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Quite simply the best two-seat pick-up that £50,000 will buy you. The Maloo is a blunt instrument that, if nothing else, will put a smile on your face

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The Maloo is another of Vauxhall's occasional bona fide oddball. Few car manufacturers have products whose breadth matches those of General Motors, and fewer still allow little pockets of entertaining brilliance like Holden Special Vehicles to thrive. Yet thrive it does.

HSV was established by Tom Walkinshaw in the late 1980s as a joint venture with Holden, with the remit of modifying Holdens for the road and racing them in Australia's touring car series. Its first road car was the Group A VL Commodore; just three years later HSV made its 5000th car, with the Maloo joining the line-up in 1990.

Pick-up practicality meets 425bhp V8, but is it a niche too far?

Today, Australia's V8 Supercars series doesn't require the homologated body kits and the like that the old Group A rules asked for, so HSV's products are just for the road. However, HSV's management still looks after the official Holden Racing Team in V8 Supercars.

HSV's core product is the Clubsport R8, which is based on the Holden Commodore and known in the UK as the Vauxhall VXR8. But HSV also offers the longer Senator and Grange performance luxury saloons and this, the Maloo, which is based on the Holden Ute.

While the 4x4 pick-up is becoming increasingly popular in Britain, the Australian-style utility vehicle has never held quite the same draw. Let's see if sticking a 6.2-litre V8 in the front of one can increase the appeal.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo headlight

The Vauxhall Maloo is very clearly a product of its origins. Take a tour around HSV's factory in Clayton, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, and you'll note how it looks more like a workshop than a factory.
In all but the rarest limited-edition cases, HSVs are delivered to Clayton from the Holden factory already sporting the requisite powertrain and most of their interior accoutrements.

The HSV plant then performs the job of redressing them. Steel wheels and standard bumpers come off and on go HSV-specific ones, while springs and dampers are changed and HSV exhausts are fitted. In a few cases, the cars get Chevrolet badges and are exported to the Middle East. In fewer cases still, they get exported to the UK, where they're badged as Vauxhalls.

The rear top deck wants a hearty shove to close properly

All current HSVs are of the same ilk, which means V8 variants of the Commodore and its platform derivatives, all rear drive and with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear.

Some get magnetic dampers but the Maloo does not, riding instead on passive springs and dampers. With a six-speed manual transmission and hydraulic power steering, it's mechanically straightforward but not necessarily any the worse for it. Especially given it has a 425bhp LS3-series V8 under the bonnet. (The standard Holden Ute donor vehicle, by the way, has either a 3.0 or 3.6-litre V6, or a 6.0-litre V8.)

The Maloo is a strict two-seater, although there's quite a lot of room for oddment storage behind the seats. And rather a lot more room again underneath the standard hard tonneau cover over the load bay.

That said, it's hard to imagine too many of the 50 or so British Maloo buyers using it as a utility vehicle as they might in its homeland. There isn't much call for £51,500 pick-ups in the UK, which makes finding rivals for it rather difficult. The overriding mantra of all Autocar road tests is: How fit is this car for its purpose? In the Maloo's case, you have to wonder what, exactly, its purpose is.

INTERIOR

Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo dashboard

Given that the Vauxhall Maloo is 5121mm and only seats two, you'd expect reasonable interior space even if it has a longitudinally mounted V8 engine up front and a two-metre load bay.

And so the Maloo proves, featuring two leather and Alcantara-shod electrically adjustable seats, and what feels like a dead-straight, uncorrupted driving position.

Pedals are widely spaced, so heel-and-toe actually means just that

The Maloo's cabin is fundamentally businesslike and suitably butch. The dials are clear and straightforward, pedals are comfortably spaced and the large steering wheel is widely adjustable.

Three additional instruments sit atop a dashboard whose 'Maloo R8' badging belies the car's roots - as does the 'HSV', rather than 'Vauxhall', badging on the partly flattened steering wheel.

Material finish also shows that this is no high-class European; the plastics are of a better grade than in most other pick-ups, but bear in mind most of them don't cost the thick end of a BMW M3.

Then again, an M3 hasn't been shipped from Australia. Besides, if you're sold on a Maloo, we doubt that the cheap handbrake is going to be a deal breaker.

Beyond the handbrake, the gearlever for the six-speed manual 'box is a reasonable stretch, while above it sit the usual controls for heating and ventilation (all fine) and the stereo and comms systems. It's not as complicated to operate as some Vauxhall set-ups, but it does enough to remind you that no GM system is particularly user-friendly.

Meanwhile, the navigation would be quite capable of guiding you from New South Wales to New Norfolk, but it's seriously uninterested in attempting the trip from south Wales to original Norfolk.

The load bay at the rear has impressive length and decent width, but the standard-fit gas-strutted lid limits the amount of gear you can stow in it. While the Maloo looks the pick-up part, it would be a real surprise to see one acting it.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo front quarter

Okay, so the Vauxhall Maloo is a utilitarian pick-up truck that can squeeze 1208 litres into its cargo bay.

