2018 Kia Stinger First Drive Review: It Lives Up To The Hype

First Drive

The Stinger surpasses expectations: it's time to start thinking of Kia in a completely new light.

Kia isn’t renowned for creating emotive automobiles. Reliability, value and quality have formed the foundations on which the Korean carmaker has flourished over the past decade. With cars like the Soul, the brand started to become likeable, but when the GT Concept bowed at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, Kia demonstrated it had the potential to create a car buyers would love. Six years later and the car we called the star of the Detroit 2017 will be sitting in showrooms before the year is out. This is a big deal for Kia, but the early signs are good. Very good in fact.

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Kia has received some 25,000 KMIs three months ahead of schedule, and is now aiming for 50,000 by the time the Super Bowl comes around. Without any evidence of how the car drives, that response is almost exclusively a result of the Stinger’s elegant, easy-on-the-eye design. Another Peter Schreyer special. Scratch that: the German auto designer call it his best ever work. Reviews of how the car drives have been trickling in over the past month or so. Having initially unleashed the Stinger at the Nurburgring to a select few, we had the chance to sample the goods in Los Angeles, spending a day with the gorgeous grand tourer cruising around North Hollywood and pushing it hard on the Angeles Crest Highway en route to Six Flags.

Kia announced the final specs and pricing for the Stinger in the product brief prior to our round trip to Magic Mountain. Headline figures include a 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds – down from the 5.4 seconds the Stinger was capable of back in January – a top speed of 167 mph, and a base price of $31,900.

US buyers will have a pair of engines to choose from. The Stinger 2.0T utilizes a 255-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder unit, while the Stinger GT 3.3T packs a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 with 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque on tap. That’s the same unit used in the Genesis G90 and G80 Sport. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a Kia-built eight-speed auto transmission. All Stingers come with paddle shifters, which Kia says speed up gear shifts by 10 percent. The more potent GT starts from $38,350 and comes loaded with goodies. Brembo brakes, 19-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, leather and aluminum trimmed interior, 8-way power seats and a highly intuitive 7-inch touchscreen display.

The GT1 trim comes in at $43,250 and adds a sunroof, a 720-watt Harman Kardon premium audio with 15 speakers (with subwoofers under the front seats to save space in the trunk). And for $49,200, the range-topping GT2 includes a limited-slip differential, 8-speed shift-by-wire transmission, nappa leather trim, head-up display and a bunch of driver assists. AWD is available for $2,200. The system is rear-biased, capable of sending 80 percent of torque rearward and up to 50 percent to the front wheels. Parked up behind the hotel were no less than 30 Stingers, in shades of blue, red, white and gray, and when we reached our destination a couple of SEMA-inspired models were on show too.

This is a car, Kia says, the aftermarket community will do all sorts of wicked things to. West Coast Customs has already shown the Stinger has some serious tuning potential. With its long wheelbase, four-door coupe styling, aggressive front end and sporty embellishments, there’s no arguing the Stinger is a looker. But how does it drive? Before the canyon carving began, the driving mode was set to Comfort. Well-worn city streets and stretches of highway did little to disturb the Stinger. A firm brake pedal, direct steering and the twin-turbo V6 combine to provide plenty of confidence, while the spacious, well-appointed cabin, is a pleasant place to be.

Other settings include Sport, Smart, Eco and Custom, providing various degrees of suspension firmness, throttle response and shift speeds. Kia set up the Stinger to be a comfortable cruiser with ride and handling to match, but with Albert Bierman overseeing things after eight years at BMW’s M Division, it also had to be agile and engaging to drive. A family of four or even five will look forward to long road trips in the sedan, but if you have to get from point to point in a hurry, or want to have a bit of fun, the Stinger delivers. Set to Sport mode and the twists and tight turns of the Angeles Crest Highway brought out the sedan's playful side.

The Brembos offer tremendous stopping power, there’s superb grip from the Michelin rubber, while the hi-po four-door has impressive high-speed stability, and accurate, well-weighted steering - it goes exactly where you point it – with great body control thanks to two-mode adaptive dampers and the limited-slip diff. I went into corners fast, exiting with a smile on my face and my foot planted after a momentary jab of the exceptional brakes. The sound system provided plenty or aural pleasure, but the Stinger has a nice soundtrack all of its own. So how does it compare to the competition? And while you’re on the subject, what is the Kia Stinger’s competition?

If you’re looking just at the badge, it’s hard to say. But when you compare the things that matter: engine, performance, brakes, wheelbase, interior space, then it’s on par and – in most cases – betters the likes of the Audi A5/S5, Audi A7 Sportback, BMW 4 Series and 6 Series Gran Coupe, Infiniti Q50, Lexus GS and – Kia has some balls for throwing this into the mix – the Porsche Panamera. In terms of overall length and height, it sits in the middle of this premium pack. The Stinger’s wheelbase equals that of the A7 and is only bettered by the Porsche and 6er. This translates to more front and rear legroom than the Panamera (so that’s why it was included in the comparison chart!) married to sizeable cargo volume that only the A7 can beat.

The Stinger also sits atop the performance charts. No kidding. It has more horsepower and torque, completes the century sprint quicker and has the highest top speed than every single car in that list. Now do you see what all the fuss is about? Just in case we weren’t listening in the product briefing, the aforementioned competitors were sitting pretty next to an autocross track, the colorful rollercoasters at Magic Mountain making for a spectacular backdrop in the south Californian sunshine. We had the chance to take each car on the temporary course, although there was no timing involved. Navigating through the traffic cones was purely an exercise in comparing the cars’ handling.

And aside from the Porsche, the Stinger was just as nimble as the rest. Lined up against these luxury rides, it didn’t look out of place either. Where it has the competition beat is price. Nothing can come close to the Stinger in terms of value. It’s the complete all-rounder, and while it may not have the exquisite interior of an Audi or distinct personality of a BMW, you can’t argue with the sedan’s value for money. Expect to see plenty of these on the road in the next year or two as a result. And before you opt for yet another Teutonic offering, go check out the Kia Stinger. For some, we’re sure it will be love at first sight.