New power generation

As the V8 Commodore bows out, we assemble the heavyhitting inheritors of its mantle

WORDS ANDY ENRIGHT PHOTOS NATHAN JACOBS

GHOSTS. Somewhere out here in the grey pre-dawn light are ghosts. An unbroken line of íem, stretching back nearly four decades whoíve stood at a bowser before, refuelling Australianbuilt Commodores, jotting down records, meticulously checking tyre pressures and fluid levels before subjecting the car to the rigours of a Wheels road test. And Iíll be the last of them.

Booking a Commodore SS-V Redline on the week that local production wrapped up was always going to be loaded with poignancy but, truth be told, weíre probably not going to tell you a whole lot that you didnít know about this car already. Its role this time round would be largely contextual, here to provide a counterpoint to two Young Turks that deliver a decisively different skill set.

The Kia Stinger could well be 2017ís most anticipated new car here in Oz, offering rear-wheel drive, serious firepower and, in this instance, a price tag within $200 of the Commodore. Weíre excited about the car largely because we tend to pigeonhole it as a Commodore rival. Truth is, Kia hasnít given the big olí Holden a momentís thought in the ground-up development of this car. Think of it as a cut-price alternative to an Audi S5 Sportback or a BMW 440i Gran Coupe and youíll be closer to Kiaís aspiration.

While the range-topping Stinger GT has attracted the lionís share of press coverage, the mid-spec 330Si could well be the sweet spot in the range. Priced at $55,990, it gets the same 272kW twin-turbo V6, driving through an eight-speed automatic and limited slip diffí to a set of 19-inch rear wheels, but does without the complex adaptive suspension system.

There was always a danger that Volkswagenís Arteon 206 TSI R-Line would play third wheel here. How could it not, given that itís almost 100kW down on outright power to the SS-V and about as likely to appeal to the Commodoreís core market as front row seats for La BohŤme? It does, however, provide a cerebral and extremely talented rival to the Stinger which, at $65,490, would need to provide a convincing case study in doing more with less in order to justify the price tag.

With on-demand all-wheel drive, an adaptive suspension system of stupefying bandwidth, and

Itís worth underlining that this is a Kia thatís virtually as quick out of the blocks as a Porsche 996 GT3

a mildly detuned version of the Golf Rís four-pot firecracker under the bonnet, the Arteon looks and feels like a business-class upgrade from the other two and, despite the Stinger being finished in retinacremating Sunset Yellow, the lantern-jawed Volkswagen turned the most heads. Thereís not a bad angle on it and some of the detailing, such as the way the LED headlamps morph into the grille, the visual effect of power in the haunches, the shape and tension in the flanks, and the sculpted front wheelarches softly busting through the clamshell bonnet line are deftly and confidently executed.

The Stingerís nothing like as elegantly resolved. Itís at its best when viewed from front or rear, where itís purposefully hunkered, but move to the side and the lugubrious rear end looks overly weighty. Some of the detailing grates, too, such as the conspicuously nonfunctional bonnet vents and the way the rear door line extends across the top of the hatch rail, as if Kia has plugged the rear end of an entirely different car onto the back like a giant Lego Technic kit. The Stingerís not an ungainly thing per se, but it lacks the front-torear cohesion of some of Kiaís better designs such as the Optima and the Sorento. Even the latest Carnival expresses a more lucid aesthetic. Itís not lacking in visual punch, though.

To a certain extent, the aggro styling and the wellpublicised performance figures taint your expectations of how the Stinger will drive. Thumb the starter button and you expect something tightly wound, leaching testosterone from every orifice but itís puzzlingly mannered. The engine note is librarian meek, the

A mighty front end and an AWD traction advantage meant that nothing could pull away from the Arteon

steering a thing of extravagantly lubed slickness and the ride about as lumpy as a drizzle of extra-virgin.

Looking back at my drive notes, thereís a hastily scribbled but perplexed question. ďWhat is this car?Ē

Viscerally quick, thatís what it is. On a give-and-take road, itís the only one of the trio that has our testers getting out, eyebrows raised, blowing out their cheeks and shaking their heads. Itís worth underlining that this is a Kia that is virtually as quick out of the blocks as a Porsche 996 GT3. Launch control makes that repeatable too, 100km/h flashing by in 4.9s. Itís eerily effective in the way that it smashes down the strip, ladling on great gobs of twin-turbocharged torque, the eight-speed transmission best left in fire-and-forget Sport mode.

