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Living with the Kia Stinger: what's the 4wd coupe like?

Published: 15 February 2019

► CAR lives with a Kia Stinger
► Twin-turbo V6, rear-wheel drive
► And Ben Barry at the helm

Month 8 of our Kia Stinger long-term test review: trying the 4wd Stinger in the US

I’ve always wanted to drive a Lotus down the Basic Instinct car-chase road. Remember, when Michael Douglas pursued Sharon Stone’s Esprit over that dreamy stretch of tarmac that followed the coastline, overtaking on blind bends as horns blared? The actual road is a ribbon of Highway 1 north of San Francisco that flows alongside the Pacific Ocean towards Stinson Beach. 

This month my dream almost came true. It wasn’t in a Lotus but in a Kia: a US-spec Stinger GT-S much like the one I’m enjoying back home, but with a crucial spec difference that I thought might make an interesting addition to the usual long-term test updates.

Kia isn’t exactly holding back in the UK – its image is improving, its sales growing, adverts at cricket matches – but in the US it’s in a different league: it spends big on Superbowl ads (the most recent saw Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler lap an oval track in reverse and emerge younger, which definitely wasn’t cheap), stormed the SEMA aftermarket show with a line-up of custom Telluride SUVs, builds Sorentos and Optimas in Georgia, and its network of nearly 800 dealers should blow past 600,000 cars once the 2018 figures are totted up.

Kia Stinger 4wd

There are differences in the UK/US line-ups too, most notably the book-ends – the US gets neither the Picanto nor Venga hatchbacks, while the UK does without the K900 or Cadenza large saloons. But we both get the Stinger, including my 3.3-litre twin-turbo GT-S long-term test car, which I left at Heathrow. The crucial difference is the US models are optionally available with all-wheel drive, while our right-hookers are purely rear-drivers.

I drive the all-wheel-drive Stinger from San Francisco airport to meet photographer David Bush under the Golden Gate bridge, and immediately the steering feels different, even at gentle speeds on the 101 freeway north – it’s weightier and less fluid on lock, no doubt due to the extra friction caused by the front driveshafts. But I’m surprised I notice so much difference.

More surprisingly, the other big change comes with the soundtrack – it has more character, a similar V6 warble to a Nissan 370Z. Turns out it’s all to do with our drive-by noise regulations. ‘We’re trying to get a port-fit option,’ reveals a UK Kia person. ‘It’s taking time, but the Germans have managed it.’

I meet David at 10am, when seals are basking in the calm waters on the Sausalito side of the bridge, and the city of 900,000 is clearly visible now the fog that often shrouds this area is all burnt off. We spend a little time exploring the city, and edge up roads that crest like mountain peaks to give fabulous views of the Bay and Alcatraz, dodge the cable cars that’ve roamed going on here.

All-wheel drive adds weight to the Kia Stinger, but you barely notice

Hollywood means much of this will seem familiar even if you’ve never visited. What’s perhaps less appreciated about San Francisco is how unbelievably close you are to idyllic nature and to great roads when you’re in the city. We need a bit of that to fully explore this US-spec Stinger.

To pick up Highway 1, first you need to briefly get back on the 101 north of the Golden Gate, then follow signs for Stinson Beach. From there it takes only a few minutes for the road to gain in interest, with second-gear hairpins and brief third-gear sprints that carry you uphill, through the eucalyptus trees and out west to the coast as the road disappears into the distance in inviting downward coils, the Pacific glinting like a sheet of glass.

The speed limit is bizarrely low, overtaking is forbidden for most of its length (the double lines are now supplemented by a corrugated indentation in the surface to make it feel like you’ve flat-spotted your tyres), and on weekends it can be a bit of a camper-van conga. But midweek this part of Highway 1 flows more freely and, to be fair, Californians tend to pull over when you loom in their rear-view. 

All-wheel drive adds 90kg to the Stinger’s kerbweight, but I didn’t really notice its effects either on performance or agility. It still accelerated strongly, hauled up quickly with its Brembo brakes, and felt much more agile than a 4.8-metre-long saloon probably should. 

The big difference is the stickier steering and the calming effect of all-wheel drive. You can get on the power earlier and all that 360bhp just goes straight to the tarmac and pulls you out of the bend. There is a mild rear bias and it also feels faster over a twisty road, but ultimately it’s less fun if you really want to fool around.

Kia Stinger on some of the great Hollywood car chase roads

Perhaps the front axle taking some of the load also explains why I didn’t feel the same lateral shimmying around at the rear that can make my UK test car feel a bit soft and wayward.

