► Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo LSA road test
► ‘Ute’ version of the VXR8 saloon
► Packs a 536bhp supercharged V8
Is there a less rational vehicle on sale than this Aussie-import muscle car/pick-up? Rebranded a Vauxhall and limited to 100 cars (sorry, ‘utes’) a year here, the HSV-built Maloo enjoys the likeably purposeless title of Britain’s most powerful light commercial vehicle.
Ever wondered what the difference is between a pickup and a ute, by the way? A ute (an abbreviation of ‘utility’) is generally a vehicle based on a passenger car, with the cargo bay integrated with the body – whereas a pickup is designed with a cargo bay separate to its body. They’re widespread in Australia and New Zealand, less so in the UK.
It’s essentially a VXR8 GTS with a giant load deck in place of the rear seats and the same 6.2-litre supercharged LSA V8. With 536bhp on tap, the new LSA-engined Maloo offers a whole 111bhp more than its LS3 predecessor, and a still not-that-useful-really 500kg payload.
The loadbay, presumably perfect for livestock/scrap V8s/beer/whatever else Australians usually carry, is less ideal for conventional luggage, creating the perverse scenario of a car with all the boot space in the world, none of which you can actually use. It would be handy if there was a bit of luggage space behind the seats, for stowing items you can’t lash to the load bay.
An aerodynamic tonneau cover tops said load bay. Remotely unlockable from the keyfob, it looks great but blocks most of the rear-view mirror, and stubby door mirrors make it difficult to see much behind you. Lifting on a set of gas struts, the cover takes some closing – you need to really put some weight on it to get it latched properly.
It is, but in contrast to most supercharged engines, there’s an odd, two-stage power delivery: initial acceleration is brisk rather than startling, then the Maloo gains a second wind and sprints like it’s going for pole at Bathurst.
Handles like it, too. You might expect a 536bhp vehicle with fresh air above its rear tyres to be more tail-happy than a Mk2 Escort on remoulds, but there’s remarkable traction and poise, even in the wet.
Control weights feel appropriately macho, with a heavy clutch pedal, meaty gearchange and weighty steering.
One minor disappointment is the sound – from the inside at least, it’s a little muted and muffly, not quite the full V8 supercar iron thunder effect.
Like there’s a hole in the tank. When I first climbed into the car, the trip computer display on the instrument panel predicted a slightly alarming 200-mile range from a nearly-full 71-litre tank. That did creep up during typical driving, however.
It does feel a bit on the cheap side. Not by pickup standards, admittedly – this isn’t an Isuzu D-Max – but the patches of wonkily stitched suede on the dashboard don’t do much to lift the ambience, although a head-up display with adjustable brightness is a welcome addition.
The controls for the multimedia system are a stretch to reach from the driver’s seat and don’t include DAB radio, but the touchscreen works well enough, and includes an array of interesting performance graphics you probably shouldn’t be looking at while you’re driving – including, hilariously/worryingly, one to show how many degrees of oversteer you could potentially have dialed in.
Pointless but loveable, the world’s a brighter place for the Maloo. And since it’s technically a CV, you could theoretically claim the VAT back too.