The Korean manufacturer Kia has been good at imitating BMW, and they do it again with the Kia Stinger, an all new model. It’s a rear-wheel-drive compact/midsize vehicle that Kia considers a grand touring car to challenge the BMW 3 Series.
Technically it might be a hatchback, because the back opens like a hatch, but it’s more of a fastback sedan, with a long hood and continental styling. Its performance is serious and its price low. It’s powerful, practical, upscale, and fun to drive.
With a wheelbase of 114.4 inches and length of 190.2 inches, it’s a bit bigger than the 3 Series, or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS or Audi A5 Sportback, all of which might be considered rivals. It’s more the size of a Lexus GS sedan.
The base engine is 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder making a good 255 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. There’s also GT model with a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 making an attention-grabbing 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet. Both engines are mated to a Kia-built 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. All-wheel drive is available.
The Stinger with its 2.0-liter engine and rear-wheel drive gets an EPA-rated 22 mpg City, 29 Highway, 25 Combined. The V6 is rated 19/25/21 mpg.
Standard safety features include seven airbags. The top model, GT2, comes standard with all safety features that are optional on the other models: forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, rear cross-traffic alerts, blind-spot monitors, automatic high beams, driver attention alerts, lane-departure warnings, active lane control, and dynamic headlights that point into turns.
Kia Stinger comes in five models. Stinger and Stinger Premium use the four cylinder engine, while GT models use the V6. All-wheel drive is available on all models for an extra $2200.
Stinger ($31,900) comes standard with leather upholstery, 12-way power driver’s seat with four-way power lumbar adjustment, 8-way power front passenger seat, heated front seats, tilt/telescoping heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, automatic headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, 7.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/HD satellite radio, six speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, and Uvo eServices Telematics, which is a smartphone app that offers maintenance alerts, parking minders, roadside assistance, and individual points of interest; and hill-start assist, front and rear park assist, and rearview camera. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Premium ($37,100) adds LED headlights and rear turn signals, sunroof, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 7.0-inch digital instrument panel display, electronic parking brake, memory for the driver’s seat, steering wheel, and outside mirrors; 8.0-inch version of Uvo with navigation, and a 720-watt, 15-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with Clari-Fi that digitally expands compressed music and QuantumLogic Surround Sound.
Stinger GT ($38,350) is equipped like the base Stinger, adding among other things, aluminum pedals and scuff plates, a flat-bottom steering wheel, a nine-speaker audio system, and 19-inch wheels. GT 1 ($43,250) adds performance gauges in the instrument cluster, 8.0-inch version of Uvo with navigation, and the 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
GT2 ($49,200) comes with a limited-slip rear differential (RWD only), forward collision warnings with all the safety features, plus a head-up display, a smart opening rear hatch, auto-dimming outside mirrors, Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, and 16-way power front seats with four-way air-cell lumbar support, two way width-adjusting side bolsters, and seat extensions.
The Stinger is far from retro, although Kia designers were inspired by fastbacks from the 1970s, for example, they say, the Maserati Ghibli. It’s quite bold, with a long chiseled hood, sloping hatchback profile, and athletic haunches with short overhangs front and rear.
But what’s really impressive are the functional aerodynamic bits: wheel curtains with working vents, gills behind the front wheels to reduce turbulence, a belly pan with rear diffuser to smooth airflow under the chassis, and a ducktail rear spoiler. It all works. The coefficient of drag is a slippery 0.30.
That’s a lot of design detail, especially for the price.
The Stinger’s cabin follows along the lines of two of Kia’s near-luxury models, the Cadenza and K900. The quality of the materials is high: standard leather, including a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel, and big gauges ringed in metal. There are soft-touch surfaces everywhere, although some lower-cost plastics survive.
The dashboard is black and wing-shaped, with contrasting metal trim. The infotainment system is like a tablet on the top of the dash, possibly copied from German cars, and below that screen there are three round climate control gauges. There’s also a color screen that speaks to the Stinger’s sporty mission, programmable to display performance data, such as G-forces and lap times.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with driver’s seat highly power adjustable including lumbar. The GT2 gets 16-way adjustment, plus heating and ventilation. And there’s enough legroom in the rear for a six-footer.
The hatchback fastback roofline reduces rear headroom, but affords considerably more cargo area than a sedan’s trunk, a vast 23.3 cubic feet. And with the rear seats folded down, the space increases to 40.9 cubic feet, as much as a small SUV.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is a fine engine that makes a decent 255 horsepower, but it can’t run with the turbo fours from BMW, Audi, Mercedes or Chevrolet.
The twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V-6 is another story, offering responsive and smooth thrust with a refined howl. It can accelerate from zero to sixty in 4.7 seconds and hit a top speed of 167 mph. On the street, in Sport mode, the 8-speed automatic transmission delivers shifts that are quick and smooth, although not as sharp as a good dual-clutch, or even the best automatics.
Four drive modes adjust transmission response, as well as throttle response, suspension damping, stability control, and traction with all-wheel drive. They’re Sport, Smart (which learns your behavior), Eco, and Custom, which is configurable.
It’s no accident that this is the best handling Kia ever built, neutral and predictable. Kia hired the chief engineer from the BMW M series, who went straight to the Nurburgring for chassis development. He had a rigid body to work with, being 55 percent high-strength steel (Hyundai-Kia is also a steel company). The front MacPherson struts have an aluminum brace between them, while the rear subframe is stiffened around the five-link independent suspension.
The steering is direct, the cornering is stable, and the ride is smooth, even with the dampers in Sport mode. However the agility doesn’t match European standards.
In everyday driving with traffic, the Stinger mostly strikes us as easy: easy to drive, nice ride quality, easy to live with.
The GT features four-piston Brembo front brakes, adaptive dampers, and rack-mounted electric power steering with variable ratios. Kia boasts that the GT is at home on the track, but we found it to be hampered there. It’s a bit too heavy, the dampers aren’t firm enough, and the tires aren’t wide or grippy enough, causing the stability control to be intrusive. On the track there’s too much body roll at turn-in, making transitions awkward, and the transmission can get confused, even using the paddles.
The GT’s four-piston front rotors are a huge 13.8 inches and the two-piston rears are 13.4-inches, so they’ll never fade on the street. The 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, 225/40s up front and 255/35s out back, shouldn’t give up there, either.
The rear-wheel-drive GT2 has a mechanical limited-slip rear differential, while all-wheel-drive versions get a torque vectoring system that brakes the inside wheels in a turn, to rotate the car. If we had driven the GT2 on the track, instead of the GT, our impressions might very well be different.
The Kia Stinger makes an impressive debut, with much to offer. The price for a full-tilt GT2 runs to 50 thou, but the base Stinger for $32k is equipped so well that it’s a terrific value. We can live with 255 horsepower in the four-cylinder, especially with the excellent 8-speed automatic and paddle shifters.
Sam Moses contributed, with staff reports.