2018 Kia Stinger 330Si v Holden Commodore VXR comparison

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It’s on again – less than six months ago we put the 2018 Kia Stinger 330Si up against the Aussie-built 2018 Holden Commodore SS-V Redline, and the results were surprising.

In that test, the Kia Stinger blew us away with its performance and standard level of equipment. So much so that we gave it the win by a nose over the Australian favourite.

Fast-forward to today and it’s the same test, but with a very, very different Commodore.

This Holden Commodore is no longer built in Australia, it’s now built in Germany, nor is the Commodore rear-wheel drive, it’s now all-wheel drive. Along the way it has also lost two cylinders, but gained a stack of standard equipment.

The other big difference in this test is that the Kia Stinger is ours. We bought this one late last year for full price and we’ve stuck almost 11,000km on the clock since taking delivery.

Why does any of that matter? Well, some of you thought that maybe the Stinger we tested had a special Korean tune that helped it perform.

Before you put your conspiracy hats back on, we can confirm with 100 per cent certainty that this car is bog stock. It has no tune and has been exclusively driven by us and is almost due for its first service. But, before the service, we thought we’d have one more crack.

Pricing and specifications

Instead of lining the top-specification Stinger GT up against the top-specification Commodore VXR, we went with our Stinger Si and the Commodore VXR due to their price equality. Both cars are priced from $55,990 plus on-road costs.

The Stinger range kicks off with the entry-level four-cylinder at $45,990 (plus on-road costs), with the V6 just $3000 more at $48,990 (plus on-road costs). The mid-specification Si model tested here starts from $55,990 (plus on-road costs), which is a healthy step up from the base-model V6. The range tops off with the Stinger GT at $59,990 (plus on-road costs).

From an equipment point of view, the Stinger Si is loaded with all the good stuff, including (see full Kia Stinger pricing and specs here):

  • Leather trim with eight-way adjustment for driver and six-way for passenger
  • 8.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment with in-built satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • 19-inch alloy wheels with space-saver spare wheel
  • Adaptive cruise control with 3.5-inch mono instrument display
  • Front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera with hill start assist
  • Two 12V power outlets, two USB charging ports (with fast charging)
  • Brembo brakes front and rear
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), forward collision warning, lane keep assist, driver attention alert, and rain-sensing wipers
  • Nine-speaker sound system with two subwoofers and Bluetooth input
  • LED daytime running lights with halogen main beam
  • Keyless entry and start
  • Fixed-rate dampers
  • Dual-zone climate control with rear air vents

Key dimensions, capacities and weights:

  • Length: 4830mm
  • Width: 1870mm
  • Height: 1400mm
  • Wheelbase: 2905mm
  • Weight: 1780kg
  • Cargo volume: 406 litres (expands to 1114 litres)
  • Towing: 1500kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked)

Under the bonnet of the Stinger Si is a 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine that produces 272kW of power and 510Nm of torque. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox (with launch control) and sends drive to the rear wheels. Kia claims a combined average fuel economy of 10.2 litres of fuel per 100km.

We’ve had our Stinger on a dynamometer shortly after we purchased it, and it pushed out an impressive 242kW of power to the rear wheels. You can see it in action here.

There are seven colours available, with the Deep Chroma blue an optional pearl colour ($695). That also rounds out the options list, with nothing else available to select.

Over in the, er, red corner, the new German-built Commodore kicks off from $33,690 (plus on-road costs) for the entry-level 2.0-litre four-cylinder front-wheel-drive petrol, with the V6 all-wheel-drive range starting from $40,790 (plus on-road costs). This top-specification sport model, the Commodore VXR, costs $55,990 (plus on-road costs).

The Commodore far outweighs the Kia offering in terms of equipment. You can see the full pricing and specifications here, but the good bits are:

  • Leather trim with 11-way adjustment for driver and passenger with heating/cooling and massage function, heating for second row
  • 8.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment with in-built satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • 20-inch alloy wheels with space-saver spare wheel
  • Adaptive cruise control with 8.o-inch digital instrument cluster
  • Front and rear parking sensors with 360-degree surround camera with hill start assist and remote start
  • Two 12V power outlets, three USB charging ports (with fast charging) and wireless phone charging
  • Brembo front brakes
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), forward collision warning, lane keep assist and rain-sensing wipers
  • Bose sound system with Bluetooth input
  • LED daytime running lights with LED matrix headlights
  • Keyless entry and start
  • Sunroof
  • Variable damper control
  • Dual-zone climate control with rear air vents

Key dimensions, capacities and weights:

  • Length: 4899mm
  • Width: 1863mm
  • Height: 1455mm
  • Wheelbase: 2829mm
  • Weight: 1695kg
  • Cargo volume: 490 litres
  • Towing: 2100kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked)

Under the Commodore’s bonnet is a 3.6-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine that produces 235kW of power and 381Nm of torque, with torque sent through a nine-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive. Holden claims a combined fuel consumption of 9.3L/100km.