At 2000rpm, itís making around 50Nm more than the Commodore, giving it an initial advantage the Holden can never claw back.

The Arteon always grabs the holeshot, though. Its combo of launch control and all-wheel-drive traction give it a clear nose up until around 70km/h or so. Beyond that, the Stingerís sheer grunt tells but the Arteon is far from disgraced at the strip, our 5.4-second sprint to 100km/h bettering the manufacturer numbers by a couple of tenths and exactly matching the sprinting

My íArt has a Mind of its Own

Should you become incapacitated at t he wheel, or even just nod off, the Arteonís Emergency Assist syst em will initially attempt to alert you by beeping t hen jolting at the brakes. If it st ill detects no driver input, the belts will gr ab you and the system w ill f lash the hazard lights, gent ly snake the car along in its lane to aler t ot her drivers and then attempt t o pull the c ar to the kerb and park it. If it canít do this, it íll bring the Ar teon to a stop in its lane.

Arteon

After the Volkswagenís showstopping exterior, the cabin feels a little staid. The aircon controls and the analogue clock feel as if theyíre somewhat out of their depth in this price bracket, but the immersive infotainment system and the punchy Dynaudio stereo feel like money well spent. A broad swathe of vents across the dash mirrors the style of the grille and headlights, which is a slick touch and the handsome and supportive R-Line seats are also a delightful fitment.

There are a couple of ergonomic glitches, however, such as the deletion of separate knobs for the volume and map zoom functions.

Commo

There are things weíll miss about the Commodore, such as the steering wheel that feels like youíre choking a carpet python, that subtle bassy thunk as it drops into gear and the sheer amount of space inside. Then there are things that we wonít. Itís obvious where time has passed it by, most notably in its Super Nintendo infotainment system which remains functional but clunky looking. The leather upholstery on the seat bases always looks baggy the moment itís been sat on and the door mirrors seem as if theyíve been shrunken in a hot wash. But given the age of the base design, the VFII has worn its years extremely gracefully.

Stinger

Hats off to Kia because itís done a creditable job on the Stingerís cabin, combining space, decent ergonomics and a fairly honest stab at style. The cheaply finished and crude-textured horn push jars but otherwise the cabinís a class act.

Starter buttons that lurk out of sight around the back of the steering wheel arenít a favourite of ours, but itís hard to fault materials quality, at this price point at least. The centre seat belt on the rear bench can be tucked neatly out of sight when not in use. You wouldnít want to use it either as that berth is both narrow, firm and baulked by a chunky transmission tunnel.

All up, the interiorís a strong effort.

Korea hasnít given the Commodore a momentís thoug

ht in the ground-up development of this car

performance Ė on the day Ė of the Commodore. Still think the Arteon is out of place in this company?

The German car also impressed on our test route, a combination of flowing, variably surfaced country roads and a fiendishly nadgery hill route that was designed to boot each of these long-wheelbase dreadnoughts unceremoniously out of their respective comfort zones.

With gravity on its side, it had the talent to neuter the two rear-drive power forwards. A combination of a mighty front end and a singular traction advantage out of hairpins meant that nothing could pull away from the Arteon. Up the hill, it was a different matter of course, but in terms of outright chassis effectiveness, the Volkswagen had laid down a clear marker.

Choosing how to set up the Arteon isnít the work of a moment. The DCC adaptive suspension system has no fewer than 14 settings to choose from, the extremes bookending the steel-sprung Stinger and Commodore. Set into Sport, itís undeniably taut, with larger imperfections folding you at the solar plexus.

Body control is imperious and you tend to drive the Arteon like a hatch, leaning cab-forward on that front contact patch and letting the rear end figure things out for itself. The dual-clutch transmission bangs through shifts with none of the blurriness of the torque converter autos, giving the Volkswagen a welcome bit of bristle and edge. The driving mode switch is evidence of a half-baked right-hand-drive conversion, being inconveniently located on the far side of the gear lever, this range-topping R-Line car also carrying a dead-eyed array of switch blanks on the driverís side.

