premium car territory.

Holden Barina Hatchback

Price range

$15,990 – $20,490

Overall

Good: Low price, improved looks and four airbags as standard.

Not so Good: Feels like a cheap car; the Manual gearbox is below par; far from class-leading.

Design and Engineering

Good : The August 2008 Holden Barina mid life facelift improves the front-end looks; styled by Italian design house Giugiaro.

Not so good : Look past the styling updates and the overall shape (which arrived in Australia back in December 2005) of the Barina is getting a little bit dated…

Interior and Styling

Good : The new and improved dashboard with an integrated audio and a new instrument cluster.

Not so good : Where are all the storage options? Updated dash still lags behind leading competitors in both materials used and the ‘fit and finish’; front seats are wide but too flat and lack support. Rear seat room is nothing to shout about; it feels cheap in here.

Performance

Good : We found that with a driver and one passenger aboard, the 1.6L engine has ample power for city driving.

Not so good : Slightly disappointing 1.6L engine feels like its working more than it should at highway speeds; five-speed manual doesn’t like to be hurried (the 4-speed auto is a better bet).

Ride and Handling

Good : The ride and handling balance sits about mid-field compared with other light cars.

Not so good : Power steering is not the best, a touch too heavy in heavy traffic; too much cabin noise at speed; tyres lack grip. No sports hatch.

Buying and Owning

Good : ANCAP has rated this model with a 5 star safety rating. The additional 2 airbags compared to previous models is a big tick; the Holden Barina nameplate is well known to Aussie car buyers so resale should not be a problem.

Not so good : Having to pay extra for ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System); No Electronic Stability Control (ESC), not even as an option; fuel economy is close to the back of the pack for a light car.

Holden Barina Sedan

Price range

$16,490 – $20,990

Overall

Good: Low starting price; Updated styling inside and out; Six airbags as standard.

Not so Good: It feels like a cheap car; manual gearbox is below par; far from class-leading.

Design and Engineering

Good : The sixth generation Holden Barina sedan arrived down under in February 2012 featuring headlight and grille designs that look similar to the Captive range.

The new Barina boasts a more aggressive and muscular appearance with a wide stance, sharp body panels and sporty proportions.

Up front the the Barina features sharp ‘eagle’ like headlights that adds to the aggressive styling.

Not so good : The new aggressive and muscular appearance might deter some female customers from the Barina, luckily Holden offer the cute little Spark hatch.

Interior and Styling

Good : Inside the Barina features a pretty funky interior that takes design cues from its smaller sibling the Spark.

The design theme has an aviation feel to it, with its round afterburner air vents and the way each panel features sharp lines.

The family resemblance continues with the Barina featuring an ice blue LCD gauge cluster and centre stack that look very similar to the Spark hatch.

Also, the massive 502-litre illuminated boot is a bonus and easily swallows the weekly shop.

Not so good : The updated dash still lags behind leading competitors with Holden making use of hard plastics and the overall ‘fit and finish’ isn’t quite there.

Performance

Good : The Barina is powered by a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine that produces 85kw of power and 155Nm of torque when matched to the 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission with active select (option). With a driver and one passenger on board the 1.6-litre has more than enough power for city cruising.

Not so good : The 1.6-litre sounds very harsh under acceleration and there is a bit of vibration at highway speeds.

Ride and Handling

Good : Ride and handling is comparable with other Supermini’s; sedan bodystyle feels stiffer and the wider track (than the hatch) helps with high-speed stability.

Not so good : The power steering is not the best, being a touch too heavy in heavy traffic; cabin noise at highway speeds; standard tyres lack grip.

Buying and Owning

Good : The Barina nameplate is well known to Aussie buyers; the 5-star ANCAP rating is a massive tick. The front end styling is one of the most attractive we’ve seen on a supermini in a little while, let’s hope Holden continue down route.

Not so good : Steering feel, suspension and seating comfort are still only average.

Holden Barina Spark Hatchback

Price range

$12,490 – $14,490

Overall

Good: Concept-car-like ‘look at me’ exterior styling; decent amounts of interior space; steering feel; high levels of standard safety features.

