Why this ute is the next bloke magnet
HOLDEN Special Vehicles has joined the booming double-cab ute segment, where cashed-up tradies seemingly can't spend enough transforming their workhorses into show ponies.
The HSV SportsCat, from $60,790 plus on-road costs, is priced to compete with the Ranger Wildtrak, while the $66,790 SportsCat+ is closer in approach to the upcoming Ford Ranger Raptor.
After 30 years of fine-tuning Commodore V8s, Holden's performance partner has introduced its first diesel.
In another departure, the HSV badge doesn't symbolise a bump in power over the donor vehicle - the SportsCat shares its 2.8-litre turbo diesel with the regular Colorado.
Finding more power for the Colorado would have meant repeating durability and emissions tests - an exercise costing millions that may not have delivered a noticeable difference.
Recent HSV Commodores had a power advantage only because Holden reserved the engines with the most grunt for its performance partner - and General Motors had a massive catalogue of V8s from which to choose.
The choice among workhorse diesels is slim, so HSV focused on making the Colorado drive better and look tougher.
With a 0 to 100km/h time of about 10 seconds it's the slowest HSV since the performance division applied its logo to a limited edition Jackeroo in the 1990s.
Holden argues the 2.8 is no slouch - at least among its peers. In automatic guise it has 500Nm of torque, the same as the Ranger Raptor.
HSV receives the Colorado in partially completed form from Thailand before adding its finishing touches at its facility in Melbourne.
The visual makeover includes new bumpers, each unique to the SportsCat and SportsCat+, plus LED fog lights, fender flares and a hard lid with two sports bar options.
HSV-tuned suspension, as well as the bold wheel and tyre package, are also fitted locally.
The reshaped and re-covered sports seats are installed in Melbourne, while the new suede dash inserts are fitted on the Thai production line for HSV.
As with the regular Holden Colorado, the SportsCat has a five-star crash safety rating based on an assessment in 2016.
However it would likely only score four stars if measured against the latest criteria. Although it has forward crash alert, lane wander warning, and front and rear parking sensors, it lacks automatic emergency braking and other crash avoidance aids that are required for current five-star scores.
On the road
The massive wheel and tyre combination not only gives the SportsCat a tougher look but it also elevates its off-road ability with enhanced clearance angles and ride height, the tallest in the class to date.
In our off-road test the SportsCat clambered over boulders and negotiated steep inclines that would have left stock utes stuck.
We are yet to do a back-to-back test but I can't think of a standard ute that would have the articulation and the grip to handle such tough conditions, although it's a safe bet the Ranger Raptor will be as capable, if not more so.
The SportsCat's handling on tarmac is equally impressive. The tall sidewalls of the tyres and the HSV-tuned suspension take the bumps out of the daily grind and make it feel more planted.
It steers with surprising accuracy given the nobbly tyre tread, which normally blunts steering feel. The tyres hum a little more than road rubber but it's not intrusive and their braking performance is on par with peers.
The wider rubber appears to have only a minor impact on fuel economy; after 600km of driving we averaged 10.8L/100km.
HSV's sound deadening, to mute the agricultural engine noise, is an improvement but it could do with more. Mitsubishi's Triton and Toyota's HiLux are quieter and more refined.
The SportsCat versions come with a larger brake booster but the base model sticks with the standard Colorado's front disc, rear drum set-up.
The SportsCat+ gains four-piston AP Racing calipers with discs the size of pizza trays upfront. For now only the Ranger Raptor, Mercedes X-Class and VW Amarok TDV6 have four-wheel discs.
The brakes on both models are effective but the pedal feel isn't as precise as, say, a Toyota HiLux.
We also sampled the SupaShock suspension, a $3600 option on the SportsCat+. It was smooth on sealed roads and highly capable off-road but wasn't as comfortable on corrugations.
Our take: the SportsCat's regular HSV-tuned suspension is the better all-round package. The SupaShock is for desert racers.
Downsides? Despite the long list of enhancements, the Colorado's lack of refinement and down-market cabin plastics are still evident.
And the wider tyres give the SportsCat the broadest turning circle in the class (13.6 metres).
It was too tight for our spiralling car park ramp, requiring brief roll backs when we ran out of lock.
Verdict 3.5 stars out of 5
A solid first effort with impressive performance on and off-road, the HSV SportsCat is a bona fide rival for the big-ticket utes.
HSV Colorado SportsCat
PRICE From $60,790 plus on-road costs
SAFETY 7 airbags, rear camera, forward collision alert, lane departure warning
ENGINE 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 147kW/500Nm (auto)
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto; 4WD
THIRST 8.7L/100km (auto)
TOWING 3500kg (auto)
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling