COMMODORE VXR VERSUS RIVALS
IT’S SINK OR SWIM TIME FOR HOLDEN’S ZB COMMODORE
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