Six colours are available, with four of the six colours a prestige paint option carrying a price tag of $550.

Interior

This type of car needs to be fun to drive and comfortable for the daily commute. Both the Stinger and Commodore represent high-quality interiors with excellent attention to detail.

The Stinger offers a spacious interior with loads of storage up front with two cup holders, a generous centre console and a big glovebox. It teams with good-sized door pockets and plenty of leg and head room for the driver and front passenger.

In terms of seating, car seats don’t get much better than those in the Stinger. I ran our Stinger in with a trip to Adelaide and back the day after we took delivery, and was amazed at the level of comfort from the seats for long-distance drives.

While the seats miss out on heating, cooling or massage functions, they are quite supportive and feel premium.

Second-row seating is good, but there is limited toe room. Knee room is good and head room is good – but the Commodore offers more space in the second row, making better use of its extra 69mm of length. Air vents in the second row help circulate cooling on hot days.

Cargo capacity comes in at 406 litres, which is 84 litres less than the Commodore. Visually there doesn’t appear to be such a big difference in capacities, so it could come down to the method of measurement, with both manufacturers taking capacity from the cargo floor to the top of the seats.

Kia’s infotainment system is good, but one of the things that has frustrated us is the inability to use voice recognition unless your phone is connected to the car through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The Commodore, and most other cars, have the ability to use an in-built voice recognition system for navigation entry and phone calls.

This aside, Kia’s infotainment system is easy to use and entering navigation destinations is straightforward.

With almost 11,000km on the clock, our car is starting to show signs of wear with a rattle developing in the driver’s door and one within the boot. Both will be looked at when the car heads in for its first service shortly.

Over in the Commodore, the game is stepped up a notch in terms of build quality and fit and finish. It’s a very premium-feeling cabin and everything from the seats to the dashboard feels a notch above the Stinger.

The seats are incredible in terms of their levels of adjustment and features. They offer heating and cooling, along with a massage function. Second-row occupants also have seat heating for the two outboard seats.

These seats offer an exceptional amount of bolster that can be adjusted to suit your body style. They’re not quite as comfortable as the Stinger’s seats and the seating position is also much lower – great if you want a sportier feel, not so great if you want a commanding view over the road.

Ahead of the driver is a big 8.0-inch LCD cluster that can be adjusted on the move. Everything from navigation to VXR sport modes can be displayed on the screen.

Storage is good, but there’s not as much on offer in comparison to the Stinger. Two cup holders are joined by a small-sized centre console and decent-sized glovebox. Pockets in the doors are big enough for odds and ends, along with large bottles.

The second row is cavernous, but like the Stinger there’s a lack of toe room, but very good knee and head room. I generally have the driver’s seat quite far back, so you’ll be able to fit even taller adults into the second row.

The cargo area is good. It’s up on the Kia, but as I mentioned earlier it doesn’t appear much bigger than the Kia, despite what the figures suggest. Both vehicles use space-saver tyres.

Holden’s infotainment system is excellent. The 8.0-inch MyLink system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with built-in navigation and DAB+ digital radio. The same screen can be used to customise driving modes on the move.

Both of the cars have cracking sound systems, but the Commodore takes the win with an awesome Bose unit. It offers a stack of bass and doesn’t rattle the cabin when it’s turned up.

Sure, it’s not the almost 11,000km we have on the Stinger, but this pre-production Commodore VXR had almost 6000km on the clock, so it was well and truly run in.

Performance

Just like our last tests with these two cars, we wanted to figure out whether the new Commodore has the goods to topple the Stinger, which bested the V8-powered Commodore last time.

Again, we visited the Australian Automotive Research Centre (AARC) and stuck the VBox on to both cars to put them through a number of tests. This time around we didn’t measure acceleration to 200km/h due to concerns about the gearbox in the Commodore (more on this later), but we did add a new test since the last comparison, which is a constant-radius 25m circle designed to test maximum lateral g.

