Gorgeous inside and out, excellent performance and refinement, this new model is as capable as many higher-priced vehicles
Los Angeles-When I first drove the Kia Stinger sports sedan in Arjeplog, Sweden, this past winter, it felt pretty darned good.
Then again, what car isn’t fun when you’re tossing it sideways on a frozen lake?
How would it perform in the more-or-less real world of sunny California? Even if it was colder in California than it was in Toronto at the time …
The answer, in a nutshell — pretty darned good.
Stinger goes on sale later this year. Canadian pricing hasn’t been finalized yet, but in the U.S., it starts at $31,900, although that’s for a rear-wheel drive variant we don’t get back home.
The best estimate they can give Canadians now is under $47,000 for the base car, $52,000 for the GT version.
Does that sound like a lot of money for a Kia? Maybe, but wait until you see how it compares with European brands, which cost up to twice as much.
Stinger is at least partially the product of two German minds within one Korean car company. Kia’s president and chief ink thrower (more accurately these days, chief pixel manipulator) Peter Schreyer (ex-Audi/VW) has been messing with the concept of a sports sedan for a few years now, showing a prototype at the Frankfurt Motor Show back in 2011, styled by his European design chief, Gregory Guillaume.
The car was about halfway developed when Hyundai/Kia swiped Albert Biermann away from BMW’s M Division to be their high-performance development guru.
Biermann said during the Northern Sweden program that he was pleasantly surprised by the technical talent the Korean company had amassed. All they needed was a bit of direction, some fine-tuning, to build very capable road cars.
So, here ya go.
The objective was a ‘grand touring’ machine, a car that would be comfortable for four on a long trip, rather than an out-and-out sports car.
It is based on the parent company’s excellent large-rear-drive-oriented sedan platform, which also underpins the Kia K900 and Hyundai’s new Genesis models.
Initially, a 3.3-litre, twin-turbo V6 producing 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque will provide the motivation. At some unspecified later date, a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo (255 and 260, respectively) will join the party.
Consistent with the direction even sporty cars are going, only an automatic transmission will be offered, Hyundai/Kia’s own eight-speed.
While Stinger is available with rear-wheel drive in some markets, including the U.S., Canada will only get the full-time four-wheel drive variants, although the front-rear torque split will give the car the feeling of a sportier rear-driver.
Massive brakes from the Italian race brake manufacturer Brembo and Michelin Pilot Sport tires add to Sprinter’s credentials, not to mention adding to its performance.
It’s a handsome beast, for some reason reminding me a bit of the Dodge Charger. Beauty is as beauty does, with 55 per cent high-strength steel, and lots of structural adhesives expected to contribute to top-level crash test ratings.
Stinger has aerodynamic trickery including air ducts in the lower front corners which direct a curtain of air over the front wheels which helps reduce drag. Biermann’s former employer might feel a bit cranky about that because they showed this concept at a technical presentation when Biermann was still employed there.
Surely as a result of his previous work as an interior designer with Audi, Schreyer has been stressing the importance of interiors at Kia. After all, you only see the outside of your car twice a day — you experience the interior all the time.
Proper round dials allow you to monitor the car’s mechanicals. These are supplemented by easily reached controls on the handsome and well-finished flattened-at-the-bottom steering wheel.
Stinger has the unavoidable-these-days touchscreen which is easier to use than most.
There is the complete gamut of technology, ranging from the ‘blind spot warning system’ (everybody is capable of adjusting the side-view mirrors correctly to eliminate the blind spots) to the rear-view camera (nobody can see behind a car).
The SatNav system may be identical to what you get in a sub-20-grand Kia, but it is one of the easiest to use and clearest to view.
Everything inside is beautifully finished — Schreyer’s experience as an interior designer is surely at work here.
My biggest beef inside? No surprise to regular readers — the automatic door locks cannot be un-automated.
I found the seats comfortable and supportive. Multiple adjustments should make them good for most drivers. The low-slung roofline does compromise rear seat headroom somewhat.
Our drive route took us up the Angeles Crest Highway out of Pasadena — you can actually put the car to a reasonable test of its cornering ability here without violating the speed limit — then north to the Hyundai/Kia Proving Grounds in the Mojave Desert.
One of the world’s great driving roads and virtually unlimited time on a private test track — what’s not to like? (Even if the jets roaring around the nearby Edwards Air Force Base were a shade disconcerting — what if those are cops with radar?)
These venues pointed out the duality of the Stinger. Drive the car moderately gently, and it’s a comfortable cruiser. Come across a couple of hotshot drivers in Porsches or Mustangs, switch the drive mode selector to one of the sportier settings to firm up the suspension and sharpen the steering, and go embarrass somebody.
No, no, I meant drive more quickly on the big slalom course they set up, or on the big handling circuit on the proving ground.
At the proving grounds, Kia also laid on several vehicles to which they feel the Stinger should be compared. What? A Korean company pitting their car up against the likes of Audi, BMW, and even a Porsche Panamera?
We were invited to back-to-back the Stinger against any of these. I won’t say the Stinger blew these bolides out of the water. The fact that it more than held its own was the point.
And it did. Sharp and accurate steering. Composed, capable handling. Strong performance.
Stinger’s dynamic torque vectoring control system on our test cars utilizes reductions in engine torque to assist momentary application of various brake calipers to help ‘steer’ the car around corners. It works, and seamlessly.
So, kudos to the Stinger. The extensive testing it underwent at the famed Nurburgring’s Nordschleife was time very well spent.
Kia Canada will only get about 200 Stingers for 2018, and they will surely have no trouble moving them.
Establishing Kia as a major player in this market and selling more than this handful of cars will be the trick.
With Europeans who formerly worked for competitors running the company, Kia understands the magnitude of the challenge. But as Wayne Gretzky famously said, you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.
Kia is taking a shot at this market. It is a wicked Auston Matthews-calibre shot.
Will it find the net? You will get a chance to help make that decision when the Stinger hits showrooms later this year.
Kia Stinger. 4-door, 5-seat grand touring coupe. Full-time four-wheel drive.
PRICE: $47,500-$52,000 (estimated).
ENGINE: 3.3-litre, V6, double-overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, direct injection, twin-turbocharged.
POWER/TORQUE: horsepower / lb-ft: V6 — 365 @ 6,000 r.p.m. / 376 @ 1,350 — 4,500 r.p.m.
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
TRANSPORT CANADA FUEL CONSUMPTION City / Highway (L/100 km): n/a. Premium fuel.
WHAT’S HOT: Gorgeous inside and out; excellent performance; as refined and capable as cars costing tens of thousands more.
WHAT’S NOT: Not much; oh, yes, non-deprogrammable power door locks; may take a while to earn the status kudos it so richly deserves.
COMPETITORS: Audi A5, BMW 4 and 6 Series, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Not to belabour the point, but to see if Kia can crack the big-ticket barrier.