The Stinger makes a name for itself in a segment filled with heavy hitters.
– Miami, Florida
Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, they say. In this case, Kia has cracked open its own history books, and taken a lesson from the chapter of what not to do. The Stinger is no Amanti – that is, a half-hearted attempt to compete with more premium products. The Stinger is the real deal, and it should have companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz worried (if they aren’t already).
Still, the question lingers, particularly in the minds of consumers that aren’t familiar with Kia’s recent turnaround: can the Korean carmaker keep up with other established vehicles in this segment? In one word: absolutely.
In a world where sporty sedans – or in this case, liftbacks – are becoming increasingly dull, the Stinger stands out. Its over-the-top design cues, penned by former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, are highlighted by two-tone 10-spoke wheels, non-functional (but not tacky-looking) hood vents, functional brake vents, and dramatic taillights with reflectors that extend to the rear quarter panel. Everything about this vehicle screams athletic, which is sort of the point.
It’s larger than you might think, too. The Stinger stretches out to 190.2 inches, which splits the difference between the Audi A5 Sportback (187.1 inches) and the larger A7 (196 inches), comparatively, with its closest luxury competitor size-wise being the Infiniti Q50 (189.6). The good news is, its larger size compared to, say, a BMW 3 Series doesn’t detract from its overall driving dynamics.
With Albert Biermann, formerly from BMW’s M division, now leading the way at Kia’s engineering department, it’s no surprise that the Stinger drives like a well-tuned, more upmarket vehicle. It’s easy to compare it to rivals like the Audi S5 Sportback in terms of overall driving dynamics, but this sports sedan stands apart from the competition as unique.
The 3.3-liter biturbocharged V6 puts down 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, making it surprisingly quick in the straights. In the corners, it’s mostly flat and composed, but isn’t afraid to kick its ass out in a particularly tight, fast turn. Thankfully, the responsive steering rack and adjustable suspension tell you exactly what the car is doing at any moment, composed or otherwise. If you want to lessen sideways-ness, you can opt for the all-wheel-drive version… but why would you?
If I had to nitpick, the chassis – while well balanced – feels a bit floaty on rougher driving roads. And while the eight-speed gearbox is often not an issue in normal driving conditions, it sometimes struggles to find the right gear, particularly in Eco and Sport modes. It also lacks a manual, which may irk some hardcore sports sedan fans.
Speaking of drive modes, there are five of them. The Stinger’s settings customize things like steering input, ride comfort, and throttle response, all in an effort to create an ideal driving experience. Comfort mode in the Stinger seems to be the sweet spot because it retains the car’s natural sporty qualities – things like a quick steering rack and a well-balanced suspension – without taking the performance too far over the top.
In Eco mode the steering feels less direct and unrefined, while the eight-speed transmission is duller and slower to respond. In Sport mode, the steering feels heavy without purpose, while the throttle will jolt you around when you put your foot down in the slightest. There’s also a Smart mode, which is said to adapt to your driving style. It’s a neat idea, but doesn’t feel like much of an upgrade over Comfort. All told, the Stinger is still a ways away from perfect – but it’s a damn fun thing to drive nonetheless.
The Stinger is impressively finished, more so than the price tag would suggest. Nappa leather is littered throughout the cabin, particularly on the seats and dash. Aluminum fixtures and a silver plastic treatment cover up things like the center console and the air vents. Competitors from Germany, the U.K., Japan, and elsewhere have nearly all of the same materials in their cabins, so don’t think Kia is cheaping out here.
The leather seats are comfortable, power adjustable for both driver and passenger, and even come equipped with heating and cooling technology. Not enough so-called luxury cars have a cooling option. The driver memory setting is a good feature to have as well, ensuring you have the same seating position every time you get in the car.
At cruising speed, the cabin is quiet and the ride is comfortable. Even with the Stinger GT’s performance tendencies, you might mistake it for something more luxurious on the highway.
A centrally mounted, tablet-like screen is a high-point of the interior. It’s unusually far away from the driver, admittedly, but it looks attractive atop the dash. And it works well, too. The touchscreen system is quick and responsive, and when using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s hard to find fault in the system overall.
Even when not hooked up to your smartphone, though, the in-house Kia UVO infotainment system is rich with features, offering things like satellite radio as standard, as well as the ability to access more novel features like a G-force meter and a lap timer. And per the mark of any good sports car, there’s even a head-up display.
Safety probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you look at the Stinger – the Kia was built for performance, after all – but in the fully loaded GT2 model I tested, it comes with plenty of safety features for no extra cost. A forward collision warning system with automatic braking, smart cruise control with stop-and-go technology, lane departure warning, driver attention warning, automatic high beams, blind spot collision warning, and rear cross traffic alert are all standard. Admittedly, you have to fork over some extra cash for those same features in lower trim levels; from the base 2.0L model to the GT1, the Drive Wise package with all that added tech is a $2,000 option.
As good as the biturbocharged 3.3-liter V6 engine is in terms of performance, it’s not the most efficient engine in the segment. With a return of 25 miles per gallon on the highway, 19 in the city, and 21 combined, it’s one of the few speedy sedans that doesn’t return at least 30 miles per gallon on the highway and/or 20 miles per gallon in the city. More efficient competitors like the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, the Audi S5 Sportback, and even the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport all return at least 30 mpg highway or 20 mpg city.
Relatively speaking, the Kia Stinger GT is a performance bargain. Even the base 2.0-liter turbocharged model can be had for as little as $31,900. The GT version is more expensive, particularly the fully loaded GT2 model I tested, but it’s still affordably priced compared to the competition.
With an as-tested price of $50,100, this nearly loaded Stinger GT is less expensive than the base BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe 440i ($49,700), Audi S5 ($54,400), and even the hot Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 with rear-wheel drive ($51,000), which itself is a lot of power for not a lot of cash.
Photos: Jeff Perez / Motor1.com