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Lumina SS bakkie tested

2008-08-29 07:20

Lance Branquinho

It may be a purple, pushrod powered bakkie incapab

It may be a purple, pushrod powered bakkie incapable of carrying a ton; but with a 270kW, 6-litre V8 you’ll be able to wake up the neighbourhood each morning in style.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Chevrolet
Model Lumina SS Ute
Engine 6-litre, V8
Power 270kW @ 5 700r/min
Torque 530Nm @ 4 400r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 5.44 seconds
Top Speed 240km/h
Fuel Tank 73-litres
Fuel Consumption 15.2l/100km
Weight 1613kg
ABS Yes, with EBA and ESP
Airbags Dual stage front
Tyres 245/45 R15
Front Suspension McPherson strusts
Rear Suspension Multi-link
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 3 year/60 000km
Warranty 3 year/100 000km
Price R375 900
What’s it about

Conceptually the Chevrolet Lumina Ute is probably as relevant as a beauty contest at a feminist convention; it’s probably also the best export to emanate from Australia - ever.

Only in South African and Australia does the idea of a super fast V8 bakkie with nearly no ground clearance or skaap carrying utility find any resonance.

Even bakkie obsessed Americans see no use for something with a ‘load box’ and negligible ground clearance (Lumina’s 110mm is hardly plaaspad worthy clearance), and in grey, precipitation rich Europe a bakkie makes no sense whatsoever.

Consider yourself fortunate then, to be in a position to purchase this 270kW, half-ton-and-a-bit carrying bakkie locally, where its huge performance and radical styling presence enables it to mix with some much esteemed German sports cars cars in performance comparisons.


Beyond the unashamedly brazen styling and lurid colour schemes (would you believe our Morpheus purple test car is actually one of the more reserved hues?) you’re left with a 5m long two-door vehicle, powered by a pushrod operated, 16-valve, oversquare 270kW V8 engine.

It may be missing some valves, but with a swept volume of 6-litres performance is effortless thanks to 270kW and 530Nm.

All-aluminium in construction the latest Lumina V8 owes nothing in design to the classic Chevy small-block V8s says GM. With the engine spec sheet still listing technical acronyms such as ‘OHV’ instead of ‘OHC’ we hardly see a vast technological leap between the Lumina’s V8 and GM small-blocks of yore…

Whereas the Lumina’s spiritual forebear – the fourth generation El Camino SS widow-maker bakkie of the 70s – had live-rear axles and the handling fluidity of a rock-fall, the Lumina features independent suspension all-round, revealing its bias away from utility and towards performance driving.

Considering utility the Lumina SS has about as much bakkie credentials as Luke Watson has quota player credence. It only caries 622kg, which means you’ll need to do double trips to the construction site incessantly.

Though GM romanticises the notion of plonking a quad bike on the back – the loadbay is capacious – this is a primarily a two-seater performance car with occasional odd-shaped item manoeuvrability. Good for rushing a new leather couch home in time for the rugby on Saturday afternoon from Northgate mall by yourself.

It must be the only time since the Peugeot 504 bakkie where the two-door, load box version of a model is better looking than the four-door sedan.

On the inside

Basic it may be, but the Lumina SS bakkie is loaded with kit and comfort features. Infotainment is catered for by a six-disc shuttle CD/MP3 enabled stereo system controlled via a well resolved 6.5-inch multifunction screen.

Bluetooth phone capability is standard too, and most surfaces you touch in the cabin are leather trimmed. This includes the very chunky, three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, which I found a mite too large in diameter and unwieldy at times when catching naughty little second gear powerslides.

In daylight the red-lit instrumentation is hardly legible, and though the motoring media press corps are not exceptionally well versed in math, we do live and die by our font sizes and styles, and I can tell you the Lumina’s needs a redesign. If it was not for the electronic speed read-out between the two main dials you’d be lost guessing what pace you’re going.

