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First drive: Holden Adventra is real AWD deal

Outback Adventra: Holden's first locally made all-wheel drive is more than a Commodore wagon on stilts.

Australia's first homegrown crossover is a reality. Meet Holden's Adventra

24 Sep 2003

AUSTRALIA'S first homegrown crossover is a reality, courtesy of Holden - and it's a cracker.

Launched amid great fanfare in the Flinders Ranges last week - as part of what Holden describes as the biggest product release since that of its direct predecessor, the VT Commodore in 1997 - the VYII Adventra all-wheel drive wagon begins production within weeks and will hit Holden showrooms late next month.

Available for now in two exclusively V8, auto-only versions, the General's first all-wheel drive passenger car range will open at $52,990 for Adventra CX8 - just $3700 above the similarly-equipped Berlina V8 wagon - and close at $60,990 for the flagship LX8, which is $7960 below Volvo's XC70 crossover.

The ground-breaking new local vehicle's national media launch saw no fewer than 37 Adventras at the disposal of at least as many motoring journalists, chaperoned by a similar number of Holden officials over 300km of typical unsealed outback roads - without incident and to virtually unanimous appraisal.

While Holden can lay claim to building Australia's first all-wheel drive crossover, Ford has gone to great lengths to remind potential customers it will also release a locally designed and developed soft-roader by June next year called Territory, which was developed at almost eight times the cost.

But the mantle of first Australian manufactured all-wheel drive passenger car goes to Mitsubishi's sedan-only Magna AWD range, which is now in its second model iteration.

"Adventra is the first in a range of advanced all-wheel drive vehicles from Holden that will change the way Australians drive," said Holden chairman and managing director Peter Hanenberger at Adventra's Leigh Creek media presentation.

"With the launch of Adventra - which will be the first all-wheel drive crossover designed, engineered and produced in Australia - Holden will now be placed to enter and take advantage of a new automotive era that will develop over the next decade - that of the all-road crossover," he said.

Four years and 600,000 durability testing kilometres in the making, Adventra comprises 350 new components, from a new tailgate to new badges.

Up front, a new matt black bumper fascia is unpainted and features a 4mm-thick steel plate in its lower section. Fully enclosed to prevent reverse snagging and ventilated to provide airflow for the front differential, the alloy chin can be complimented by an optional alloy engine guard.

In line with Monaro, Calais and SS, Adventra's grille features a single sports bar with central Holden lion logo, while a black moulding on CX8 replaces the LX8's standard foglights. Similarly, like Berlina, CX8 headlights have a chrome background, while Calais-style LX8 headlights feature black backgrounds, bezel surrounds and chrome circular highlights.

At the side, a fully sealed and moulded single-piece rocker (also featuring a aluminium inserts) is integrated with the heavily flared wheel arch flares, which incorporate wheel arch linings. There is also a new rear window surround and body-cloured C-pillar moulding (with CrossTrac logo), plus body coloured wing mirrors and an all-new roof rack design.

An all-new tailgate became part of Adventra late in the development program and incoporates a remote controlled, individually opening rear window. It features a body coloured licence plate surround with integrates reverse lights and a rear spoiler with full-width LED stop light.

Rounding out the rear-end redesign are jeweled transparent-lens tail-lights and a new fascia featuring an alloy insert that houses an integrated towbar and hitch, and twin rectangular tailpipes.

Inside, Adventra CX8 comes standard with painted six-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, leather wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, Neutral Pewter woven cloth trim with Galaxy sports seat and door inserts, plus new instrument clusters with black background, red pointers and green illumination.

In line with Berlina wagon, CX8 will feature cruise control, trip computer, power windows/mirrors, single-zone climate control, six-CD audio system, rear park assist and twin front and side airbags.

LX8 adds eight-way power adjustable VYII SS seatbacks with S cushions, more heavily bolstered rear seats, Anthracite leather trim, suede-look lower dash and door trims, stainless steel sill plates, satin chrome steering wheel spokes, dual-zone climate control, heated mirrors with memory and active front head restraints.

LX8 also features a VYII Calais instrument surround, luxury carpet mats, luggage carrier, self levelling rear suspension, a pair of pitch and roll gauges at the top of the centre console, sunroof and black and grey instrument dials with Monaro-style turned metal hubs and white pointers.