Not so Good: Cheap cabin plastics; small boot space; engine is noisy at high revs.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving Down Under in October 2010 the Barina Spark is a boldly styled Supermini that has thankfully retained much of the drama of the dramatic Beat concept car unveiled at the New York Motor Show a few years ago. The Spark is an interesting design (definitely more dramatic than the competing Suzuki Alto or the half size larger Nissan Micra). We like the extra oversized headlight clusters which amazingly go from the front bumper all the way back to the bottom of the windscreen. The rear door handles are neatly integrated into the c-pillar to help give the practical 5-door only bodystyle a hint of 3-door sportiness and at the back the exhaust housings are integrated into the lower rear bumper – very cool.

Not so good : The Barina Spark is narrower than the average Supermini at just under 1.6m wide (however this equates to a plus when negotiating narrow lanes and parking in tight spots). Not everyone ‘gets’ the slightly wild styling, one of our testers thinks the Spark is an overly busy design and the entry level CD grade comes with 14 inch wheels (the CDX gets 15’s) which look at least one size too small against the relatively tall 1.5m body.

Interior and Styling

Good : The adventurous styling continues inside with a dual cockpit cabin design, a motorcycle-inspired driver’s instrument pad with ice-blue illumination and colour coded dash and door panels. The driving position gets the thumbs up thanks to the nicely shaped steering wheel which adjusts for rake (up and down), but not reach (in and out), and comfortably roomy front seats.

Considering the tiny exterior footprint the amount of room inside is most impressive and storage space is also well catered for thanks to a glovebox, a funky shaped storage tray on the dash and even an underseat storage tray (CDX grade only). The rear seat can fit three adults (but of course it’s a big squeeze for shoulder room) and is noticeably more roomy than the similar sized Suzuki Alto.

Not so good : Upfront the dash is made from cheap plastics and the rev counter in the driver’s binnacle could be clearer to view; the high-set rear side doors reduces second row passengers (especially small children) view outwards; with the rear seats up the boot is a tiny 170 litres (thankfully the rear seats can split fold flat in the usual 60/40 configuration for a much more useable 570 litres of cargo space); as with a number of cars at this price the Barina Spark does without an external boot release handle (the key must be inserted to open).

Performance

Good : The Barina Spark’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine produces 59kW of power and 107Nm of torque. Thanks to a low vehicle weight and the smooth shifting five-speed gearbox it feels sufficiently zippy in a city environment (but only as long as you’re happy to give it a few revs). Fuel economy is low at 5.6 litres per 100kms (official combined figure).

Not so good : The engine sounds coarse and overly loud at times (extra sound insulation adds weight which goes against the principles of a little city car). The maximum torque figure arrives almost at the engines rev limit so maximum ‘oomph’ requires frequent gear changing (especially in hilly areas).

Ride and Handling

Good : The steering has a natural feel (thanks in part to the traditional hydraulic setup rather than the newer electric systems) yet at the same time it is nice and light – so parking is never an arm wrestle. This is an easy car to drive; it rides over urban corrugations and potholes impressively and yet isn’t afraid of highway usage – staying composed at freeway speeds.

Not so good : The relatively simple suspension doesn’t like corrugations taken at higher speeds (but this is not really what a City car is all about!) and bodyroll is more evident than some – driving enthusiasts will have more fun punting the competing Suzuki Alto along (but again, this is surely not one of the more important attributes for an inexpensive Supermini).

Buying and Owning

Good : Excellent levels of safety features with both CD and CDX grades coming standard with six airbags – dual front, front side and full length curtain, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, traction control and electronic brake distribution. Both grades also come with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, air-conditioning, remote central locking, a body kit and a rear spoiler.

The CDX grade adds bigger (and slighter wider) 15-inch alloy wheels and a larger rear spoiler to the exterior, and rear power windows, the under-seat storage tray and ‘Sportec’ synthetic seat and steering-wheel finishing inside. As well as the typical accessories (i.e. carpet mats) owners can further personalize their Spark with side ‘tattoo’ and patterned stripe decals.

Not so good : At this stage the Barina Spark is only available with a manual gearbox, however an automatic transmission is expected to join the range later in 2011.

Holden Caprice Sedan

Price range

$61,990 – $69,990

Overall

Good: The best-looking Caprice ever. Just as tempting to spend your time behind the wheel as as it is to relax in the rear watching a movie AND huge amounts of space & features for the money.

