Old-school design brings old-school tough

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Likely to encounter serious sludge on your school run? Perhaps a river crossing or mountain climb? Here's your vehicle - the newest of the ''old-school'' sports utilities available.

That's not being unkind about the Colorado 7, a family-fit seven-seater spun off the now familiar diesel four-wheel-drive utility.

Holden is first to admit that this brawny bigfoot delivers old-school design and ability, which is one reason why instead of citing truly modern SUVs as rivals for their $62,990 LT and $66,990 LTZ they have picked a gang of four still in our present but really from the past: The Toyota Land Cruiser Prado which starts at $80,490, the $76,900 Nissan Pathfinder and Mitsubishi's Pajero and Challenger, respectively priced at $77,090 and $58,990.

Colorado's commonality with those comes down to compatibility on size, specifications, spaciousness - and construction. Yes, like the old boys, Colorado also has a ladder frame chassis, unlike the the majority of modern SUVs (including Holden's smaller Captiva) that are built on unitary car platforms.

Holden could not go there because, while General Motors does have big unitary body vehicles, none are engineered for right-hand drive. The only option was to create an SUV from its tough-as Colorado ute which was launched in June. The wagon was developed in parallel in Brazil, primarily for Chevrolet and is also built in Thailand.

This might be old-school build, but it is - along with generous ground clearance and a four-wheel drive with a pukka transfer case - also old-school tough. Holden's media introduction included some serious off-roading in forest terrain made tricky by a heavy overnight thunderstorm.

The conditions took their toll - several vehicles were briefly stranded on a slippery hill climb when their drivers stopped in the wrong spots and some emerged from the 90-minute trial without front numberplates. But otherwise nothing was left behind, and no towing was required.

Just like a Colorado ute? Well, naturally, they have a lot in common; the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel married to a six-speed automatic is a direct lift, body panels forward of the centre door pillar are interchangeable, as is the instrument console.

Obviously it is all change at the back. GM swaps the tray for a generously dimensioned extended cabin holding a third row of seats, behind a second-row with a 60/40 split and three child-seat anchorage points on the seat back. Replacing the ute's leaf spring rear axle with a more sophisticated five-link coil-sprung affair was the single biggest engineering change.

This revision softens the ride, but those utilitarian roots still show; if you are not intending to tow - a prime attraction with a 3000kg rating - or take on tough terrain, where the limited-slip differential, 600mm wading depth and hill descent control, absent from the ute, come in handy, then the 7 is not the best choice, even within Holden ranks.

On tarmac it rides more pleasantly than the ute but remains short of achieving car-like attributes. There's not enough dynamic finesse and the steering lacks feel and has play at the straight-ahead. You will like the engine for its muscularity, but less for it being loud and clattery.

Holden is hoping to improve mechanical refinement as a running change; they have already identified that better engine mounts and more sound insulation would help. The company is also keen, ultimately, to take some of the workman touches out of that ute-familiar interior architecture.

It is roomy, however, even in the rearmost seats. All offer excellent visibility, and there is good oddment space. The boot space is a small-car-like 235 litres with every seat in place, but that extends to 878 litres with the third-row seats folded into the floor and, at the flick of a latch, to 1780 litres when the second row also tumbles down.

Rear parking sensors, front foglights, leather steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker stereo with USB and auxiliary ports are starters. The LTZ I drove swapped the 16in alloys for 18in and cloth trim for leather and picked up LED tail lights, a six-way electric adjustable driver's seat, climate-control air conditioning, chrome door handles and an eight-speaker stereo.

On the safety front the Colorado 7 has earned a five-star Ancap rating. Stability control is standard and there are dual front airbags and curtain airbags that extend to the third row, so it certainly covers the basics.

Old-school design brings old-school tough
At a Glance
Holden Colorado 7

Price: LT $62,990, LTZ $66,990

Engine
2776cc in-line four-cylinder turbo-diesel, maximum power 132kW@3800rpm; maximum torque 470Nm@2000rpm.

Transmission
Six-speed automatic, on-demand four-wheel drive.

Brakes and stability systems
Disc brakes, ABS, hill descent control, BAS, EBD, ESP.

Wheels, tyres
245/70 R16 (LT) and 265/60 R18 (LTZ).

Economy
9.4 litres per 100km on ADR combined cycle, capacity 76 litres.

Dimensions
Length 4878mm, width 2131mm, height 1820mm.