Australia. Most South Africans, when they think of the land down under, will put on bad accent, throw around words like ”shiela” and “mate”, while making references to the late Crocodile Hunter and a cricket team we all supposedly hate. You’ll think of the vast Outback, the Sydney Opera House and the fact that you can buy biltong in Melbourne, and invite most of the people in your street round for a braai. Not a Barbie, because most of your neighbours are South African too.
We seem to love it over there. The weather is great, the country is beautiful like our own, yet we are annoyed by the people at times. And while it may seem like I am writing the introduction to an essay you might have submitted in high school, my ramblings make several good points.
Points which relate directly to a car that, on paper, would have men in business suits laughing their behinds off, and the general motoring public saying “huh?”
But don’t you worry, because the Aussies don’t give a hoot about what you think. Or their bosses. Or anyone, really. I would love to have been in the meeting where the car I’m (slowly) revealing to you was conceived.
The vehicle in question? The Chevrolet Lumina SS Ute, which in Oz is badged as a Holden. Or rather, the Holden Maloo is badged here as the Chevy Lumina Ute. I’m sure the Lumina name, on that note, is not unheard of by most, and the big-engined bumped-up family saloon is no stranger to SA motorists. But that Ute bit, that’s where things change. And oh boy do they get scary!
“Ute” is the Australian word for bakkie, which in a quick synopsis means they took everything from behind the two front seats of the sedan, chucked it out and replaced it all with a load bay. What a brilliant idea! I’m being sarcastic, yes, because this car makes absolutely no sense. It’s a bakkie, yes, but the chances of you actually using it to transport anything you would otherwise have shoved onto the back of a Hyundai van are slim. Why?
Because this example of how the Outback affects your thinking has a six-litre, 270 kW, 534 Nm, put-your-foot-down-and-shit-yourself sledgehammer V8 under the bonnet! And with almost no weight over the rear axle, all that power is just waiting to kill you. Being unsophisticated and raw means this car is one you have to be awake to drive. Concentrate all the time, because you never know when the bastard will bite!
Driving the massive 18-inch rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, or manual if you so desire, the Chevy can be sublime. Shifts are undetectable, ride comfort is more than acceptable for a bakkie and with cruise control you can really relax behind the wheel. And the motor – wow, talk about lazy! It’s just got so much of everything that it can even idle when you are doing 60 km/h!
It’s almost as if they planned on making it extra soft, extra quiet and extra easy, but at the flex of a toenail, all hell breaks loose! Put the ‘box into manual mode, revel in the sounds as the system automatically blips the throttle on down-changes, listen to the noise increase, watch as the traction control warning light flashes, feel your eyes widen and you’d better have cleaned your teeth because you will be smiling for days on end!
It literally jumps out of its pyjamas, slips into a power ranger costume and rips your head off! Acceleration is ludicrously quick, with 0-100 km/h achieved in only 6.5 seconds, and a quoted top speed of 238 km/h being achieved well before you even start to worry about how fast you are going. I won’t mention what I managed in the Ute but boys and girls, mommy won’t be able to get you out of this one if you’re caught!
Having a really light arse means sideways action is always on the cards with this car, and with the traction control on, please go for it! Put your foot down, catch the slide, look like a hero and then do it all over again. It lets you have just enough fun without being a nosy nanny, and a complete idiot can be made to look like Mark Webber.
Turn the traction control off though, and you had better know how to drive. Because unlike some of the Lumina’s German friends, when it’s off, it’s completely off. And then you’re at the mercy of 350 horses waiting to kick you in the nuts. It’s forceful, it’s dangerous and it’s huge fun, but don’t overdo things.
Although it sounds like this car is awesome in every which way, it isn’t. It’s a Chevy, and build quality was the first thing I checked when the car arrived. It’s not what I would call shoddy, but man, do the Aussies need lessons from the Germans or the Japanese. Cheap, scratchy, hard plastics are used all over the show, and the handbrake was particularly horrible – the lever isn’t at all solid. Luckily a leather-bound gear lever (which I must say is very meaty) and steering wheel save your fingertips from the Tupperware.
The seats are also full-leather, and they are superbly comfortable and well bolstered. I would have liked them to have been heated, though. Usefully, there is a surprising amount of storage space behind and underneath both seats, with storage pockets on the rear bulkhead proving perfect for papers and even some of my camera gear.
Instrumentation is neat, clear and informative, with white-on-red backlighting for the dials and red everywhere else. A comprehensive trip computer gives various readouts, and I found the digital speedometer linked to the audible “over speed” warning system particularly useful – this car is so fast you don’t have time to watch a needle on the dashboard. The centre console is simply laid out and very easy to use, and the colour LCD non-touch display is classy, clean and straightforward.
Atop the dash are three digital gauges for oil temperature, oil pressure and battery voltage, but their placement is flawed (they are exactly where the clock should be) and I found their information to be mostly unnecessary. You need that type of data on a track, not in a parking lot. Also, they cannot be turned off or changed.
I know I’m nitpicking, but this car isn’t cheap, mate. Another annoyance is the projector-style headlights. Coupled to large front fog lights, the car looks awesome at night, but sitting behind the steering wheel you will find yourself blinding other drivers with your brights, just to see. Honestly, the difference between fogs-only and fogs-and-mains is negligible, and for the life of me I couldn’t find any setting or switch anywhere to adjust the main beams up a bit.
And then there is the blind spot. It makes no sense to me that the side-view mirrors are of different magnification and that they differ by such a margin. The passenger side mirror is what I would consider normal, and the usual quick flick of the head is fine for the small blind spot on the left side of the car. But oh my, the driver’s side mirror is a pain, literally.
It is magnified to such an extent that the rear of the car looks like it’s right next to you, and as a result a car whose front bumper is in line with your shoulder becomes completely invisible. And taking a quick look to your right means you stare straight at the B-pillar. Although there is a small side window, thick interior panels mean you don’t see out of it at all. As a result you have to literally stretch your neck and look out of the rear window before changing lanes or, more seriously, entering the freeway. I know, nitpicking again, but this was downright dangerous and nearly caught me out several times.
While I know the type