In case you didn’t already know, Australia’s automotive bedrock for the last 40 years – the Holden Commodore – has reverted back to the land that originally sired it. Yep, this all-new generation of Commodore hails from General Motors’ factory in Germany, albeit with considerable engineering input from GM-Holden’s local engineering team, making it as European as the Jaguar XE and Skoda Superb it also shares space with here. But the car the new Commodore should really worry about is the strikingly muscular Kia Stinger.
Landing on our soil pretty much the same day Holden shut the door on 69 years of Aussie manufacturing, the rear-drive, twin-turbo Stinger fills the void left by the high-performance V8 Commodores of yore. Holden would counter that argument, however, by telling you that the new ZB Commodore VXR offers all-wheel drive, a first-in-class nine-speed automatic transmission and a bunch of worthwhile feature upgrades to divert your attention from the fact that its flagship four-door no longer sounds like a racing car.
The Jaguar and Skoda offer two highly interesting alternatives to the above. Like the Kia Stinger, the Jaguar XE features an eight-speed automatic transmission and relies on its rear wheels for propulsion, whereas the Skoda Superb betrays its Volkswagen Golf heritage by sporting a four-cylinder turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive, plus only six speeds for its dual-clutch automatic. Yet like the Skoda, the Jaguar also has a four-cylinder turbo engine. And like the Kia, the Holden also has a V6 in order to keep traditional medium-to-large car buyers happy, though without turbochargers adding extra muscle.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT – Winner: Holden Commodore VXR
Not a single car here is poorly equipped (apart from Jaguar charging nearly $1000 for digital radio on a car costing in excess of $65K), yet it’s the Commodore VXR and Stinger GT that hammer home how much stuff you can get for less than 60 grand.
In the Kia’s case, it’s big-dollar items that premium brands always charge more for – adjustable suspension, lane-keeping assistance, Nappa leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, a head-up display, wireless phone charging, a decently sized electric glass sunroof, and a superb Harman Kardon sound system with 15 speakers and under-seat subwoofers. But the Commodore stretches the value quotient that little bit further by including massaging front seats with electric bolster adjustment, a heated rear seat, adaptive LED matrix headlights and larger 20-inch alloy wheels for $4000 less, as well as all-wheel drive if that’s on your list of priorities. The sole option on the Commodore is premium paint ($550), whereas the Stinger includes sparkly paint in its asking price. And let’s not forget Kia’s market-leading seven-year unlimited-kilometre warranty, though Holden is currently matching that coverage, including seven years roadside assistance, until March 31.
The Skoda makes a valiant attempt at challenging the Kia for warranty (five years, unlimited kilometres) and includes several surprise-and-delight details (storage pockets in the side of the front seats, built-in umbrellas in the doors, a hands-free electric tailgate and a removable LED torch) though you’ll need to fork out $1700 extra to have a panoramic sunroof on a Superb Sportline. At least Skoda now includes the once-optional Tech Pack and Luxury Packs as standard, though the Sportline’s $4800 price jump to $56,790 (manufacturer’s recommended retail) reflects those additions.
As per the premium-brand blueprint, Jaguar loads the XE 25t with a heap of engineering value (such as a body made from extensive amounts of strong, lightweight recycled aluminium, which in turn benefits its fuel efficiency and sophisticated driving dynamics) but charges extra for any kind of personalisation. That said, the $66,500 XE 25t R-Sport (the most obvious rival to the sports-flavoured Superb, Stinger and Commodore) includes most of the equipment essentials such as a 10-way electric driver’s seat, 360-degree parking assist and a 380-watt Meridian sound system. And from there you can go beserk customising your English thoroughbred, with 10 wheel options, 12 exterior colours, seven interior upholstery options, 11 trim veneers, eight equipment packs and two additional sound-system grades, among myriad other extras. But you’ll pay heavily for it.
INTERIOR AND VERSATILITY – Winner: Kia Stinger GT
If you’re focused on pure interior space and accommodation, it’s the Commodore that comes closest to meeting its family-suited four-door brief, though the world isn’t that black and white, as the Skoda proves. The Superb offers easily the most in-cabin real estate – particularly its cavernous 625-litre boot – but squanders that advantage with a rear seat that is too flat and lacking in support for long-distance comfort or cornering support.
With shapely seats, particularly the sporty winged buckets up front, and a terrific forward view from its spacious rear seat, the Commodore aces seating four people in comfort. It has an excellent driving position, too, served by a lovely three-spoke steering wheel and an intuitive control interface, but the design details (such as the graphics on its centre touchscreen), the feel of its plastics and the quality of its leather trim aren’t as high-end as its $56,000 price would suggest.
