In Australia, 4x4s can be a necessity. That's why Holden decided to import the tough little Japanese Ute, called the Isuzu Wizard. Introduced in 1995, the UT Holden Frontera was designed as a GM subsidiary Isuzu, which has considerable credibility in the commercial truck field. Naturally, ride quality and occupant comfort weren't top priorities. Instead, Isuzu chose to focus on making the sort of 4x4 that you could drive into the outback and drive out the other side. They're not particularly nice, but they are tough.
Early versions of the Holden Frontera came with two doors and a removable rear roof. The roof is cumbersome to remove, but the open top provided a terrific way to experience nature as you drove through it.
Initially built in the UK, the Holden Frontera came with a very slow 2.0L 4-cylinder engine assembled by Holden in Melbourne. The part-time four-wheel drive system was engaged by a lever and gave the driver a satisfying mechanical clank when it engaged. Although the 2.0L was a bit of a slug on the road, it provided adequate power when negotiating rough terrain. The industrial-feeling interior wasn't very luxurious, but after a day of slogging through the bush, you won't have to worry about getting it dirty.
For 1999, the Holden Frontera was completely redesigned, and production was moved from England to America. The two-door sport now had a rounded body and a more powerful 2.2L engine. The Holden Frontera four-door had a new 3.2L V6. All Holden Frontera models got a new shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive system, which allowed the driver to engage the front axle with the push of a button (at speeds up to 100km/h). Although the new four-wheel drive system didn't offer the same mechanical feel as the old 4x4 system did, it was still just as rugged.
In 2001, the Holden Frontera received an electronic throttle with standard cruise control and an engine immobilizer. There was also a new automatic four-wheel drive system that came standard on the top-spec Holden Frontera SE. Called Torque on Demand, the system's computer reads data from 12 sensors to determine when to send power to the front wheels. Special software then sends the electronically variable clutches just the right amount of engine torque needed to counteract the wheel slippage. The rear suspension was also reworked to provide a smoother ride.
Although the Holden Frontera wasn't positioned as a serious off-roader, a quick test drive will suggest otherwise. The ride (on early versions) is bumpy and unsettled. It leans in a curve, and generally feels a bit like a heavy truck to drive. The trade-off is the ability to handle most rough terrain with ease. Combine all that with an accommodating interior (albeit heavy on plastic), and you have a 4x4 wagon that can handle nearly any situation, on or off road.
The initial UT Holden Frontera was powered by a weaker 2.0L engine which was replaced by a more powerful dual overhead cam 2.2L in the redesigned UE Holden Frontera. Four-door models were powered by a 151kW 3.2L V6, mated to either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Expect an average fuel economy of around 12.7L/100km.
Early versions of the Frontera were pretty basic, but UE Holden Frontera models came fully loaded. Three trims were offered: Base, S, and SE. Standard kit included air-conditioning, ABS, dual front air bags, electric windows, and four-wheel drive.
The Holden Frontera S added a limited slip differential, cruise control, a CD player, and alloy wheels. Holden Frontera SE models replaced the standard air-conditioning with automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and body-coloured exterior trim.
After 2001, all Holden Frontera models got standard cruise control, and the Holden Frontera SE got the Torque on Demand (TOD) four-wheel drive system.
Compared to medium sized 4x4s like the Nissan Pathfinder and Jeep Cherokee, the Holden Frontera falls a bit short in terms of comfort and refinement. The Jeep Cherokee is much more powerful than the Holden Frontera, the ride is smoother, and the build quality is higher. The Nissan Pathfinder/Nissan Terrano is just as rugged as the Holden Frontera, but it is smoother in most regards. But in terms of reliability and value for money, the Holden Frontera is hard to beat.