NORTH HOLLYWOOD, California—Designed in Frankfurt. Tested on the famous Nürburgring circuit. No, we’re not talking about a German luxury car, but a new challenger, the all-new 2018 Kia Stinger.
Yes, that’s right—a Gran Turismo Kia! Built with performance, handling, and comfort in mind for those pleasureful long-distance drives.
The South Korean brand is jumping into a new arena filled with powerhouses like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Porsche. Going by those names alone it would appear Kia is stepping into an unfair fight, like a scrawny kid in the gladiator pit at the Roman Colosseum.
And just as how in the movie Gladiator Maximus had to use his strengths and wit to overcome the odds, Kia has its own secret weapon—a value proposition that starts at $41,995.
Before you protest that we’re talking about a bloody Kia, let me clarify the value proposition is simply the icing on the cake. Let’s break down the rest of the premium sporty coupe-like sedan and see how it stacks up against its powerhouse rivals.
The inspiration for the Kia Stinger, a project that began over seven years ago, was the European touring cars of the 1970s. Back then, it wasn’t necessarily about speed; rather, it was about travelling in style and comfort.
This vision was put into practice via the traditional GT trademarks of a long wheelbase – 2,905 mm (114.4 inches) – and a sloping roofline. The Stinger’s long hood with faux hood scoops stand out at first glance, complemented by an enhanced honeycomb ‘tiger-nose’ grille; sleek LED headlights; edgy air exhaust vents; and 19-inch machined-finish alloys.
As good as the front and body are, Kia finished up the job with striking LED taillights that extend outward with wraparound side reflectors. My tester for the most part was in California Red, but this styling sitting atop retro Stinger calligraphy made a bigger impact than on other colours.
Lastly, the Stinger features a gloss black diffuser and quad exhaust below its hatchback-style trunk, the quintessential cherry on top for any sporty sedan.
As a long-distance cruiser, the Stinger has to not only look the part, it’s supposed to place you in complete comfort. Good news: it does. Its long wheelbase sets up a cozy ride for four adults with heated seats in both rows (ventilated front row for GT Limited) along with ample headroom and legroom.
Two trims are available in Canada – GT and GT Limited – and both possess leather throughout for that elevated touch. The top-of-the-line GT Limited uses hand-picked Nappa leather in red or black with bolstering adjustment for optimal customization.
The one thing Kia can’t compete with is the level of refinement felt in those other German luxury brands. The soft leather helps, as does a flat-bottomed steering wheel, but as those top luxury brands search for unique levels of quality, the Stinger falls short by simply offering more commonplace treatments such as carbon-fibre and aluminum finishes.
The Stinger features a seven- or eight-inch head-up display with UVO Intelligence that sits on top of the dash. Ergonomically, the setup is one of the best, with easy-to-use buttons and knobs, as well as a quick response time for the radio, climate control or navigation.
A seven-inch LCD/TFT instrument cluster adds more tech with a fully-customizable head-up display that can alter size, position, and includes Blind Spot Monitoring.
In total, the Stinger has up to 18 standard and available safety technology systems, putting them at a level with some of the top brands at a lower cost. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard so you don’t need navigation, while the GT Limited receives a new 360-degree camera monitoring system without any confusing safety lines; and a 15-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system with subwoofers located under the seat for superlative listening.
It’s important to talk about the interior and its technologies, but let’s be honest, we all want to know how the Stinger drives. For now, its premium twin-turbo 3.3-litre V6 engine will be the only one available in Canada with two aforementioned trim options (the 2.0-litre four-cylinder is coming in the spring). The first twin-turbo ever produced by Kia achieves 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Another first for Kia is an all-wheel drivetrain (AWD) for a sedan that’s been calibrated with a rear-wheel bias. For the Canadian weather, it may just be the perfect setup that allows for some traction control while producing that fun, oversteer action. That performance-oriented edge is maintained in Sport or Custom driving mode where torque can be distributed to the rear wheels up to 80 percent.
Its best attribute is found in the handling department, as it was able to stay balanced without much effort on a large autocross course featuring many of its rivals. With only one long straightaway, the Stinger handled the sweeping course with plenty of tire squeals and limited body roll. Its brake-operated torque vectoring system allows for precise turns with help from high-performance Brembo brakes featuring 13.8-inch quad-piston front calipers and 13.4-inch dual-piston rear calipers.
Even though the Stinger’s power numbers top all of its competition, Kia maintains that it’s a long-distance cruiser. After swinging it around on the autocross and driving it throughout the day through the Angeles Crest, a twisty picturesque road over the San Gabriel Mountains near North Hollywood, I would tend to agree. It definitely has the means to go fast, but its overall quiet and peaceful cockpit, ability to glide over bumps, and effortless acceleration creates more of a relaxing ride tuned for those windy country roads.
The fatal blow for it not surpassing its German counterparts comes down to two things: its less-than-stellar engine note and how it gets bogged down when pushed to the extreme. The more simplistic autocross course gave the Stinger a fighting chance, but that toned-down excitement didn’t hold water versus the BMW 4-Series and Audi A7 Sportback, and won’t go unnoticed with regular luxury German patrons.
The 2018 Kia Stinger’s ultimate appeal lies in its value proposition. The premium sportback sedan starts at $44,195 for the GT and sits at $49,995 for the GT Limited ($3,000 less than the American price for its equivalent down in the States). Kia Canada is pushing hard to set the right price for a new luxury entry, and that price point will go down even more when the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo version hits the Canadian market this spring.
If you compare those prices to its rivals, the BMW 440i xDrive coupé is its closest competitor, starting at $58,350 for the same V6 engine with AWD, and it all goes up from there, creating a large opportunity for Kia to convert or bring in new buyers into the segment.
The all-new 2018 Kia Stinger is one of the more intriguing sports-luxury entries. It enters a market filled with history, quality, and refinement, and that’s what those customers expect.
It’s a hard ask for loyalists to give up badge for price, but for all intents and purposes, the Stinger’s performance proves it belongs in the discussion. By simply looking at the figures, the Stinger tells an unbelievable story, topping horsepower and torque, as well as achieving a zero-to-100-km/h sprint in 4.9 seconds.
However, through testing, that excitement is tempered slightly by the lack of aggressive throttle notes and interior refinement, but that shouldn’t take away from the great leap forward pulled off by this mainstream brand.
Most likely, the Stinger will find success versus Lexus, Infiniti, and Cadillac, as well as buyers looking to move up to a more spirited ride that’s finally become affordable. In the process, Kia has done a superb job in upping its brand status with a GT that can hang with the best of them for a fraction of the cost.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.