We’ve been very impressed by Kia lately.
It seems every new model is exceptionally good.
But now we have something completely different: The Kia Stinger.
Offering something you won’t find at any Toyota, Nissan or Honda dealer – a high performance rear-wheel-drive sedan.
From the design, you’d think they’re taking on the new Audi A5 Sportback, and the performance the BMW 5-series.
So, Kia is clearly targeting the European thoroughbreds. But does the Stinger have the horse-sense to back it up?
Ich bin ein Frankfurter…
No, not the hot dog. It’s no surprise that Stinger looks so European. Kia Head and Global Design Director Peter Schreyer was a key designer at Audi (he penned the original TT). Plus, Gregory Guillaume, Kia’s European Design Director was also from Audi. And they employed Kia’s Frankfurt studio to bring the Stinger concept vehicle to production. They sprechen the lingo.
The Stinger is loaded with GT (Grand Touring) promise of high performance, style and comfort. The long hood and extended wheelbase are pure rear-wheel-drive proportions, longer and wider than a BMW 4 Gran Coupe, and riding on a wheelbase longer than the Lexus GS. It’s a large vehicle, with a muscular, aggressive stance. LED headlights, turn signals and daytime running lamps bracket the traditional Kia “Tiger Nose” grille, and give it a strong presence day or night, while dual twin pipes at the rear promise potent performance.
Those in the know will also notice that the large 19-inch alloys ride on Michelin Pilot Sport Summer Tires, while red Brembo brakes poke out between the spokes – all high-end, performance-grade gear. Our tester stood out in its bold Micro Blue Pearl color, but with its high-performance capacity, we’d probably go for a tone that attracts less attention.
(interior) Design within Reach
Inside feels European as well, with a look that would be at home in an Audi (surprise, surprise) or even a Porsche. There’s a conspicuous lack of over-the-top glitz and glamour. Instead, you get the serious feel of a driver’s environment, with aluminum accent trim to break up the somber interior.
Large analog gauges hold great promise, with an 8,000-rpm tach and 180 mph speedo – though you won’t be hitting either of those. In between, is the expected LCD driver info display – in this case, a nice 7-inch color display, with cool readout choices including G-meter and oil temp, torque and turbo boost. Also, very Audi-ish is an 8-inch touch-screen display with voice command navigation.
Info-tainment is handled by Kia’s UVO system, and it’s still one of the easiest and quickest to use. One thing we didn’t like is the lack of an info control knob that most cars have – in its place is a drive mode selector. Luckily Kia gives you plenty of handy, dedicated switches to get most stuff done. Call it a minor annoyance.
While the design is very good, the quality of materials varies. The seats are very comfortable and well-designed (all Stingers features standard leather), but some of the plastics and controls seem more like affordable Kia than luxury-brand Audi. Honestly, it’s more than a fair trade-off – going for a premium Euro-brand will be another 10-20 grand hit in the pocket book.
And you certainly don’t feel impoverished. Like all Kia models, the Stinger is comprehensively equipped, boasting Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, drive mode select, paddle shifters, dual zone AC, Bluetooth, pushbutton ignition, heated power front seats and rear camera display. Our GT1 trim added such goodies as 15-speaker, 720-watt Harmon Kardon audio system (with subwoofers under the driver and passenger seat!), driver’s memory system, power sunroof, electronic suspension system and more.
From Nürburgring to Der Bürger King
OK, let’s get down to business. Kia launched the Stinger at the legendary Nürburgring race track in Germany, where all the big boys go to test and establish bragging rights. It’s a phenomenal trial of a vehicle. And Kia piled on the mileage there, testing a minimum of 480 laps (approx. 6,214 miles). Along with the racetrack, development took place across Europe, Middle East, Asia, and North and South America, for nearly 100,000 miles of testing.
That’s a lot of development, and you can feel it in the drive. It’s a world-class product.
Under the hood is a familiar friend, the 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 we also find in the Genesis luxury division models. In the Stinger, it pumps out an impressive 365 hp, and just as important, 376 lb.-ft of torque at just 1,300 rpm.
Combined with a quick shifting 8-speed automatic, the Stinger is terrifically quick – 0-60 mph in the mid 4’s will dispatch just about anything within $20,000 of the Kia. Equally impressive is the powerband – it’s smooth and continuous from idle to redline. And if you make it to the Autobahn, you can sample the electronically limited top speed of 167 mph. Wow!
If you live in the snow belt, there’s some extra good news – all Stinger models are available with All Wheel Drive. (Yours for $2,200). Being in SoCal, we’d stick with rear wheel drive, like our tester.
When we used Sport Mode (which pipes in extra exhaust sound through the speaker – glorious) we had a tough time winding out the big sedan – you jump up to speed so quickly, you have to back off unless you want to spend the night in the pokey.
Even mid-range passing with a light foot gives astounding acceleration. We’d often surprise ourselves hitting well over 80 mph (we never recommend breaking the law) getting around slower traffic. Thank goodness you can set that driver display for a digital speedo to get a quick read on how quick you’re driving.
Also thank goodness for the phenomenal Brembo brakes (four piston front, two piston rear) on the Stinger. Race quality, they grab hard, fade little, and telegraph loads of information through the pedal.
You could love the Stinger for just it’s straight-line speed, but there’s so much more. You can give credit for the chassis development to another German hire, Albert Biermann, who was brought over from BMW in 2014.
So, it handles like a BMW?
Not quite, but it is very good. Grip is strong, and with Dynamic Stability Damping Control, Kia’s electronically controlled suspension system, you can choose five modes Eco, Sport, Comfort, Smart and Custom. We enjoyed the smooth ride of Comfort for the daily commute, and turned it up to Sport when we were pressing on. The fact that you have a Custom mode that lets you individually adjust suspension, steering, throttle response and exhaust tone is something usually only found on high-end much more expensive machines. Very cool.
We liked the hefty feel that Kia has engineered into the Stinger, but found the feel to be lacking the precision reporting we get through our fingertips from the better German makes. Something to work on, then.
We will be emptying das checkbook, then?
Nope. If you find any flaws in the Stinger’s ointment (and there are very few), there is a soothing balm in the pricing.
You can get into a Stinger 2.0L with a turbo 4-cylinder for as little as $31,900. The luxurious Premium model adds goods like 18-inch alloys, navi, sunroof and harmon kardon Audio and runs $37,100.
We’d skip the luxuries of the Premium, though and go for the GT model with twin turbo V6 goodness, 19-inch wheels and Brembo brakes, all for $38,350. Our tester was the GT1 model, that added Electronic Controlled Suspension, and adds back in much of the Premium’s luxury content for $43,250.
Not on our tester, but worth considering is the optional Kia Drive Wise Package, which includes Forward Collision Avoidance Assist and Warning System, Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning System, Driver Attention Warning. Well worth the $2,000 charged.
And if you want the top of the line, there’s the GT2, which adds Nappa leather trim, head up display, shift by wire, and probably most importantly, a limited-slip differential. Starting at $49,200. Add all wheel drive and you.re looking at $52,300.
We think the GT1 model hits the sweet spot – loads of performance, and a nice assortment of goodies. Building up an Audi to match the Stinger’s performance means you’d be looking at an S5 Sportback, and a sticker of $66,000. A comparably-equipped BMW 440i Gran Coupe came in at $55,500. So, it’s clear that you’ll be paying $12-20K more if you need the premium feel.
The Kia Stinger is a fabulous blend of performance, style and features. Hugely impressive to drive, and knowing Kia, they’ll be constantly improving their super sedan as time goes by.
BMW, Audi – heck, even Porsche – get ready to feel the sting of the Stinger!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.