On the Road Review: Kia Stinger GT

Not that long ago Kia was the car brand best known for efficient, compact transportation vehicles. This Kia Stinger GT blows up everything you knew about Kia.

Externally about the same size as the Optima or Hyundai Sonata, the Stinger is a sports sedan with a big plus — two actually. There is a huge fifth door functioning as a power liftgate, plus this rear-drive car is also available with a Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD system.

The Stinger comes with two different engines, each mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission featuring paddle shifters. Base power is supplied by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder spinning out 255 hp. GT2 trim adds a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 cranking out a stout 365 hp, a full 120 hp more than what the top Optima sedan offers. Let’s just say that the mid-range punch is extremely strong; two-lane passing requires little effort. In fact, most power requests require no extra thought, consideration or space, as the Stinger GT scoots. EPA mileage estimates are 19/25 mpg with the AWD, numbers that we exceeded.

While previous Korean sedans have labored over the finer details necessary to accomplish the subtleties of chassis balance practiced by the German automakers, the Stinger is among the closest offerings yet to reaching the composure required to compete with cars in this price segment — base price is $31,990; $52,300 as shown.

Day after day, the Stinger demonstrated how, as selectable chassis settings — Eco, Normal, Sport and Custom — let you choose how much grip, power, steering feel and chassis feedback your trip requires. Low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 4 performance tires exact a certain toll over less than perfect rural pavement, but when the road produces constant undulations, off-camber turns, and sweeping grades, the Stinger is ready to play, hard. As the pace quickens the chassis didn’t fade either, a desirable trait in any sports-oriented car, no matter how many doors.

So while the Stinger GT reflects the recent Korean emphasis to chase the Germans (the Kia and Hyundai team is led by former Audi designers), this Stinger executes the plan very well. Mimicking the Audi A7 and BMW Gran Coupe models — power, performance, AWD, five-door functionality — the Stinger even embraces its sport mission with wider rear haunches that look like, oh my gosh, a Porsche 911’s rear view. When did you last read Kia and Porsche in the same sentence? Stare down the flanks and you’ll swear that the Stinger is descended from the premier German automaker’s family.

Inside, not much has been missed either as clean controls, simple displays and solid ergonomics clearly state that the Stinger team sweat the details. The sports seats can hug your torso, but you’ll most admire the power cooling system for the leather hides. We once celebrated heated leather (still prefer heated cloth, personally) but once you enjoy power-cooled leather seating, you’ll never go back. With the humid summer we had, it would seem to be irresponsible not to have cooled leather seating.

Some buyers might ask why the interior lacks the red piping and stitching accents to mirror the vibrant paint scheme of the exterior, including the Brembo brakes, but there is not much to fault inside other than the unusual push-button park button instead of “park” on the shift lever. One could easily conclude that Kia nailed the styling, the content, the whole sports sedan look.

GT2 trim brings a wealth of accessories: memory sport seats, Harman Kardon audio, 8-inch navigation screen, Smart Cruise, heads-up display, lane keeping system, driver attention warning, blind spot detection, forward braking assist, rear cross-traffic, power sunroof, power liftgate, LED lighting, plus 19-inch wheels and the exciting engine. The normal Kia 10-year warranty is included.

Some buyers may want more mechanical fury, or at least electronic dual-note exhaust valves that better display this torrid GT. There is a slight burble from the quad-exhaust pipes, but you won’t be waking any neighbors if you exploit the Stinger’s throttle; this is a gentlemen’s express in the mode of the aforementioned Germans.

While the Optima connection is evident in some areas, there is also a strong hint of the Genesis luxury brand evident in the chassis, the overall styling, as well as the fit-and-finish. This is a polished machine that will definitely change perceptions.

It certainly did mine. After seven days, my initial reactions and preconceived notions had been erased. The Stinger GT was satisfyingly impressive and fun to pilot. The Kia never gave me pause to worry about handling, braking or how it might perform. This is a sports sedan deserving of long-term relationships.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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