Adventra features the same Saab-sourced load tied-down rails as featured in VYII Commodore wagons, while new storage compartments have been integrated into both sides of the cargo bay. Both incorporate cupholders accessible to rear-seat passengers plus two carpeted compartments - though one of these is substituted in LX8 to house its premium audio system's subwoofer.

A soft retractable cargo blind is standard on both models, as is a rear mounted 12-volt power outlet, but only LX8 gets a luggage net as standard. Adventra will be available in eight exterior colours and its standard 1600kg towbar can be replaced by an optional 2100kg accessory kit.

A Holden By Design roof mounted ski carrier, mountain bike carrier, roof mounted tray with spare wheel carrier, alloy pedal cluster, pet net, weather shields, bonnet protector and towing mirrors will also be available for Adventra.

Finally, the five-seat Adventra will be available with an optional forward-facing third row bench seat at a cost of around $2000.

"Adventra is the first in a range of advanced all-wheel drive vehicles from Holden that will change the way Australians drive"

Adventra's all-wheel drivetrain, new suspension specification and uprated braking hardware have been covered previously by GoAuto. In brief, however, Adventra features a bigger footprint than the Commodore wagon upon which it's based, thanks to revised suspension components at both ends.

Up front, a new forged front L-arm with hydraulic bush and new forged steering knuckle accommodate drive to the front wheels via near-equal length drive shafts from the electronic traction control-based permanent AWD system that features three open diffs and a constantly rear-biased 38/62 per cent torque split.

Hummer H2-based, locally developed and mostly Australian-made, CrossTrac employs Automatic Brake Differential and Electronic Brake-force Distribution technology to redirect torque between front and rear axles and distributing brake torque across the rear axle respectively.

Adventra employs a 235kW/460Nm version of Holden's Chev-sourced 5.7-litre V8, complete with redesigned oil pan to support the front differential and the same strut tower brace fitted to sports VYII models.

The rear of the familiar 4L60 GM four-speed auto, which features a new two-piece mounting system that doubles as a body brace, has been modified to match a new US-sourced, BMW-designed transfer case - the single most expensive new component and also the only imported one.

Transmission ratios in theV8 auto remain the same, but shift times have been recalibrated and the final drive ratio has been lowered to 3.46:1 due to the fitment of stronger-sidewalled 225/55 R17 Bridgestone Turanza tyres. A totally new exhaust system and catalytic converter, previewed by VYII Commodores, meets current ADR 79/00 (EuroII) requirements and is tucked away high against the floorpan.

The wheelbase is 10mm longer at 2948mm, wheel tracks are up 58mm and 48mm front and rear to 1617mm and 1623mm respectively, while new wheel arch flares make Adventra some 87mm wider than Commodore wagon at 1934mm and overall length has increased 11mm to 5036mm.

Ride height has increased by 80mm (by upping wheel travel by 20mm at front and 16mm at rear) to 205mm at kerb load. Combined with a high-mounted 27mm anti-roll bar, the front suspension allows 90mm of compression travel and 88mm of rebound travel, while the rear-end combines a reinforced cross member, stronger semi-trailing arms and higher capacity shock absorbers to provide 145mm of compression travel and 96mm of rebound travel.

With CX8 and LX8 weighing in at 1940 and 1983kg respectively, Adventra is slightly more than 200kg heavier than the V8 Berlina wagon, while approach and departure angles are 20 and 20.5 degrees respectively. Weight balance is 53/47 front/rear. No fuel consumption figures have been announced.

Adventra's steering incorportes Monaro's original control valve to offset the higher front weight, while the fnal part of Adventra's updated mechanical package is brakes, which feature larger 302 x 28mm rotors up front and 286 x 16mm solid discs at rear, each with higher friction pad material to offset the AWD system's increased brake usage.

Fifteen physical crash tests were carried out as part of a full recalibration of Adventra's sensors, including airbag and ABS adjustment.

Holden admits it would have preferred to launch Adventra with both six and eight-cylinder engine options to maximise customer appeal, but says the limited lifespan of Commodore's current pushrod V6 - which will be superseded by a Fishermens Bend-built DOHC V6 for the facelifted VZ Commodore in September 2004 - made the cost of reengineering it for all-wheel drive too prohibitive.

