F1 tech in a big, seven-seat Swedish SUV? You'd better believe it...
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Ah, an Australian pick-up. Yep, despite the Vauxhall badging, I’m with you there, sport. But more pertinently, it’s the last Australian pick-up. Holden is ceasing production of the Maloo ute – and all other models – as it’s Melbourne plant is being closed. Don’t worry too much about supply as rumour has it HSV, which builds the hot ones, plans to stockpile as many base cars as it can, ready for upgrades. Can’t imagine it won’t eventually be replaced either – but probably by something built in America, which is unlikely to have the same Aussie flavour. This last of the line two-seat, big-motor-up-front, big-space-out-back pick-up is powered by a 6.2-litre supercharged V8. It’s the same basic motor that underpins the Chevy Camaro ZL1, and here develops 537bhp and 495lb ft. Vauxhall claims a 155mph top whack and 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds. That doesn’t sound that fast.
It isn’t these days, but then the Maloo disobeys just about every rule of how to create a fast-launching car. The rear tyres aren’t that fat, there’s no weight over the back axle, it’s got a manual gearbox, the gearing’s long and lazy and it’s rear drive-only. Better than front drive, though. Take it from me, once you’ve dispensed with the first 30mph or so, the Maloo is proper rapid. Just stick it in third and let it haul away. I reckon it would show a Cayman S a clean pair of heels, possibly keep an M3 honest. Naturally you’d have to do this while getting a trucker’s tan, just to complete the humiliation. But does it serve a practical purpose? Of course it does! Look at the size of it, there must be masses of things that fit in that back bay. I do, for instance. Four people could have a picnic in there, two could sleep – there’s even an emergency kidnap handle for when some joker slams the lid on you. It can carry a half-tonne payload, which is probably adequate if you’re planning on filling it full of kite-surfing or mountain biking kit, probably not that adequate if you work on a construction site. And that lifting rear deck lid isn’t the most practical if you have bulky items. We couldn’t close the lid on a traffic cone… Who’s it for then? Your guess is as good as mine. It costs £54,520, which gives it a fairly slender bite at an already slim market. A handful a year in the UK perhaps? Most of them probably advertising wheel refurbishment or car valet companies. Does it drive as clumsily as it looks? Here’s the thing: no. This version is substantially changed from the old 425bhp LS3 model – the suspension’s been fully reworked, for instance. I remember the old one feeling a bit crude, not just in the drivetrain, but the way it went round corners. I wouldn’t say this one is sophisticated, but the steering didn’t judder under pressure and the back axle never hopped around. It was almost… agile. OK, it hasn’t got the turn in grip, feedback or response of an M3, but it can be guided positively into corners, stays faithful to its line, feels stable, composed and trustworthy, and let’s you enjoy its party-piece to the full. What’s its party piece? Doing skids. Honestly? Oh yes. It’s brilliant at that, genuinely brilliant. In fact quite possibly the most brilliant off-the-shelf, manufacturer-standard car in the UK. Better than an M3 or an E63, and that’s saying something. Think about the combination: 544bhp of access-anywhere supercharged power through a manual gearbox, 255-width front tyres, with rears that are only 20mm wider. 275s are unfashionably narrow when you have 544bhp going through them. And completely not up to the task of coping. Plus there’s that empty load bay. Oh, and on the centre console there’s an ESP switch in the middle of the mode dial and when you switch it off, it really is off. So I was at Dunsfold, and even if I went in a bit hot and felt the nose start to run wide, an inch or two of throttle was always enough to restore the balance and get the tail moving. And then, with a full turn of lock applied, it would just take up a stance and merrily boil its back tyres until the tarmac ran out. Happy days! But entirely pointless… I know this is comical and pointless, but it does also speak of a car that is fundamentally well set up. It never snapped on me or did anything nasty. This is a pick-up you can actually manage and drive and enjoy on the public road, it’s not just a hooligan drifter, but a reasonably engaging driver’s car. Look, for a pick-up it surprised me, which means I’d still rather drive a decent hot hatch down a B-road, but would probably smile more often behind the vast steering wheel of the Maloo. It does have a big steering wheel, doesn’t it? And seat. And gearlever. And you can’t see out the back properly as the rear deck lid is so tall. It’s a bit like being ten again and sitting in your Dad’s car trying to reach the pedals. And the drivetrain does shunt at low speeds when you come up on the clutch. But there’s a lot of kit in here, the buttons are all big enough to mash with your fist rather than fingernail, and it’s more dextrous than I thought possible. I know I’ve said that before, but it’s worth repeating – it’s really not as ponderous as you might think. How much does it weigh? Well, it’s still 1750kg, but that’s 135kg less than the VXR8 GTS saloon it’s based on. Oh, and those figures I quoted at the top? Well, they make it the fastest commercial vehicle available in the UK – and probably pretty much everywhere else come to think of it. Except America. I don’t know what America’s fastest commercial vehicle is, but I’d like to find out. Anyone care to enlighten me? Any more practical advice? You can’t have it with a towbar in the UK due to the positioning of the rear fog light, which might lose Vauxhall maybe one sale, maybe two, but nor is it as anti-socially loud and raucous as you might expect, which might earn them one back. Or possibly lose them more. Yeah, the engine needs more exhaust woofle come to think of it. This colour is called ‘Some Like It Hot’, which is very poor, and combined economy stands at 18.5mpg, making this one of the few cars in the UK in which you stand a reasonable chance of matching the claimed figure. There, this is the VXR8 Maloo. It’s faster and more composed then you might expect, drifts as effortlessly as snow and serves no real-world purpose whatsoever. Excellent. Farewell Maloo, it’s been fun.