First drive: we get behind the wheel of the new HSV SportsCat
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Clipboards in hand, the instructors reveal the schedule for the day.
First would be a performance brake test on a soaking wet skid pan. Then would come laps of the test facility’s racing circuit. After that we would test chassis balance and the effectiveness of stability control at the limit on a diesel-doused course.
Then, we'd have lunch.
These sound like the fixtures of some kind of sports car launch. Maybe a performance sedan. Or perhaps a well-to-do grand tourer with a kick of lime under the bonnet.
But no, we had been gathered at the Mount Cotton Training Center near the Gold Coast to drive prototypes of the 2018 Holden Colorado SportsCat by HSV.
Yes, a pick-up.
This scale of testing for a humble ute might seem silly to some, but it's hardly surprising if you've been following car sales figures in this part of the world.
Last month, the segment made up nearly half of New Zealand's top 10 sellers. For Holden (a once untouchable sales hero) its Colorado platform was the only model that made the list.
Add to that Toyota's TRD models of Hilux and the upcoming Ford Ranger Raptor — not to mention the death of the Aussie V8 — and the idea of HSV building a sporty Colorado starts to seem more than just logical.
The Colorado SportsCat comes in two trim levels; the foundation model (pictured in grey), and the SportsCat+ model (in red) that packs a variety of extra additives and options.
A restyled front bar houses a pair of three-tonne tow hooks, a grooved silver bash plate, and some bulging grill work.
The SportsCat+ gets a funky egg-crate grill, scalloped fender flares, and a matte black “sail plane” sports bar behind the cabin.
Inside there's a sea of leather and suede, and a pair of reprofiled SV Sports seats that make it one of the most comfortable pick-ups to sit in. All the technology packed into the existing Z71 flagship, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is here, too.
Most of it looks and feels suitably 'sporty', especially the panels of 'Windsor Suede' distributed throughout. But a lot of the standard Colorado's hard plastics remain — most notably on the door cards.
Both get wider guards to support a wider track and a larger wheel and tyre package — 18-inch by 10-inch forged alloys wrapped in Cooper Zeon LT2 285/60 R18s all round. HSV sports suspension with a stiffened front spring rate comes as standard, with highly advanced SupaShock suspension an optional alternative.
These changes are supported by new front-suspension strut braces across all models, and a decoupling 22mm rear anti-roll bar and a forged 4-piston AP Racing brake package specific to the SportsCat+.
On paper it's a compelling handling proposition. In practice, the changes make a world of difference.
It's no Cinderella slipper by any means; on the limit you can still tell you're wielding a heavy utility vehicle. But, in practical tests big improvements to body roll and balance, and bigger improvements to the front end were clear.
It feels far pointier than standard, inspiring much more confidence at speed than a vehicle like this really ought to. The electric steering isn't the sharpest off centre, but it's quick to respond to adjustments.
HSV claimed that the SportsCat was subject to comprehensive track testing at Benella's Winton Raceway, and you can feel that through your fingertips.
Though the bulk of these changes sound road and race-track focused, know that it's still a handy device in an off-road setting.
The Mount Cotton off-road course is relatively mild, but does feature a couple of rather steep ascents. Conscious of the need for versatility, many of HSV's changes also aid the Colorado's chops in the bush. Bigger rubber helps with grip, and the increased 251mm of front ride height helps with approach and departure angle.
But its HSV's recalibrated ESC settings that help the most. Newly created 4WD High and 4WD Low settings help the flow of power as the SportsCat's four-wheel drive system hunts for grip. The hill descent settings get a tweak, too, and provide plenty of solace in our testing.
Now for the bad news.
The SportsCat retains the standard 2.8-litre turbo-diesel Duramax Colorado engine. In general use, its 147kW and 500Nm (on 6-speed automatic models, manual buyers suffer a dip to 440Nm) are adequate. But when draped with all these performance additives and aspirationally sporty vents and scoops, it feels like a weak link, lacking mostly in low-down grunt.
My co-pilot and I found ourselves continually egging it on — often in vain.
HSV typically revels in squeezing power and noise out of its engines, but when quizzed by the invited press about the decision to leave the 2.8-litre Duramax untouched, it was quick to state there was no business case for giving it more power ... the pursuit “didn't make sense”.
Some media outlets have speculated a hotter Colorado from Walkinshaw Performance is on its way, so those wanting more could get their wish if the scuttlebutt is anything to go by.
Pricing is still to be confirmed, with production scheduled to begin next month and deliveries in Australia and New Zealand expected to follow soon afterwards.
The SportsCat is the result of two years of planning, and HSV expect it to help rope in buyers new to the brand. The post-Gen F world remains a murky one for HSV, and the SportsCat could be a key to survival.
2018 HOLDEN COLORADO SPORTSCAT/SPORTSCAT+
Pros: Performance upgrades make it capable on and off road, interior and exterior design tweaks well weighted
Cons: Lack of a power upgrade, interior plastics