As such, Holden has projected just 5000 Adventra sales in 2004 - including the V6 models to be released by the fourth quarter, which Holden believes will eventually double Adventra sales in 2005 to 10,000.

Holden also has an ambitious export program for Adventra, which cost $125 million to develop alongside the forthcoming Cross8, with 25,000 annual export sales expected eventually.


PERHAPS it was the blatantly derivative styling, or the barely-changed interior in the entry level CX8, but we didn’t expect Adventra to drive all that differently from the VYII Commodore wagon upon which it’s based.

We were wrong, very wrong. Holden’s new all-wheel drive system might have a predictable name in CrossTrac, but it certainly delivers the goods.

More importantly, it’s an integral part in the successful transformation of Commodore wagon into something entirely more practical - in the same way Audi’s Allroad, Volvo’s XC70 and Subaru’s pioneering Outback made the transition from passenger wagon donor car to crossover.

The key to Adventra’s impressive driveability is CrossTrac's permanently rear-biased torque split. Put simply, a majority 62 per cent of engine torque is always directed to the rear, giving Adventra a sporty, rear-drive feel similar to that of Commodore, Falcon and, for that matter, any genuine sports car.

It’s the same torque split ratio that makes BMW’s top-selling X5 so pleasing to drive - but which will unfortunately be ditched from next year’s facelifted model for the forthcoming X3’s infinitely variable xDrive system – and it means Adventra can be "driven on the throttle" like a rear-driver, without the excessive understeer or front-end push that’s associated with all front-wheel drive cars and the majority of all-wheel drives.

CrossTrac allows a surprising degree of wheel spin or slide until its ABS-based traction control sensors kick in - first proportioning torque away from the axle that loses traction (using Automatic Brake Differential technology) and then, if necessary, distributing torque across the rear axle as required (using Electronic Brake-force Distribution technology).

Of course, all this happens so quickly and seamlessly that it’s invisible to the human eye from outside the car and almost impercievable from within it, but the way CrossTrac gets its power to the ground and launches from standstill – even when it’s loose, rocky stuff – has to be seen to be believed.

Holden makes much of its local development efforts to tune the General Motors-sourced system components for Aussie conditions and, just as local manufacturers have been doing for years with ABS, advanced electronics have allowed them to apply the same principle to the traction control-based CrossTrac system.

Its delayed response time, or the time taken between when the ABS sensors detect wheel slip and the time the traction control system intervenes, is the key factor here.

Adventra is set up to allow a reasonable degree of tyre slippage before the traction control intrudes by braking individual wheels only, rather than by cutting engine power. This offers a number of key advantages over many AWD systems, especially the many part-time systems found in most compact off-roaders.

First, it allows Adventra’s robust Turanza tyres to dig deep into deformable surfaces such as sand, gravel or rocks to find traction on the road base rather than giving up the ghost the moment they lose traction. And second, it allows the tyres that have traction to keep working under maximum torque unaffected.

Like the carefully tuned ABS, CrossTrac proved its worth on the typical Aussie outback roads taken in on the launch and should work equally well on any loose surface.

Of course, we can’t say how CrossTrac works on hard surfaces such as ice or wet bitumen, and Holden engineers admit CrossTrac is not as effective as, say, Audi’s torsen diff-based quattro all-wheel drive system on such surfaces.

In fact, if Adventra were to be exported to a cold weather climate, Holden would recalibrate CrossTrac to intervene earlier for more effective application in icy conditions and the like.

But herein lies the beauty of CrossTrac. Its advanced electronics allow any degree of reaction time to be dialled in, to a point, meaning that it can be applied to what Holden calls low ride form for all manner of passenger and performance cars, with both V6 and V8 engines. So consider its application here as a window to the future world of AWD for Holden.

In long-travel Adventra configuration, however, there’s another advantage of CrossTrac. The extra ride height and greater travel in both bump and rebound directions means potholes and bumps are handled with amazing compliance. Road irregularities that would make a regular Commodore kick, buck and generally upset the car’s balance are simply disposed of without fuss.

Behind the wheel, Adventra does exhibit a whiff of very un-commodore-like torque steer, or steering wheel tugging, despite the use of near-equal length front driveshafts. It’s an inevitable downside of also driving the front wheels and, despite the employment of Monaro’s more linear steering gear valving, Adventra’s steering remains on the heavy side.