Model Kia Stinger 330Si Holden Commodore VXR
0–100km/h 4.8sec 6.2sec
0–60km/h 2.5sec 3.1sec
1/4 mile (no 1ft roll-out) 12.80sec at 177.11km/h terminal speed 14.14sec at 159.61km/h terminal speed
100km/h–0 (best time and distance) 2.7sec at 36.3 metres 2.5sec at 33.3 metres
Slalom (standing start) 21.96sec 21.56sec
Big circle (25m radius) 0.93g 1.06g

You may find some of these numbers quite surprising – we did too. For the acceleration tests we used launch control in the Stinger (which is activated by switching stability control off, enabling Sport mode and loading up the brake with the throttle until launch control activates), while in the Commodore we switched traction control off and used VXR mode, which allows the car to stall up to a higher 3000rpm for a quicker launch.

Braking tests were conducted from around 110km/h (GPS speed), followed by pushing the brake pedal to activate ABS. All tests were done with two occupants in the car and a full tank of 98RON fuel.

Kia claims a 0–100km/h acceleration run of 4.9 seconds. We bested this again three times with a 4.8-second run using launch control. We think there’s slightly more in it with a grippier set of treads given a slight amount of traction loss off the line.

It still surprises me just how fast the Stinger is. When the Stinger comes on boost it punches you back into the seat and continues accelerating relentlessly – it’s pretty cool stuff.

Over the quarter mile, the Stinger continued to impress, clocking a 12.80-second run with a terminal speed of 177.11km/h.

Unsurprisingly, the Commodore was much slower. But to the Commodore’s defence, we managed to beat the time we achieved when we drove the VXR at the national launch – we shaved 0.8sec off the acceleration time by switching off traction control and loading up the throttle with a final speed of 6.2 seconds, compared to 7.0 seconds at the launch.

Over the quarter mile, it lagged behind the Stinger by some margin, coming in at 14.14 seconds with a terminal speed of 159.61km/h.

We had to triple-check the braking results, with the Commodore pulling up in an incredible 33.3 metres and 2.5 seconds from 100km/h. Not only is that a full 3m better than the Stinger’s 36.3m, it’s the same distance recorded by Brembo on the Mercedes-Benz CLK DTM, Audi R8 LMX and 30cm short of a Porsche 987 Cayman S.

These results are partially thanks to the Commodore’s kerb weight (80kg less than the Stinger) and the super-sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.

Over at the slalom, there was another surprising result. The Stinger raced around our slalom circuit in 21.96 seconds (fastest time achieved with stability control off), which was pretty much the same as the last time we tested it here (21.99 seconds). The Commodore, on the other hand, managed 21.56 seconds (fastest time achieved with stability control off shifting manually).

Steering feel through the Stinger’s rack is absolutely on point. It’s noticeably heavier than the Commodore, but offers superior communication and a feeling of really driving the car when you begin throwing it around. The Commodore’s steering is good in isolation, but lacks the directness and feel of the Stinger.

Despite the lack of torque down low, the Commodore should have smashed the Stinger around this circuit due to its all-wheel-drive system. With mechanical torque vectoring and the ability to send up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear, the Commodore’s gearbox held it back with what appeared to be a fault.

Every time we did the slalom and approached our two hairpin corners, the gearbox would refuse to engage a gear on the exit of the hairpin. As a result of the gearbox malfunction, there were moments when we couldn’t get any torque for around 1–2 seconds.

It’s pretty disappointing given this is Holden’s peak performance model. We’d like to run this test again with the Commodore with a different vehicle to determine whether it’s a generic flaw with the gearbox or whether it was just a fault with our pre-production vehicle. We contacted Holden about the issue and they were unable to replicate it with the same car used for testing.

Our ‘big circle’ test is designed to expose both body composure and traction. The 25m radius circle has a broken white line that’s followed with speed gradually increasing to the point the vehicle begins to understeer. The peak g reading is then logged and the opposite direction also tested.

Kia’s Stinger did well coming in with a maximum g value of 0.93g. It held on well and remained fairly flat as speeds increased. When it began to understeer, it did so uniformly with little surprises. You can then of course switch everything off and with little effort have the Stinger sideways – it’s an absolute hoot!

Unsurprisingly, this is where the Commodore shone. All-wheel drive and very sticky tyres helped it log a 1.06g reading. That’s pretty damn good for what is effectively a family car. We tried switching off all the chassis controls to see whether we could tempt the Commodore sideways, but regardless of how much throttle was thrown in or how aggressive we were, it would just understeer – so cross the Commodore off your list if you’re desperate to drive via the side window.

On the performance front, you can’t look beyond the Kia for straight-line performance and smiles. The Commodore delivers with traction and a fancy all-wheel-drive system, but it’s ultimately let down by a fussy gearbox that really doesn’t suit the type of driving you need to do to extract the most from this brilliant chassis.

