Kia Stinger GT-S: Driven

The top-of-the-range Kia Stinger GT-S is one of those 'gift horse' sort of introductions to the junior performance saloon ranks. It's Β£5,000 cheaper than a BMW 440i Gran Coupe, eight grand cheaper than a Jaguar XE S, and, by Kia's estimation, quicker to 62mph than both. So if it wasn't so obviously part of a road tester's job to look it square in the kisser and ponder if it really is the grand coming-of-age that it's cracked up to be, perhaps we needn't bother. We could just say, "alright, it's pretty cheap, it's pretty quick, it looks pretty nice. Let's leave it at that." It'd make my job a lot easier.

Thing is, you can't help staring the Stinger in the mouth. Not to mention straight down the nostrils too, as well as right down the lateral bumper air intakes - and then glancing momentarily into the bonnet vents while you're at it. The frontal aspect of this car is not short of orifices to peer into. Not all of them are particularly flattering, it must be said. And neither, by the way, are all of the comparisons you might make between this car and the more complete and convincingly upmarket premium-brand options it's out to undercut.

The basics are fundamentally promising, of course - which is precisely the point with the Stinger. Having spent so long bringing more cost-effective (read dowdy) transverse-engined, front-driven saloons to the UK, Kia set out to bring a concept car directly to the road with this. And also to adopt the mechanical conventions of a longways engine and driven rear wheels that the established luxury car set has largely remained true to for as long as anyone cares to remember.

In the range-topping Stinger GT-S' case, it's a twin-turbocharged V6 engine with 370 horsepower and more than 370lb ft of torque, and it drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a proper limited slip differential. Suspension is all-independent and features adaptive damping here as standard. This is Korea's sporty, youthful automotive brand showing that it can match the technology you get on an Audi S5 Sportback or Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic (continental European and American versions of the top-line Stinger being four-wheel drive) and therefore deserves an upgrade in your estimations.

Kia says your backside is more than six inches lower, nestled into the nappa leather driver's seat of the Stinger GT-S, than it would be in an Optima saloon. In this tester's view the car's driving position could be lower still, but it's certainly low enough to sit you close to the car's roll axis, and to guard against that feeling of unwelcome loftiness you can find in more conventional four-doors.

The cabin around you is evidently well-equipped. There's a head-up display in front of you, the usual controls for your heated and ventilated seat on the transmission tunnel, a wireless smartphone charger at the foot of the centre stack, and further up a protruding 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, the graphics and general usability of which aren't in Audi's league but are a long way from damning.

Is it 'luxurious', though? Despite how hard Kia may have tried to create a classic gran turismo vibe here, I'm not sure everyone will be convinced. The Stinger avoids looking or feeling cheap in most places, but nowhere does it really succeed in striking a genuinely rich or expensive note.

The leather-effect roll-top dash is ordinary to the touch, and most of the switchgear feels plasticky, though robust, in your hands. The cabin's chrome accents look okay where they're applied, but feel quite plain. And equally disappointing to the touch are the car's gearshift paddles, the flimsy-feeling parking brake switch and the five-position drive mode selector. All are regular points of contact; all were opportunities to show that Kia could produce a ritzy material finish and a classy haptic feel. And all are ultimately opportunities missed.

Like most of its high-style mid-sized executive rivals, and unlike a conventional saloon, the Stinger has a 'liftback'-type bootlid with a sizeable and predictably accessibly boot under it. It's certainly got room for four adults on board too, with second-row accommodation being quite generous for legroom if a little tight above the shoulders.

You could, in short, replace something like a Audi A6 or BMW 5-Series with this car, if you fancied trading out of a less powerful and less eye-catching but larger German option. The Stinger certainly isn't only a rival for the Audi A5 Sportbacks and VW Arteons of the developing executive niche - though that's mostly what it is. If you look closely at some of the Stinger's exterior design details, in fact, you'll find nods to the likes of the Porsche Panamera and Maserati 4200 GT here and there - and they're worn surprisingly comfortably, too.

The Stinger GT-S doesn't take itself that seriously as a performance machine - and that might be its biggest strength. Kia's decision to aim for a composed yet comfortable, long-striding, 'grand touring' dynamic character has saved it from the uncompromising ride and handling it might have had if aimed directly at the likes of the M4 and Giulia Quadrifoglio.

