The ultimate automotive authority

Features / 11-22-18

General Motors deep in the Southern Australian Outback

It was the longest media trip that I’ve ever been on, and I enjoyed every second of it!


By Kevin C. Limjoco Photos by the Author, Eric Tipan, Mark Horsburgh, and Frank Schuengel

 

General Motors Southeast Asia invited a handful of Philippine journalists along with colleagues from Thailand and Vietnam to a once-in-a-lifetime immersion in their updated Colorado pick-ups and Trailblazer mid-size SUVs in the remote Southern Australian Outback. And when I say remote, I mean it. If you travel on your own to these areas without meticulous planning and equipment redundancy, there is a truly real chance of not making the journey back. More on that a bit later.

Openly, we buy aftermarket products usually because of their perceived benefits, peer pressure or simply because we like the way it looks. I’m talking about the massive and very imposing bull-bars that are installed on the front end of pick-ups and SUVs, raised suspension, larger wheels with all-terrain tires, and under-carriage reinforced plating that, when all combined, make the vehicles look like they were pulled off a Mad Max movie set. Many times, the modifications can all be clearly justified when applied to vehicles that are genuinely used for work on huge tracks of farmland or for authentic professional competition but rarely do regular folks get to test the equipment in real-world environments where they were originally designed to tackle.

The whole 8-day media event, the very longest that I have ever personally been on, was broken up into two separate location programs. The first day began with action-packed driving experiences that included dynamic tarmac driving (Motorkhana + Ride & Handling Loop drive experience on Commodore VXR sedans), multi-stage off-road testing, and an intensely fun taxi-ride on young racecar driver Tomas Gasperak’s 340 bhp / 500 lbs.-ft ACDelco Racing SuperUte Colorado on Yokohama 265/50R20 ADVAN SP V105 tires driven by his veteran champion teammate Lee Holdsworth from the Charlie Schwerkolt Racing team, at the very top-secret 877-hectare General Motors Holden Lang Lang Proving Grounds in Victoria.

The vast and scenic Lang Lang Proving Grounds is Australia’s first automotive testing and development complex used since 1957 and houses the country’s most comprehensive vehicle safety laboratory. It has 44 kilometers of sealed and unsealed road systems, which include a multi-speed-rated banked circular high-speed track, an extensive network of ride and handling roads, rough tracks, a twisty course, a “rattle and squeak” track, dust roads, test hills, safety laboratories, an all-embracing state-of-the-art emissions laboratory (which after the tour made the Philippine contingent a little upset and even  depressed with the knowledge that our country’s government doesn’t take these human and environmental measures seriously at all despite having a Philippine Clean-Air law, also known as the Republic Act # 8749, in place since 1999), a skid-pad as well as mud and water baths, all surrounded with abundant wildlife, flora and fauna. The wildlife (which includes kangaroos, wallabies, deer, snakes, wombats, and echidnas, among many rare and indigenous birds) are so healthy that the entire facility has become a pseudo-natural reserve. The research and development facility is located roughly 90-odd kilometers southeast of Melbourne, and almost every global General Motors product, including autonomous and electric vehicles, are currently tested and evaluated therefrom Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Holden, and includes the China-market only brands Baojun, FAW-GM-Jiefang, and SAIC-GM-Wuling.

The second day was a very deep dive into the Holden Design Center at the Holden Headquarters headed by the charismatic and incredibly talented Richard Ferlazzo, Design Director, GM Design Australia. Richard gave us both a broad and specific view of his massive team’s fabulous efforts. Richard has contributed to virtually every Commodore program since the VN and has his hand in almost all the current and upcoming goodness coming from the General Motors group for Holden and other brands. One of his many career highlights includes redesigning the iconic Holden Lion corporate logo which stands proudly until today and is responsible for creating the painfully stunning, fully-functional, and award-winning Holden EFIJY concept car.

During Richard’s presentation, I was reminded of my dad’s old Opaline Blue with black vinyl roof 1976 Holden Torana (the name was inspired by an Aboriginal word meaning “to fly”) LX SL model when I was a kid. The 3rd generation Holden was powered by a German-built Opel 1.9-liter engine that produced a very modest 102 bhp @ 5400 rpm and 115 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm of torque. It used a Solex double-barrel downdraft type carburetor, a 4-speed manual transmission, 10-inch front discs with rear drum brakes, and did 0-100 km/h in 13.8 seconds with a top speed of 148 km/h. It was considered a fairly competent, mid-size sedan in its day in our market. Unfortunately, the lingering memories I have of the uncommon car in the Philippines are both consequently negative. There was fundamentally nothing wrong with our Torana, by the way, but at the peak of one of our beach trips to our family’s Matabungkay beach house in Batangas, the rear windshield shattered from the extreme heat. I helped pick up every piece of glass around the edge of the rear window and in the cabin, thankfully without getting hurt, then we had to tape up the gaping opening with rice sacks before heading back to Manila. The second memory is far worse. I came home early from school one day and saw a horrifying amount of blood on the driveway! I remembered my dad saying that he was going to install new mudguards himself on the car the day before. The problem was that the pieces were not official OEM Holden rubber parts but a set of aluminum shields that were clearly and poorly hand-formed by some random guy from an aftermarket side shop, so when my Dad tried to install one of the crude pieces, it literally sliced his wrist when he was just getting into position! Thankfully, the injury was caught in time by my maternal grandfather who rushed my dad to the hospital; there was barely any traffic in Makati in 1977. The Holden was scuttled quite quickly after that incident, though without any fault to the vehicle.

