• Available for £24,000
• 3.3-litre V6 petrol twin turbo, rear-wheel drive
• A fine all round performance car…
• …if you don’t mind it being a saloon
• Nothing much seems to go wrong
• Even the oldest one has three years’ warranty left
The Kia Stinger saloon was launched to quite a reception at Detroit in early 2017. This show is traditionally headlined by US manufacturers but Kia snaffled am awful lot of attention with its first grand tourer, its first rear-wheel drive car, and – in the range-topping version – its most powerful and fastest accelerating production car ever.
It had taken an effort of will for Kia to go down this route. As a big-numbers producer of cheaper cars they were understandably nervy about being able to sell enough Stingers to make it a success. Design guru Peter Schreyer had worked on the project with Kia’s design head Gregory Guillame, who had grown up in 1970s France when moneyed folk wafted their families about the place in gran turismo cars. On the Stinger launch Guillame said that the car had nothing to do with being the first to arrive. It was all about the journey.
He was certainly right about the speed of arrival. The Stinger was based on his Kia GT Concept which had first seen the light of day six years earlier at Frankfurt, and it then took the best part of another year after Detroit before keys (okay, it was keyless, but you know what we mean) started to arrive in sweaty UK journalists’ hands.
Fortunately for Kia it then took no time at all for a head of steam to be worked up among not just magazine road testers but also among potential buyers. Quite a few of those buyers who thought they were looking for a BMW 5 Series or an Audi A6 found themselves being sorely tempted by the Stinger’s long-bonneted, Coke-bottle-hipped fastback looks.
The performance orientation of the three-car range was alluring too, with the spec of two of the three models suggesting that you could actually be the first to arrive, if that sort of thing mattered to you. Alongside the 200hp 2.2 diesel was a 245hp 2.0 petrol with a sub-six-second 0-62 time, but the car we’re going to be concentrating on here on is the twin-turbo 3.3 litre V6 petrol. Not only because it had more power (370hp) and a sub-five-second 0-62 time, but also because if you’re going to go in for something like this on the used market, surely you should be going big, especially with depreciation having snipped the 3.3’s secondhand entry price to a level not that much higher than those of the lesser siblings.
The Stinger was very much about showroom impact. Once the punter had laid eyes on its sultry looks, inside and out, taking a test drive was a natural next step. This only lured them further into the web as the Kia went very nicely indeed. It had a well-crafted interior, a sporty driving position that made you forget it was a family car, and bundles of kit, not just the toys you expect from a high-end car but also the safety stuff. Even entry-level GT-Line cars had auto emergency braking, lane keep and high beam assist, plus driver attention and speed limit information systems to go with their full leather interior (including dash, wheel, gearshifter and armrests) and an Alcantara-like headlining.
On top of that you had an eight-inch infotainment screen, seven-inch TFT info screen between the main analogue instruments, head-up display, eight-way power seats (heated at the front with power cushion extenders and power lumbar adjustment), digital radio with nine speakers and a subwoofer, and a heated steering wheel. In 2018 that base GT-Line model cost you £5 below £32k in 2.0 petrol form, or just under £33,900 as a diesel, pretty decent value for an individual sort of car.
The midrange GT-Line S added blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert as well as a wireless phone charger, ventilated front seats and heated outer rear ones, a 360-degree view camera and a 15-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound stereo. Prices for the GT-Line S were £35,495 (2.0 petrol) and £37,395 (2.2 diesel).
The top-spec GT S came with Nappa leather, electronic adaptive dampers, Brembo brakes and 19in wheels. From the very beginning of Stinger sales in early 2018 this spec could only be ordered with the 3.3 engine, at a starting price of £40,495.
In September 2020 an updated Stinger came along for the European market. This featured styling tweaks inside and out, with LED lights front, rear and turn (with the indicators arranged in a chequered flag pattern), a new wheel design, a bigger 10.25-inch infotainment split-screen, and a more ‘executive’ cabin ambience through the use of new materials including aluminium for the centre console. A Saturn Black suede package joined the interior spec options, and you could start your Stinger remotely with a new smart key.
