A smart, sporty, svelte South Korean assault on the prestige market dominated by the famed German brands. Alvin Thomas on why you shouldn’t be put off by the badge
The word ‘fantastic’ is defined as “extraordinarily good or attractive” in the Cambridge dictionary. If you are wondering why I would begin a car review with a lesson in English, then bear with me; for the car I reviewed this week is nothing short of fantastic. Or wait, maybe the Kia Stinger is a lot more than just fantastic; the car is fan-bleeding-tastic. As I would say: There’s literally no better word to describe it.
In any case, let me run you through the Stinger. It’s a front-engined grand tourer that pumps out 365hp to the rear wheels or (optionally) to all four wheels. Yes, yes, there’s no real way that you would have guessed the car to be a Kia; even if you real stare at the car. There’s definitely a whiff of German-ness to the car – and that’s more than what the car’s fastidious German designer – Peter Schreyer – brings to the table.
Case in point: The exterior design of the car is in line with the best in the business. Heck, I would think that the Stinger looks much better than most German and American sports sedans and fastbacks currently out there. Everything, from the ‘Tiger Nose’ grille to the wedge-shaped headlamps and tasteful yet sharp and gaping intakes, reeks of sportiness.
Much of this carries onwards to the side profile too: It’s the perfect embodiment of a larger-than-life car that a car-fanatic student would sketch on the back of their textbooks. The sides are sleek, and the fastback profile is rather subdued.
The posterior of the car is splendid, save for the generic tail lamps. However, it does redeem itself with the quad-exhausts fixed in conjunction with the gloss black diffuser, and the staggered 19-inch alloys wrapped around sticky Continental tyres.
Moving over to the interior, the fit and finish is as good as that of any other car from Europe. Albeit, once you’re inside, it’s familiar territory, especially if you’ve driven a Kia before. Mind you: All I’m trying to say is that all the buttons and screens are placed where you’d normally expect to see them. The rotary a/c vents are a great addition, while the eight-inch touchscreen and the 720 Watts 15-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system are a blast… figuratively, of course!
Nevertheless, all the upper portions of the cabin are wrapped in soft leatherette surfaces, while the lower panels – as you’d expect in any car of this segment – are completed in harder plastics. Still, the noise you get when you thump your hands on the dashboard are reminiscent of the aristocratic “whump” that you receive when you do the same in a BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
The front seats are cushy and sizeable and offer excellent levels of side bolstering and lumbar support. This can also be said about the rear bench, although it does offer superior head and leg room than most of its competitors. Speaking of which, the boot – courtesy the hatchback-style liftgate – provides easy access to the inside. It’s big enough – at 406 litres – to lumber along about six suitcases at any given time.
The Koreans haven’t skimped out on the safety features either. They include front, side and knee airbags, ABS, ESP, traction control and brake assist. Meanwhile, optional safety features include blind spot monition, front collision warning, parking distance warning front and back and rear cross-traffic alert.
Now let’s move over to the front end – the side of the car that houses the superb 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6 that pumps out 365 horses and 510Nms of torque. This layout is further complemented – to an extent – by an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual override capability.
The result of all this maniacal power and torque is a 0-100kph time of 4.9 seconds. But simple figures don’t tell you the whole story. Where the Kia Stinger… well… stings is in drivability.
To drive, the Stinger is sorted on all fronts. The initially unassuming chassis turned out to be quite charming a few minutes into my drive, while the forgiving suspension and the decently tuned gearbox worked in tandem to keep the car hide its weight (approximately 1,800kg) and keep the car quick on its feet in sharp corners.
Oversteer is attainable if you dare to push the car into a corner hard, but for most parts, the car progresses on the road with neutral (but still sporty) characteristics. Of course, Kia allows you to alter the driving, engine response and even the steering modes with the pushes of buttons, but there’s not a great distance between each setting save for ‘Eco’ perhaps.
There’s also a ‘Sport Plus’ setting that sharpens up the engine, tranny and suspension and adds weight to the steering. That, alongside the disabled ESP system (in this mode), makes for a rather fun drive. The limits are well within reach, and the drive is on a par with certain rivals from the German stables.
But should things go out of hand midway through a corner, keep in mind that you can only work with the variable-ratio electric steering and the merciful Continental tyres to bring you back into the line. It’s a sharp and intuitive system, but – like all electric layouts – it doesn’t translate much road feel to the driver. Thankfully, and unlike the Alfa Romeo Giulia we tested earlier, the quick-ratio steering responds with grace, as opposed to simply locking out the front wheels with a simple twitch of the steering.
Much praise can also be sung about the Brembo brakes: It’s powerful and linear, but also quite efficient in the way it performs, especially during normal road driving. Au contraire, it offers superb stopping force when you need it – which is commendable when you take the overall weight of the car into consideration.
South Korea has produced some fine cars over the years, but a grand tourer to rival – and on many levels edge out – cars of the likes of the Porsche Panamera or the BMW 4 Series was quite a shocking revelation. While that may come across as high praise, I must point out that the Kia Stinger stands out in my books because it delivers on all its promises. And when you’re shelling out only a portion of what you normally would over any other German car, this comes to me as more than just your run-of-the-mill grand tourer. This may very well be the bargain of the decade. Well done, Kia. Well done.
Engine: Lambda 3.3 T-GDI
Max Power: 365/6,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission