Culture shock: is the new Kia Stinger GT a world beater?
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Ever had one of those realisations where you knew that a pivotal moment in history was unfolding before your eyes?
Those moments tend to be reserved for spasms of radical innovation or long-awaited discovery — they're not associated typically with Kias.
But the new Kia Stinger doesn't get lumped with this responsibility because it's radical, innovative, or a discovery. Rather, it does so because it's the opposite.
It's easy to feel like the motoring world has arrived at a bit of a tipping point, where the need to engineer efficiency and technical novelty into new cars has overtaken the need to inject fun and magic.
This may all sound melodramatic, but the number of options for those who want a fun, powerful, well-priced rear-wheel drive platform are shrinking by the day. With that in mind, the Stinger emerges from the shadows looking like a saviour.
In this top-spec GT trim, it’s powerful — thanks to a twin-turbo 3.3-litre V6 that’s good for a claimed nil-to-tonne time of 4.9 seconds. It’s rear-wheel-drive; the old school performance sedan format of choice. And it’s priced at $69,990. That is more expensive than any Kia before it, but more than comparable with its rivals.
Who those rivals might be is probably the first question. Most obvious is the Gold Card-qualified $64,990 Holden VF Commodore SS, but beyond the similar RWD underpinnings, price and dimensions, they’re different cars.
It starts with the styling. Although Aussie sedans have always erred on the conservative side, the Stinger GT goes wild. Designed by Peter Schreyer and Gregory Guillaume, it adopts lift-back proportions similar to the Audi A5 Sportback, and then colours in the gaps with the aggressive Kia flair to which we've grown accustomed.
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Kia's signature “Tigernose” grille is backed by lashings of shadowed chrome, vents (the bonnet ones are fake but the rest are functional), and some lovely 19-inch wheels. The elongated reflectors that extend off the tail lights and down the side of the car remain its weirdest visual feature but — like them or not — it’s difficult to deny that the Stinger has a big visual presence.
And it continues when you hop inside. Whereas a Commodore or Falcon of old was all about supplying expanses of space, the Stinger’s interior is fitted, tight. The curved dashboard envelopes the driver and front passenger, and hip-hugging nappa leather seats bolt them firmly in place. The materials are lush, and the buttons and rocker switches are satisfyingly bolted together — down to the damping of the rounded air-conditioning vents.
The 8-inch touch-screen houses Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a 360-degree camera and satnav. Drivers get a heads-up display and memory settings for their heated and ventilated seats, while a Harman Kardon sound system completes the luxury-car check list.
There’s some parts-bin scouring going on, with some switchgear from other Kias making an appearance. The styling looks like an Audi and Mercedes-Benz–inspired melting pot, and headroom in the rear is compromised by the sloping roofline. None of that, however, takes the shine off what may be the best interior you can buy for $70k.
Topping it off, every locally available Stinger trim level is outfitted with a full suite of safety features (blind-spot monitoring, Autonomous Emergency Braking, adaptive cruise control, and more).
And it gets better.
Thanks to all the tech and generous dimensions, the Stinger weighs in at 2185kg gross — heavier than most. It’s a whisker smaller dimensionally than a VF Commodore. Larger than an A5 Sportback. Shorter than a BMW 5 Series but wider.
Expectations for it to handle particularly great are low on paper, and that’s before you get to Kia’s lack of experience when it comes to sport sedans.
Yet, it handles magnificently.
The steering and chassis balance almost completely mask the Stinger’s weight. Rotation mid corner is particularly impressive, with the surprisingly light-footed Kia making the most of its Continental ContiSportContact rubber. The 4-piston front and 2-piston rear Brembo brake set-up appears almost immune to fade, and is seemingly capable of stopping the two-tonne Kia all day long.
These traits can be traced to Albert Biermann; Kia’s head engineer and a former BMW M-Division brainiac. A star signing for the brand and one they should cling on to for generations of cars to come.
The 272kW, 510Nm engine delivers power in a linear, inoffensive manner. With the help of a capable traditional 8-speed automatic, right-foot urgency is reciprocated with efficiency — and the traction control is playful enough to allow you an occasional bit of slip if you invite it. It isn't explosive seat-of-the-pants power delivery like that of a V8 ... it takes a bit of time to spool the twin screws, but once that's done pace gets fed to the rear wheels in a linear fashion.
It isn’t quite perfect. The steering and suspension raise the main grievances. The electronically assisted rack and pinion set-up is on the light side for spirited driving, and can make it difficult to place the car with precision despite offering an above-average amount of feedback.
The suspension, meanwhile, is a bit firm across the board. In Sport mode, it gives the Stinger a brittle, at times crashy, ride. It vastly improves when switched to Comfort mode, but still feels firm and busy when compared to the German opposition.
The Stinger’s donk doesn’t sound particularly ace, either — but V6s rarely do. On idle it serves a pleasant burble, and in general driving it’s muted. In full flight it shouts as loud as it can (amplified by artificial noises that get boomed into the cabin), but it’s never a sound you thirst for. Kia claims a middling fuel consumption figure of 10.2 litres per 100km, which we matched in calm motorway usage but couldn't match in town or on backroads.
So no, this isn’t the perfectly imperfect lovable larrikin Aussie V8 surrogate many had hoped for. But, with enough kit, space, and performance to rival cars bordering twice its price, the Stinger is much more than that.
From front to rear, inside and out, it is a genuine, bonafide challenger to the best from Europe.
And considering that this was a first attempt, we can’t wait for the sequel.
KIA STINGER GT
PROS: Visual presence, build quality, turns and accelerates impeccably
CONS: Suspension harshness, fuel economy, flat sound