The reason Sharon got to scorch down this same stretch is because Panoramic Highway cuts inland from Stinson Beach, looping back south again to hook up with Highway 1 near where it first gives you that incredible view over the placid Pacific; it means you can close the section of Highway 1 we’ve just driven and divert traffic inland quite easily, if you’re a major Hollywood movie studio working closely with the authorities.

But the inland section is a blast too. It zigs and zags up from Stinson, then disappears into the treeline towards Mount Tampalpais and Muir Woods – it feels wetter here, darker, more malevolent. The road runs along a steep hillside that falls away dramatically to your right if you’re heading south, heaving and flicking like a turbulent magic-carpet ride, and leaves absolutely no margin for error – screech off it and you roll the dice between plunging into thin air or headbutting a tree several metres up. You must also watch for the frequent cyclists.

But it’s a sensational stretch of road, one the Stinger devours easily before transporting us back to San Francisco with its trademark supple suspension and impressive refinement. For me, though, the rear-drive version is still superior – it’s lighter, I prefer the steering and, well, I just like the playfulness of rear-wheel drive. 

But it’s nice that the Americans get to choose, and Michael Douglas might’ve actually kept pace with Sharon Stone if he traded his Plymouth for an all-wheel-drive Stinger.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: Kia Stinger GT S

Price £40,535  
As tested £41,180
Engine 3342cc 24v twin-turbo 6-cyl, 360bhp @ 6000rpm, 376lb ft @ 1300rpm  
Transmission 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance 4.9sec 0-62mph, 168mph, 28.5mpg, 225g/km CO2  
Miles this month 489
Total 7255  
Our mpg 25.9  
Official mpg 28.5  
Fuel cost this month £112.96  
Extra costs None


Month 7 living with a Kia Stinger: assistance invasion

Advanced driver-assistance systems can be a pain – nudging you back in your lane, applying brakes when you weren't going to have a shunt, flashing unnecessary warnings. If you take pride in your driving ability, you probably think you're better than them. But I can't deny the Kia's Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning (RCCW) system is proving useful. It would probably be a boon in any car, but the length of the Stinger really highlights its advantages.

Kia Stinger

It works via sensors hidden in the rear bumper, which scan the road as you back out of a parking space. For example, I was reversing uphill, vision blocked at each side, when the sensors picked up a car approaching. I wouldn't have seen it without the electronic prompt.

Technology: 1. Human: 0.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: Kia Stinger GT S

Price £40,535
As tested £41,180
Engine 3342cc 24v twin-turbo 6-cyl, 360bhp @ 6000rpm, 376lb ft @ 1300rpm
Transmission 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance 4.9sec 0-62mph, 168mph, 28.5mpg, 225g/km CO2
Miles this month 784
Total 5136
Our mpg 25.8 
Official mpg 28.5
Fuel this month £178.62 
Extra costs None


Month 6 with our Stinger: from the Arteon's point of view

I climb out of the Volkswagen Arteon, hand the keys back to Ben Pulman and he looks down to ask what I think. This is going to require some diplomacy. I tell my fellow editor-at-large that I get the Arteon, I really do. Let’s say you’re on a company-car scheme and you’ve got mid-30s budget to spend. You might look at the default BMW 3-series, and see you can get an M Sport four-cylinder petrol auto for a whisker under £35k. The Arteon, arguably, is similarly smart, and far less ubiquitous; I tell Ben P it looks great, especially with the spangly mustard paintjob. When he parks it on the drive, people must think he’s a success. I mean all this sincerely.

His 2.0-litre petrol car’s mechanical spec is comparable to that BMW too: 187bhp, auto ’box and, erm, not all-wheel drive. It only undercuts the 3-series by a few hundred quid at £34,380, which might unravel the case a little. But consider this: the Arteon is 4862mm long, has a wheelbase of 2837mm and 563 litres of boot  –dimensionally, it slots right in the gap between Audi A4/A6 and BMW 3-/5-series, meaning more rear room for growing families than the comparably priced 3-series and A4. In fact, none of the others has a boot this large, so there’s more room for Ben P’s new arrival, that tough-to-collapse pushchair and samples for business meetings. It’s also generously equipped, and when you sit inside it feels comfortable and smart and bristling with tech.

And, and, and… you get that swoopy four-door body, which really makes it more comparable to the 4-series Gran Coupe and Audi A5 Sportback – those cars bump up the price by a couple of thousand, which probably blows the budget.