The four-cylinder lump growls gamely, the sound feeling cutout. The stability control system hoodwinks you into thinking itís off, but lurks constantly, waiting for a moment to indulge some suppressed superhero affectation if it thinks youíve really stuffed up.

Like the Arteon, the Stinger can cycle through engine sound settings although Minimised, Neutral Enhanced all sound much the same. The driving knob also alters settings for the steering weighting engine/transmission settings. The Smart mode does reasonable job of figuring out what youíre trying achieve, but we left it in Sport most of the time which, as an aside, renders the digital speedometer in italic font. Nope, us neither.

The sheer ferocity at which the Stinger accumulates big numbers, helped by that malleable ride, puts premium on braking performance. Initial pedal feel is enormously reassuring and while it canít match Arteon or the Commodoreís outright stopping punch, Kiaís engineers have done a great job in teasing subtlety of response out of it. That said, it was the first brake pedal to go long, and better brakes and a considerably more vocal exhaust would be among the first items on our to-do list were we drawing improvements for the mid-life revision. The compound of the ContiSport Contact 5P tyres is also possibly soft for a car with this much weight and with such propensity to wag its tail. Budget accordingly.

Both the Arteon and the Stinger feature liftbacks, the formerís item being a powered tailgate with a proximity feature that allows you to haul gear out walk away before it closes itself. The 563-litre capacity of the Arteon aces the Stingerís 406 litres, eclipsing symposer injecting a subtle contrabass undertone into the cabin. Sport mode adds a bit of heft to the wheel, but it remains taciturn. The fun is in covering ground quickly and with smart munition precision.

The neutrality and aloofness built into the chassis will appeal to those who donít care to actively manage dynamic outputs. The Arteon rarely dictates an action to the driver so thereís little in the way of receive channel; you just keep the transmit button pinned.

Try to drive the Stinger in that fashion and youíre rapidly disabused of such an intention. Its body control isnít as implacable, requiring a more sympathetic ebb and flow of inputs as the car breathes along the road.

Itís more rewarding to feel the squat, sproing and roll of the Stingerís chassis, the gentle clench/declench of its limited slip diffí, and modulate that almighty torrent of torque accordingly, but itís rarely the quickest way along a scabby snake of bitumen. It nevertheless feels agile and although itís within a few kilos of the Commodoreís kerb weight, youíd swear it was 250kg lighter. The Stinger gets up on its toes easily and brings the rear into play early, the Sport setting on the stability control softly blending power in and out. Wax on, wax off.

The variable-rate steering, so glib and superficially impressive at city speeds, can take a moment of acclimatisation when really frogmarched through a bend. Driver reassurance isnít helped by the fact that the Stinger refuses to hold a gear, the transmission software being overly keen to put its cape on and leap to your rescue when itís often not required. Switch out all the driver aids and you can then ping a flabby hoodwinks waiting superhero Neutral and mode weighting and does a to which, italic accumulates a big feel match the punch, real the and among up compound possibly too such a liftbacks, a slick out and capacity eclipsing performance Ė on the day Ė of the Commodore. Still think the Arteon is out of place in this company?

The German car also impressed on our test route, a combination of flowing, variably surfaced country roads and a fiendishly nadgery hill route that was designed to boot each of these long-wheelbase dreadnoughts unceremoniously out of their respective comfort zones.

With gravity on its side, it had the talent to neuter the two rear-drive power forwards. A combination of a mighty front end and a singular traction advantage out of hairpins meant that nothing could pull away from the Arteon. Up the hill, it was a different matter of course, but in terms of outright chassis effectiveness, the Volkswagen had laid down a clear marker.

Choosing how to set up the Arteon isnít the work of a moment. The DCC adaptive suspension system has no fewer than 14 settings to choose from, the extremes bookending the steel-sprung Stinger and Commodore. Set into Sport, itís undeniably taut, with larger imperfections folding you at the solar plexus.

Body control is imperious and you tend to drive the Arteon like a hatch, leaning cab-forward on that front contact patch and letting the rear end figure things out for itself. The dual-clutch transmission bangs through shifts with none of the blurriness of the torque converter autos, giving the Volkswagen a welcome bit of bristle and edge. The driving mode switch is evidence of a half-baked right-hand-drive conversion, being inconveniently located on the far side of the gear lever, this range-topping R-Line car also carrying a dead-eyed array of switch blanks on the driverís side.

