The Game Changer

By Andrew Clarke
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The Kia Stinger GT isn’t just easy on the drive, it’s easy on the pockets as well

The days of Kia as a cheap car maker from Korea have been gone for some time, and while Kia’s SUV offering has changed the game—think Sorento and Sportage—it has taken the Stinger to provide a quantum shift in the brand’s image. Now Kia has bona fide rights as a performance car builder as the drop dead gorgeous Stinger GT makes it play for top end of the rear-drive family car market vacated by Ford and Holden.

The GT model, which we drove, has no real rival in the circa-$60k bracket. It is quick, very quick, rear drive and seats five people in comfort—so long as they aren’t too tall in the rear. It is also stylish and really nice place to be. Yes, it is not German and you can feel that in spots, but it also doesn’t have the price of them either, with prices starting at $50,000s and stretching into the high $60,000s with a seven year warranty!

But it is not perfect. The rear seats can be a little compromised—there’s not much room for feat under the seats and some taller passengers may find the head room a little limited. The boot is also a little shallow but still capable of storing a fair amount.

It is a good car through. A very good car, and all you have to is get over the badge shock and accept the Stinger for what it is.

The Package

The stunning yellow GT sits at the top of the Stinger tree. It is well packaged and has some nice features, with pretty good design and ergonomics. Everything works as it should and is placed where it should be, which sounds easy but is not always true with cars.

The outside is low and swoopy. The Kia signature grille with the deeper front bumper of the GT give great presence from the front. Then the design flows all the way back to the stumpy rear end with the large opening hatch. Four chrome covered exhaust pipes are the dominant feature of the rear of the car, and they are real pipes too not the fake objects of some, although the twin turbos on the V6 do a good job of muffling the noise… and we’ll get to that in a minute.

The 19-inch wheels sit inside bulging wheel arches and give a portal to view the big red Brembo brakes that will be needed when we hit some country roads. The wheels themselves are a combination of black and bright chrome and do the job of hinting at the performance that lies underneath. The side vents are fully functional, providing an exit point for the air being forced over the brakes for cooling, the strakes on the bonnet though are fake.

Lighting in this car, as with many modern cars, is a dominant design feature but also works well. The tail lights are designed to accentuate the flowing lines of the car and to make the rear look broad and aerodynamic, sitting in balance with the rear diffuser that is a functional part of the aero balance on the car.

The headlights have enough features to keep the tech heads happy. The whole set-up is LED, from the daytime running lights to the highbeam and the complex nine faceted turning indicators that reflect the grille design. They punch holes in the darkness too, being up to the task of a super quick sedan.

If the outside seduces, the inside closes the deal. There are some spots where hard plastics seem out of place, but the cockpit is a very nice place to be. The seating is awesome, the amount of hugging from the side bolsters is adjustable, the heating and cooling always welcome and the level of adjustment guarantees a perfect driving position.

And then when it is all set and you want to get out, you can ask it all to move for easier entry and egress. The steering wheel moves up and pushes away from the seat, which gently slides back. You can turn off this feature, which could be handy of the regular passenger in the back is tall. Speaking of the back seats, they are comfy but a little limited. The roofline is low and there is not much foot room under the front seats, so at times it can feel a little cramped. Getting in and out is also not so elegant for an old bloke like me, but the kids didn’t struggle.

All the gizmos and more are there. I am not a huge fan of the touch screen that looks like an afterthought, but Kia is just following a design trend here. A poor trend mind you, but common from premium cars like Mercedes-Benz. To me, it cheapens the interior.

That said it works well. It hasn’t been over thought and Kia has just kept it simple, which is why it works so well. You don’t need teenage kids to explain how to enter an address in the SatNav, you just put in it. No over thinking, no spinning wheels, click pads or some other design feature that is just there as a point of different. Just type number, street and place. Genius!

The screen controls more than just the SatNav too, it is the crux of the car in terms of getting all settings to your own liking, but not to the exclusion of logic. If you want the seat coolers on, just flick the little button on the centre console, and follow the LED lights near the button to work out how cool… or warm since winter is coming. Change the drive setting by turning the dial that sits near the stumpy gearstick. Again, simple, including the customising.

The heads-up display is really good and clear and I could get all the info I wanted up there—directions, speed and warnings etc. That dash is clean and simple.

Now, the gee-whiz features. I loved, repeat loved, the wireless charging pad for my phone. Even if I didn’t have a suitable phone—which I do—it provided a great hole for the phone to sit in. A big tick here Kia.