Stinger vs Arteon

Ben P listens to all this intently and with great patience. He knows, however, that there’s a ‘but’. The ‘but’ for the Arteon comes with the drive. After the huge drumroll of the exterior and the flashy infotainment and piano-black of the interior, my hopes were raised for something dynamically special. But the Arteon is disappointingly anodyne behind the wheel: the steering feels sleepy and numb, the performance flat, the handling so lacking in pizzazz that it’s impossible to reconcile with a company that once got union bosses hopped up on Viagra before flying in high-class hookers for wild sex parties. Where has the sense of fun gone, Volkswagen?

Of course, you can get far more potent versions – there’s a 2.0-litre all-wheel-drive model with 276bhp for £40k – and the Arteon will pound motorways effortlessly thanks to its impressive refinement and comfort. It’ll become an indispensable family accessory, but it feels like absolutely no effort has been invested in making the driving experience remotely involving.

I suspect design, technology, practicality, running costs and affordability are all higher up potential buyers’ order of preference than tearing apart an incredible B-road. The Arteon reflects that and in many ways is impressively executed to fit those needs. But I do wish it wasn’t quite so dull to drive.

By Ben Barry

Price £40,535
As tested £41,180
Engine 3342cc 24v twin-turbo 6-cyl, 360bhp @ 6000rpm, 376lb ft @ 1300rpm
Transmission 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance 4.9sec 0-62mph, 168mph, 28.5mpg, 225g/km CO2
Miles this month 775
Total 5911
Our mpg 25.2 
Official mpg 28.5
Fuel this month £179.71 
Extra costs None


Month 5 of our Kia Stinger long-term test review: ventilated seats and other niceties

The Stinger GT S is loaded with standard kit including stuff you’d never option, such as cooled seats. Flip the heated-seats button and you can be lightly refrigerated in three different ways. They proved a real boon over the hot summer. Shame they don’t massage too. Sounds spoilt, but my 308 GTi did that using the electric lumbar support. Job for the facelift perhaps?

By Ben Barry

Logbook: Kia Stinger GT S

Price £40,535
As tested £41,180
Engine 3342cc 24v twin-turbo 6-cyl, 360bhp @ 6000rpm, 376lb ft @ 1300rpm
Transmission 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance 4.9sec 0-62mph, 168mph, 28.5mpg, 225g/km CO2
Miles this month 784
Total 5136
Our mpg 25.8
Official mpg 28.5
Fuel this month £178.62
Extra costs None

Kia Stinger long-term test review by CAR magazine UK

Month 4 living with a Kia Stinger: the transmission examined

We need to talk about the Kia’s gearbox. It’s an eight-speed automatic of Kia’s own design, and it spoils an otherwise highly impressive driving experience. It’s not that it’s truly bad, because mostly it’s smooth, quick enough and takes the heavy lifting out of swapping gears, but sometimes it can clunk a little rudely on downshifts, and sometimes stays in neutral when you’re certain you’ve pulled far enough for D.

The big one? You can’t lock it in manual mode. There are paddles on the steering wheel, so you can control the shifts manually to a certain extent, but it will always default back to auto, and quickly too. So imagine you’ve dropped to third manually, ready for an overtake. It’s clear, you move out, but suddenly you’re back in auto and you have no idea which gear you’re in.

Kia Stinger GT-S interior and cabin

It’s annoying at the opposite end of the driving spectrum too. Say you’re in Sport for firmer suspension, but travelling through a 30mph zone. Sport makes the gearbox more aggressive, but you don’t want it hanging onto revs at a steady 30mph. So you manually select a higher gear, but just a few seconds later it’s back in auto, revving like an OAP parking. If I could make one change, a dedicated manual mode would be it.

By Ben Barry


Month 2 of our Kia Stinger long-term test: long-distance cruiser

Driving over 1000 miles in a Kia would once have struck the fear of God into me, but I'm enjoying the Stinger GT S. The ride quality particularly impresses, with a supple, long-legged stride that more than delivers on the GT credentials Kia promises. The trade is body roll and a lack of ultimate focus, but all movements are nicely controlled. And because V6 Stingers get adaptive dampers as standard, you can quickly tighten up the body control.

Kia Stinger long-term test review

Front grip and rear traction are lower than the BMW 440i I'm handing back, but the Kia felt nicely balanced when I chucked it about for photos – it's length is an advantage in that regard. It's very much a road-optimised saloon, and quite right too, but I'm plotting a Nürburgring trip – I'll be fascinated to see how the Stinger copes with those crests and dips.