Not so Good: It doesn’t exactly ‘sip’ on its fuel. At 5.2 metres it takes up a lot of space in the car park

Design and Engineering

Good : Going on sale in September 2006, the WM Series Caprice has truly great styling – thank a long wheelbase, short front overhang and the huge single piece side stamping (for the first time the rear quarter panel is one smooth panel).

We love the four rear exhaust pipes (V8 grade); LED indicators and tail lamps to differentiate Holden’s Executive sedan from the less-expensive Commodore’s. You can thank the export market for the unique looks – without this, it would certainly be a lesser car.

The mid-life facelift (WM Series II) launched in September 2010.

Not so good : Hmmmm…not much. It’s not light (however it would be significantly more expensive to use costly lightweight materials). Some of us here think the Caprice would look better without the chrome-finished grille.

Interior and Styling

Good : The Caprice has niceties such as rain-sensing wipers, a booming Bose audio system, Bluetooth connectivity and front & rear parking sensors to ensure you don’t scratch the attractive body. The sports steering wheel is a little too chunky, yet is still comfortable to hold and the sports seats are on the wide side but still leave you feeling fresh after hours behind the wheel… Huge amounts of rear seat space (superior to the competing Chrylser 300C), plus, a rear DVD player with dual LCD screens.

Not so good Whilst the interior is a fine place to spend time, the “touch and feel” factor can’t match that of more expensive European luxury brands.

Performance

Good : The V8 sounds terrific! With the new Active Fuel Management (AFM) system in the Gen 4 V8, power and torque is cut back a little for the sake of better fuel economy and emissions – thankfully we couldn’t notice the power cut when behind the wheel. Nice one, Holden.

Not so good : The performance comes at a price – this V8 still likes to drink. The six-speed auto transmission can be caught out selecting a gear too low or high at times. The V6 prefers relaxed driving as it gets all too noisy should you spend much time at high revs.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Caprice is marketed as more of a sporty, performance model compared to the discontinued Statesman, so thankfully the overall handling is very impressive (which is no mean feat for a vehicle over 5 metres long!) This is a driver’s car: the suspension is slighty firm and its handling dynamics are superior to the competing 300C.

Not so good : Improved handling often means they have to sacrifice the ride a little – so, it’s a little on the firm side. Furthermore, tyre noise is more evident than ideal.

Buying and Owning

Good : Only true competitor in price and size is the Chrysler 300C which the Caprice easily beats in interior space and ride & handling.

Not so good : Whilst it’s only a fraction of the price of cars like the 7-Series, S-Class or Lexus LS, these vehicles have much larger development budgets which allows for improved fuel economy compared to the Caprice’s V8 (even with the new AFM fuel saving system fitted).

Holden Captiva SUV

Price range

$27,990 – $43,490

Overall

Good: Low prices mean good value for money. The entry-level Captiva 5 is a decent buy for many urban dwellers PLUS the updated Turbo Diesel engine is a welcome addition to the range. Overall, this Captiva is a big improvement over the previous GM Daewoo sourced product.

Not so Good: The Captiva SUV is far from the best in on road refinement levels with only an average ride and a non-premium feel to the interior

Design and Engineering

Good : The Captiva arrived in Australia during October 2006, and was followed into the market by the Captiva 5 (as in 5 seats) in December 2009. A mid life facelift made its debut in February 2011. The exterior has a conservative, yet attractive design. The monocoque style (the body of the vehicle taking some of the load rather than the chassis) is much better suited to on-road driving than previous mid-size Holden SUV’s the Jackaroo & Frontera. Holden has differentiated the styling between the Captiva ‘5’ and ‘7’ with the latter gaining slim-line light clusters with projector-style headlights. For added road presence the top of the range LX grade is now fitted with 19-inch alloys.

Not so good : The Captiva 7’s smaller footprint on the road translates to less space inside than the competing Toyota Kluger and Ford Territory, but the smaller Captiva 5 compares very well with its compact competitors (i.e. Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V).

