EVER BEEN to a fancy-dress party where two blokes have both turned up as Superman? There are a couple of things wrong with this, starting with the fact that youíve just found yourself at a fancy-dress party. And second, two delta-males trying to be the same thing at the same time is never going to end well. Odds on thereíll be tears, starting with failed attempts to use X-ray vision to guess the colour of the hostessís knickers. Thatíll be followed by the sound of ambulance sirens as one wannabe superhero takes a swannie off the roof of the chook shed, trying to prove that only the real Superman can Ďflyí.
But just to illustrate that the motoring industry really is no smarter than a couple of half-tanked tax accountants, take a look at whatís going on here. Forget baggy spandex and broken elbows, but when you break it right down, what we have here is the Kia Stinger and the new Commodore ZB turning up at the same party. And theyíve both come as the next VF Commodore.
Okay, so we all know that a successor to something like the VF SS-V Redline will probably never exist, but in the meantime, both the Kia and the new Holden are sniffing around the ruck to pick up the rear-drive-Commodore crumbs.
The Kia, as the cleanskin, probably has less at stake, because itíll attract its own followers regardless of any sense of tradition, imagined or otherwise.
For its part, Holden freely admitted to MOTOR that it knows the new ZB will never sell as well as the VF, nor will it ever attract the same quorum of default buyers who bought a succession of Commodores over a succession of decades. But donít be fooled by such frankness; both these cars have a job description that involves Ė among many other things, admittedly Ė luring VF (and Falcon) owners in for a look-see.
Ironically, itís the non-Holden Kia Stinger that probably makes the most convincing case on paper. Itís rear-drive, just for starters, and that must surely be one of the big talking points for those staring at a lease-is-up VF or FG-X in the driveway. The Stinger isnít a V8, of course, but at least with a pair of turbos bolted to the 3.3-litre V6, it makes the sort of power that local-V8 owners can relate to.
The ZB? Er, not so much. Yes, itís a V6, but packaging constraints mean that thereís no hairdryer on board. And while it isnít front-drive, it isnít rear-drive, either, and the best Holden could come up with was to install all-wheel drive onto a platform that was essentially a tail-dragger in its purest form. And the Holden Ė despite what the contrived engine cover suggests Ė has its engine mounted east-west to prove the point.
And guess what else? Neither of these cars is actually a sedan. They do their best to look like sedans (and the Holden is a bit more convincing) but the fact is that both are five-door liftbacks. That said, theyíre both quite handsome cars, although we reckon the ZB is a bit less obvious. That long snout on the Kia could, if you were the cruel type, be described as a bit try-hard. Nor is there a single manual gearbox option to be found anywhere within the Stinger and Commodore ranges and while thatís a reflection of 2018, itís also an oversight for any carmaker trying to rope in an old-school car guy (or gal).
So if weíre not talking traditional performance sedan values, what are we dealing with when the stopwatch appears? The Commodore certainly makes plenty of grunt with its 235kW but, without turbine-assistance, itís all stacked up pretty high and the thing needs a solid rev to get going properly. Thatís helped by the nine-speed auto which has plenty of low ratios on hand, but the 0-100km/h time of 6.1 seconds is left in the shade by the blistering five-seconds dead of the Stinger which, with a full 272kW and turbocharged mid-range to propel it, simply racks off.
We didnít get a chance to run quarter miles back-to-back, but given the 0-100 time for the ZB, you can bank on something like a mid-14 for the 400m (thatís what it feels like, anyway). Meanwhile, the Stinger has just rattled off a 13-dead or maybe even a high-12 over that same stretch of hotmix and is already backstage in the green room, swilling Jack and eating caviar, having just performed a 400-metre mic-drop.
On the real roads of this wide, brown land, the gap closes up considerably. Why Kia thought it would be a good idea to team that crackerjack engine with a dumber-than-a-box-ofhammers auto is beyond us. Not that the eight-speed doesnít shift nicely, because it does, but itíll only hold the gear you select for about six seconds before it reverts to full auto. Why not flip it into manual mode? There isnít one! No, really, there isnít. I checked twice. And even if you do issue a manual upshift command via the flippers, push the throttle past the dťtente and the Kia will kick-down as many gears as it physically can, even though your upshift instruction mere seconds ago would suggest this was not what you wanted.
The ZBís nine-speed unit seems like one better, but in some aspects itís not. See, nine ratios sounds techy and groovedup, but the reality is that thereís so little difference in ratios, particularly between second and third, that shifting twixt them manually feels more like the torque-converter has had a brain-fart rather than an actual ratio has changed. In partthrottle going, the íbox will probably shift from second straight to fourth and you wonít ever know it.