Last month I mentioned Kia's official mpg figures were a way off the 440i (41.5mpg versus the Kia's 28.5mpg). So far, reality looks slightly better, with the BMW just sticking its neck out of 29mpg territory and the Kia almost reaching 24mpg. This suggests the Kia will cost over £500 extra in fuel every 10,000 miles, though – and need three services to the BMW's one – so fingers crossed the fuel economy improves as the V6 beds in.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: Kia Stinger GT-S

Engine 3342cc 24v twin-turbo V6, 360bhp @ 6000rpm, 376lb ft @ 1300rpm   
Transmission Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive   
Stats 4.9sec 0-62mph, 168mph, 225g/km CO2  
Price £40,535
As tested £41,180  
Miles this month 1198
Total 1959
Our mpg 23.7
Official mpg 28.5
Fuel this month £283.34


Month 1: is this the dawn of a new age?

Just over a year ago, I was sitting inside a small hut on a frozen Swedish lake with Albert Biermann, Kia and Hyundai's head of vehicle testing and high-performance development. We were about to slide a prototype of the new Kia Stinger GT S around on the ice, and Biermann – poached from BMW's M division in 2014 – explained that the Stinger had been benchmarked against the BMW 340i. He did, however. concede that the 440i Gran Coupe was more relevant because the Kia, too, is a 'five-door fastback' – the facelifted 440i wasn't on the market during Stinger development, but the 340i was.

Kia Stinger long-termer cornering

Anyway, a year later I'm considerably warmer, about to hand back a 440i Gran Coupe after over 9000 miles, and have just taken delivery of a new Stinger GT S. That's a pretty sound bit of context, I reckon, ahead of running Kia's first high-performance rear-wheel-drive saloon to land in the UK.

The Stinger is not a completely clean sheet for Kia: the platform is derived from the (Hyundai) Genesis G70 and Kia K9, models that aren't sold in the UK. It comprises 55 per cent high-strength steels, with a pretty unusual combination of MacPherson front suspension and five-link, double-wishbone rear suspension. Kia claims 'the Stinger exceeds all competitors' for crashworthiness.

You can get sensible versions of the Stinger, with both four-cylinder turbocharged petrol and diesels available. We've gone for the mad GT S version, which will sell in tiny numbers in the UK – Kia hopes to shift 1800 Stingers of all types in 2018, with the GT S accounting for perhaps 400 of those units. The idea of one person a day buying a GT S seems optimistic, but it'll be a pleasant surprise if they do.

If the badge struggles to divert your attention from the default German triumvirate, the spec sheet might: a 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6 produces 360bhp and 376lb ft, enough for a 4.9sec 0-62mph dash and 168mph top speed (BMW 440i: 322bhp, 332lb ft, 5.1sec, and a limited 155mph top end). The Stinger GT S is also 190mm longer at 4830mm and with a 95mm longer wheelbase (the boot, though generous, is 74 litres smaller at 406 litres). The strong mechanical specification continues with four-piston Brembo brakes, adaptive dampers, 19-inch alloys, a limited-slip diff and eight-speed auto as standard.

In fact, standard equipment is generous throughout, as it needs to be when it's up against premium German competition. It includes adaptive LED headlights with auto full-beam, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, nappa leather heated/ventilated eight-way adjustable memory front seats, rear heated seats, electric steering column adjustment, heated steering wheel, keyless entry and start, head-up display, sat-nav with traffic updates, reversing camera, 15-speaker Harman Kardon stereo system, DAB radio, Bluetooth with music streaming and a very large sunroof. Phew.

Kia Stinger Ben Barry interior

All this costs from £40,535, with our test car increasing that to the maximum possible £41,180 courtesy of the 'Premium' red paint. That's not a huge saving over the £45,490 440i Gran Coupe (but note that our 440i is optioned to £57,605).

Without wishing to spoil the suspense, after a few early miles I reckon the Stinger is a pretty fantastic drive, and I'll have the space to explain why soon. But there could also be a sting in the tail to this loan: Kia is quick to shout about its incredible seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, but all petrol models require a service every 6000 miles or six months, and fuel efficiency of 28.5mpg and 225g/km is a lunar-mission from the BMW's 41.5mpg and 159g/km. At 1855kg, the Stinger is also 165kg chunkier than the BMW. Will these downsides cause the Stinger's downfall in regular use? A long-term test provides the perfect chance to find out.

Logbook: Kia Stinger GT-S

Engine 3342cc 24v twin-turbo V6, 360bhp @ 6000rpm, 376lb ft @ 1300rpm   
Transmission Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive   
Stats 4.9sec 0-62mph, 168mph, 225g/km CO2  
Price £40,535
As tested £41,180  
Miles this month 250
Total 761
Our mpg 27.4
Official mpg 28.5
Fuel this month £49.79

Check out our long-term test reviews

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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