Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 Kia Stinger GT and GT Limited

I am beginning to grow frustrated. The road is undulating, winding, and thrilling. The car I’m in is in all but name a luxury performance tourer, a Grand Tourer with authoritative power, prodigious handling, and two turbochargers anxiously spooling up boost, eager to turn spent exhaust gas back into horsepower.  

The car ahead, is painfully slow.

The Stinger’s mission is: solid power, great handling, excellent comfort, and above all else, style. 

A passing lane finally emerges, and I open the 3.3L twin-turbo V6 floodgates. All 376 lb-ft of torque are available instantly, and as the revs reach a 6,000 rpm crescendo 365 hp joins the charge. The surging acceleration of the 2018 Kia Stinger is as good as any of the luxury cars in this class.

For the bench racers out there, Kia says this will get to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds as tested when you use the all-new launch-control system. That’s bettered by the Audi S5 at 4.8 seconds, but is well clear of the BMW 440i.

Ever since they announced this car, and ever since Lesley's long-lead First Drive was published last month, I've been aching to drive the Stinger. Kia's attempt at a Grand Tourer has a lot of hype to live up to, and on first glance, it's more than close. 

With four-wheel independent multi-link suspension and adaptive dampers, the Stinger is set up from the outset to contend against those two in the handling department. The 19-inch alloys shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires measure 285/35 out back and 255/40 up front. They accept cornering speeds high enough to give my co-driver a strong physiological reaction, and generate a large amount of noise.

The adaptive suspension changes softness along with the four drive modes, which also control the fueling and spark timing, and gearbox response. I felt the suspension was underdamped on the Angeles Crest Highway, where the ripples and undulations of the road triggered a minor porpoising episode on the run into one corner. It was minor, though, and the tires never threatened to let go. A Kia rep told me this was something he expected to be rectified with software, and reminded me the unit I was driving was a pre-production unit. 

On flatter roads, and on the autocross course, the suspension was impressive. So much so, Kia put it up back to back against the BMW 440i, Audi S5 sportback, Porsche Panamera, Lexus GS, the BMW 660i and the Infiniti Q50. The first two are the cars Kia says it targeted with the Stinger, while it’s the last one that in Canada is the truest and closest competitor to the Korean.

Sadly, only the Audi was AWD, and none of them were on the same Michelin tires as our testers. But they were shod in performance rubber, and the autocross course was enough to show up how each one would fair. It also showed that the Stinger is a definite contender - easily besting the Lexus and Infiniti for composure and handling, while giving the Audi S5 a much closer match than I anticipated. 

In fairness, the Stinger loses a little to the S5 in terms of agility. It’s 1,825 kg is not that far off the Audi’s weight, but the Audi does carry itself more lightly and change direction just a few moments sooner. Where the Stinger shines is composure, and balance. It is easy to use subtle pedal inputs to balance the Stinger’s trajectory even in the tightest and slowest of the decreasing-radius corners of our little cone course. A 52/48 front/rear weight bias and a chassis made of 55 percent high-strength steel can be thanked for that. Good bone structure makes for a top performing car.

I mentioned that all Stingers in Canada will be the 3.3L V6 twin-turbo, and all-wheel drive, but the Kia executives at the launch say the 2.0L version will be available in the Spring of 2018 in Canada. They also hinted at attempts to convince Kia to bring us RWD models in both 2.0 and 3.3L trim to Canada – but say if it rear-wheel drive does make an appearance it will most likely be on the smaller engine units only.

That’s a shame, because driving the US-spec rear-wheel drive units on track really amplified the excellent bones of the Stinger. If I thought it was easy to balance with throttle in AWD guise – it was far better in RWD. I hope we get it. Incidentally, in either guise, the Stinger was easier to drive and far more composed than the Infiniti Q50 – a car I’ve given great praise to in the past.

Having said all that, the Stinger is naturally weighted to send 80 percent of the power to the rear in Sport and Custom modes, and up to 100 percent of the power rearward under wide-open throttle. So it kind of drives like a rear-wheel drive car.

Kind of.

Massive 13.8-inch rotors with four-piston Brembo calipers arrest momentum with iron grip in the front of the Stinger, supported by two-piston, 13.4-inch units in the rear. Kia has given this system what it calls “fade compensation” technology – which seems to do little more than apply a little pre-pressure to the pistons to keep them close to the rotor.

That eight-speed automatic is heavily revised for this application, and it’s a good unit, if not spectacular. Shifts are smooth, but when you really want to be on the boil, it’s necessary to use the paddle shifters. Without them, the drop down is too slow and you’ll find yourself unable to access enough grunt to drive out of the corner properly.

