Alfa Romeo
Land Rover
Holden Sportwagon
Wonder wagon
October 2008

YOU have to be bold to put words like Sport and Wagon together.

Like Fun Run, Safe Bet, Working Holiday and Army Intelligence, they just don’t seem to gel.

The humble station wagon traditionally has been a conservative and practical beast, the domain of families, people with large, hairy dogs and Bundaberg Rum sales reps.

But Holden has come up with a vehicle to change all our perceptions.

The all-new VE Sportwagon, a stylish and athletic looking brother of the Commodore, is making every post a winner.

It went on sale mid-July after being unveiled as a production-based concept at the Australian International Motor Show in Sydney last year.

There are seven variants, ranging from the V6 Omega ($37,990), to the Berlina ($41,290) that we tested, and the plush, top-of-the-range V8 Calais ($60,290).

Car-like handling is achieved by using the same wheelbase, drivetrain and suspension systems as the Commodore, yet clever design delivers the additional cargo space wagon lovers require.

Add to this similar fuel consumption _ around 11 litres for every 100km covered _ plus the fact it’s only $1000 dearer than the sedan and why wouldn’t you buy the more versatile offering?

Giving it some pizazz has meant a slight compromise on size with the Sportwagon 15cm shorter than the old Holden station wagon.

With seats in normal positions there’s still plenty of luggage space, however, some 895 litres. With rear seats folded, there’s 2000 litres and almost two metres of flat space.

Functionality is also further improved with the introduction of a two-position cargo blind that slides up the D pillar. When raised, it allows items to be loaded to window height and it can be easily lowered again to conceal and protect valuable objects without the inconvenience of having to reach into the back seat.

Other design improvements likely to appeal to family and business users include a higher cargo floor load level than the previous model and handy features including two shopping bag hooks, eight tie-down hooks in the cargo area, 12 volt power outlet and low mounted cargo lamp.

Sportwagon offers the largest amount of rear headroom of all the VE variants and increased rear knee and leg room over its VZ predecessor.

Up front has a familiar Commodore-like look and feel, with centrally-positioned power window buttons and plenty of storage options, including long door bins capable of holding 600ml bottles.

All models come with six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, cruise control, alloy wheels, automatic headlights, air-conditioning and reverse parking sensors. They come in handy, because vision is slightly impeded by the small rear window.

The Berlina adds 17-inch alloy wheels (Omega has 16-inchers), front fog lights, leather wrap steering wheel, trip computer with triple display, Bluetooth connectivity for compatible mobile phones, six-disc in-dash CD player, MP3 compatibility, four-way electric adjustment of driver’s seat, dual zone electronic climate control, and a six-inch multifunction display screen.

Omega and Berlina come with the tried and true 3.6L Alloytec V6 engine that produces peak power of 180kW and 330Nm of torque. This is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.

The V6 gets the job done with the minimum of fuss, but can be a bit noisy when stirred.

The big improvement, of course, is handling. The shorter wheelbase ensures the Sportwagon is considerably more dextrous than the previous station wagon.

Parking is a breeze and the turning circle quite respectable at just over 11m.

The clincher is its flashy looks _ this is the George Clooney of wagons.

Everywhere you go, the leaner, more handsome Sportwagon turns heads. Who would have thought someone could pull off such a daring move? Well done Holden! Dads and rum reps around the country salute you.



ENGINE: 3.6 litre V6

POWER: 180kW


TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic


TOWING CAPACITY: 710kg unbraked, 2100kg braked

ECONOMY: 11.1 litres/100km

FOR: Room, car-like handling, well-equipped

AGAINST: Engine noisy when stirred, rear visibility, space-saver spare tyre

BOTTOM LINE: From $37,990 for V6 Omega to $60,290 for V8 Calais V-Series. We tested the Berlina ($41,290)