On the road

It’s not hard to see why people choose cars like this. They want a balance between size, comfort and performance. But, do these cars live up to the notion of mixing between each of those criteria?

Our test loop included a city run, a highway run and extensive testing at the Australian Automotive Research Centre (AARC) across gravel, bitumen and a rough course.

The Stinger has benefitted from a raft of ride and handling changes for the Australian market, and as a result of that the ride has been tuned for Australian road conditions. What does that mean? Surely all roads around the world are the same, right? Not quite.

Australian roads have a habit of being good on highways, around the city and within suburbia. But, step back a layer and you’ll find a mix of potholed and corrugated roads, not to mention extensive networks of gravel. Take a European-tuned car onto a gravel road with mid-corner potholes and watch the stability-control system lose its mind as the car scurries across the road.

It’s the same story on continuous undulations at highway speeds on country roads. Hit a set of these at 100km/h and a European- or American-tuned vehicle will tend to fully extend its suspension and then crash over the next set of bumps. These things are ironed out during the local ride and handling tuning process.

The Stinger deals with city conditions well and sits on the firmer side of comfortable. The passive damping set-up means there’s no user-adjustability, so it needs to cater for both slow driving and higher-speed driving. The steering can be a bit heavy, even at low speeds, but that’s compared to a relatively light rack in the Commodore.

Throttle response from the twin-turbocharged six is excellent. You’ll rarely find a lazy spot where there’s nothing happening. At these speeds the gearbox does a great job of managing expectations and offering the right gear for rapid acceleration.

Head towards the highway and things only get better. There’s enough compliance from the suspension to deal with minor bumps and undulations. As I mentioned earlier, I had the chance to run the Stinger in with a drive from Melbourne to Adelaide, and was very impressed with both the seat comfort and the ride comfort at highway speeds.

It’s on country roads that the Stinger can get a little rough around the edges. The 19-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tyres can cause it to crash over bumps at times, but it’s only to be expected from a car with this type of set-up.

Gravel is fun in the Stinger. The stability-control calibration offers enough freedom and bites down hard enough to prevent excessive oversteer under throttle conditions. It also deals well with corrugated roads, making it feel like a car that has genuinely been tuned for our conditions.

The Stinger uses a MacPherson strut set-up at the front with coil springs, an anti-roll bar and passive dampers. The rear runs on a double-wishbone set-up with coil springs and an anti-roll bar.

Holden’s engineers (the same engineering team that has worked on the Australian-built Commodore for the past several decades) had access to the ZB Commodore from around the 65 per cent prototype stage. They too have tuned the VXR for Australian conditions at the purpose-built Lang Lang proving ground.

Unlike the Stinger, the VXR uses adaptive dampers that allow the vehicle to offer more control over ride quality and comfort depending on the mode selected by the driver (between Normal, Sport and VXR).

The Commodore VXR sits on larger 20-inch alloy wheels, but you’d never know it with a smooth ride in and around the city. It deals well with speed humps and potholes, and offers a light steering set-up that makes parking and low-speed driving easy. Parking is made even easier thanks to a semi-automatic parking feature that allows the vehicle to park both parallel and perpendicularly.

The naturally aspirated V6 engine offers ample poke when called on. It can lack torque at the bottom end, but it’s enough around the city for darting in and out of traffic. It has the added surety of an all-wheel-drive system when roads get damp.

It’s an intelligent all-wheel-drive system too. The Twinster unit can preemptively send torque to the rear axle based on driver throttle inputs – as opposed to waiting until there’s slip at the front axle, like a lot of on-demand systems. Up to 50 per cent of torque can be sent to the rear axle with the mechanical torque vectoring system further splitting that 50 per cent to fully apportion to either wheel.

Visibility is good, but the driving position is much lower than the Stinger. It’s not an issue, just a clear point of difference between the two.

As you venture out on the highway, the ride remains excellent. It remains unaffected by corrugations or different road surfaces. It’s great as you head toward country roads too. This is arguably where it shines best. It’s remarkable how well it rides over rough sections of road, especially considering the 20-inch alloy wheels. It’s a testament to the ride and handling effort that has gone into the calibration.

Where it tends to suffer a bit is from the gearbox and engine combination. If you kick the throttle down it gets up and moves, but begin loading the car with people or even a large trailer (up to the 2100kg braked load limit) and you’ll notice a torque gap that wasn’t evident with the previous-generation V8 Commodore.

On gravel, the Commodore transforms into an incredibly fun car. Whereas it misses out on the performance edge on road, the engine has enough torque to make it playful and nimble on gravel.