But let’s be honest – this isn’t a track car. It’s a tourer. The Stinger’s mission is: solid power, great handling, excellent comfort, and above all else, style. This is easily the most beautiful of Peter Schreyer’s creations, and careful attention to detail has been paid to this car’s aesthetics. 

Its V6 delivers a decisive rush when rolled on for overtaking manoeuvres, and both wind noise and road noise is suppressed well at highway speeds. The engine is smooth and quiet - in fact our only complaint about it was that it needed more/better exhaust noise. Rougher roads tend to increase road noise, but we more than once found ourselves driving much faster than we thought due to the unfussy cruising power of the Kia.

Fuel economy is not yet available, but we saw 12.3 l/100 km after a day of beating the living daylights out of our Stinger in the LA mountains.  

The interior is stunning, with a mix of the best from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi in terms of design queues. Ergonomically things are exactly as they ought to be, and Kia’s standard 7.0-inch touchscreen and upgraded 8.0-inch screen (in GT Limited models) are both great. The functionality and vibrance of the UVO system makes it one of our favourite infotainment systems.

You begin to get a sense of the price gap between Kia and the rest when you pay careful attention to the interior materials. The gap is subtle, but it’s there. Most notably in the thin leather layer of the touchpoints, which don’t adequately disguise the hard surfaces underneath, and in the faux aluminum trim. Again, these are minor quibbles, but Kia is positioning this as a luxury car contender, and those standards are exacting.

Which brings us to the ace up Kia’s sleeve: pricing. In Canada, the base Stinger GT will be $44,195.

For that you get the 3.3L twin-turbo V6 and all-wheel drive, plus electronic adaptive suspension, Michelin Pilot Sport 4 performance tires, drive-mode select and 19-inch alloys. Inside you’ll find heated front seats, heated steering wheel, 7.0-inch UVO infotainment system with Android Auto/Apple Carplay, 12-way power driver seat with lumbar, and 10-way passenger seat, automatic climate control, leather seats, leather steering wheel, LED cabin lighting and a sunroof.

You also get the nine-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system and five years of free connection to the app-based UVO intelligence system. That system allows you to control your car and locate it via an app, as well as connect to Kia services. It can be transferred if you sell your Stinger inside the five-year period.

Standard driver assistance features include the electronic parking brake with hill hold, back-up camera, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

The second-tier is the $49,995 Stinger GT Limited, which adds the 8.0-inch UVO infotainment system and a 7.0-inch colour instrument cluster, plus a colour head-up display that now includes the blind-spot monitor within it. The Harmon Kardon audio is upgraded to 15 speakers and you get inductive wireless charging.

Limited trims also get "enhanced" exhaust note via the in-car audio system. 

The driver gets adjustable side bolsters, while the front seats get ventilation and the rear seats get heating. The leather is upgraded to a Napa leather and you can get it in red on Limited trim models. On the driver assistance front, Limited trims add adaptive cruise control, 360-degree parking camera, lane-keep assist, driver attention alert and steering-responsive headlights.

With Stingers being delivered by this weekend, November 17 in Canada, it’s fair to ask how those Michelin summer tires will fare. Kia will offer Pirelli SottoZero3 winter tires for buyers as an as-yet unpriced package.

What all this means is that for less than $50,000, you can get access to an all-wheel drive, 365 hp grand tourer that looks like sex on wheels, drives like nothing Kia has ever made, and legitimately contends in the areas that matter with the similar offerings of BMW, Audi, Lexus et all. Not only that, but it is packed with the sort of features those marques make you dig deep into the options catalogue to even get a look at. 

Size wise, the 4,830 mm long, 1,870 mm wide Stinger and its 2,905 mm wheelbase is smack bang in the middle of the BMW 4-Series and the 6-Series. It's also right between the Audi A5 and A7, while being marginally bigger than the Infiniti Q50 and smaller than the Lexus GS. 

Being a fastback you get a cavernous, 600L trunk that has unparalleled access, especially with Kia's easy-open proximity system. The seats fold almost flat in a 60/40 split. Attention to detail extends to a revised Kia key fob. It's a quality unit, with substance and weight, and best of all, a cool detonator-style lock button. This rivals Volvo for its stylish fob. 

There are touches like this throughout the car. Little "moments" that have the Stinger jumping clear of the usual Kia waters, and stretching itself toward the upper echelons of the industry. When you couple these design touches and performance improvements with Kia's consistently high ratings in industry quality and satisfaction surveys, Kia becomes a compelling option. 

So if you’re shopping in that mid-tier luxury sedan or fastback segment, and if it’s performance, not badging that cranks your gears -  you should give the Stinger a shot.

Pricing: 2018 Kia Stinger
2018 Kia Stinger GT: $44,195
2018 Kia Stinger GT Limited: $49,995