While we prefer it to the overly light steering found in the Lexus RX330, it offers neither the response nor feedback of the X5, and some female customers may find it a chore in low-speed, carpark situations.

Consider CrossTrac's application here as a window to the future world of AWD for Holden

Holden admits Adventra is no rock-hopper and that it’s much of a crossover than an SUV. Ford’s new locally developed Territory, developed at a far greater cost of $500 million, will be more of the latter andm in an Australian firstm will also come standard in all-wheel drive form (there will a rear-drive entry level Territory) with high-tech stability control – technology Holden says will come with its next generation of CrossTrac.

Currently, Adventra’s AWD system uses Bosch 5.3 technology developed in the mid-1990s, while Territory will feature the latest 8.0 version.

As it is, however, Territory will need to be good to better Adventra’s convincing combination of a long wheelbase, low centre of gravity and rear-biased drive system, which makes for predictable, confident and rewarding handling characteristics.

Combined with a general chassis stiffness that’s been developed into Commodore progressively since VX, plus fully enclosed wheelarch liners that were introduced with the VYII update, Adventra offers an impressive level of balance and composure, with very little road noise finding its way into the cabin even on rough gravel.

Also impressive was the amount of dust that entered Adventra’s cabin, or lack thereof, which is a tribute to Commodore’s standard dust sealing package, which remains unaltered for Adventra.

Indeed, Adventra seemed to accumulate as little interior dust as Porsche’s Cayenne did over a similar, if longer, outback launch route – despite its double dust seals on all openings.

The same Porsche launch saw nine Cayennes pick up half a dozen flat tyres - the same number that afflicted the 37 Adventras (four times as many) on the Holden launch. Apart from flat tyres, which are a fact of life in the Australian outback, Adventra performed without fault.

Otherwise, Adventra is pretty much as you’d expect. The pushrod Chev V8 works effectively and delivers undeniably punchy performance, but lacks the sophistication and refinement of Ford’s overhead-cam V8. Without official claimed economy figures, fuel consumption of the near-2000kg Adventra could also preclude some buyers.

And while the latest recalibration efforts have improved the V8 GM auto’s shift quality, the outdated transmission remains Commodore’s Achilles heel. While this looks set to continue for some time in V8 models, at least next year’s new five-speed auto-equipped V6 Adventra won’t seem as silly beside what should be a slick-shifting sequential-shift auto in Territory.

From within the cockpit, entry level CX8 Adventras look almost identical to the Berlina wagon upon which they’re based and it’s not until you step up to an LX8 flagship that it becomes apparent this is no regular Commodore.

The faux suede treatment on the lower doors and dash looks neat, as do the gimmicky pitch and roll gauges at the head of the centre stack, but the biggest boon CX8 buyers miss out on are the redesigned seats, featuring hip-hugging SS seatbacks and more accessible S seat cushions.

LX8’s self-levelling rear suspension is another bonus not standard on CX8, but the standard full-size spare wheel and separate-opening rear glass are convenient on both models, even if the latter is flimsier than an European version and lacks an external unlock button.

Of course, Adventra sits only marginally further from the road than a Commodore wagon, but you’d be hard pressed to pick the difference from behind the wheel.

History shows that traditional, high-riding off-roaders are more popular than their lower, passenger wagon-based brethren like Allroad, Outback and Adventra. And, moreover, we suspect the most decisive factor in most SUV sales is the "command" seating position, which Adventra’s fundamental configuration can’t match.

Overall, however, Adventra is a revelation. It means that, for the first time, for those wishing to buy an Australian-made vehicle, no longer are the last couple of kilometres to the river, ski field or picnic spot inaccessible.

No longer must the more interesting and circuitous route be avoided for fear of dragging or snagging one's undercarriage, or having a puncture. Conversely, no longer does the long haul to the favourite fishing, camping or skiing spot need to be a chore just to gain access.

And for those that have no intentions of participating in any form of outdoors activity, nor even plans to leave the big smoke, Adventra offers non-Euro brand slaves a (slightly) more commanding seating position, plus the added confidence and greater traction of all-wheel drive grip in all conditions.

At a snip over the price of a Berlina V8 wagon, Adventra is an absolute bargain – and a hoot to drive, in any conditions.

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