By early 2021 the 2.2 diesel and the 2.0 petrol had been quietly dropped from the range, leaving just the 3.3 which in the 2020 refresh received a small 3hp boost from the addition of a variable exhaust. A new 300hp 2.5 four-cylinder ‘Smartstream’ engine was pitched into the US market but it didn’t come to the UK.
So why were the cooking models dropped? Poor sales. Most Stinger buyers went for the big lad, presumably as a result of ‘Mustang syndrome’ which makes it embarrassing to admit that your butch car actually has a small four-pot under the bonnet. That and the usual suspect of an upcoming switchover to electric vehicles, with seven Kia EVs slated for release before 2027.
In July 2021, there were strong indications that Kia was going to bin the Stinger entirely by mid 2022 (or now, if you’re reading this fresh off the virtual press) with its most likely replacement being the Kia EV6 GT. Soon afterwards however we were hearing that the Stinger wasn’t going to be discontinued until the end of this year (2022). This was good news for the Australian police forces who had lost access to locally-built Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores – and for you if you’ve been thinking of getting yourself into a new Stinger sometime this year.
This is a used buyers’ guide though. If you share the opinion of those who consider the Stinger to be a brilliant car – and many well-informed observers do take that view, with Autocar singling it out for its ‘Game Changer’ award – this is where you can save quite a tidy sum. As noted above, a new 3.3 would cost you well over £40k in 2018, and today, in mid-2022, a new one will be more than £45,000 – but you can pick up a ‘pre-loved’ one for as little as £24,000. Not bad for a standout sort of car with a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty (ten years for the powertrain), which means that even the oldest Stinger from 2018 will still have at least three years cover left – assuming it’s not been doing 500 miles a week all its life of course.
Reassuringly, we’ve not seen any Stingers for sale with over 60,000 miles. On average UK cars seem to be in the 15-25,000-mile bracket. Interested yet? Is it worth the money, or are there some stings in the tail? Let’s don our beekeeping gear and chivvy ourselves into a hive of activity as we try to find out whether this car really is a honey. Right, that’s enough bee references, let’s bumble on into it.
SPECIFICATION | KIA STINGER GT S 3.3 (2018-on)
Engine: 3,342cc V6 24v twin turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 370@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 376@1,300-4,500rpm
0-60mph (secs): 4.7
Top speed (mph): 168
Weight (kg): 1,890
MPG (official combined): 28.5
CO2 (g/km): 225
Wheels (in): 8 x 19 (f), 9 x 19 (r)
Tyres: 225/40 (f), 255/35 (r)
On sale: 2018 - 2021 (revised 2021)
Price new (2018): £40,495
Price now: from £24,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The direct injection 3.3 V6 didn’t deliver its peak output of 370hp until 6,000rpm, quite high for a relatively large-displacement engine. Maximum torque started at a more useable 1,300rpm but some wondered why a twin-turbocharged 3.3 was only generating 376lb ft. It was only numbers though. On the road, the thought ‘this isn’t fast enough’ rarely passed through a Stinger owner’s brain.
Mid-range push in the 3.3 was impressive and highly accessible. An Active Sound System piped up the engine noise to a degree that was determined by whatever mode you had the Drive Mode Selector in. Onlookers could gaze in admiration at the quad-pipe exhaust on the 3.3 – although even the 2.0 petrol had that.
It was a direct injection engine with a single injector as opposed to more modern GDI (gas direct injection) engines which combine both port and direct injection, so the possibility of carbon build-up on the inlet valves must always be borne in mind. It’s probably a good idea to run fuel injector and/or intake manifold cleaners through the engine every 6,000 miles or six months. Fitting a catch can shouldn’t invalidate your warranty. There were no timing belts to replace as the cams were chain driven.
For a nice change the 8-speed gearbox was Kia’s own rather than something with ZF stamped on it. Left to its own devices it was a very fitting partner for the engine and made the Stinger really easy to drive. It included something called a Centrifugal Pendulum Absorber, which sounds like a name for a ‘70s prog rock band but in reality it was a device to reduce torsional drivetrain vibrations. The Drive Mode Selector provided five shift/throttle programmes and there was a limited-slip diff on all models, even the diesel.
