About an hours drive South East of Melbourne, hidden behind thick bushland and barbed-wire fences with a level of security you’d expect to see at Parliament House, is the Holden Proving Ground. The facility is top secret, so much so that employees working there have to tape over the smartphone cameras. Last month, Holden invited a select group of media and influencers to preview a range of current and upcoming vehicles at the notorious testing facility.
Earlier this year I also travelled to Melbourne for a lifestyle launch of the Holden Trax, and while it’s not a car I felt was particularly on brand, I recognised the quality of drive within moments of getting behind the wheel. At the moment, as consumers, it’s a real buyer’s market, not in the traditional sense of demand, but for choice and value.
If you look at the price of a BMW 5 Series price now, and ten years ago, you’ll see the price has come down despite the offering getting infinitely better. The standard of the competition from bottom up has also gotten infinitely better, which in turn has seen the perceived value of such badges fall, hence the drop in prices to remain competitive.
Australia’s car market is one of the most competitive in the world where margins are low, and expectations are high. Personally, I feel that perceived value is the deciding factor for purchase and Holden’s latest creations offer an abundance of it.
Off the back of 2016, which saw 440,000 SUVs sold in Australia, and the country’s ever growing love affair with the ute (June 2017 saw Holden Colorado sales the highest ever), the brand has chosen to focus on launching two new SUVs which will sit between the existing Trax and the Trailblazer, and be tested at length, at the Proving Grounds.
Now 60 years old, the Holden Proving Ground consists of roughly 45km of roads including a banked four lane circular track, 4×4 course, hill climb, road course, race circuit, wading pool and skid pan. Each is built to replicate real world situations, so the manufacturer can flog the test models to iron out any kinks, and ensure the cars are durable and safe before they go to market.
The first model to hit Australian streets will be the Equinox, due late this year, with the range topping variant featuring General Motors’ new 2.0L turbo engine has seen in the Camaro in the US. We piled into the test unit and headed to the hill road course, before a timed slalom on the skid pan to test the Equinox’s acceleration and agility. The medium sized SUV will be offered with a turbo diesel 1.6L producing 103kW, a turbocharged 1.5L producing 123kW and the turbocharged 2.0L producing 186kW, and optional AWD.
We only sampled the 2.0L on the day, and it’s a solid performer with superb power delivery and enough torque to put a smile on your face. Inside there’s Bose speakers, heated front and rear leather seats and a host of high tech features including hands-free power lift gate (boot), wireless charging and phone projection. Saftey highlights include forward collision, rear cross traffic and side blind zone alerts, as well as lane keep assistance and lane departure warnings. Currently, there’s no word on pricing, but you can be sure the Equinox is going to deliver a lot of bang for buck slipping in to compete with Toyota Kluger.
Our next session was with the Trailblazer, a car I’ve come to admire since its launch in September last year. It’s a larger more masculine looking SUV, built on the Colorado platform with excellent off-road ability. Inside it’s no nonsense luxury, a pleasure to be in but not something you’d phase getting dirty.
The Trailblazer is the strongest car in its class (competing with Izusu’s MU-X and Pajero Sport) and the only one which offers dual range 4WD across all variants. Fortunately, the Proving Ground had seen a lot of rain in the two days before our arrival, so we got to drive the Trailblazer in some very wet and testing conditions, tackling pools of mud, steep inclines and descents, loose surfaces and some dramatic angles and clearances.
After a slalom course on a muddy road in the Trax which included a crash course in handbrake turns, we hit the 5km banked four lane circuit in the new Acadia, set to hit Australian shores in 2018. The Acadia is medium to large sized luxury SUV, which looks very similar to its American cousin which also shares the same name, the GMC Acadia Denali.
The Acadia takes the Equinox a step further adding more interior detail, panoramic roof, refined exterior styling and a 3.6L V6 in FWD or AWD. We got the Acadia up to impressive speeds as we moved shift from the first, second and third lane of the circuit – helmets and some accreditation are required to drive in the fourth fastest lane! We finished with a dip in the bath, and some hill climbs to show off the Acadia’s cable AWD system.
To finish off the day Holden Dynamics Engineer, Rob Trubiani, famous for setting the Nurburgring lap record in an SS V Redline Ute in 2013, showed up in a very camouflaged new Holden Commodore and took us for some hot laps around the race circuit. Obviously, it was awesome.
Not only did I leave the Holden Proving Ground more impressed with the Trax, I was delighted with the new 2.0L engine in the Equinox and the overall Acadia package, as I think we’ve missed out on some of that bold American SUV styling in our market. The two new models round out a formidable range of vehicles for Holden and come 2018; you’re going to see a lot of them on the road!
For more information on the vehicles above head to the Holden website.
Images via Karon Photography