Both the Sport and VXR modes are engineered to send more torque to the rear, and it’s easy to throw the car around and take advantage of that torque thrown to the rear wheels. The stability is unlike anything I’ve recently driven on gravel.

In addition to adaptive damping, the Commodore uses a HiPer Strut suspension set-up at the front. Similar to the RevoKnuckle set-up in the previous-generation Ford Focus RS, HiPer Strut alters the suspension geometry at the front of the car by reducing the spindle length, which in turn brings in the steering axis to a more vertical position.

These changes are designed to reduce torque steer and help the car cope with what is predominantly a front-wheel-drive car until torque is sent to the rear. This reduction in torque steer means you can confidently (literally) plant the throttle out of a corner and the steering doesn’t flinch beyond what you’d normally expect.

This is the type of thing that helped the Commodore VXR stay planted through our slalom circuit. If it wasn’t for the gearbox malfunctioning twice in the one slalom set, we would have expected it to beat the Stinger by almost two seconds.

In terms of on-road driving, the Commodore really shines. It lacks the straight-line pace for overtaking, but makes up for it with handling dynamics and a great ride.

The fuel economy figures really surprised us. We tested both the Stinger and Commodore over the same course with the same driver to evaluate fuel economy and cabin noise.

A constant 80km/h drive around a 10km flat circuit with acceleration from standstill yielded an average fuel economy reading of 7.6L/100km. When the speed was bumped up to 100km/h (with a start from stationary) the fuel economy figure increased to 8.4L/100km. At 100km/h peak noise into the cabin was 91.1dB.

Through the same set of tests, the Commodore came in at 8.3L/100km for the 80km/h circuit and that figure went up slightly to 8.7L/100km at 100km/h. Sound into the cabin peaked at 90.2dB.

These figures are interesting because the Commodore weighs almost 100kg less than the Stinger and uses cylinder deactivation to achieve better fuel economy. Likewise, we expected the Commodore’s cabin to be louder due to the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, but it came in much quieter thanks to better deadening from road and wind noise.

Ownership

Kia offers a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty that’s hard to match, and capped-price servicing at service intervals of 12 months or 10,000km. Kia also offers capped-price servicing for a period of seven years, coming in at a total of $1975 for five years or 50,000km, pushing out to $3375 for seven years or 70,000km.

With a shift to a new platform and engines, Holden’s revised service schedule now sees the Commodore serviced every 12 months or 12,000km. If you compare prices, it’s a total service cost of $1535 over five years or 60,000km, while seven years and 84,000km pushes that figure out to $2153.

That’s a pretty big price difference, given you’re afforded an extra 2000km per year of driving before requiring a service in the Commodore.

Tyres are an important part of both these vehicles, so it’s worth considering the replacement cost of tyres as part of the ownership experience.

The Stinger uses Continental ContiSport Contact 5 tyres that measure 225/40/19 at the front and come in at $435 each. The rear set measure 255/35/19 and are priced at $415, coming in at a total replacement cost of $1700.

The Commodore VXR runs on a super-sticky set of 245/35/20 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres that come in at $406, with a total replacement cost of $1624.

VERDICT

We came into this test thinking that the Stinger would have the goods in a straight line and the Commodore would make up for a lack of straight-line speed through the bends.

But, as it turned out, the Commodore VXR disappointed as a performance car. It lacks straight-line speed and the gearbox in our test car wasn’t even up for several runs through our slalom. While the brakes and tyre package are tremendous, it’s hard to exploit them to their full potential without a hard-hitting engine under the bonnet.

These things aren’t easy to fix either – it’s unclear how much torque can be sent through the Twinster all-wheel-drive system, so even if you were to supercharge or turbocharge the engine for more power, the gearbox and all-wheel-drive system may not have enough capacity to handle extra.

If you put performance to one side, the ZB Commodore is a cracking car. It is loaded to the hilt with features and well and truly outclasses the Stinger for standard equipment. It offers plenty of room inside and also 2100kg of braked towing capacity for customers that need this as an all-rounder.

But, if it were our money, we’d be going for the Calais V, which offers the same powertrain (sans the brakes) and features, but isn’t billed as a performance car.

Given this comparison was built to replicate our last test with Holden’s performance model, it simply doesn’t have the goods to compete with the Stinger. It falls too far behind on straight-line pace and the gearbox can’t be relied upon for harder driving, and at the end of the day it fails to deliver the smile-inducing drive on offer from the Stinger.

The Stinger retains its title as the bang-for-buck performance king for those buyers after a rear-wheel drive, four-door sedan that won’t break the budget.

(caradvice.com.au, https://goo.gl/aqnqsz)

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