by Jared Rosenholtz
Before we begin talking about the Kia Stinger, we want to get one thing clear. Anyone who will not give this car a chance simply because it wears a Kia badge is just plain ignorant. We have decided to take a bold stance on a car that we genuinely loved after spending a week driving it. The Stinger is the car equivalent of the plucky underdog, like Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa. If you're one of the people who doubts the Stinger's credentials just because it is a Kia, you do so at your own detriment.
With all of that out of they way we can dive into what makes this car such a joy. This car is so enigmatic because most people don't even know what to compare it to. Kia sent us a helpful breakdown that compared the Stinger to everything from the Audi A5 Sportback to the Porsche Panamera. In our Rocky metaphor, you can think of the German rivals like Ivan Drago and Apollo Creed, heavily favored against our underdog Kia. The Stinger GT may be faster and more powerful than the base BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, Mercedes CLS and Porsche Panamera (all of which are $20,000 to $30,000 more than a fully-loaded Stinger), but most people won't cross shop these cars with the Kia.
Among the cars that Kia benchmarked, we think that the Audi S5 Sportback and BMW 440i Gran Coupe are the most apt. To help visualize the Stinger's size, think bigger than a BMW 3 Series, yet slightly smaller than a 5er. The Kia is only beat by the Panamera in overall length and only the Audi A7 has more room in terms of cargo capacity. The Audi S5 and BMW 440i are the closest competitors, given their price and similar liftback designs. However, the cheapest BMW 440i Gran Coupe starts at $48,300, while the Audi S5 Sportback is even more expensive at $54,400. Our test model was the fully-loaded GT2 model with the 365 hp twin-turbo V6 and it didn't even crack the $50,000 mark.
If you want more of a breakdown on pricing, be sure to check out our first drive piece where we elaborate on the many trim levels that are offered on the Stinger. Our Hi Chroma Red test model was a GT2 with RWD, meaning that it came filled to the brim with available features. It would cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 more to get the Audi or BMW with similar add-ons. We went out to look at both cars and simply couldn't justify spending the extra money. The Audi does beat the Kia on interior material with carbon fiber throughout, but the Kia beats both the Audi and BMW on comfort, size, practically and value for money.
Throughout our week with the Stinger, we learned that the styling was more polarizing than we anticipated. People tended to either love or hate the Stinger's design. Most people, us included, fell in the love camp. The Audi S5 and the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe are far more restrained than the Kia, which makes it more exciting in our minds. No matter where we went with the car, we had people coming up to us asking what we were driving, and that's something that isn't usually true of the German brands today. The Stinger has an on-road presence that Audi and BMW seem to have lost. Perhaps the German brands have become too comfortable and have underestimated the plucky underdog?
Stepping into the interior, we love the simplistic layout of the Stinger's cabin. The touchscreen infotainment system is easy to use and the driving aids are minimally intrusive. Our GT2 model even had adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go that functioned brilliantly. Even though the Stinger is larger than the S5 and 4 Series, that weight disappears as soon as you get going. This car really doesn't feel its size or weight thanks to light, yet precise, steering that comes to life on a winding road. The Stinger is no RS or M competitor, but it can go toe-to-toe with the 2nd stringers in the Audi and BMW lineups. 0-60 mph with the V6 takes just 4.7 seconds and we actually beat Kia's claim in some of our tests.
The eight-speed automatic transmission in the Stinger is part of the equation. Off the line we encountered almost no loss of traction as the car rocketed off from the start. The Stinger is faster than the 440i to 60 mph (4.9 seconds) and is barely bested by the AWD S5 Sportback (4.5 seconds). It's twin-turbocharged V6 engine produces 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. The Korean sport sedan is able to outpace both of its German rivals with a 167 mph top speed. If we did have one complaint with Kia's eight-speed automatic transmission, it was that it was almost too smooth. At full throttle gear shifts were almost imperceptible.
Getting on the paddle shifters gave us some sense of excitement, but the transmission was so good that we usually left it to its own devices. The Stinger had several drive modes, but we typically switched between the Sport and Comfort modes. Eco mode tunes back throttle response to help get better fuel economy while the Smart mode offered a mix of all of the modes depending on how we decided to drive. In Sport, the Stinger pumps in a bit of sound to make the engine sound a bit better. This may be a bit of a deceitful way of doing things, but we did enjoy the deep growl when we stepped on the accelerator.
Kia's V6 isn't the best sounding engine on the market, but we know that an aftermarket exhaust can wake it right up. We weren't expecting AMG level performance here and we weren't disappointed. Keep in mind that the Stinger is a sport sedan, not a sports car and it easily lives up to expectations. We had a chance to drive the four-cylinder model and we thought that it would be perfect for anyone who just wants a comfortable cruiser that can be used for the very occasional spirited drive. Those who are looking to barnstorm their favorite canyon road on the weekends should look to one of the GT models with the powerhouse twin-turbo V6.
The Stinger does everything well as both a luxury car and a sport sedan. We loved driving long distances thanks to pearl-shaped air vents that can be almost infinitely adjusted (even though it appears that Kia poached this idea from Mercedes). We also loved the ventilated seats, which were far more powerful than most of the cars that we've tested. Unfortunately, the Stinger wasn't without its faults. We should point out that our test model had a slight creaking noise from the door sills when we backed out of the driveway. We also heard a knocking noise in the trunk, which was likely a loose cargo cover. We had a chance to drive a base Stinger at a dealership and it did not exhibit either of these issues.
Like most new cars, we could live without some of the driver assists such as lane departure warning, which we typically end up shutting off. The Stinger also suffers from poor visibility due to its liftback design, but a standard backup camera and available blind spot monitoring help alleviate the issue. Finally, while we love the prodigious power of the V6, that power does come at a penalty. Kia claims 19/25 mpg city/highway. We were able to best the 25 mpg on the highway, but around town we struggled to get 18 mpg. Despite having a few nitpicks, some of which may be contained to our early production press car, we would go out of our way to recommend the Kia Stinger.
This car is an enormous leap forward for a company that has been marred by a poor image that has stuck with it since it first entered the US market. Kia has been slowly clawing its way to the top and with the Stinger it seems to have ditched the claws for rocket boosters. The Stinger isn't just good "for a Kia," it's genuinely amazing. If we've learned anything from Rocky, it's don't doubt the underdog. The German cars may be the heavyweight favorites, but the Stinger will be the one immortalized as the underdog champion. If it was our money, we'd walk right past the Audi and BMW showrooms and buy a Stinger.