COM­MODORE VXR VER­SUS RI­VALS

IT’S SINK OR SWIM TIME FOR HOLDEN’S ZB COM­MODORE

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - WORDS ANDY EN­RIGHT PHO­TOS THOMAS WIELECKI

The heat comes a-knockin’ at Commo’s door

THERE’S no hid­ing place here for the Holden Com­modore VXR. The de­vel­op­ment ve­hi­cle ex­cuses, the pre-launch PR blus­ter and any resid­ual ex­tended good­will end right here. We’ve driven pre-pro­duc­tion ver­sions of the ZB Com­modore VXR but this is the first time we’ve pitched it in against its tough­est ri­vals. If you’ve read the 3000km drive to Bourke and back in the Fe­bru­ary is­sue, you’ll know that we har­boured a few reser­va­tions about this car, most specif­i­cally in the way the 3.6-litre V6 en­gine (which can trace its ‘High Fea­ture’ lin­eage back to the 2004 VZ Com­modore) in­ter­faces with GM’S nine-speed trans­mis­sion.

Given that there aren’t any nor­mally as­pi­rated, all­wheel drive cars in this price bracket with which to di­rectly com­pare it, we’ve taken a slightly dif­fer­ent tack. For a nom­i­nal budget of 60 to 70 grand, we’ve lined up three al­ter­na­tives that tease the for­mula out in dif­fer­ent direc­tions. Look­ing for more grunt? The 272kw Kia Stinger GT cer­tainly answers that call. A bit more in the way of badge eq­uity? Look no fur­ther than Jaguar’s XE 25t. Or how about more space? The Skoda Su­perb Sport­line 206 TSI 4x4 of­fers limo-like legroom and a cer­tain low-key dis­cre­tion. Game on.

If the def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity is do­ing the same thing over and over again and ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent re­sults, then per­haps we have a screw or two loose. Each time we punt Holden’s Com­modore VXR through the same cor­ner, it seems to do some­thing dis­sim­i­lar. At first it’s per­plex­ing but upon con­sid­er­a­tion, it’s ap­par­ent what’s go­ing on. A mul­ti­ply­ing avalanche of vari­ables thrown at the car’s ECU by the Twin­ster all-wheel-drive chas­sis, sta­bil­ity-con­trol sys­tem and nine-speed auto means that what might feel the same to us is a markedly dif­fer­ent pro­posal to the VXR’S al­go­rithm set. Hook it all up, feel the diff tweak­ing drive to the out­side rear, the trans­mis­sion plug­ging into four and a half grand, and it feels rock star. Miss that da­tum by a nanome­tre and you can be left with a lug­ging, un­der­steer­ing lump. It’s never dull, that’s for sure. After the com­plex­ity of the $55,990 Com­modore, its three ri­vals seem fairly straight­for­ward propo­si­tions. None can quite match the Holden’s value-packed list price, but the $56,790 Skoda in Sport­line trim comes clos­est. The top-spec Kia Stinger GT is priced at $59,990, and while the $56K Stinger 330Si might have been closer on price, the fact that over 80 per­cent of

Stinger V6 buy­ers are choos­ing the flag­ship model swings the de­ci­sion for us. Fi­nally, there’s the Jaguar XE and a slight mea culpa. It was al­ways go­ing to be the out­lier in this test, but we were look­ing to bag a $66,500 25t R-sport model. It wasn’t avail­able, so we’ve been left with the me­chan­i­cally sim­i­lar 25t Port­fo­lio, which comes with more toys (and less sport­ing vi­su­als) at a rather con­spic­u­ous $70,500 ask.

The most money also buys you the least ponies. With just 184kw un­der the bon­net from its tur­bocharged 2.0-litre In­ge­nium four, the Jag’s en­gine has that slight whiff of crip­ple­ware about it given that the osten­si­bly sim­i­lar 30t ver­sion develops a rip­pling 221kw. With 137kg less than the Holden to haul and a mighty front end, Skoda’s all-wheel drive 206kw Su­perb might just have the cross-coun­try chops to put some man­ners on the VXR. The twin-turbo Stinger is a known quan­tity and acts as the en­thu­si­ast’s bench­mark in this class.

The num­bers that spool out of Ponchard’s data log­ger at Syd­ney Drag­way are in­struc­tive. Pre­dictably, the Kia is the quick­est down the strip, but not by as much as its yawn­ing gulf in kilo­watts might sug­gest. On a hot and muggy day, it reg­is­ters a 5.1sec run to 100km/h, break­ing the quar­ter in 13.3sec. Next quick­est is the Skoda, its 5.4sec 0-100 time helped by a com­bi­na­tion of ter­rific launch con­trol, all-wheel-drive trac­tion and smart trans­mis­sion cal­i­bra­tion. The Com­modore reg­is­ters 6.2sec to 100km/h, about on par with Holden’s posted fig­ures, while the XE’S 7.7sec re­sult makes a mock­ery of its 6.3sec man­u­fac­turer’s claim. Are we lug­ging a makeweight in the pert shape of the Bri­tish com­pact exec?

The thou­sand kilo­me­tre two-day drive route ought to an­swer that ques­tion. Day one sees us run from Syd­ney over the Blue Moun­tains and into a mas­sive fig­ure-eight piv­ot­ing around Bathurst. Dy­namic as­sess­ments com­plete, the sec­ond day sees pho­tog­ra­phy du­ties un­der­taken south of Syd­ney on the run down to Wol­lon­gong and back, giv­ing us the op­por­tu­nity to per­form in­te­rior as­sess­ments.

When­ever there’s a key grab, the Skoda’s is al­ways the one that’s left. Even be­decked with spoil­ers and car­bon­fi­bre dash fil­lets, there’s still some­thing util­i­tar­ian in ap­peal about the Su­perb, some­thing that has you check­ing the rear cuphold­ers for the com­pli­men­tary spring wa­ter with ev­ery ride. It’s nev­er­the­less fear­somely quick along a good road, and de­liv­ers im­pres­sive body con­trol. The en­gine/ trans­mis­sion cal­i­bra­tion is com­pre­hen­sively the best of the bunch, and brake pedal feel is im­pres­sive, with a nicely ramped tran­si­tion from feather to gen­uine bite. It’s loud though, with marked sus­pen­sion thump, in­tru­sive tyre rum­ble from its Poten­zas, and wind noise from the front flanks where that sharply un­der­cut bon­net scal­lop and swage line cleaves the air from smooth boundary layer to rustling vor­tices.

THE SU­PERB IS FEAR­SOMELY QUICK ALONG A GOOD ROAD AND DE­LIV­ERS IM­PRES­SIVE BODY CON­TROL

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