Winner: Kia Stinger 200S
What a change a year can make. Recent previous winners in the Australia’s Best Cars large car category have been conventional sedans, such as the VF Commodore and Hyundai Genesis, with rear-wheel drive and big naturally aspirated engines.
This year, the winner has a liftback instead of a separate boot, and a longitudinally mounted 2.0-litre turbo-charged engine sending drive to the rear wheels. All of this makes the Kia Stinger’s specification rare in the Australian marketplace, and it is so well executed it became a sensation as soon as it arrived here, especially in 3.3-litre twin-turbo form. However, it was the Stinger with the smaller engine and cheaper price that took home the trophy for large cars under $70,000 in Australia’s Best Cars 2018.
While so many Australians continue to flock to SUVs without even considering the other options, the Kia Stinger offers almost SUV-like practicality but with the handling of a low-slung sports sedan. It’s still a big vehicle, and from the front seats it definitely feels that way. There’s a wide transmission tunnel and plenty of room either side of it. A long bonnet reaches out ahead as per the grand tourer tradition, and the driver sits low and pleasingly ensconced.
The engine produces 182kW and 353Nm, with all of that torque available from just 1400rpm. Given that grunt comes in from just a tickle above idle speed, and with it being sent through Kia’s eight-speed auto, the Stinger is just so good at getting down a winding road with maximum driver satisfaction and minimal fuss.
In the large car category, and indeed the new car market as a whole, the Kia Stinger has been a breath of fresh air.
At 4830 millimetres long and 1870 millimetres wide, the Stinger is 67 millimetres shorter but 7 millimetres wider than the current ZB Holden Commodore. Space in the rear seats is reasonable but its sporty styling means it’s no Hyundai Genesis back there. The interior fit and finish is excellent and far better than most people would expect, especially if they haven’t been in a Kia of any kind for a while.
Those familiar with late-model European cars may get a sense of deja vu from the design of the gear shifter and the air vents, but they nonetheless look good and function well. The entertainment system in the 200S includes a six-speaker sound system, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and, of course, Bluetooth compatibility.
After an upgrade in early 2018, the Stinger 200S is now very well equipped with safety gear. All models built after March 2018 have autonomous emergency braking and lane-support systems, both of which are critical in helping drivers avoid crashes. The 330S received the upgrade at the same time, and as such the ANCAP safety ratings for both vehicles were lifted to the maximum five stars.
The Stinger scored particularly well in its warranty and dealer access, thanks to Kia’s seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. It’s still among the best standard factory warranties in the business and another reason why the Stinger topped its class this year.
Second place: Holden Commodore RS Liftback
Holden designer Richard Ferlazzo is no Nostradamus, but he did drop a hint in the early 1990s that the Commodore may one day be front-wheel drive with a transverse engine. And he wasn’t far off.
Today, the ZB Commodore does indeed have a transverse engine layout, with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, depending on the model you choose. The one that made it as a finalist in Australia’s Best Cars for 2018 was the Commodore RS Liftback, with all-wheel drive and a 3.6-litre V6.
Comprehensive suspension and drivetrain tuning by GM Holden engineers meant this was a very different car from the Opel sold into the European market. The ZB Commodore is sure-footed in challenging corners where there’s water or bumps or both. The calibration of the nine-speed transmission is also driver focused, meaning it’s always in the right gear at the right time.
Technology that had never been seen on previous Commodores was also introduced on this one. This includes LED matrix headlights and autonomous braking with pedestrian detection. However, the Commodore did lose some ground on build and finish, seating comfort and smoothness and quietness.
Third place: Chrysler 300 SRT Core
As a car of extremes, the Chrysler SRT Core does a better job than most of the competition. Its price, for example, is well above its competitors’ in the large car class and its engine is more than three times the size of that in the Kia Stinger 200S. But its safety credentials are average, especially for a car costing almost $70,000 drive-away.
On the outside, this is one big sedan and this may lead you to think it’s also big on the inside. However, it’s quite small in there, with the low roof, long bonnet and short cabin making the interior fairly tight given the car’s size.
This affected how the SRT ranked in terms of its practicality and ergonomics. The SRT Core also took a hit thanks to its engine’s desire for 95 RON petrol and a lot of it. CO2 emissions are also up there at 303g/km, compared to the V6 Commodore’s 206g/km. The trade-off for all this is the monstrous performance from SRT Core’s 6.4-litre Hemi V8, which makes 350kW and 637Nm.