The 360 degree camera also works really well. Remember I spoke about the Lexus LC500 and getting into tight parking spots, the camera gear on this car does such a great job of providing an overhead view of the car, or of close up parts as you pass poles in a car park, this you will never put a scratch on it yourself.

Driving

You can’t talk about the driving experience without first focussing on the drivetrain. The 8-speed gearbox is good, although I’d love a full manual mode rather than a temporary partial manual… then I could fully get the most out of the engine. The twin-turbo V6 is a beauty. It gets the Stinger to 100km/h in less than 5 seconds, which is very rapid indeed.

There’s a host of safety devices to make that all good too—stability controls, limited slip diff, dynamic damping… the list goes on and covers it all.

Kia says it tuned the suspension on the cars coming here to our roads. Whenever I hear this I always chuckle and think, ‘unlikely’. Whatever the deal, it works. The firm suspension is firm indeed but when you are going hard it is needed to cut the body roll and give you feedback, but it makes speed humps and the like incredibly harsh in the city. But relax, there is help at hand.

In Sport mode everything is sharper, including the gearbox shift points and patterns. So I like this mode. Even the artificial exhaust noise coming through the stereo is good, but the car is no louder on the outside so you can still sneak home late at night with a turbo-woosh.

The custom mode allows you to change the settings, so I can keep all the sharp bits with softer suspension. Nice.

It can feel a little nervous at times, but it never does anything strange. The grip levels are high and the feedback beautiful. Progress can be very rapid, and the view from the low slung driver’s seat is filled with blurred images and trees transferring from the front window to the rear.

One last note on the drive experience, you will need the blind spot detection system. I couldn’t get the drivers’ side mirror to wind out far enough to cover the blind spot, so the electronic system is crucial. It is on the GT, but not sure if it is available on the lower models at all since there doesn’t seem to be an options system on Kia—hopefully Kia will change this.

For the record, there lies my biggest complaint with the car… which is not bad at all.

The Future

If the stinger is an indicator of Kia’s future, it is indeed very bright future. As a first up effort in this marketplace, it is very good and takes it away from its Korean sister Hyundai, which has nothing like this in terms of sharpness and performance.

Hopefully Kia will go Supercar (no longer needing a V8) racing to improve the brand recognition in this marketplace, there is nothing better than motor racing to highlight the performance of a car. Even if the road to race car reality is a little different.

I am interested to see what else Kia can do now, and how this momentum flows into all the cars it builds.

Don’t make the mistake of writing the Stinger off just because it is a Kia. It is quick and comfortable, well equipped and incredibly competent on the road. It is in so many ways a game changer for Kia, and it is a true sports sedan.

Yes, it is not Audi A5 (which the Europeans want to compare it will even though it is smaller) or A7 which is closer to be a natural rival (albeit larger), but it is considerably cheaper and only missing on the small things. The real test is would I own one, the short answer to that is yes. Just got to work it all out now—hello Alpha Finance, what would it cost me?

And I want the yellow one, or the stunning matte looking grey.

The Kia Range
  • Picanto—new and stylish micro hatch
  • Rio—small hatchback that is keenly priced
  • Cerato—sedan and hatch versions, still rated as a small car but almost not
  • Soul—love it or hate it styling in a small wagon
  • Optima—mid-sized sedan, good looking but not as dynamic as a Stinger
  • Sportage—class leading small SUV
  • Sorento—class leading large SUV
  • Rondo—mid-sized people mover with seating for 5 or 7
  • Carnival—class leading large people mover for 8 people
  • Stinger—fun large sports sedan
See Also
  • New Holden Commodore—European built but good for five people still. Range topper comes with all-wheel-drive and plenty of power.
  • Ford Mondeo—matches the small engined Stinger, but not the GT. Updated model coming soon. Top of the range is the Kia start point.
  • Mazda6—Not as quick but beautifully built and refined. Top of the range is the Kia start point.
  • Skoda Superb—Underrated and worth a look. Not as quick, but superb build quality and design.
  • Toyota Camry—Top of the range hits the start point for the Stinger. Nowhere near as dynamic or as nice.
  • Hyundai Sonata—See Camry Notes.
  • Subaru Liberty—Pretty evenly matched and nearly as fast. All-wheel-drive but has a CVT (an auto gearbox that feels like a slipping clutch) which I personally hate!
  • Audi A5 or A7—A5 is smaller, A7 is larger. Both are pricier, and by some margin if you want to be as quick.
  • BMW 4-Series or 6-Series—4-Series is smaller, 6 Series is larger. Both are pricier, and by some margin if you want to be as quick.

 

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