► Competes with 4-series GC
► Handling by former BMW M guru
► Fastest Kia ever: 0-62mph in 5.1s
The Kia Stinger is Korea’s answer to the BMW 4-series Gran Coupe, a slinky four-door fastback that’s helping Kia dip its toe into the premium sector.
My, my, that is one striking looking car. And it’s a Kia, you say? It looks like…
…Grand Theft Auto just added an Audi S7 to its car line-up? Kia reckons the Stinger was inspired by big GTs from the 1960s, like the original Maserati Ghibli, but there are definite nods to contemporary premium cars too.
It’s a handsome shape, but some of the fussy detailing and chrome looks a bit tacky. And if you think Kia’s been here before, it has, in a way: the Stinger evolved from the Kia GT concept that was shown back in 2011.
What’s under that long bonnet? Delight or disappointment?
That’s up to your wallet. There are three engine options offered in the UK: a 197bhp 2.2-litre diesel (62mph in 7.3sec), a 244bhp 2.0-litre petrol (5.8sec) or a 365bhp petrol (4.7sec).
Track weapon or mushy GT car?
Well, when we first got behind the wheel back in June 2017, we only got about 19 minutes on track – enough to do two laps of the Nürburgring behind Dirk Schoysman – before being quickly ushered away to wonder what had just happened.
If Dirk’s name sounds familiar it might be because he was man at the wheel when the R33 Skyline pulled off the first 8min lap back in the 1990s.
And this pointless titchy test drive of a hopelessly optimistic new car in a totally unsuitable environment taught you what exactly?
Not to be so judgemental, for a start. The Stinger is actually a very handy piece of kit, and that’s despite being bigger and heavier than the opposition.
One of the reasons it’s so handy is that its chassis was signed off by Albert Biermann, a 30-year BMW veteran who spent his last eight at M Division. Just imagine the size of the cheque involved. Must have been like the ones people hold in lottery win publicity snaps.
What’s so good about it?
How about great body control from two-mode adaptive dampers, accurate steering, a decent resistance to understeer, and properly adjustable and pliant rear-drive handling that benefits from a standard limited-slip differential.
With apologies to Kia, this car is shockingly good to drive, feeling in no way out of its depth on the Nordschleife, even letting you indulge in cheeky oversteer slides coming out of the tighter corners.
There’s a four-wheel drive version available in some markets that won’t come to the UK. Don’t mourn it. We drove both and the rear-driver is far more engaging.
And what about on-road?
You know that thing when a car thrills you on track but then becomes an absolute pain in the arse once you hit the public highway? That isn’t the case with the Stinger. The pliant chassis we talked about works wonders on road, traversing bumps and lumps in the road with admirable composure.
Turn into a bend and the Stinger’s 1.8-tonne kerbweight fades into the insignificance as the front end moves obediently towards the apex. The steering might be low on feel, but it is well-weighted and – in tandem with the chassis – breeds enough confidence to start taking some serious speed into corners.
Drop down to the either the 2.0-litre petrol or 2.2-litre diesel Stinger, however, and that adjustable electronic suspension is no longer available, the upshot being a ride which is markedly more fidgety than in the top-spec GT S. Even with the smaller 18-inch alloy wheels, your average British road surface manages to unsettle the Stinger’s low-speed ride, spoiling the luxo-barge feel of the GT S.
As a nod to the hot BMWs Biermann spent so much of his career creating, the Stinger maintains its adjustable nature on road. It doesn’t feel invincible, but provides the tools and feedback needed to coax it down a challenging road. We won’t go the whole hog and say it’s as good as a 440i Gran Coupe, but it does feel more exciting than Audi’s S5 Sportback.
What about the engines?
Not quite as special, though both petrol variants look strong on paper. GT S cars get a 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 that makes 365bhp and 376lb ft of torque. Like all Stingers it drives through an eight-speed gearbox (lifted from the Sorento SUV), and can take the GT to 60mph in 4.7sec and leave German rivals trailing with its 168mph top speed.
But it’s not massively characterful. The noise being pumped through the speakers sounds okay, but is never going to wake your neck hairs up. US cars get a slightly louder exhaust but tighter European noise legislation means we’re not allowed it here. Salvation may be on the horizon, however, as Kia UK is looking at offering an optional exhaust package on the car later in its life cycle.
Opt for the snappily named 2.0-litre T-GDi entry level petrol, and, while the exhaust note is still nothing to write home about, there’s a decent turn of speed on offer. Acceleration from a standing start to 60mph takes no more than 5.8 seconds, while top speed is 149mph – proper BMW 430i Gran Coupe rivalling speeds.
There’s power right the way throughout the rev range, despite a fairly narrow peak torque band, plus there’s reasonable incentive to take the turbocharged four pot to the red line should you wish.
It’s not like you get the hand me downs throughout the rest of the car either. The Brembo brakes and adaptive suspension are exclusive to the 365bhp GT S model, yet most other features are standard on GT-Line S cars – including the rear-wheel drive with limited-slip differential layout.
Granted, the reduction in torque over the GT S (260 vs. 376 lb ft) means that big back end won’t come around as easily under power, but the agility and directness remain.
What’s that Sorento gearbox like?
Honestly? Not great – no matter which engine you go for. It’s fine if you’re trundling along, but the moment you give the throttle a good pasting things start to unravel. The changes are smooth, but often hesitant, and the lack of a manual lock-out mode (oddly, there is one in the Sorento) means that if you don’t continuously flick through the gears, it’ll revert back to automatic mode.
And the rest of the package?
The huge wheelbase means there’s stacks of rear legroom, although thanks to the sloping roofline headroom is a little tight for those after 5’10”.
A Jag XE feels like a supermini in comparison, and about as nicely put together. The Stinger’s not quite up to Audi standards in interior design and finish, but it’s handsome, feels good and being a Kia with an uphill battle on its hands persuading people to choose it over a BMW or Audi, will come loaded with kit.
Prices are from £31,995 for the entry-level 2.0-litre petrol model, up to £40,495 if you want the top-of-the-range GT-S version.
The Stinger GT S is just about as good as we could have expected it to be – and after all the hype, that’s high praise indeed. It’s fast, surprisingly fun-to-drive (stodgy gearbox aside) and a capable all-rounder which has a decent chance of tearing customers away from their beloved BMWs and Audis.
Go for an entry level 2.0-litre petrol, meanwhile, and you still get a well-equipped, striking-looking saloon with strong performance figures and the handling to match. It doesn’t feel quite as special as the GT S, but still has enough about it to provide a capable, left-field alternative to more established rivals.