Test Drive: 2018 Kia Stinger GT Limited

“Flpppppthhhhhhhhhh!”

The Stinger is one of the most winter-ready sports cars I’ve ever driven. Hell, I’ve been in crossover SUVs that weren’t this planted in the snow and slush and ice.

It sounded almost like gunfire against a steel panel as your writer drove the new 2018 Kia Stinger through some of the nastiest highway conditions of 2018. Heavy rain had been gushing from the sky from Toronto to Barrie, and right on cue, it turned into heavy snow in the Muskokas as the temperature fell and the Stinger and I plunged deeper north, into the snow belt.

The air was about four degrees below zero. The roads were warmer. Earlier, it had been raining.

Snow now, though – the sort of ping-pong-ball-sized fluffs that always seem to be falling in cinematic slow-mo. Beautiful, but not to drive through. Especially when the result is what covered the roads this particular afternoon: about three inches of thick, heavy, wet slush. The sort that would choke your snowblower, and prove nearly impossible to shovel from your driveway.

This stuff was everywhere – and the tester’s Pirelli Sottozero winter tires were slicing through it beautifully, and unloading it directly into the Stinger’s floor pan.

“FLPPPPPTHHHHHHHHHH!! FLPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPTHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

“Wow,” I thought. “You can feel it under your feet.”

This was a drive. And though the Stinger is a unique new 3 Series–fighter that’s pretty darn good at a lot of different things, the all-wheel-drive sport-sedan-ish hatchback is especially impressive with how it tackles winter driving conditions.

Here’s the setup: pricing starts around $44,000 for a base-model unit, and climbs to about $50,000 for a top-line GT Limited like this tester. Here, you basically pick your colour and go: the GT Limited comes fully loaded. Both models rock a 3.3-litre V6, running twin turbochargers for 365 horsepower and even more torque. There’s an eight-speed automatic with paddle shift (more on that later), and an AWD system as good as any I’ve ever used.

Here’s a machine designed to give shoppers more attainable access to the sort of swoopy, athletic, and potent coupes (whether two-door or four) on offer at higher cost from brands like BMW, Audi, and the like.

Built to be experienced in person, preferably from the driver’s seat

A few notables. First, photos don’t do the Stinger’s looks justice. If you think it looks good on your screen, you’ve got to check one out in real life. The sculpting and poise and stance and proportions are the real deal in person – even if you’ve seen many of the styling elements before, applied to other big-money missiles. It’s got a bit of Jaguar to the look. A bit of a few other cars, too. Give it a good stare, and you might agree that it sort of looks like a Maser-Audi.

The second thing to know about is the wide cabin. The centre console is mounted low between front-seat occupants, so it’s present, but not confining. Rear seats are a bit snug to enter and require a good duck to avoid taking Stinger’s roof to the dome, but two average-sized grown-ups should fit without much issue, albeit without quite as much foot space as some will desire, on account of the low-mounted front seats.

But up front, after a hearty plunk down into the cabin, even two larger adults will be able to lounge and unwind with room to spare. Storage facilities nearby are generous, all must-have modern tech is on board (including wireless smartphone charging and a vivid HUD display), and the interior is dotted with delightful and striking little touches that seem to convey a passion for detail.

Further, the strong horizontal aspect to the styling makes the cabin look even wider than it is for an added feel of roominess. Despite the busy and techy look to some of the interfaces and control centres, there’s a generous amount of wide-open space to some of the Stinger’s interior trim panels, drawing eyes to the abundance of pleasant materials, as much as to the gadgets. If you told your passengers the Stinger cost $15,000 more than it does, they’d probably believe you.

Responsive, planted, solid – even in heavy slush

As a good sports car should, the Stinger is designed to be instantly responsive to your inputs. To go where it’s pointed. To feel stable and secure and predictable, but also frisky and mischievous. To use whatever considerable means are at its disposal to obey you.

So, that heavy slush: even as it passes in varying amounts beneath each side of the Stinger, there’s no argument from the steering. No sudden tug at the wheel. No tension as the driver winces, expecting the car to suddenly be pulled or pushed from beneath them as the slush stripes are processed by the tires. Keep your speed reasonable and hold your course, and the Stinger tracks straight as an arrow through this stuff, drama-free.