For the rest it’s nearly powered everything and a level of comfort and convenience which seems positively alien in a bakkie - though the lack of side-airbags are inexcusable. There are some asymmetrical features too, like the manual passenger seat (driver gets electric convenience) and the power windows which only have one-touch opening (not closing) capability.

Touring comfort is great, and a strong differentiating characteristic between the Lumina’s Australian roots and most Japanese bakkies is easily seen in the ergonomic parameters of the interior. The seats are huge and comfy – real 'Outback-bloke' spec items - and behind them there’s now 220-litres worth of stowage space available, up from 90 litres previously.

On the road

Strange it may be, in the real world this is a hugely entertaining vehicle though, with dynamic sophistication nearly at odds with the Aussie roots and severe styling.

The stubby, short throw six-speed manual shifter is heavy and has a languid throw action, while the resistant clutch is to be expected considering the responsibilities 530Nm bring to bear on it. With such an abundant torque peak available from only 1 750r/min, second gear pull-aways and short shifting is the civilized way to amble around town – especially in the wet. The auto option is avaliable at no extra cost.

Although the Lumina is indecently fast – to be expected with a 530Nm 6-litre V8 lump up front powering around only 1 613kg – there is an overall refinement which belies the sensation of speed. Nevertheless 0-100km/h in 5.44 seconds and real world 80-120km/h fourth gear flexibility of 5.05 seconds equates to seriously rapid motoring, though the tangible feel is less frantic.

Beyond the gently rocking sensation of the cabin at idle thanks to those eight interlocking 750cc cylinders firing away, the Lumina is not impossible to live with as a daily runner. GM claims 14.2l/100km consumption, during a week of urban commuting and rural cruising in cold conditions (climate controlremained off) we averaged 15.2l/100km.

The bakkie configuration and huge power output predispose most onlookers to wait in glee for you to put it sideways into a wall. Fortunately the sophisticated suspension – for a bakkie that is – and limited-slip rear differential ensure a level of handling prowess that enables very swift cross-country distance covering ability.

Steering is pretty decent - if a little light - and the front end grip, even when flung into corners with alacrity, is nearly as commendable as the overall body control.

The rear-end will always feel light though, those much of this sensation was probably a subconscious predisposition for me, stemming from years of driving leaf-sprung, utilitarian bakkies on treacherous west coast dirt roads.

Hooligans will rejoice though, as huge powerslides are only a steering flick and throttle dab away, though best left for track days, although even with the ESP on there’s a margin of second gear twitchiness from the rear which can be entertained in urban driving.

With the ESP off, third-gear wheelspin in the damp is simply an incremental right-ankle movement away to test the resolve of your passenger…

High speed stability is ace, especially considering the airflow management challenge presented by the bakkie shape. As a two-seater GT with huge luggage carrying capacity, the Lumina makes an awful lot of sense.

One dynamic feature which did not inspire a commensurate amount of confidence were the brakes, with way too much pedal travel necessitated before meaningful caliper to disc interaction. I can only assume the lack of weight and downforce on the rear axle is partly to blame for the lack of feel and delayed response.


Completely senseless yet outrageously fun, the Lumina is a quintessentially Australian engineering venture which finds much virtue transposed onto the local, bakkie obsessed market place.

In a motoring world which has become exponentially environmentally aware in the last 18 months the Lumina SS bakkie is an anarchism, from its complete lack of load-carrying utility to its two-valve per cylinder, pushrod V8 engine.

The image will repel many performance driving enthusiasts who’ll invariably gravitate towards something German, at twice the price, offering comparable performance.

Quick, refined, fun to drive with uncannily neat stability at speed and on-demand rear-wheel drive V8 addled hooliganism, at the price Lumina’s SS bakkie is a performance steal.

Be prepared for a flood of Barney the dinosaur jokes if you order a purple one though – which is exactly what you should do.


Genuine styling presence
Comfortable, spacious interior
Effortless, under stressed V8 performance
Neat dynamics for a bakkie
Huge value


It thinks frugality is a French dessert
Brakes need better feel
Should have side airbags
Styling and image too much for most


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