Service intervals ran on an expensive-sounding six-month/6,000-mile schedule. In fact every other service was just a 30-minute oil change, so the ‘real’ services were every 12 months as normal. That’s why the package on offer from 2018 was £399 for the first three services but £819 for the first six (think about it). From a longevity point of view, old-school owners (as opposed to leasers) probably quite liked the idea of frequent oil changes. So would Kia you’d imagine, as this sort of plan would presumably have a reducing effect on warranty costs.
There were electrical issues on some early cars, usually traceable to a damaged front wiring harness which in the worst-case scenario could lead to short-circuiting and fires. These wiring harnesses were replaced free of charge in a late 2018 recall, so make sure the paperwork for that comes with any car you’re looking to buy. Tuned and/or chipped cars have been known to crack their spark plugs. Replacing the coils will usually resolve that issue. Some owners have noticed a petrol fume smell which was generally nothing more worrisome than an ill-fitting filler cap seal.
The Stinger was extensively tested on British roads as well as the Nürburgring, and it really showed. Despite the car’s high-ish weight the chassis did an excellent job of delivering just the right mix of direction changeability, ride comfort and body control. Besides the proven McPherson strut front, multi-link rear chassis, every Stinger had an LSD and a stability control system linked to a vehicle stability management system to correct any potential skids without the need for driver intervention. The 3.3 GT S had active damping too. Dynamic Stability Damping Control gave you a choice of Normal or Sport, the same settings being available on the electric power steering via the Drive Mode Selector.
Although all-wheel drive Stingers were available in many markets, all right-hand drive models were rear-wheel drive, and despite the staggered 19in wheels (9J front, 10J rear) the Kia did struggle sometimes to put all the power ultra-smoothly through to the road, but when grip was lost in a corner it tended to be a fun thing rather than a scary thing, Overall, a very creditable effort by the chassis engineers.
Both the petrol cars had ventilated discs all round, sized up to 350mm front and 340mm rear on the Brembo-collab GT S which had four pistons on the front units and two on the backs. If a car you’re trying out seemed to be emitting any unusual noises when turning the steering wheel there could be a braking issue.
Any clunking from the rear of the car on acceleration or deceleration could be down to wear in the driveshaft centre or diff supports, especially if the previous owner had been lacking in mechanical sympathy. There could also be some juddering during cornering but replacing the diff fluid with higher spec stuff usually fixed that.
In mid-2021 there was a big recall to sort out a dodgy circuit in the HECU (hydraulic electronic control unit) on around 58,000 cars. This item was responsible for the anti-lock braking, stability and traction control systems on Kia Sportages, Hyundai Tucsons and the like from the mid-2010s, but it also affected Stingers. If your car had that glitch you could end up with an engine compartment fire, but the solution was a quick in and out job, basically changing a couple of fuses.
Has the Stinger’s sharky front end dated well? You make the call on that, but even the most ardent owners would struggle under interrogation when it came to the 3.3 V6’s fake bonnet vents.
Rattling noises from above your head usually meant one of two things. Either the visor on your jousting helmet needed tightening up a little or the frame on your Stinger’s sunroof had gone wonky. It’s a hard one to describe in words but the fix involved stuffing something into the mechanism that was thick enough to stop the rattling but also thin enough to allow the glass to slide in the approved manner.
Colour choice is always a subjective matter but choosing Sunset Yellow as the default hue for a Stinger could fairly be described as a bold decision by Kia. Getting something a bit less urgent – Pearl White, Midnight Black, Ceramic Grey, HiChroma Red or Panthera Metal, sometimes called Thunder Grey – was a £645 option. A rather nice dark Ascot Green that shifted in different lights was added to the palette in the September 2020 refresh.
Every Stinger came as standard with good quality leather in black, light grey or red (which must have been quite a sight if it was ever chosen with the Sunset Yellow paint), keyless ignition, connectivity for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation with full European mapping, traffic messaging and heated front seats (with ventilation and heated outer rears in the mid-spec GT-Line S and the top-spec GT S). The infotainment screen was maybe a touch small but that was enlarged on post-’20 refresh cars.