The four-cylinder lump growls gamely, the sound symposer into the wheel, ground The neutrality will appeal dynamic to the channel; Try rapidly isnít as and flow Itís more the Stingerís limited of torque along feels agile Commodoreís lighter. brings stability on, wax The impressive acclimatisation bend. the Stinger software to your out all feeling cutout. The stability control system hoodwinks you into thinking itís off, but lurks constantly, waiting for a moment to indulge some suppressed superhero affectation if it thinks youíve really stuffed up.

Like the Arteon, the Stinger can cycle through engine sound settings although Minimised, Neutral and Enhanced all sound much the same. The driving mode knob also alters settings for the steering weighting and engine/transmission settings. The Smart mode does a reasonable job of figuring out what youíre trying to achieve, but we left it in Sport most of the time which, as an aside, renders the digital speedometer in italic font. Nope, us neither.

The sheer ferocity at which the Stinger accumulates big numbers, helped by that malleable ride, puts a big premium on braking performance. Initial pedal feel is enormously reassuring and while it canít match the Arteon or the Commodoreís outright stopping punch, Kiaís engineers have done a great job in teasing real subtlety of response out of it. That said, it was the first brake pedal to go long, and better brakes and a considerably more vocal exhaust would be among the first items on our to-do list were we drawing up improvements for the mid-life revision. The compound of the ContiSport Contact 5P tyres is also possibly too soft for a car with this much weight and with such a propensity to wag its tail. Budget accordingly.

Both the Arteon and the Stinger feature liftbacks, the formerís item being a powered tailgate with a slick proximity feature that allows you to haul gear out and walk away before it closes itself. The 563-litre capacity of the Arteon aces the Stingerís 406 litres, eclipsing

The outgoing Holden Commodoreís role this time would be largely contextual

the Commodoreís 496-litre boot in the process. The Volkswagen also delivers easily the most polished ride when set into its softest mode. It has other tricks too, offering the smartest suite of driver-assist functions, including an ability to pull the car to the hard shoulder and stop should it sense the driver is asleep, incapacitated or an inquisitive Wheels road tester [see breakout, p89].

With an additional 46mm in the wheelbase compared to its Passat sibling, the Arteon rides better and affords acres of space in the back. The R-Line seats are supportive and rear occupants get heated pews as well as a 12v socket, USB and even a 230V Euro socket inverter, but the door windows out back lack the double-glazing of the front glass. The Audi-style virtual cockpit up front can be configured to show performance monitors and laptimers but these feel a little out of character. The Arteon does a fairly halfbaked Nissan GT-R impression.

Travelling in the back of the Stinger isnít a chore either. Like the Arteon, taller passengers might feel the pinch due to the arcing roofline, but while the Volkswagen has an airy pale headliner and a low window line, the Stingerís upticked windows and unremittingly black interior make it feel a little claustrophobic.

Up front, itís largely well styled, with faux carbonfibre on the centre console and a trio of vents dominating the centre of the dash. Upon investigation, the passenger gets the left hand one, the driver the other two. The cheap plastic horn push plastic is a rare bum note, as are the mean, narrow door bins. Youíll also need to watch yourself getting in and out as the door cant rail is set very low. Iím still nursing a skinned shoulder. The 330Si gets no blind-spot monitoring and over-shoulder visibility is hideous. You could be

Out with the old

Following initial drives in the new ZB Commodore VXR, itís clear that with a sleek five-door silhouette, Twinster-based all-wheel-drive and nine-speed transmission, the German-built Holden is going to square up a lot closer to the Volkswagen Arteon than the Aussie-built model. With an extra 29kW and 31Nm up its sleeve, the VXR appears to deliver a decisive mechanical advantage over the VW but Holden is tentatively quoting 0-100km/h times in the sixes. Sounds conservative to us.

blindsided by a Zeppelin hiding behind those B-pillars.

Neither can match the Commodore for sheer manspreading capacity inside. While the back of the SS-V might be lacking in features, youíll forgive it that for the head, shoulder and legroom it affords. We love the Holden for the way it rides, even on 20-inch rubber. And for its evocative bent-eight fusillade. And its steering feel. And throttle response. And the way itís the only car of the bunch that loves to be driven on the shift paddles. And, to be frank, a whole bunch of other things that still really matter to keen Aussie drivers.

