Flagships may not bring in cash, but they are great publicity stunts.
It isn’t too hard to imagine the daily routine of a Kia designer. Like the first Rocky movies, they probably wake up and sing their creed before hitting the worktable and plotting how to win the hearts and minds of Western buyers. Unlike Tesla’s plan to infiltrate the auto market from the top and filter its way to the bottom, Kia started at the bottom and is swimming upstream in hopes that it will one day be taken seriously. So far it has made its name with cheap cars that have ridiculously long warranties.
Unfortunately, those looking for something luxurious probably won’t go for a Kia (unless they can overlook the badge). Hyundai knows that the public sees both South Korean brands as the cheap option selected by budget buyers and not what anyone with a bit of dough would choose, but it wanted to change all of that. Pulling off this feat requires the submission of some series of incredibly impressive cars, and Hyundai was going to start this charge with a supercar. This would give the company a flagship vehicle that fans could point to. Meanwhile, Kia is pushing out cars that could qualify as luxury offerings for bargain basement prices, but it doesn’t have a vehicle that rests at the top to represent the brand, at least one that isn't a boring family sedan.
It isn’t like the Kia designers haven’t tried. At the 2014 Detroit Auto Show they showed off the GT4 Stinger concept, an orange two-door sports car with serious good looks and the potential to change the company’s direction forever. While it wouldn’t be a top-range supercar like Hyundai’s proposed car, it would compete with the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86, and, more importantly, it would be a Kia that’s desirable to the automotive community and not just by those seeking a cheap car. With low-to-the-ground sports car styling and plenty of elements that nod to barebones driving simplicity, the GT4 Stinger would turn plenty of heads and leave people asking, “Damn that’s a Kia?”
Initially, Hyundai was going to share its Genesis platform to make the GT4 Stinger a reality, but Kia decided that it wanted its own dedicated base to keep the car small. As a result, the GT4 weighs only 2,800 pounds. When a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is placed inside, the car should come alive with 315 horsepower being sent to the rear wheels. Plenty of sports car refinement should make it a joy to drive, too. The concept features some innovative solutions that avoid headaches seen in normal cars. One fix is a perforated A-pillar. Not only does it look great but it also provides visibility in the corners. Inside, the concept was spared from having too many toys, making it a very focused machine.
The level of sophistication makes it unlike the Kias of the past and tells the story of an automaker that is evolving into a brand that should be taken seriously. This is precisely why Kia needs to build it. Making a sports car that is cheap, light, and good at its core is something that the brand has never done before. If the car turns out to be a good driver’s car that’s priced at Kia levels it would put South Korea on the map. Kia would no longer be an automaker that makes compromises, morphing into one that instead churns out cars that are desirable, capable, practical, and unlike anything else on the market. It likely won’t be a profit machine itself, but the image that it gives Kia will mean that more heads will turn towards the automaker in the future.