Interior and Styling

Good : A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard across the range, and the Captiva 7 retains its seven folding seats, arranged not only to be folded flat, (including the front passenger seat), but configured in numerous ways for load flexibility. Combined with a large boot, the Captiva 7 has a lot of cargo space, and there are plenty of storage compartments for odds and ends. Fortunately for children, there is good rear seat visibility and the audio connectivity has been stepped up with Bluetooth streaming now standard on the ‘7’. There is also an electronic handbrake. The overall quality of the materials has improved with the interior of this generation Captiva SUV.

Not so good : Although better than the previous Captiva, the interior is not the classiest of compact SUVs. Flat front seats that lack support, tacky plastics and the instruments look cheap…among other things.

Performance

Good : There are three engines to choose from. The Captiva 5 is available with a 2.4L four cylinder petrol that produces 123kW of power and 230Nm of torque or a 2.2L turbo diesel with 135kW and 400Nm. The Captiva 7 is available with the latter turbo diesel or a 3.0L V6 petrol providing 190kW and 288Nm.

All grades are available with a six speed automatic transmission but the 2.4L Captiva 5 is the only one available with a manual (also a six speed).

The official combined fuel economy figures range from 8.1L per 100kms for the diesel powered Captiva 7 in SX trim, to 11.3L per 100kms for the petrol V6. Entry level grades are front wheel drive, the others all wheel drive.

All three engines are improvements over the pre facelift grades. The most improved however are the diesel (power is up by a big 23% and torque 25%) and the four cylinder petrol (power was 103kW now a much healthier 123kW).

We’d say the pick of bunch is the turbo diesel. The 400Nm of torque easily trumps the ‘top of the range’ petrol V6 (288Nm is nothing special) and the fuel economy is far better. Especially in the real world.

Not so good : We found the 3.0-litre V6 to be a touch noisy at revs and it lacks in torque for a V6.

Ride and Handling

Good : While the Captiva retains the same basic suspension layout as before, improvements were made in early 2011. In an effort to improve cornering, the rear suspension and the front anti-roll bar were toughened up with the aim of reducing body roll. Out on the open road the stiffer suspension is a noteworthy improvement and the handling is above average for a compact/medium sized SUV.

Not so good : It’s still behind the class-leading SUVs for spirited driving. The compact SUV sized Volkswagen Tiguan or the medium sized Ford Territory are noticeably more fun to drive. The ride is only average and potholes are dealt with too loudly in the cabin.

Buying and Owning

Good : It ticks the safety box with six airbags including side and curtain airbags, now standard across all grades.

The expanded range is now undoubtedly better value. Prices were reduced across almost all grades, in spite of the addition of more equipment and stronger performance. It has also gained some refinement.

Front and rear parking sensors, hill start assist and an electronic handbrake that frees up room on the centre console are now standard across the Captiva 5 range.

The mid spec CX grade gains climate control, driver information display, rear-park assist, six-disc CD player and 18-inch wheels over the entry level SX, among other things. The top of the range LX grade features 19 inch alloys, leather trim, a rear view camera, USB port and seven-inch touch screen with sat-nav.

Holden’s aggressive pricing means that the medium-sized Captiva is priced as though it’s a small SUV… Good value!

Not so good : It is smaller inside than a Toyota Kluger or Ford Territory although this could be seen as a positive as Australian new car buyers are moving to smaller vehicles.

Holden Colorado 7 Large SUV

Price range

$46,990 – $50,490

Overall

Good: Large three tonne towing capacity; Spacious interior; True 4×4 off road capability; Serious on-road presence.

Not so Good: Loud and unrefined diesel engine; Hard and cheap looking interior plastics; No touch screen or Satellite Navigation.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving down under in November 2012, the Holden Colorado 7 is the first true off-roader Holden has produced in more than a decade.

There is no doubt that the Colorado 7 features a bold and muscular design that appeals to the manliest of men.

The gaping front grille is highlighted by a chrome strip that adds a touch of elegance to the overall tough appearance. The large flared wheel arches give the Colorado 7 some serious on-road presence and the distinctive upper glass canopy that wraps around the rear corners of the exterior is a nice touch.

Not so good : The Colorado 7 would look great with a set of 19 or 20-inch alloy wheels, but larger alloys would limit off-road capabilities.

Interior and Styling

Good : Available in two specifications, the entry level LT and top-spec LTZ. The LT model is fairly well equipped with Reversing Camera and Park Assist, multifunction leather wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth with USB and Aux inputs, six-speaker audio system, power windows and roof mounted rear air-conditioning controls with second and third row air vents.