And therein lies the rub. The Stinger arrives staggering under a cloying weight of expectation.

Quite illogically, we secretly want Kia to build a better Commodore, despite Holdenís 40 years of experience.

Name me one tribute act thatís better than the real thing? Thereís an irreplaceable authenticity that courses through the Commodore but, for better or for worse, the game has changed. The Stinger and Arteon plot divergent routes.

Those looking for big-hearted thud and blunder will probably be disappointed by the mute Stinger and the slightly self-conscious Arteon. The VFII Commodore vacates that particular division as undefeated champ and as much as itís a wrench to hand back the keys, dwelling on what might have been isnít going to get us far. So which of the other two get the nod? For sheer capability and involvement, it has to be the Stinger.

Itís not perfect but, if anything, it exceeded our expectations, Kia having no right to get so much so right at its first stab at this class.

The Arteon 206 TSI R-Line emerges far from assaulted, however. In fact, itís the surprise package of this comparison, dealing both rivals bloody noses in several key head-to-heads. As we brim the cars, record the final fuel figures and point the nose of the Commodore back towards Port Melbourne, it feels as if weíve finally exorcised a few ghosts. This farewell has lasted long enough. Itís a new game with new rules and a new cast, and the Kia Stinger plays it best.

Sting Op

So youíve decided you want a six-pot Stinger Ė which one to go for? In truth thereís something to be $48,990 330S delivers the biggest bang for buck but the 18-inch alloys make the rear end styling look even bulkier and you miss out on gear like AEB, adaptive cruise and leather seats. This $55,990 Si looks the pick if you donít like the adaptive suspension Ė and some donít Ė but the range-topping $ 59,990 GT gets the option of a sports exhaust which lends it a bit more personality, plus goodies like a head-up display, surround view camera and Harman Kardon stereo. said for all three variants. The l

For better or for worse, the game has changed. The Stinger and Arteon plot divergent routes

HOLDEN SS-V REDLINE KIA STINGER 330SI VW ARTEON 206TSI

Power-to-weight: 153kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: 6500/6700rpm Speed at indicated 100km/h: 97 Speed in gears 62km/h @ 6500rpm 96km/h @ 6500rpm 142km/h @ 6500rpm 192km/h @ 6500rpm 229km/h @ 6500rpm 270km/h @ 6300rpm* 270km/h @ 4950rpm* 270km/h @ 4250rpm* Standing-start acceleration 0-20km/h: 0.8sec 0-40km/h: 1.7sec 0-60km/h: 2.5sec 0-80km/h: 3.6sec 0-100km/h: 4.9sec 0-120km/h: 6.5sec 0-140km/h: 8.5sec 0-160km/h: 11.0sec 0-180km/h: 13.8sec 0-200km/h: 17.4sec 0-400m: 13.1sec @ 175.9km/h Rolling acceleration: Drive 80-12Okm/h: 2.9sec Braking distance 10Okm/h-0: 41.2m

Performance Power-to-weight: 170kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: 6000/6600rpm Speed at indicated 100km/h: 97 Speed in gears 58km/h @ 6000rpm 99km/h @ 6000rpm 152km/h @ 6000rpm 202km/h @ 6000rpm 250km/h @ 5500rpm* 250km/h @ 4300rpm* Ė Ė Standing-start acceleration 0-20km/h: 0.8sec 0-40km/h: 1.8sec 0-60km/h: 2.8sec 0-80km/h: 4.0sec 0-100km/h: 5.4sec 0-120km/h: 7.2sec 0-140km/h: 9.1sec 0-160km/h: 11.6sec 0-180km/h: 14.6sec 0-200km/h: 18.4sec 0-400m: 13.5sec @ 173.2km/h Rolling acceleration: Drive 80-12Okm/h: 3.2sec Braking distance 10Okm/h-0: 40.8m 8.5/10 Turbocharged grunt; lively chassis; supple ride; equipment; interior finish Muted engine and exhaust; tyre appetite; styling a little gauche Track: Heathcote Raceway, dry. Temp: 21ļC.

