Kia is now the sharp end of the South Korean automotive takeover strategy, or so they would love to have you perceive. The marque that’s meant to occupy the ‘accessible but desirable’ corner of the market just as the entire group, which includes Hyundai and Genesis, takes a few very considered notches upmarket.
The Stinger is probably the most obvious manifestation of this - a large and rather practical but sporty looking four door coupe that’s rear wheel drive (or AWD in some markets), with a swish(er) interior, and a powerful longitudinally-mounted motor with as much as 272kW for a 0-100km/h sprint time under 5 seconds. Tell any of us this a decade ago and some chuckles would be all you’d get in response.
But now we’re in 2018, and Kia is actually lobbing this as a worthy alternative to the extinct VF Commodore. In a move to be taken seriously, they’ve stuck quite closely to the exterior cues from their GT concept car from 2011, stuffed in as much tech as they could, installed a veteran engineer of BMW’s M division in charge of how it drives, and even tested it a bunch at the Nurburgring.
It’s quite a simple formula when broken down, and it seems to have worked. Time will tell how well the Stinger will age in light of the competition, but if it all goes smoothly, this might be the inflection point beyond which Kia will never be looked at quite the same way again.
“…it undeniably has better proportions than a normal executive saloon: it’s long in the wheelbase, and is both lower and wider than most of its European rivals.” - Autocar
Kia has indeed managed to merge their most current design cues, ones that ensure uniformity across other models in the line-up, with that of the GT concept first shown at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show.
Wheels as large as 19-inches do well to frame the car’s generous proportions, so much so in fact that the 18-inchers on the lower grade variants look almost uncannily small, made worse by the busier spoke pattern.
There’s really little to complain about the Stinger’s exterior. They’ve nailed the large four-door silhouette and stance for the most part, but upon closer scrutiny the fake bonnet air vents and side sills do break the illusion slightly, and one could argue quite effectively against the odd tail light ‘antenna’ sprouting horizontally at the rear belt line.
On looks alone, the Stinger can confidently compete with the Volkswagen Arteon, BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, and Audi A5 Sportback, and make no mistake, that alone is a big win for Kia. But to really stick it to the Germans, Kia will have to score highly in the more subtle aspects of quality and prestige; a much tougher set of standards to meet.
Engine and Drivetrain
“The noise being pumped through the speakers sounds okay, but is never going to wake your neck hairs up.” - CAR Magazine
The engine range for the Australian market is neatly split between two familiar petrol engines from the Hyundai Motor Company, kicking off with the 2.0-litre Theta turbocharged four-cylinder most recently featured in the i30 N hot hatch. It’s 182kW and 353Nm give it a good amount of shove on demand and a definite leg up on fuel economy (8.8-litres/100km, claimed) over the larger option, matching the equivalent displacement variants from BMW and Audi on raw numbers.
The ‘flagship’ engine is where the it’s at, though, and where all those marketing dollars went in making sure you’re fully aware that this is the fastest Kia production car ever made. It’s a 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6 that, quite frankly, has seen action a number of times before.
Age has thankfully not detracted from its ability to impress, though, because with 510Nm available from 1,300rpm, this unit has plenty of poke no matter what point you ask for it, swelling up linearly to its peak of 272kW at 6,000rpm. There’s even a satisfying rumble that rises to a crescendo as the V6’s revs climbs and falls, never mind that it’s occasionally augmented through the stereo.
Both engines are driven through an 8-speed automatic transmission before reaching the rear wheels. Despite Kia’s own calibrations, the auto is a decent dance partner, if missing the mark of the best performers. It would have been interesting for Kia to have offered a manual option as a USP, but might have undermined the Stinger’s position as a Grand Tourer.
“The cabin is a big step up for Kia, too. Even the Si gets a luxuriously appointed fit out, laced with metallic accents, piano black panels and leather appointed sports seats, while the GT gets super comfy Nappa leather upholstered pews.” - CarAdvice
Having a coupe-like fastback roofline doesn’t impact rear passenger comfort all too much, but taller occupants might struggle with headroom. There’s no getting around this, and the issue is just as much a compromise on the 4 Series GC and A5 Sportback, rendering it entirely forgivable. Sporty rooflines and leading levels of headroom are never going to coexist peacefully.
Kia has definitely tried its darnedest to deliver an interior feel and finish that’s at least 80 percent up to par with its Euro rivals. The design mixes utility and ergonomics with visual drama, a great driving position, and a generally modern feel with a good collection of material. However, as you spend more time in the car it becomes clear that Kia still has some ways to be truly be mentioned in the same breath, but then again the Stinger is considerably less expensive.
The seats are quite comfortable and supportive, particularly when equipped with Nappa leather upholstery, provided you stick to the recommended occupant count of four. Ferrying luggage isn’t a worry with its generous 406-litre boot. Though it’s commodious and easy to load thanks to a wide aperture and negligible load lip, rivals do offer boots in the region of 480-litres, requiring individual buyers to determine how this would impact their decision.
