For those more traditionally disposed when it comes to fast cars - the popularity of Bargain Barges on PH would suggest a few are here - it's easy to be despondent given the current backdrop. When even Jaguar won't sell a saloon with more than four cylinders, you know it's bad. The BMW M550i below the M5 is great - but it's £70k; the Audi S6 is a diesel and Peugeot's intriguing 508 PSE costs more than an M2. It isn't hard to conclude that the sports saloon game is virtually up. Their popularity has undeniably waned as alternative bodystyles have usurped their place in the model hierarchy, and below the AMG and RS flagships the pickings are pretty slim. Nevertheless, they do persist.
Cue exhibit number one: the newly revised Kia Stinger GT-S, alive and well in 2021. It costs a few hundred quid more than an A5 S-Line diesel with 200hp less, it's stuffed full of equipment, looks great and drives really very nicely indeed. Oh yeah, and for this revised model, Kia has dropped the diesel and the four-cylinder petrol from the range, meaning the only Stinger available is the 365hp V6. Which is all sorts of backwards cool.
This really is the updated car, too, before you ask. Styling changes are modest, amounting to a fresh design of alloy wheel, new LED rear lights (joined by a light bar) and Electric Blue on the colour chart. Which our car didn't have. But why change it? The Stinger was a striking, handsome car at launch, and didn't need meddling with. Kia says the style was inspired by designer Gregory Guillaume's fascination with the classic grand tourers of the 1960s and 70s; that isn't going to change with something like a new grille, so the original remains, along with a lot else. And we're glad about that.
More attention has been lavished on the inside, which did require some updating. Handily, that's what's been done, with a swish new 10.25-inch touchscreen, a seven-inch display between the dials for the driver and a 64-colour ambient lighting system. Which sounds naff, but works wonders for a sense of occasion at night. Assuming you haven't lit it up in seedy-club hot pink.
It all serves to improve what was essentially a very good cabin. Not 'very good' as in one brimming with chintz and theatre, rather in one that absolutely nails the basics. It is seldom that a modern interior sorts all the functional bits as well as the Stinger does. The excellent seat drops so low you end up raising it off the floor a tad, the wheel is sensibly sized, thin and with logical buttons, the analogue dials are a model of clarity, the HVAC controls are within easy reach and simple to operate... It sounds stupid, but having endured touchscreen air-con, cheap-looking configurable instruments and steering wheels from spaceships, it's a joy to engage with a dashboard - one with all the tech you could ever reasonably want - that just works. Even the newly installed active safety kit is well integrated and easily configurable. And everything feels of decent quality. Alright, perhaps the touchscreen is a bit of a reach, but there's little to fault otherwise.
Continuing the theme, dynamic changes for the Stinger are subtle. Kia says the dampers have been retuned and the electric power steering revised; that's in addition to the fitment of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, in place of the old Continentals. Otherwise it's unchanged, the slightly lower output compared to launch a result of previous WLTP-imposed changes.
As such, the driving experience is only ever so slightly different, but that's no bad thing. "Stinger is not a hard-edged sports car created to be brutally fast at the expense of comfort", says Kia. "Rather, it is about the joy of the journey". Look elsewhere for a stiffly suspended, hyper agile, circuit ready four door, basically - this isn't it. (The fact that both BMW M and AMG have recently softened off their M5 and E63 would suggest buyers aren't so keen, either.) Instead, it's a supple, subdued, relaxing yet rewarding fast saloon, as appealing in reality as that summation hopefully sounds. Kia talks of journeys with the car where "getting to the final destination can be an anti-climax"; which sounds daft, of course, but this is unquestionably is a car to relish spending hours behind the wheel of - even with just a little more wind noise than would be ideal.
The Stinger isn't trying to be something it's not, which aids that impression enormously. 'Eco' mode doesn't kill all throttle response or coast at every opportunity, because this is never going to be an efficient car; by the same token Sport doesn't tense the car unbearably, because it's not intended to work on track. In fact, the new power steering, with more assistance in Sport mode, has actually helped, eliminating some of the unnecessary heft that was there before.
The joy of the Kia is in the nuances lost on more overt alternatives. The brake pedal has great feel, the damping is assured, the limited-slip diff is decisive and the new tyres have improved grip without upsetting the balance. 'Cohesive' isn't a sexy word when it comes to assessing cars, but it is a valuable one, and that's exactly how the Stinger feels. Every dynamic facet appears to work in near perfect harmony with every other; the steering rate of response chimes with the front end, available traction is nicely matched with torque, and the not inconsiderable weight feels well managed between front and rear. The end result is a really satisfying car to drive at all speeds - sometimes lacking an attention grabbing feature is no bad thing.
Consequently, it seems surprising that more Stingers haven't been sold, even allowing for badge prejudice. Sadly, it's the powertrain that might have sealed its fate. While the 3.3-litre twin-turbo is plenty fast enough, and six faintly rasping cylinders will always be preferable to four, official scores of 28mpg and 229g/km do the Kia no favours as either a private or company car purchase. They're the same figures as a 510hp M3 Competition, put it that way. Further down the 3 Series range, an M340i is far more efficient, keener to rev and paired with a sharper gearbox. If not the Stinger's undoing, the engine is not its strongest suit by some distance.
Which is a shame, because as a driver's car the Stinger is finely honed and deeply impressive, proof that flagships don't need drift modes or circuit packs or wild exhausts to engage a thoughtful person behind the wheel. With its new equipment and design, too, it's a more compelling overall package than ever, at just £2k more than its 2017 launch price. If you can afford to run it and don't mind telling the neighbours how your Kia is better than their Audi (send them our way, if needed), then the Stinger promises to be fine company for many, many years to come. At which time the used ones should be centre of attention in whatever Bargain Barges volume we're onto by then...
SPECIFICATION | KIA STINGER GT-S
Engine: 3,342cc, twin-turbo V6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 365@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 376@1,300-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 168mph
MPG: 28 (WLTP)
CO2: 229g/km (WLTP)
Price: £42,595 (price as standard; price as tested £43,270 comprised of Hi-Chroma Red paint for £675)
1 / 15