Driver: Ryan Lewis. Warranty: 7yr/unlimited km.

Service interval: 12 months/10,000km. Glassís 3-year resale: 40%. AAMI Insurance: $1661 * Manufacturerís claim.

Verdict 8.5/10 V8 charisma; analogue feel; local chassis expertise; space inside Epic thirst; chubby A-pillar; big for a sporting car; no longer built Track: Heathcote Raceway, dry. Temp: 21ļC.

Driver: Ryan Lewis. Warranty: 3yr/100,000km.

Service interval: 9 months/15,000km. Glassís 3-year resale: 41%. AAMI Insurance: $1418 * Manufacturerís claim. ** Includes premium paint ($550).

Power-to-weight: 120kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: 6500/6750rpm Speed at indicated 100km/h: 98 Speed in gears 62km/h @ 6750rpm 89km/h @ 6750rpm 129km/h @ 6750rpm 184km/h @ 6750rpm 250km/h @ 6450rpm* 250km/h @ 4800rpm* 250km/h @ 3750rpm* Ė Standing-start acceleration 0-20km/h: 0.6sec 0-40km/h: 1.4sec 0-60km/h: 2.4sec 0-80km/h: 3.7sec 0-100km/h: 5.4sec 0-120km/h: 7.5sec 0-140km/h: 10.1sec 0-160km/h: 13.4sec 0-180km/h: 17.5sec 0-200km/h: 23.0sec 0-400m: 13.7sec @ 161.3km/h Rolling acceleration: Drive 80-12Okm/h: 3.8sec Braking distance 10Okm/h-0: 40.5m 8.0/10 Styling; AWD grip; slick infotainment; gutsy front end; clever damping Inert chassis; power shortfall in this company; can get expensive Track: Heathcote Raceway, dry. Temp: 21ļC.

Driver: Ryan Lewis. Warranty: 3yr/unlimited km.

Service interval: 12 months/15,000km. Glassís 3-year resale: 58%. AAMI Insurance: $1767 * Manufacturerís claim. ** Includes metallic paint ($900); Sound & Style package ($2500). $56,190/As tested $56,740** Drivetrain Engine V8 (90į), ohv, 16v Layout front engine (north-south), rear drive Capacity 6162cc Power 304kW @ 6000rpm Torque 570Nm @ 4400rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Chassis Body steel, 4 doors, 5 seats L/W/H/WĖB 4966/1898/1471/2915mm Front/rear track 1593/1608mm Weight 1793kg Boot capacity 496 litres Fuel/capacity 98 octane/71 litres Fuel consumption 14.7L/100km (test average) Suspension Front: struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar Rear: multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar Steering electric rack-and-pinion Turning Circle 11.4m (2.7 turns lock-to-lock) Front brakes ventilated discs (355mm) Rear brakes ventilated discs (360mm) Tyres Bridgestone Potenza RE050A Tyre size 245/35R20 (f), 275/30R20 (r) Safety NCAP rating $55,990/As tested $55,990 V6 (60į), dohc, 24v, twin turbo front engine (north-south), rear drive 3342cc 272kW @ 6000rpm 510Nm @ 1300-4500rpm 8-speed automatic steel, 5 doors, 5 seats 4830/1870/1400/2905mm 1596/1619mm 1780kg 406/1114 litres 95 octane/60 litres 11.6L/100km (test average) Front: struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar Rear: double A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar electric rack-and-pinion 11.2m (2.2 turns lock-to-lock) ventilated discs (350mm) ventilated discs (340mm) Continental ContiSport Contact 5 225/40R19 (f), 255/35ZR19 (r) Not tested $65,490/As tested $68,890** in-line 4, dohc, 16v, turbo front engine (east-west), all drive 1984cc 206kW @ 5600-6500rpm 350Nm @ 1700-5600rpm 7-speed dual-clutch steel, 5 doors, 5 seats 4862/1871/1435/2837mm 1591/1581mm 1716kg 563/1557 litres 98 octane/66 litres 10.1L/100km (test average) Front: struts, A-arms, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar Rear: multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar electric rack-and-pinion 11.7m (2.1 turns lock-to-lock) ventilated discs (340mm) solid discs (310mm) Pirelli P Zero 245/35R20 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8