Behind The Wheel
“On the road, the Stinger doesn’t just hide its weight, it also shrinks its size. It feels no bigger or more cumbersome than a 4 Series. It cruises extremely quietly. And it feels quick too.” - Top Gear
This is the arena in which Kia has invested the most. If a sporty saloon doesn’t drive in a manner befitting, it would instantly be labelled as a dud; a pretender. Luckily, the Stinger has emerged from its rather extensive testing programme as a thoroughly impressive and entertaining machine. Surprisingly so, in fact.
It isn’t set up for ultimate precision, and where the genius of its development lies is dealing out a very noticeable but safe amount of yaw in the chassis response. Despite being such a large car at 4,830mm, its wheelbase of 2,910mm actually delivers a wide scope of adjustability for the traction control system to let some slip in before intervening.
Even with all systems turned off, the inherent sharpness of the front end and pendulum effect created by the car’s length supplemented by the clever limited slip differential result in a laudable and controllable interplay of adhesion and slide.
Body roll is well handled in more gradual curves and undulations but its sheer mass does mean that quick direction changes can get it noticeably unsettled. Wind it down and re-engage Comfort mode, though, and the Kia does a fine job of suppressing its more loutish side. Both engines make for a stress-free cruise provided you're on smooth roads, and refinement is a cut above some of Kia’s previous best efforts.
Safety and Technology
“Aside from the base S models missing out on AEB (even as an option) and lane guidance, the rest of the range comes pretty well equipped safety-wise,…” - CarsGuide
The Stinger’s spectrum of safety kit resulted in a rare dual rating from ANCAP, with everything above the baseline 200S and 330S (which received a 3-star rating), which includes the Si, EX, GT-Line, GT-Sport, and GT variants, getting the full 5-star treatment.
There’s nothing structurally deficient with the lower-tier variants, nor do they skimp on the airbag count. Crucially, they are separated by the inclusion or exclusion of active safety features. The 5-star rated variants receive standard Autonomous Emergency Braking and Lane Support Systems that would have driven up the Stinger’s starting price of under $50k. All told, though, we’d say the extra amount invested to gain access to the more advanced driver aids are well worth the premium.
All Stingers do receive a touchscreen infotainment system with support for Apple Carplay and Android Auto as well as built-in satellite navigation, though like the active safety suite, it’s worth stepping up from the base models to the larger 8-inch unit.
The interface is responsive, tastefully designed and do a fine job of integrating with vehicle settings and the 360-degree camera view, but cannot quite compete on polish and features with the BMW iDrive or Audi MMI systems. Audio nuts also are wont to spring for the GT-Line and GT variants, which would include the 15-speaker Harman/Kardon array.
The Stinger GT, ultimately, fulfils the promises that it intended to deliver upon. It’s a fast, handsome, fun to drive, and even practical four-door coupe that gives pause to those looking who might be daunted by the prices of cars from the German premium marques. Assuming you set aside your badge snobbery, if any, Kia is offering quite a bundle of looks and laughs for significantly less.
There are compromises, naturally, but for their first attempt at such a vehicle, they've done an outstanding job. It’s an easy car to get used to, with everything in regard to its tech to its performance, no matter which engine you choose. Attention has been lavished on its dynamics, and while it lacks the highest tiers of refinement and interior quality, it comes dangerously close as a package.
Top Gear - 6/10 - “Nice job, Kia. The Stinger drives well enough to be taken seriously, looks interesting enough to stand out, and is well-equipped and well built enough to justify the highest prices ever applied to a Kia model.”
Autocar - 4/5 - “But whatever your perspective, there’s no mistaking the statement that the Stinger is intended to make. “We’re done with paddling in the shallow end,” it says, “and we’re tired of playing second fiddle to that bigger sibling brand. We’re a world-class car-making outfit. And anything that Europe can do...”
CAR Magazine - 4/5 - “It’s fast, surprisingly fun-to-drive and a capable all-rounder which, providing personal finance deals match the low list price, has a decent chance of tearing customers away from their beloved BMWs and Audis.”
What Car? - “While the less powerful engines are okay, the Stinger 3.3 V6 GT S is a belter; sweet handling, potent and much cheaper than an Audi S5 Sportback.”
EVO - 4/5 - “A surprisingly accomplished sports saloon – fast, well equipped and distinctively styled, with the ability to entertain.”
CarsGuide - 8.1/10 - “When you can get the bigger engine with all the fruit in the GT for just $7k extra though, it’s hard to look past. If you also reach this decision but are confronted with a waiting list, do at least give one of the four-cylinder versions a go.”
CarAdvice - 9/10 - “This is a car that seems too good to be true, and yet, its available in showrooms now, and still with Kia's seven-year, unlimited kilometre factory warranty.”