Brake hard, and same deal. Even drilling the brakes with two tires in deep slush and two on wet pavement, there’s nothing more than a teensy squirm in the Stinger’s course before it corrects itself and pulls down in a straight line. The steering feels stable and unbothered all the while. Accelerate into the roadway with traction coming and going beneath each tire, and Stinger redistributes power as needed to keep things rolling. From the driver’s seat, you feel little more than the car sticking to the line you’ve selected, as the computers and clutch packs beneath do all the thinking.

In summation, and largely because of what seems an expert degree of fine-tuning of various systems, one off of the next, the Stinger is one of the most winter-ready sports cars I’ve ever driven. Hell, I’ve been in crossover SUVs that weren’t this planted in the snow and slush and ice. Combine your careful and attentive driving with a good set of winter tires, and Stinger leaves you feeling very, very well backed up in bad weather.

Engineered for performance (and a bit of fun)

The boosted V6 is a solid performer, with nearly hilarious low-RPM torque in reserve, a strong and quick pull right to redline – where it feels like someone heavy is sitting on your chest. The engine emits a pleasing and sporty howl here, but many will wish it was about 30 percent louder. Stinger fires up at at least 23 below without being plugged in to a block heater, no problemo. Best of all, when driven gently, you hardly know the engine is there: it starts up quietly, and needn’t rev much past about 1,600 rpm to glide through city traffic if you aren’t in any rush.

The eight-speed automatic shifts invisibly when driven gently, and responds almost instantly to paddle-shift requests. After a very brief delay, a paddle-click sees a quick gear change with smooth, quick, and consistent rev matching. These aren’t eyeball-meltingly fast gearshifts like you get in a BMW M3 or an Audi S5, and programming won’t allow downshifts that result in very high engine speeds. But all but the most hardcore manual transmission purists should find the setup entertaining enough to warrant frequent use.

The Stinger is a hoot, by the way. In Comfort mode (advised for driving in the greasy conditions described above), the stability control is on full lockdown. It works discreetly, and at times, you can literally feel the Stinger applying some single-wheel braking at the first bit of steering, to help pre-emptively stabilize the car. This is nearly invisible, totally so if you’re not feeling for it, and ultimately, Stinger never feels like it’s arguing with you.

Engage Sport mode and kill the traction control (one click, no BS), and Stinger goes full drift mode in about 1.5 seconds. This is Kia’s way of saying they care. Should drivers find themselves facing an empty, snowy road upon which they’d like very much to do skids, the engine’s torque arrives with much less throttle, the stability control takes a nap, and throttle steering is encouraged via delightful ease and predictability, all day long.

So it’s as playful and entertaining, or as secure and confidence-inspiring as you’d like.

One further note, and one final gripe.

The note: headlight performance is excellent – easily in top ten territory amongst the best I’ve ever used. Light is clean, vivid, white, well-placed, and thickly saturating. Low-beams are great, high-beams are even better. Peripheral coverage of light into roadside culverts and treelines is excellent, and eyestrain is reduced on longer drives after dark. Here’s a great example of how a good lighting system can improve comfort and safety once the sun’s gone down.

The gripe? It deals with how one specific part of the Stinger deals with winter driving. The thin tires and wide-open wheel design mean that, in anything more than about an inch of snow or slush, generous amounts of either get scooped up into the wheels, where they drench the big red Brembo brakes and cause a ring-shaped buildup of frozen gunk inside the wheels. Two problems result: first, the often-soggy brakes lack a strong, confidence-inspiring bite when first applied until they dry, a few milliseconds later. And second, unless you enjoy the feeling of sitting on an unbalanced washing machine on a high-speed spin (nothing wrong if you do), you’ll probably have to pull over every so often to knock the snow and ice out of the wheels. Thankfully, because of the wide spokes, this is easily tackled with the average snow-brush.

All said, if you’re a shopper in market for a Stinger, and you’re worried about how it’ll do in the snow, don’t be: it’s a champ in the winter. And actually, if you store it for half the year, you’re sort of missing half the fun.

2018 Kia Stinger GT Limited
Engine Displacement: 3.3L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 365 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 376 lb-ft @1,300–4,500 rpm
Fuel Economy: 12.7/9.6/11.3 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 660 L
2018 Kia Stinger GT Limited
Base Price $49,995
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,560
Price as Tested $51,655
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.4
9 Styling
9 Powertrain
9 Quality
8 Comfort
7 Practicality
9 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
9 Features
9 Value