Safety features included blind spot detection with safe exit assist, auto emergency braking technology, parking distance warning, driver attention warning, lane-keeping and lane following, rear-view camera, rain-sensing wipers, pedestrian and cyclist detection. In addition, all UK models had Smart Cruise Control. Some of these SCCs went slightly wrong, resulting in the system beeping for no apparent reason. Replacing the module didn’t fix it, but changing the bracket on which it sat did. Evidently some of these were the wrong type.
Stinger seats were very comfortable over long distances. Rear seat passengers were well looked after as long as they weren’t too far above the average height for European males. People of the lankier disposition would be short of space. Normal boot room with the rear seats up was 406 litres. With the rear seats down, that grew to an impressive 1,114 litres.
If you or your passengers didn’t like the pumped-in engine sounds coming through the speakers it was possible to disable the audio through the touchscreen. Some owners resorted to this to get rid of odd crackling/popping noises they were getting through the speakers. In some but not all cases that turned out to be interference from bad coil packs.
Another noise that you might find intrusive in your Stinger was a strange howl that could sound a bit like the noise we all like to entertain others with, the one where you blow over the top of an open bottle. On some cars it started at 60mph, on others 30mph, on some as low as 10mph. Various theories were tossed around the internet as to the cause, including loose underbody panels, worn wheel bearings, odd door mirror dynamics or improperly sealing air intakes. Kia initially said it was a characteristic of the car, then they thought it might be exhaust resonance. A popular theory on owners’ forums was something called tyre cavity noise, an effect that seemed to decrease if you went with 18-inch rather than 19inch wheels. Conti Sport Contact 5 tyres seemed to run quieter than the Michelin PS4s that were standard fitment.
On some Stingers the instruments could randomly start toggling through the light settings for DRLs, auto headlight function and the like, and the head-up display could go dim. This could happen even with low (sub-20k) mileage cars. The cause for that was almost always a faulty headlight switch. In the wider Kia empire this wasn’t a fault exclusive to Stingers. In some non-UK markets, there was recall in 2021 to sort out a software error that could cause inaccurate fuel gauge readouts.
The Stinger is one of those cars you could easily overlook but you really shouldn’t. Sure, German rivals felt slightly more premium inside, but the Kia was as capable and great to drive in max thrust mode as it was in potter mode. It was comfortable, roomy in the front, carried a good deal of cargo and looked smashing. And it was different.
So why was the Stinger such a sales flop? In the UK at least you can only think it was down to the badge and the fact that the saloon as a genre was pretty much done by the time it came out. The fuel consumption numbers and service intervals were a bit old-school too but that was no reason to deny the inherent merits of the vehicle, which were outstanding. The service thing wasn’t really an issue anyway when you looked into it. Who cares really as long as it all works in favour of the used buyer looking for a keen price? If you’re one of those people and you don’t feel like being press-ganged into the role of an SUV owner, you will find a hell of a lot to like in the 3.3 Stinger.
Like the prices. Of the 20 used GT S 3.3s on PH Classifieds at the time of writing, thirteen were under £30k and five were below £25k. That’s not much when you see what you’re getting. The other positive point to bear in mind is that Kia is one of those companies that have established credibility through a value-driven proposition backed by long, strong new car warranties. Having that kind of workaday car backup on what you could very reasonably call an enthusiast’s car is a feature that shouldn’t be lightly dismissed. In reality not much goes wrong with these Stingers so you’re unlikely to be calling up the warranty people anyway.
For more information on running Stingers there’s an owners group here. If you just want to steam straight in, the cheapest 3.3 Stinger on in late June 2022 was this 33,000-mile 2018 car in black at £23,800. For less than a thousand pounds on top of that you could halve the mileage by buying this GT S in what looks like Panthera Metal, yours for £24,700. Fans of brighter colours (and who ideally don’t get into cars wearing work clothes as it’s got the light grey leather interior) might prefer something like this cheeky red number at £24,499. The most expensive used GT S 3.3s like this snazzy orange one are knocking on the door of £40k, so they’re holding up pretty well against the new car price of £45k.
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