It has elected, instead, to walk - or, perhaps, jog - before it can run. And as a result, the Stinger has quite a broad base of appeal as a driver's car; it rides with suppleness and fluidity over a testing B-road, gripping pretty keenly through the bends and handling with particularly impressive balance and agility. The car makes a real asset of its rear-driven platform and carefully-set grip level, proving secure but nicely lively - and just a little bit throttle-steerable - with the electronic aids disabled. This is the first car in Kia's history to come with fully switchable electronic aids, by the way; it's one of the redlines that BMW M Division ex-pat Albert Biermann insisted on during the development of the car. And we're glad he did.

The combustive force of the Stinger's V6 engine feels a little soft under the accelerator. At times it responds a bit oddly to a linear pedal input, rushing in with more torque than you initially asked for when you're in either 'sport' or 'sport+' driving modes, only to go a bit flat through the proceeding half-inch of travel. That's one of several mild annoyances associated with the Stinger's 'sport' mode; next to some overly contrived imitation V6 engine noise played over the speakers, and a steering rack that becomes slightly too heavy and leaden to make for intuitive handling.

Thankfully in the car's default 'comfort' mode its engine sounds a bit more normal, its steering is that bit better weighted and its accelerator pedal makes engine torque easier to divvy out. In fact, the Stinger GT-S' driving experience comes together well in 'comfort'. It handles precisely and brings plenty of driver engagement to a twisting backroad - although Kia's failure to give the car's eight-speed automatic gearbox a properly locked-out manual mode is curious (the Stinger returns to 'D' much too insistently once you've flicked a paddle) and its steering could do with less filtering isolation and a touch more genuine feedback.

Remembering to hop up and down the gearbox at least once every thirty seconds or so in order to keep the car in manual mode can be quite annoying, but you get used to it eventually. And once you have, you can develop a pretty rewarding relationship with that V6 engine, which has plenty of mid-range wallop and revs with freedom. Perhaps even more meaningfully, you can also strike up a satisfying conversation with the car's chassis, which seems to relish being exercised on the road and probably wouldn't be far behind an Alfa Giulia or a well-specified BMW 4-Series for genuine rear-driven handling adjustability and dynamic flair.

So where does all that leave your feelings about this car at the end of a long drive? Some would say it's plainly not as complete as it needs to be to overcome the hefty grid penalty imposed by its shortage of brand allure: a Kia designed to beat BMW, Audi and Mercedes saloons simply can't afford any kind of vulnerability. The Stinger has several of those, and probably isn't too likely to tempt many totally rational thinkers out of their beloved German execs.

But if you're minded to cut it the odd break, you might very well feel differently. The Stinger GT-S is, after all, pretty cheap, pretty quick - and it looks pretty nice. It handles pretty sweetly, too, and has plenty going for it as a driver's car. All up, it's a pretty refreshing development for the generally closed shop that is the rear-driven, mid-sized executive saloon class. I suspect even Kia will be quite happy, for now, to leave it at that.

: 3,342cc V6, twin-turbocharged
Power (hp): 370@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 376@1,300-4,500rpm
0-60mph: 4.7sec
Top speed: 168mph (limited)
Weight: 1,780kg
MPG: 28.5mpg
CO2: 225g/km
Price: Β£40,495

Matt Saunders




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Comments (191) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Esceptico 03 Oct 2017

    I don't think it looks bad but it isn't cheap. Surely a BMW 440i gran coupe for a couple of grand more makes much more sense:

  • Norbury90 03 Oct 2017

    MPG: 28.5mpg

    I feel that this is a problem.

  • HeMightBeBanned 03 Oct 2017

    Looks are subjective, but to me it's rather unresolved. The name is pretty awful too. "Stinger". There's something a bit Alan Partridge about it.

    I'd be looking at a Mustang GT with a nice V8 engine.

  • Dave Hedgehog 03 Oct 2017

    Norbury90 said:
    MPG: 28.5mpg

    I feel that this is a problem.
    pretty good for a car nudging 400bhp

    utterly daft of them not to drop the price a little to get it under the 40k tax penalty level

  • HeMightBeBanned 03 Oct 2017

    Norbury90 said:
    MPG: 28.5mpg

    I feel that this is a problem.
    I didn't spot the mpg. My E63 (5.5L V8 twin turbo) manages a combined 27mpg. 28.5mpg out of a 6-banger is pretty weak.

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