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First drive: Chev's V8 bakkie

2008-02-25 07:42

Hailey Philander

The Australians aren't all that bad - they've spawned some of the world's most convincing sports people and Kylie Minogue seems nice. And of course, now they've also given us the gorgeous new Chevrolet Lumina SS Ute.

The first total redesign of the Lumina bakkie since 2000 sees more features, better storage and load carrying abilities, and better incorporates its sports car-like characteristics.

Sounds promising, but let's get one thing straight - I am not a bakkie person. However, with advances in comfort and ride quality levels in particular, I can understand why more and more people opt to have these as their "family cars". However, if ever there was a "bakkie" that could haul me over to the butch side, Chevrolet's Lumina Ute SS would be it.

It's telling that in its home market - the same vehicle is sold as the Holden Ute in Australia - this "bakkie" is marketed as a sports coupe. Certainly is food for thought...

The Lumina SS sedan was launched early last year and has already attracted a rather strong and loyal following. Using the already-impressive sedan's rear-wheel drive configuration as a platform, the Ute's suspension has been tweaked to accommodate a loadbox and, compared with its predecessor, it now has a slightly longer wheelbase and wider track.

The sports suspension features coil springs up front and a multi-link rear arrangement. Springs and dampers have been sport tuned and the ride height is lower to just 100 mm. A limited slip differential is standard.

But the Lumina in South Africa's biggest claim to fame is its good old-fashioned six-litre V8, which habitually sends the "no replacement for displacement" chorus humming. Unchanged from its application in the sedan, it dishes out 270 kW at 5 700 r/min and a bone-crunching torque figure of 530 Nm at 4 400 r/min.

Fiendish delivery

Performance figures of this nature - GMSA officials stated a 0 - 100 km/h sprint time of "just under six seconds" and a top speed limited to 240 km/h - suggest the Ute will be subjected to some hard driving.

Consequently, the electronics aid package is comprehensive, including ABS, ESP, EBD, EBA and for the first time on the Ute, traction control. These should do much to set your mind at ease when the most important task is "pushing on a bit". Larger performance brakes are extremely effective at reining in the Ute's meaty 18-inchers. Dual stage front airbags up the safety quotient.

Drive is to the rear wheels via a conventional six-speed manual gearbox or a very neat six-speed electronic automatic transmission. With active select that allows for "manual" gearchanges and a sport shift option for more athletic engine characteristics, this, to me, is the one to go for since even in its basic automatic setting, gearchanges - either up or down - are rapid and almost intuitive.

On the road, the SS Ute is one impressive bakkie. It rewards any squeeze of the throttle with a sonorous roar from its big V8 before galloping ahead. From inside the cabin, it comes across as a sports car that just so happens to have a load box too.

And its road-holding is amazing. It eagerly laps up twisties and, with the unladen loadbox offering a lighter weight over the rear axle, is even game for some lovely sideways action.

Oddly enough, thanks also to the massive torque reserves on offer from its V8, the Lumina SS Ute makes for the perfect cruiser. It doesn't even break a sweat when pushing the legal limit, with the engine merrily ticking over at just under 2 000 r/min.

Easy rider

At those speeds, the cabin is extremely quiet too and allows for a most relaxing experience.

The sport seats are comfortable and the driver unit's height adjustment is electrically controlled. For the driver, there is an all-new instrument panel and the leather-covered steering wheel has controls for the driver display, six-disc in-dash audio system and very comprehensive trip computer. Ute is also fitted with cruise control and a height-adjustable steering wheel.

Comfort features include dual zone climate control and power windows. For the first time, the Ute is also fitted with a load box liner, while a soft tonneau cover is standard again.

The Ute's interior is extremely spacious with recesses behind the seats for storing larger goods and rear seat map pockets and netted storage compartments for stuffing smaller things into.

But if you, like Chevrolet think "performance is everything" it seldom is more fun than in this Ute. And on the launch, GMSA had provided several luminous shades of Lumina to drive this fun point home. This Ute makes even blazing purple and bright green look good - particularly with that very attractive Lumina front end.

Both auto' and manual models cost R359 900 and the price includes a three-year/60 000 km service plan and a three-year/100 000 km warranty.

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