It also just happens to be capable of squealing its way to 60mph in (a traction-limited) 5.3sec, to 100mph in 11.8sec and of covering a standing quarter mile in 13.7sec. For the record, that makes it as quick as a 2006 Jaguar XKR.

The LS3 mixes relatively new tech, in the form of variable valve timing, with old-school pushrods.

Fourth gear is best. You can select it below 20mph, as we did on MIRA's mile-long horizontal straight, then plant your foot into the carpet and leave it there.

The Maloo sucked through every 20mph acceleration increment from 20mph onwards at between 4.0 and 4.6sec, all the way to 120mph, before acceleration tailed off slightly and we had to get back on the brakes at a touch under 140mph. All within a mile.

Opt for acceleration that requires gearchanges and you'll find that the lever requires a positive shove, as does the clutch. The throttle weight is meaty and the brakes have good initial bite from a pedal that needs a respectable push.

Curiously, the 6.2-litre GM engine isn't among the most vocal of modern V8s. At idle it emits a muted woofle and eventually, on full throttle and at high revs, it displays some proper growl. But through medium revs and with medium throttle inputs, the Maloo's motor isn't as outwardly angry as, say, an AMG Mercedes engine.

It does have a lovely throttle response, mind: linear and progressive, and with ample torque at all times. It's big hearted and honest.

The 1855kg Maloo stops pretty well, too. It'll brake to zero from 70mph in just 45.7 metres and from 60mph to rest in 2.52sec. They began to fade after about four laps of our test track, but there's no embarrassment in that.

RIDE & HANDLING

Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo rear cornering

We've tried Vauxhall Maloos before and found that their springs and dampers were set up stiffly. This was so they could cope with a heavy load, but the upshot was that they fidgeted and skipped around at the rear without one.

Pleasingly, though, the latest Maloo seems free of such vices. It rides, even empty or part-laden, with a surprising degree of compliance from both the front and rear ends.

Pack some spare wheels, find a friendly circuit and have a ball, that's the Maloo's raison d'etre

Because the engine and cabin are nearer the front, there's a tendency for people to think that the Maloo's rear is lightly loaded and will be skippier than a bush kangaroo, but weight distribution is, in fact, almost equal between the axles. That helps it to ride and handle consistently, making the Maloo a vehicle with honest, big-hearted tendencies. The steering is pleasing, too; it requires above-average steering effort but is linearly responsive and not without road feel.

It could be a touch more accurate, but it would be churlish to complain because it is at least very well weighted and adds heft nicely as tyre loads increase. We mean it as a compliment when we say it feels old-fashioned. It's a sweet set-up.

'Predictability' is a key word when it comes to the ride and handling. Body control is more than adequate and you know how much the nose is going to dive under braking or what it'll do across compressions and crests. And while no five-metre-long car with a three-metre wheelbase is ever going to be considered agile, the Maloo covers ground engagingly.

What the Maloo is best at, though, perhaps inevitably, given the mechanical layout, is hanging out its tail to Olympic standards. Get the nose settled, get back on the throttle and it's possible to play games with the chassis in a more failsafe way than in pretty much any other car on sale.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo 2011-2013

It's safe to assume that if you're in the market for the £51,500 Vauxhall Maloo, running costs might not be your highest priority.

However, it's worth knowing that the VXR Maloo will be expensive to insure and repair and, if you use it hard, fuel economy can dip under 10mpg.

If you want a Maloo, you're going to have one. The huge running costs won't be an issue

The car is so rare that it doesn't even register on the graphs of our depreciation experts or leasing agents, and only six UK Vauxhall dealers are equipped to sell you one.

The fact that, on a motorway cruise, the interstellar gearing will help you approach 30mpg seems some compensation.

When it comes to residuals, the Maloo is such a rarity that it is unlikely to matter which colour you choose or aftermarket accessories you might fit.

If somebody wants a Maloo, they'll just want one, so go with what makes you happy.

VERDICT

4 star Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo

After a week and the best part of 1000 miles of testing the Vauxhall Maloo, we're still little closer to finding out what purpose it best fills.

There is no direct rival because it just isn't the type of car you'll otherwise find on British roads.

The best two-seat pick-up £50,000 will buy you

So what is it? Performance pick-up? Its load bay has a limited height and it ain't much cop in rough terrain. A two-seat coupe with a big boot? Perhaps, but it is more than five metres long.

In the end, we've decided that normal rules just don't apply. It's not the most sophisticated tool, but great fun nonetheless.

We're still not totally sure what purpose the Maloo serves other than to make the motoring world a happier place by being a big-hearted, loveable and sweet-handling rogue.

Now that's a purpose it serves remarkably well.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo 2011-2013 First drives