After our very entertaining learning experience at Holden HQ, we prepared to fly out first to Adelaide where we would pick up a smaller Saab 340 twin-prop domestic flight to our next exciting destination: Coober Pedy via a second quick stop at Port Augusta.

The second part of the program is where you see these full-production updated Colorados and Trailblazers driven, as engineered and originally designed, in the unforgiving open-road, unpaved Outback terrain in Coober Pedy, more commonly known for their literally underground lifestyle where about 50% of the population live underground and as the largest opal mining community responsible for over 85% of the world’s supply of the very precious and beautiful mineraloid.

Both the Colorado and Trailblazer, as you see in the photos, may have Holden badges as they are right-hand-drive Australian models but they are Chevrolets with principally the same drivetrains and packaging. The biggest additions to the top-range Colorado include more suspension tuning to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) with an optional automatic detachable sway bar at the rear for better off-road articulation, optional forged 18” x 10” alloys, optional SupaShock Suspension, optional AP Racing Brake Package, damped OEM retractable and lockable rear bed covers that look great and fit appropriately. In addition, standard rear Limited-Slip Differentials, an optional bull-bar that can be fitted with an additional LED light-bar that also transfers the front fog lamps and front parking sensors to it, and the most profound change, which is also installed on the Trailblazer, is a recalibrated 6-speed transmission (CPA torque converter) with counterbalancers that reduce vibrations and inject significantly more verve across the powerband. The traction, stability, and hill-descent control systems have all been recalibrated for considerably better adaptation to road conditions. So, both vehicles feel and drive with a renewed sense of purpose. Both updated models will be sold in the Philippines and Chevrolet will be providing a more extensive catalog of available options to suit customer’s requirements.

The well-designed new bull-bar is essential in the Outback because of the high likelihood of hitting wildlife on the open road so the extra armor helps protect the front end. Our test units also came with undercarriage protection which is also important because you wouldn’t want a sharp rock to hit any part of the engine bay thereby disabling you in the middle of nowhere. The biggest problem in the open desert is exposure and the distance between two locations that may have fuel and other services is no less than 200 kilometers apart. The average annual temperatures at 28°C (82.4°F) may not seem so bad but when you consider that the ozone layer is thinnest in this side of the world without any shade whatsoever, you won’t last a day without water. Chevrolet Philippines’ marketing manager and our outstanding handler, Jona Atienza, described the environment best that the terrain looked like we were all on the fabled surface of Star Wars’ Tatooine.

If you all were wondering if we also got to sample the famous Outback cuisine, we certainly did! Most of us ate our share of Kangaroo, Emu, and Barramundi along with a new Australian discovery, Chicken Salt! I haven’t been a big soft drink consumer for many years now but I just love the Bundaberg line of drinks especially the Ginger beer! A huge shout-out to the man who really made every situation pop, Sean Poppitt (Director of Communications – Southeast Asia General Motors International) and the whole outstanding Holden/Chevrolet team that made every grain of dust, the Desert Cave Hotel, the yummy Furphy ale, Australian Football League (AFL) lessons, every explored mining cave, the opal noodling, the Breakaways Conservation Park lunch, the beautiful Painted Desert, the Dingo Fence (one of the longest structures in the world at 5,614 kilometers), the iconic Pink Roadhouse burgers in Oodnadatta, the conversations, and of course the actual driving experiences, just all incredibly memorable and enjoyable.

We drove well over 400 kilometers on these dry, rock-filled dusty tracks at an average speed of 110 km/h and both vehicles absorbed the punishment admirably; the standard off-the-shelf Bridgestone Dueler H/T 684 II tires also gets a special mention as they all held out without a single puncture despite the brutal surface conditions. In the end, aside from the new profound friendships and relationships made, we were all reminded with how much collaborative labor is required to produce quality vehicles that are engineered to serve our needs in an extremely competitive world with ever-evolving needs and standards. We all left with a lasting appreciation for the General Motors family and look very forward to the incredible products that will be coming very soon across the globe.

Specifications

Engine

EngineInline-4
Displacement2,776 cc
Cylinder HeadDOHC 16 V
Fuel InjectorCRDi Intercooled VGT Turbodiesel
Max Power (bhp @ rpm)200 bhp at 3800 rpm
Max Torque (lb/ft @ rpm)369 lb-ft at 2000 rpm
Transmission6-speed Automatic Transmission

Performance

Top Speed194 km/h
0-100 km/h | 0-62 mph9.4 seconds

Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions

Fuel Milage (km/l)12.7 km/L

Ratings

Price as Tested (PHP)Php 1,571,888
What's GreatPotent engine with significantly improved transmission and suspension, more available options and trim, electric steering is excellent and more refined, good road and off-road compliance, more fuel efficient, real-world versatility and usability.
What's Not SoAutomatic window-drop function opens way too excessively, we wish it had a 10-speed gearbox and HID/LED headlights.
C! Editors Rating9/10