This is the HSV Maloo E3, Holden’s hard-core performance ute. Normally we’d file this under ‘things we’ll never see’, but the petrolheads running Vauxhall’s VXR division have decided that UK customers can have the VXR8’s workhorse cousin on special order.
With that in mind, it seemed rude not to review the Maloo when we were in Australia.
Ute? HSV Maloo E3? Speak English, man!
Excuse me for adopting the local vernacular. HSV is Holden Special Vehicles. Think AMG with an Australian accent, working exclusively for GM’s Australian brand. The Maloo (it’s an Aboriginie word for ‘thunder’) is part of HSV’s ‘E3’ range, or series 3 of the VE Commodore, the car that also forms the basis of the UK’s Vauxhall VXR8.
As you can see, the Maloo is what the locals call a ‘ute’, a handy monosyllabic shortening of ‘coupe-utility’. It’s a car-based pickup-truck, which the Australians came up with in the 1930s. Ford released the first ute in 1934, Holden followed suit in 1935 and it’s been an Australian institution ever since.
OK, thanks for the history lesson. Tell me more about the Maloo?
It’s a pretty enticing prospect, what with the same kind of 6.2-litre LS3 V8 you’ll find in a Corvette, one that sends power to a rear axle over which there is a crate filled entirely of fresh air.
This ute isn’t quite the rudimentary piece of kit you might imagine it to be, though: it’s based on GM’s global rear-wheel drive platform, the same bits that lie beneath the Holden VXR8 and Chevrolet Camaro. That means MacPherson strut front suspension, and a fully independent rear – not a solid axle bone-shaker. Shame you don’t get the clever magnetorheological adaptive dampers you’ll find on the VXR8.
You sink in to broad, comfy seats, clack your fingertips on some cheap plastics that the flashes of piano black and aluminium can’t disguise, scan the dash-top gauges that monitor oil and water temps.
So far so good. How does the HSV Maloo E3 drive?
The V8 fires to life and you move off with a light, progressive clutch, shift a stubby gear lever gear that feels butch if slicker than the one I remember manhandling in the earliest VXR8s, and tweak steering that’s relaxed, a little slow, but nicely weighted nonetheless.
The ride seems pleasant enough too, smoothing out the biggest bumps, even if there is a low-frequency patter over the imperfections. Terrible over-shoulder visibility, though, so I’m glad of the crude-but-effective blind-spot detectors that are glued to the dash. The languid drive, plus sat-nav and MP3 compatibility, make it a nice enough car to cruise around Sydney in, and you’ll see a surprising number of V8 utes doing just that.
Finding the HSV Maloo E3’s thunder
But that’s not really what this car is about, so we head to some twistier roads to drop the hammer. When you really wind it out and start edging well beyond the kind of 100mph+ speeds that’ll see you starring on the news and locked in an Aussie clink, the Maloo’s slightly discordant low-speed patter becomes chaotic, the wheels getting out of sync with each other, while intrusive shimmies kick back through the steering wheel and the body control deteriorates.
It feels nasty and doesn’t imbue any confidence at all, and while it could be down to the lack of weight over the back end, I’m told the suspension is tuned with an empty loadbay as the default. I’m not a fan of the awkwardly placed pedals, either – they make heel-and-toe hopelessly difficult, a fast drive less fluid.
Sounds like the HSV Maloo E3 looks better than it drives?
It’s a disappointing first flash of fangs from the Maloo, but as we shift onto smoother, fast second- and third-gear stuff – the kind of twisting roads you’d search out for fun in the UK – the Maloo works really well. The brakes are strong, the front end bites cleanly and resolutely, with a confidence-inspiring smear of light understeer as you work the front rubber to its limit. The steering resistance is perfect and, as you get back on the power on the exit of a bend, the rear end traction is immense – you’ll usually get just the slightest hint of oversteer when you push incredibly hard on a dry surface.
So the HSV Maloo E3 is a B-road blast? Who would've guessed...
It’s not the unruly, over-eager tyre-smoker I was expecting. That’s in part due to a sound chassis set-up, but also because the engine – hot rod hardcore as it sounds – isn’t as overwhelmingly powerful as the raw stats lead you to imagine. It winds itself up quite slowly, with a charismatic if slightly mute hammering, and serves its biggest meat in the low- to mid-range – sadly there are no Mercedes AMG-style fireworks here.
You can certainly see why people fit the Walkinshaw supercharger to fast forward things, a conversion that will be offered in the UK – along with brakes, suspension and other upgrades – together with a full Vauxhall-backed warranty.
Who buys something like the HSV Maloo E3?
In the UK, Holdens already have a strong cult following, and values stay high due to limited supply. But while you’d get three Aussie dollars for your pound when Vauxhall first imported the Monaro, it’s now almost half that.
Vauxhall has never made convincing money from importing Holdens (‘it’s a bit of fun, a bit of PR for us,’ says VXR man Stuart Harris), but they will have to pass on that unfavourable currency rate, which means you’re likely to pay £45-46k when the order books open for this Maloo in the first half of 2011.
For the dedicated, that still won’t put them off. As Harris says: ‘These guys are ferociously loyal, and they’ll spend big money on the cars – I’d doubt if 50 of the cars we’ve ever brought in are still standard. We’ve got some with twin turbo conversions, over 1000bhp, and one owner recently broke 200mph.’
You’d have a lonely time searching for other ute owners in the UK, but then that’s part of the Maloo’s appeal: it’s practical, it's brutish, no-one else will have one and you’ll have the fastest pick-up in the West.