The other grizzle is the tall, tall gearing and Holdenís obvious attempt at chasing a fuel consumption number for the windscreen sticker. At 100km/h in ninth, the ZBís V6 is turning about 1500rpm which, really, isnít far off idle and at a point in the rev range where itís making about 12 horsepower (or so it feels). Which is fine if youíre shifting the cogs yourself, but left in D, the Holden will actually drop into top gear as low as (according to my tests) 84km/h. At that point the engine is turning about 1300rpm and the poor old thing is lugging. In turn, that sends a shiver of discontent right through the seats and floor and a gravelly tone through the cabin. Not nice.
And switching the ZBís tranny to Sport mode doesnít fix it, because ninth is still available from 84 onwards. And youíd be amazed (I was) at how much time you spend around the mid80s in this modern world. Iíd be looking for a tuner who can re-flash the thing to rule out top gear below about 110km/h. It is, after all, just software, right? Curse those official fuelconsumption tests. Beyond that, though, the Holden wins for aural appeal with its meaty V6 yowl, while the Kia sounds like it is lacking. Bring on the optional Kia zorst, I say.
Throw these cars at some corners and the Holden catches up even further. Okay, so itís got less torque, more grip from its 245/35 20-inch tyres and the added advantage of allpaw scrabble. But itís also a calmer platform when you start getting into eight-tenths territory and above. Till then, the Kia feels fine, but eventually, the inherent balance in the ZBís arrangement starts to show through.
Thereís a bit of front-end push if youíre too optimistic with your entry speed, but that clutch-pack rear diff and the ability to shuffle torque from front to rear axle makes a big difference when it gets hot and heavy. I wouldnít say thereís a huge difference in ride quality between Normal, Sport and VXR modes, but in the latter, thereís definitely a pretty secure, planted feel that comes though the helm, even if the steering itself feels a bit light when youíre pressing on.
The Commodore is a bit slow to obey downshift commands from the paddles and it feels like thereís even a hint of converter slip at times. And the semi-synthesised engine note seems to have been calibrated to make the engine sound slower and lazier than it really is. A couple of times I figured I was holding around 4000rpm, only to look at the tach and discover it was, in fact, time for another cog.
In direct contrast, the Kia always feels urgent and up for it, poking you in the chest and demanding to know if thatís all youíve got. Problem is, sometimes thatís right at the point where the car itself has tapped the depths of its talent.
In Sport mode, the Stinger is definitely firmer than the ZB, but actually none the better for it. In fact, mid-corner bumps are not the Kiaís best mate and thereís less accuracy through the tiller, despite a much faster rack ratio which, at first, tries to fool you that the Kia is all business.
But once you get used to the ratio, you also notice that thereís a fairly big dead-spot at the straight-ahead and what info you are getting back up the column is pretty noncommittal. Which, if youíre even half smart, should be enough to encourage you to take the same approach.
That said, the Stinger is pretty easy to rotate, purely because youíve always got enough grunt and, apparently, enough rear weight bias to bring the tail around at will. Fact is, the Kia is quite rear-steery which starts out as playful, but degenerates into Ďhang-on-kidsí as the speed rises.
Eventually, youíll reach the limit of the tyres and the rear grip and the whole plot becomes a slave to whatever Newtonmetres are hanging around at the time. And for all that ride firmness, thereís still more body roll and lateral head-toss apparent in the Stinger.
As the top-shelf versions of each car (Stinger GT and Commodore VXR) both cars run Brembo brakes. No, you wonít make them fade at road speeds (even if you are a nutter) and Iíd be very surprised if either ever came over faint on a racetrack either. Other stuff? Well, the Holden has those lovely, firm front chairs that locate you properly, even if they look a bit boy-racer.
The Kiaís pews, meanwhile, were a bit narrow for mine, but Iím a fairly broad unit (big bones Ė ask my mum) and the tykes that run this magazine have never complained.
Back seats? Not much in it with plenty of stretching room in each and only the ZBís roofline and the Stingerís rear wheelarch to impede entry and exit slightly. The boots are line-ball, too, and both have fairly high floors that means they wonít be as big as they look.
Itís pretty easy to draw the conclusion that the new Commodore is a smoother, sweeter car in most circumstances. But the surging thrust of that twin-turbo V6 in the Kia is going to swing a lot of decisions. But where does that leave each car when it comes to that inevitable question of which one replaces the family cars we knew and loved?
Well, if youíve historically craved a six-cylinder Commodore or Falcon, the new Holden will probably do the trick. But if you were a V8 kind of guy, then the Stinger with its edgy manners and swinginí-dick engine will be the one. Presuming youíre still in the game and havenít gone out an bought an SUV or a hothatch already. But letís not get on to the topic of relevance. Or we could be here all day.