From the archives - 2003 Holden Crewman SS

 

The ubiquitous Holden Commodore adds another string to its bow with the arrival of Crewman, a double-cab ute version. The Commie range now displays more body styles than a fashion show

Words: Kyle Cassidy   |   Photos Tom Gasnier
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The new Holden Crewman is another vehicle to spin off the Commodore platform, taking the tally of Commodore variants to eight (counting the new Cross8). A modular design approach enables Holden to mix and match elements of existing models, and come up with new variants. By doing this it can churn out new models within a short development time and with small budgets. It’s how the Monaro went from concept to production so quickly and why Holden can keep rolling out new Commodore-based products. It’s simply cheaper to make new cars from existing ones than it is to come up with something completely new. Crewman’s develop budget was $67.8 million - relatively cheap for a new model - and given the popularity of the Holden Commodore ute, the Crewman, with its extra seating capacity and versatility, should be a good seller.

Many Holden ute owners have experienced their beloved two-seat workhorses going off down the road when family has arrived. But with Crewman you can keep your ute when family duties come calling. Crewman arrives in various states of spec, starting with the base V6 and running up to the V8 SS. Prices start from $42,100 for the Crewman, Crewman S is $45,800, and SS is $56,300. Crewman and Crewman S come with a four-speed auto tranny and the trusty 3.6 litre V6, while the SS naturally comes with the big 5.7 litre Gen III V8. Only the SS is available with a six-speed manual. The SS Crewman we sampled is like a regular SS Commodore inside, with full leather trim, climate air con, multi-function steering wheel, six-stacker CD audio and electrics.

Crewman arrives in various states of spec, starting with the base V6 and running up to the V8 SS. Prices start from $42,100 for the Crewman, Crewman S is $45,800, and SS is $56,300. Crewman and Crewman S come with a four-speed auto tranny and the trusty 3.6 litre V6, while the SS naturally comes with the big 5.7 litre Gen III V8. Only the SS is available with a six-speed manual.

Crewman’s trump card is its four-door cab, with supposedly enough space for (hey!) the whole crew.

The SS Crewman we sampled is like a regular SS Commodore inside, with full leather trim, climate air con, multi-function steering wheel, six-stacker CD audio and electrics. The Crewman fuses car with ute, and in SS trim, it’s a luxo workhorse - or should that be show pony? With its flash interior, big alloys and smaller payload ability, the SS is more a utility for the boss than the hard worker, who would do better to opt for the S, we think.

Crewman follows on from the recently released One-tonner, using the same design brief of monocque cab with a full-frame chassis tacked on the back. The two chassis structures are joined via Holden’s torque arm system. Two vertical uprights sprout from the front of the frame chassis and bolt onto the back of the monocque cab.

The combo of monocque and ladder frame chassis works well. It gives Crewman good front-end dynamics and a reasonable ride quality while offering increased load-hauling abilities. Claims for the Crewman V6 carrying capacity outweigh those of the regular V6 ute by 1087kg to 823kg. (The V8 SS Crewman has to make do with 750kg because of its low-profile rubber).


Load hauling calls for a solid rear end, and that’s what Crewman gets, with the same set-up as the One-tonner. The good old live rear axle and leaf springs make a comeback, giving Crewman more tow than the ute as well. Holden claims the V6 Crewman will tow 2100kg, and that the beefier torque and power of the V8 can supply another 400kg of load-hauling ability. Those who opt for the manual tranny on the V8 see that figure drop to 1600kg, however.

Naturally, the tray area is slightly down on the ute’s - 1463mm in length to the ute’s 2193mm - but trail bikers and motocrossers don’t despair, because with the tailgate down, you can utilise up to 2100mm of deck space.

Crewman’s trump card is its four-door cab, with supposedly enough space for (hey!) the whole crew. Unfortunately, that’s the not quite the case, as the rear bench is short on leg space. Get someone tall in the front seat and there’s not much legroom left for those behind. It’s comfortable enough for two adults and three kids, or five average adults could fit at a tight and uncomfortable squeeze, but you can forget transporting five burly lads. As there’s no recline on the rear squab, those who have made it into the rear will have to suffer the bolt-upright seating position. Legroom for the middle punter in the rear is negligible due to the protrusion of the centre console and the high transmission tunnel. On the plus side, all occupants receive a full, three-point seatbelt and a head restraint, and the rear-seat cushion can fold up to fit flush with the seat back, providing an area for stowing stuff.

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The design of Crewman gives it a unique ride/handling character. The ride is certainly better than that of a full-chassis ute, but there’s still some jiggling from the rear when the tray is empty. The front exhibits more car-like character, especially when turning in. The bite is sharp on the SS, thanks to the generous rubber, and the same steering and Mac struts as the Commodore. It handles itself well on the back roads, turning in sharply, but as the longest Holden ever, it isn’t willing to change direction in a hurry. Big bumps at the front are well defused, but the rear end struggles and transmits vibrations through to the cabin; this is exacerbated by large corrugations on gravel roads, which shake the cabin. It’s impossible to have the best of both worlds - ride quality and willingness to work - but Crewman nonetheless does a good job of balancing the two.

Despite no traction control on offer, the LSD and big, 225 cross-section tyres do a good job of harnessing the power of the V8. The diff, however, is a noisy bugger. Cruise on the motorway and the soft burble of the Gen III is out-voiced by its whine, whirring away like a turbine under the rear deck.

The SS only had a smattering of kays on its conrods and was still tight, but managed a reasonable 7.74-second run to the legal limit. During a previous test, the SS sedan took 6.74 seconds, but has a power-to-weight advantage of ten extra kW and 186 fewer kilograms. In true Commodore style, the Crewman is a good stopper, pulling up in a touch over 36 metres - much better than any other double-cab ute on the market. There’s no claimed fuel usage for the Crewman yet, but with a full tank (68.5 litres) the trip computer told us we had 250km till empty. We thought there must have been something wrong, but no - after 220km of testing (fast and sedate miles included) the Crewman was ready for another drink.

The SS Crewman gets the heavy-duty 4L65 four-speed auto, the same used by the 300kW HSV sedans. It struggles on fast, hilly sections of road as it hunts between gears, but activating the ‘power shift’ mode to kick it into a more sporting attitude improves matters. Primed for towing duties, the robust auto will be the one to choose if you’ve got plenty to pull.

Crewman doesn’t have any real competition in the ute sector; it’s a unique beast, and with 5.7 litres under the bonnet, it is the only V8 double-cab ute on the market (ridiculously expensive Yank pickups aside). Buyers will prefer its performance and car-like ride to Japanese-sourced double-cabbers, and will likely opt for its safety and handling characteristics over high-riding 4x4 variants. And before you note that it doesn’t have four-wheel drive, the Cross8 Crewman is coming in 2004, complete with all-wheel drive and an increased ground clearance of 188mm. Weight will burgeon to a claimed 1947kg, so expect it to be thirstier than an Afghani in July.

The Stats

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Model 2003 Holden Crewman SS  Price $56,300

Engine 5665cc, V8, EFI, 225kW/460Nm

Transmission 4-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

Vitals 7.79sec 0-100km/h, n/a L/100km, n/a g/km, 1846kg

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