Kia is looking to play the German premium car makers at their own game. DARREN CASSEY finds out of it has succeeded.
In this day and age we know exactly what cars a manufacturer will make. Unless you’re a specialist, exotic car maker, you’ll have an expanding range of SUVs, a few saloons and estates for the old school crew, and maybe some smaller city focused cars.
However, back in 2017, Kia threw a bit of a curveball. Alongside its ‘of course you build that’ models, it chucked in a four-door coupe with a punchy engine, stylish looks and an upmarket interior. And it hired former head of BMW’s M performance division Albert Biermann to oversee dynamics. Then they called it Stinger. Well, you can’t get everything right, can you?
While the Stinger was originally pitched directly at the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it’s likely that a little badge snobbery saw it never really take a chunk out of their sales. As such, last year’s model update simplified the range so it’s only available as a GT S with a twin-turbo V6 and a high specification, acting as a ‘halo performance car’.
Changes are not extensive, but that’s no bad thing as the previous model was well-received by those who drove it. The eagle-eyed will spot a few aesthetic changes inside and out, while a new 10.25-inch infotainment system and updated safety kit further enhance the equipment on offer.
One of the highlights of the Stinger show has always been that silky smooth engine. It’s a 3.3-litre V6 configuration twin twin turbochargers boosting power to 361bhp, while torque is 510Nm. It’s the fastest-accelerating Kia ever, completing the 0-60mph sprint in 4.7 seconds.
It’s only available with an eight-speed automatic transmission, with power being sent to the rear wheels. It’s not built with economy in mind, but with official figures suggesting 28mpg it’s pretty reasonable for this type of car.
As soon as you get behind the wheel it’s clear the Stinger was built with the driver in mind. The seating position is excellent and makes you feel like you’re sitting low while still having great visibility. The engine is very responsive when pressing on, while the gearbox is a slick shifting unit that’s rarely caught out.
That front-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout feels as pure as you’d expect, while the steering is beautifully weighted. There’s just enough weight to give you confidence but it’s light enough to not be tiresome in everyday driving.
Then there’s the ride quality. Kia has done a brilliant job of creating a comfortable car that’s also pretty handy in the corners. It’s engineering is clearly aimed at being a long-distance GT car but the way it handles whatever you throw at it is hugely impressive.
It’s not just from behind the wheel that the Stinger impresses, because it’s a handsome thing, too. It looks a lot like it’s come from one of the premium German car makers but with more character than they could ever muster up.
It gets an evolution of Kia’s ‘tiger nose’ grille design, which sits between bold LED headlights, while the lower bumper is well-sculpted to give it a sporty-looking edge. The raked roofline and chunky rear quarter should give it a heavy look, but it still manages to look sleek. Then, at the rear, new tail lights have individual LEDs arranged in a distinctive grid pattern.
If you were jumping straight from a high-spec BMW you might notice the details that leave the Kia’s cabin falling a little behind its rival, but as a standalone product the Stinger’s cabin is fantastic. It wraps around you without ever feeling claustrophobic and all of the switchgear is within easy reach.
The new screen looks great and works well with a smattering of physical buttons that are intuitive to use for regular features. That said, despite its crisp resolution the infotainment’s design feels quite dated and getting around takes some getting used to – though most will use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto anyway.
There’s just the one trim level on the Kia Stinger, with the GT S. That might seem like a lot for the badge on the nose but the South Korean firm more than makes up for it with generous kit, including 19-inch alloy wheels, Nappa leather upholstery, heated front seats and adaptive cruise control.
You also get that new 10.25-inch infotainment screen with a seven-inch instrument display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a 15-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system. Kia seven-year/100,000-mile warranty is also included, which is excellent for a more premium model.
Its value for money is even clearer when you look at the competition. The BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe starts around the same price, but you get an engine with just over half the Kia’s power.
It’s always a risk when a mainstream manufacturer aims to push into the premium segment, but Kia has been building handsome, high-quality cars for years now, so it’s a natural progression.
The Stinger has long won plaudits for being great to drive and fantastic value for money, and the latest updates only cement that. If you’re looking for a practical, comfortable and stylish GT car, the Kia Stinger GT S should be very high on your shopping list. You’ll be rewarded for not sticking to the obvious.