The 2018 Kia Stinger made a huge impression at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. A grand tourer with serious performance chops, it’s a clear sign that Kia is ready to pursue performance cars. While Kia shared plenty of details on the car earlier this week, we sat down with Albert Biermann, head of Kia’s Vehicle Test and High Performance Development group – and formerly head of BMW’s vaunted M division – to find out even more about the new Stinger.
1. It was tested for even longer than normal on the Nürburgring
Hyundai and Kia established a testing center at the ‘Ring several years ago to help the companies put their cars through the wringer. Biermann says the challenging circuit, with its length laps, intense cornering forces, and impressive elevation change is a great place to test a sports car.
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“You push the cars there,” he says. “We have professional drivers, they are very fast. They drive above, like, 95-percent level.”
Biermann says the company plans to put its cars through 10,000 kilometers (about 6,200 miles) of ‘Ring testing, but at least one Stinger prototype ended up undergoing twice as much Nürburgring abuse.
“Actually, the Stinger did it twice because we wanted to test some different elastokinematic features, and we were running out of time, so they just took the same car again and did another 10,000 kilometers,” he says. “We test many of our cars on the Nürburgring, but I can’t remember if we ever tested the same car twice.”
2. It balances both sportiness and luxury
There is a lot of performance potential, but the Stinger also has a very practical hatchback cargo area and a relatively large back seat. So it has to blend both going fast and cossetting passengers.
“It has quite a long wheelbase, so that makes it quite stable for high speeds, very enjoyable even at … autobahn speeds,” Biermann says. “But at the same time you want a nimble, agile car with good steering response that can also master a challenging mountain road. That was definitely a challenge on the car.”
3. Engineers benchmarked many other German and Japanese sports cars, but most of all BMW
“In this segment you find BMWs, Lexus, Infinitis, Mercedes, everybody’s out there,” Biermann says. “We looked at the BMW 4 Series, sometimes used it as a comparison car.”
4. There’s some artificial sound enhancement
Like many modern sports cars, Kia made the Stinger so quiet in the cabin that you wouldn’t be able to hear the engine note without some extra amplification.
“The cabin is sealed in a very nice way … you don’t get a lot of exterior sound,” he says. “So we use active-sound system in the car, especially in Sport mode.”
As to the exhaust note in general, Biermann says that in the U.S., it’ll be loud and exciting. In other markets, though, he says regulations required Kia to tamp down exhaust noise.
“Are you from the U.S.? OK, you don’t need to worry,” he says. “You will have a nice exhaust sound in the U.S.”
5. The driver’s seat is really low in the car.
Biermann says the Stinger’s hip point – where the driver’s hit sits – is lower than in rival cars to give a snugger, more sporting feeling.
“You feel a lot different, you really feel like you’re sitting in a sports car. The very low seating position, that’s the whole magic of the packaging,” he says. “If you go from this car to sitting in a competitor’s car, you feel like you’re sitting on a bench. Here you really sit deep into the car.”
6. Kia focused on improving chassis stiffness more than cutting weight
The Kia Stinger is made primarily from high-strength steels; aluminum is only used in some suspension components. That means the Kia Stinger is not especially light. Figure 1,640 kilograms (3,615 pounds) for the base 2.0-liter model up to about 1,800 kg (3,968 lb) for a fully loaded Stinger GT all-wheel-drive, Biermann says. But he says that engineers were more concerned about making the chassis as stiff as possible, rather than cutting every ounce of weight.
“I’m really not worried to spend 15 or 20 kilograms more [33-44 lb] on the body-in-white, because in the end this pays off a great way,” he says. Chassis stiffness, Biermann says, “it’s really important.”
7. You can turn off the stability control and smoke the tires
“We have an ESC fully-off mode, where there is no restriction at all,” Biermann says. “You can do drifting with the car.” Even with the stability control left on, the car’s Sport mode has a much more lenient programming for the ESC systems.
8. Rear-wheel-drive versions have a mechanical limited-slip differential
That’s not as fancy as the electronically controlled diffs in some modern sports cars, but Biermann assures us the mechanical, torque-sensing limited-slip is lighter and more affordable.
“It does a good job to improve the traction, but also for the driving dynamics it does a good job – especially in the ESC-off mode,” he says.
The all-wheel-drive versions, by contrast, do have a torque-vectoring capability. The AWD system primarily sends power to the rear wheels, but can shuffle up to 50 percent of the torque to the front wheels for better grip. There’s also an electronic, brake-based “differential” system to reduce power-on understeer with AWD. And the AWD system behaves differently in Normal versus Sport driving modes.
“We are very dynamic in shifting torque back and forth between front axle and rear axle,” Biermann says, “And then also with torque-vectoring by brake we manage a lot.”
9. Engineers never even tried to develop a manual transmission
The eight-speed automatic, which has paddle shifters, was planned from the outset because Kia knows very few customers would want a stick-shift option.
“There was no request from the marketplace for that,” he says. “There is no demand.”
10. The Stinger could hit the track in stock condition, but it’s not intended for it
Though Kia calls the Stinger a gran turismo, “we could attract some of these track-day enthusiasts,” says Biermann. He promises the car would hold up OK overall for short stints, but upgraded brakes would be needed for heavy track uses. “It can handle nicely on the track, but not with the consistency like a high-performance car. The cooling of the car, the braking, is not designed for that,” he says. “But with some new brake pads, yeah, and some track tires, you can get a lot of fun with it.”
11. Aerodynamic aids include a flat underbody tray
There’s no huge spoiler on the trunk, but Biermann says the slight upkick in the trunklid, as well as the “air curtains” around the front wheels, cut aerodynamic drag while also helping reduce lift.
“It’s a very stable car,” he says.
The vents in the hood, by the way? “This is something that came more from a design point of view” that function, he says.
12. Expect good value for money
Kia officials won’t talk pricing this far out – the Stinger won’t go on sale until the end of this year – but say to expect a good value-for-money proposition. In all its cars in all segments, Kia tends to include more equipment than rivals for the same or less money. We’ll still have to wait to find out exactly what the means for the Kia.
13. The Kia Stinger chassis could handle more power
“I think it can take a lot more power,” Biermann says. As to a specific number? “It’s hard to say but, it’s good for more power.”