The LTZ model adds Leather seat trim, six-way electric adjustable driver’s seat, eight-speaker audio system with amplifier, single zone climate control, chrome interior door handles, gloss Piano Grey centre stack mouldings, chrome gear shifter and power fold mirrors.

There is plenty of room to stretch out, the third row seating actually offers up a decent amount leg space for passengers.

Meanwhile, the Colorado 7 has a generous 235 litre rear cargo area with the third row seats engaged, fold the third row seating down and the cargo area increases to 878 litres. Additional storage is available with the second row tumbled (1,780 litres) and folded (1,830 litres).

Not so good : Because the Colorado 7 is built with off-road driving in mind, the interior features hard and durable materials over soft touch plastics. We would of liked to have seen captain seats up front with fold down armrests – but hey, you can’t have it all.

Performance

Good : Powering the Colorado 7 range is a 2.8-litre Duramax in-line 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine. When matched to six-speed automatic transmission with Active Select the 2.8-litre turbo diesel produces 132kW of power and 470Nm of torque. The 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine has plenty of pulling power – three tonne in fact; which is more than enough to haul the family and a heap of gear around.

Not so good : While there’s no denying the true grunt of the 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine, it’s not the most refined engine on the block. While sitting at idle the engine rattles away like a truck.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Colorado 7’s chassis has been engineered independently of the Colorado LCV Utility range, Holden says it offers up better passenger comfort. While both models share an independent double wishbone front suspension set up, the Colorado 7 features a five-link live axle rear suspension configuration that is unique to the SUV and coil springs front and rear. The Holden Colorado’s off-road performance is thanks to a part time four-wheel drive system with transfer case, with low and high ratio gears, Shift on the Fly and Limited Slip Differential. Colorado 7’s Descent Control System further enhances its 4X4 capability. With the decent amount of torque on offer and the part time four-wheel drive system, the Colorado 7 will handle almost any terrain with relative ease.

Not so good : Because of the sheer size of the Colorado 7, it gets a little tricky manoeuvring around narrow inner city streets.

Buying and Owning

Good : Backed by a 5-star ANCAP safety rating, throw in a whole host of standard features and matched to a bold and muscular design – Holden might just have a winner. If that’s not enough, the Colorado 7 also comes with Holden’s Capped Price Servicing for the first four standard scheduled logbook services for the first three years or 60,000km, for just $295.

Not so good : Unless you’re a serious outdoors type that loves a bit of off-road driving or have a boat and like some weekend fishing, the Colorado 7 might not as refined as some of the more soft-roaders on the market.

Holden Commodore Sedan

Price range

$37,990 – $57,290

Overall

Good: Smart styling; great ride & handling; serious amounts of space for 5 adults. The SS variant is a modern take on the muscle cars of yesteryear…

Not so Good: No diesel powered variants on offer; limited mid-life facelift exterior changes.

Design and Engineering

Good : Launched in August 2006 the VE Series Commodore is a truly great design with a terrificly solid ‘wheel at each corner’ stance, a tough front-end and a pert rear; rear wheel drive layout helps in the handling stakes. The mid-life facelift (VE Series II) arrived in September 2010 and thankfully the design hasn’t changed for the worse.

Not so good : Small side mirrors contribute to the great design (but could be bigger…so you could see more). The fat A-pillars can also restrict vision (especially when at a T intersection). VE Series II exterior changes to the top selling Omega (entry-level) grade are limited to a tiny raised lip on the boot lid and slight changes to the front bumper – so don’t expect your post September 2010 Commodore to stand out from earlier VE’s in the parking lot.

Interior and Styling

Good : The high number of driver adjustment controls means almost anyone should be able to get comfortable behind the wheel. There are also huge amounts of space for front and rear occupants, clear instrument dials & large easy-to-use control knobs, adequate front storage space, a comfortable rear bench seat and a large boot. The big change inside, from VE to VE Series II, is the 6.5-inch touch-screen Holden-iQ system (yes, it’s even standard on the entry level Omega) positioned in the re-designed (and better looking) centre console surround. Dual-zone climate control is also standard across the range.

