DRIVEN: VAUXHALL VXR8 MALOO
A Vauxhall in badge only, Holden's barely anglicised ute is as raw, pointless and brilliant as ever
"Strewth mate, that's a beaut ute!" called out a wandering Australian tourist. Or would have done had we seen any Australian tourists or, indeed, if Aussies actually spoke in such stereotyped tones. Which we didn't. And they don't. But our imaginary friend got one thing right - the Maloo is not a pick-up, it's a ute. (Riggers, we need to talk... - Ed) And by ute we mean a car-based vehicle with a flat rear deck and no real off-roader aspirations. Call it a pick-up car as opposed to a pick-up truck.
Other countries have made such things - the Subaru Brat, VW Caddy and Ford Sierra-based P100 being prime examples. Australians, though, have made the ute concept their own, the term first being applied to a Ford in the early 30s and to arch-rival Holden a couple of years later. And it's a rivalry that continues to this day, with Ford and Holden battling one another in the hugely popular Ute racing series that supports the V8 Supercars.
The road-car equivalents slug it out on the road too, and this Maloo is the latest GM offering from Holden Special Vehicles. And, laying down some rubber for Monkey in his Boxster, Vauxhall has chosen a road trip from Cannes, up the famous Route Napoleon to the Geneva motor show to display its talents to us. Jolly nice of 'em.
Vauxhall VXR8, driven on the same roads by our man Towler this time last year. Hence the Vauxhall badges that replace the Holden ones everywhere except on the steering wheel boss - you can order this car now from Vauxhall as the VXR8 Maloo for the princely sum of 51,500.
Strewth mate, etc
What you get for that is essentially a two-seat version of the VXR8 saloon, but with a truly massive load bay (excellent for transporting masses of animal carcasses for the next barbie, we presume) instead of the usual rear seats and doors. You also have to make do without the four-door's magnetorheological dampers. The result is a weight reduction over the saloon of around 60kg, but identical performance (0-62mph in 4.9 seconds) as the lack of weight over the rear wheels limits traction somewhat in extremis.
The cabin ambience will be familiar to those few VXR8 saloon owners who bought the version introduced last year so that's around 35 of you I'm talking to - though hundreds of early LS2 and LS3 VXR8s were sold, the combination of a 50K price and ever-rising fuel costs means the big Vauxhall isn't as popular as it once was. So there are squishily supportive seats, an infotainment system that can measure all sorts of dynamic telemetry (and can be downloaded for showing off at a later date) and a dashboard design that doesn't quite match up to European super-saloon expectations, either in concept or execution.
Actually, that dash seems less of an issue in the Maloo - haute couture it ain't, but then you're probably not into that sort of thing if this sort of car is on your shopping list.
The familiarity of experience continues when you get out on to a quiet, windy road and the Route Napoleon has plenty of those around it. There might not be a great deal of weight over the rear wheels, but it doesn't present a problem - unless you are driving like a nutter there's more than enough traction. If anything, the lighter, looser rear end makes for a more involving experience, and you really don't miss the veneer of sophistication - and let's be honest it is a veneer with cars like this - that the magnetic ride brings to things.
In fact, Gargantuan size, wrong-hand drive (on the continent, at least) and pretty dire visibility are the only things that hamper your progress up mountain roads. The engine and brakes are strong, the steering is direct (if a little light) and the Maloo is far more keen to change direction than something of its size has any right to be.
Perhaps predictably, then, the Maloo is quite a hoot. Although it is also an oddly civilised one - sit inside that cockpit cruising gently along a motorway at next-to-no revs and you could honestly forget that you were driving anything particularly out of the ordinary. But wind up that lazy V8 and you soon remember that the Maloo is something a bit special. Take a glance at it over your shoulder as you leave it parked, and you'll never forget it, a five-metre pick-up with 20-inch alloys will kind of do that to you.
Engine: 6,162cc V8
Transmission: 6-speed manual or auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 431@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406@4,600rpm
0-62mph: 4.9 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight (EC): 1,831 kg
MPG: 21mpg (NEDC combined)