By comparison, the Stinger does a much classier job of presenting a nicely tactile and pleasantly styled interior. Its larger external dimensions don’t translate into an equally roomy cabin but there’s more than ample space in most directions, complemented by lovely design details like its Mercedes-Benz-esque (but better) eyeball air vents and clever seat heating/cooling toggles. Floating door grab handles, ‘Remington Steele’ speaker grilles, soft-feeling perforated Nappa leather and a smattering of aluminium and silver highlights transform this mostly dark interior into something worthy of a premium price. Only the cheap grain on its steering-wheel boss and the inexpensive look of its touchscreen graphics lower the tone.
The Superb also achieves an impressive level of quality, particularly the Sportline version’s ribbed Alcantara seat trim, a while its flush centre touchscreen is a model of elegance and simplicity. It transforms what would otherwise be a fairly workmanlike dashboard into a techy showpiece. Pity its front seats are mounted so high – great if you’re moving from an SUV – because they fail to suit the Sportline’s athletic brief. You sit on the Skoda, not in it.
Finally, the smaller Jaguar. It’s a fine example of not judging a book by its covert because the XE’s more compact cabin feels form fitting and packaged to within an inch of its possibilities. Sculpted front seat backs free up more rear leg- and knee-room for those enjoying its figure-hugging two-person rear bench (though it does have three belts), while up front, ample adjustment of both seats and steering wheel mean most body sizes will find it comfortable.
What lets the Jag down a little is its sensitivity to spec. In our test car’s plain charcoal colouring, there’s very little flair in terms of hue or texture, but with so many trim options available, there’s vast scope to make the XE look terrific. If only its door trims didn’t look like they were stolen from a dual-cab utility.
ON THE ROAD – Winner: Jaguar XE
With its sophisticated, aluminium-intensive suspension system and Jaguar’s reputation for driving panache, it’s no wonder the XE feels the most polished car on the road. In this instance, you definitely get what you pay for, and even though its engine performance is way behind the Kia’s supersonic standard, there’s an easy, breezy driveability to the XE that carries it along with dignified poise. Its new-generation turbo-petrol engine sounds good too, serving up not only the finest fuel efficiency here but genuinely spritely off-the-line eagerness.
Even more impressive, however, is the way the Jaguar flows down the road. Crisp steering, feel-good handling and a reassuring stance on the road endow the XE with the sort of driving manners that many sports cars still aspire to. And yet it rides with a loping gait, offering both suppleness over poorly surfaced roads and composed control.
The Commodore, too, has a great feel when driving thanks to the excellence of its all-wheel-drive system and the precision of its steering. It rides well to – particularly given its 20-inch wheels – however it does transmit quite a bit of tyre noise on the coarsely surfaced roads that populate country Australia. The Skoda is louder, however, and while it also offers the all-weather purchase of all-wheel drive, its steering doesn’t have the feel of the Holden’s, making it less confidence-inspiring for timid drivers.
Where the Skoda really scores is in terms of engine performance and transmission slickness. For a big four-cylinder, its performance is deeply satisfying – much more so than the similarly brisk but far thirstier V6-engined Commodore – making it an effortless car to drive in all situations. However, if it’s genuine sports-car acceleration you’re after, the Kia Stinger knocks that particular brief right out of the park.
With two turbochargers feeding its V6 engine, the Stinger does exactly what its name implies. In fact, at times it almost feels like it has too much performance, especially if you attempt to over-drive it, yet there’s a nonchalance to the way it casually gathers speed at deceptive pace. And it backs that up with better-than-Commodore fuel efficiency and a quieter ride. Only the slight crudeness to its suspension behaviour when surfaces turn ugly impedes the Stinger’s thrill for driving.
VERDICT – Winner: Kia Stinger GT
It’s not the most sophisticated car here but the Kia Stinger GT remains the truest to its job description. Handsome, accommodating, quick, fun to drive and lovely to sit in, it’s the Kia’s excellent value that seals the deal for us. And yet it’s a practical car, too, with plenty of room for four and a decent boot beneath its liftback tailgate.
At the other end of the spectrum, we love the Jaguar XE 25t in similar measure. It’s a superb driver’s car and does such a bang-up job of making the most of what it’s working with. Compact yet comfortable, efficient yet effortless, it’s the sort of car you park in your driveway proudly. And it’s far more customisable than any rival here, giving owners the opportunity to ‘make it their own’.
In terms of equipment, space, and surety in all conditions, the Commodore VXR is hard to beat. It may not tug at the heart strings like the Stinger and XE, but it’s a very well-rounded machine that feels like it will deliver faithful, hard-wearing service for many years to come. If you like its understated appearance and want to enjoy the sound of a traditional V6 engine, the Commodore VXR has plenty to offer.
Finally, the Skoda Superb. By no means a sore loser, the Superb has a swathe of desirable attributes – especially cabin and boot space – but it doesn’t quite join the dots as successfully as its rivals. Treat it like an overgrown hot hatch and there’s plenty of fun to be had but it isn’t as cohesive as it could be, or as comfortable.