Not so good : The electric window controls continue to be positioned in the unusual centre console position and the handbrake still looks like an afterthought and feels flimsy. The high waistline exterior design affects visibility for kids in the rear seats.

Performance

Good : The standard 3.0L V6 petrol engine offers more than enough poke to shift 1,700kg plus of Commodore – however, it’s tough to beat the grumble of the V8-powered grades with the 6.0-litre engine sounding great at low, as well as high, revs. Overall, the Commodore offers a quiet ride with minimal wind noise at highway speeds.

Not so good : Fuel economy of the V6 is good, but not great.

Ride and Handling

Good : The brilliant handling is fun and inspires confidence, the steering is light yet informative and the smooth ride stays composed over the worst of surfaces – superior to a number of much more expensive European offerings. The optional ‘Redline Edition’ package brings substantial wheel, braking and suspension upgrades for the V8-powered V-Series models.

Not so good : Too much tyre noise on variants with 18-inch and up size alloys; the ride comfort also diminishes (most noticeable over rough Aussie back roads).

Buying and Owning

Good : Value for money. High levels of standard safety kit – both active and passive: ABS, TC and ESC have all been designed for Australian conditions and it shows. The ESC is a very important safety feature, and on dirt roads Holden have tuned it to work excellently – ensuring the Commodore is an excellent choice for out on the open road.

Not so good : Low resale rating for a number of the variants – similar to Falcon, blame the fact that it’s a popular fleet and taxi car, so they have a high turnover and often turn up at auctions when they’re only three years old.

Holden Commodore Sportwagon

Price range

$42,490 – $61,790

Overall

Good: Fantastic looks & great handling – a serious alternative to all those big 4×4’s that spend their lives in suburbia; If you can afford the fuel bills an SS-V is a great choice; Z-Series value for money

Not so Good: Lacks a middle rear passenger headrest; speaking of which, almost five metres long yet only seats five?

Design and Engineering

Good : Launched in July 2008 the VE Series Sportwagon is a stylish and sporty family-friendly machine with dare we say, Euro beating looks – in our eyes it’s cooler than the sedan (which is also a great design). The shorter-than-previous wheelbase contributes to this Sportwagon being a better ‘drivers’ car.

Now the hatch hinges open further up the roofline, so you can park it close to a wall and still open the tailgate.

Not so good : Small side mirrors contribute to the good looks, but would offer greater visibility if they were a bit larger. The much-improved design comes at the expense of cargo capacity (however, you couldn’t really say it’s limited).

The VE Series II arrived in September 2010, but you’ll struggle to notice the changes to the exterior (excluding the sports grades).

Interior and Styling

Good : Heaps of room up front with (almost) all controls right where they should be PLUS they’re large and clear. Steering adjusts for both tilt & reach. Plenty of storage options up front; comfortable rear seats that fold flat to open up a very usable wide and long cargo space; very roomy rear seat leg and headroom – even with the sloping rear roofline. The big change inside, from VE to VE Series II, is the 6.5-inch touch-screen Holden-iQ system (yes, it’s even standard on the entry level Omega) positioned in the re-designed (and better looking) centre console surround.

Not so good : Fat A-pillars obstructs cornering visibility whilst the high exterior doorline styling limits visibility for the kiddies in the rear. Lack of rear storage compartments, especially in the boot.

Performance

Good : Whilst not the smoothest engine the V6 still has enough oomph for urban and country driving.

The SS and SS-V have oodles of character and plenty of speed with that mighty 6.0-litre V8.

Not so good : Unfortunately, the extra weight of the wagon body style over the Commodore sedan takes a slight edge off the V6’s performance.

Ride and Handling

Good : The Sportwagon sure does the great design proud thanks to excellent handling & great steering feedback. An overall semi-comfortable ride (though better to be in the front than rear) and it stays flat through high speed cornering.

Not so good : The sporty ride & handling comes at the expense of the rear passengers, it’s a tad firmer back there – thank the stiffer suspension settings than on the equivalent Commodore sedan.

Buying and Owning

Good : Minimal price difference over a Commodore sedan; all models come standard with 6 airbags; smarter buy than the Commodore due to greater expected resale values.

Not so good: If you spend most of your time in busy traffic – think twice about the 6.0L V8 as it’s thirsty when standing still…