Test Drive: 2018 Kia Stinger
Kia’s problem is not design, is not quality, is not value, and especially now that the 2018 Stinger is arriving, is not performance. Perception is the problem. And it seems as though nothing the company does, from winning quality awards to selling a true full-size luxury car, allows it to shake its image as an inexpensive alternative to something you’d really rather drive.
Styling and Design
If you’ve never considered any Kia to be cool, the Stinger provides cause for pause. Just look at it. Rakish and low-slung, the Stinger blends Kia’s handsome styling themes with classic long-hood, short-deck, rear-drive, gran turismo proportions. Also, like the Audi A5 Sportback and the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe against which it will compete, the Stinger’s fastback roofline hides hatchback practicality.
Inside, the Stinger boasts aircraft-inspired design, upscale detailing, and in some models, lush Nappa leather seating. With few exceptions, materials easily support a price range spanning between the low 30s and the low 50s.
Because the Stinger is a midsize car, it delivers more interior space than its aforementioned entry-luxury competitors. Technically a 5-seater, the Stinger is best used for four adults, each able to stow a full-sized suitcase in the 23.3 cubic-foot cargo hold (40.9 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded down).
Front seat comfort is excellent, though they could use improved bolstering for people who plan to drive the Stinger like they stole it. Rear seat comfort is remarkably good, but Kia’s use of hard plastic front seatback panels could prove problematic for those with lanky limbs.
Features and Controls
Stylishly rendered, the Stinger’s cabin has a unique look and feel compared to other Kias, and the controls are logically located and work intuitively. Familiar knobs control stereo volume, radio station tuning, and cabin temperature, while buttons supply access to climate system functions and main infotainment system menus.
Several versions of the Stinger are available. Prices start at $32,800 and rise to as high as $50,100. Each price includes destination charges but not options, such as all-wheel drive ($2,200).
Upgrading from base trim to Premium trim installs LED headlights and taillights, a power sunroof, a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, a larger driver information display and infotainment screen, a 15-speaker audio system, a navigation system, and more.
Choose the Stinger GT for significantly more power and performance. Subtle visual changes also distinguish this version, not the least of which are 19-inch aluminum wheels. The GT1 trim level adds back many of the features in the Premium trim, along with upgraded instrumentation.
At the top of the trim lineup, the Stinger GT2 is equipped with an electronic shift-by-wire transmission selector, a limited slip differential, dynamic headlights, a hands-free Smart Trunk opener, Nappa leather, additional power adjustments for the front seats, ventilated front seats, and a head-up display. The GT2 also has the full roster of driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies that can be added to the Stinger, all of which are optional on more affordable versions of the car.
Safety and Technology
The list of safety technologies that comes standard on the Stinger GT2 and is available on other versions of the car includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking. Additionally, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, and automatic high-beam headlights are aboard the GT2 (and optional on other trims). A Driver Attention Warning system monitors for drowsy or distracted drivers.
Equipped with the latest version of Kia’s Your Voice (UVO) technology, the Stinger also benefits from several free services that usually cost extra in other models. They include 911 Connect automatic collision notification as well as safe teen driving systems that provide alerts related to speed, curfew, and geographic boundaries. The UVO eServices package also includes a Find My Car parking minder, easy access to roadside assistance, and more.
The UVO touchscreen display sits atop the dashboard like a tablet computer, responding to input at the screen, through steering wheel controls, and via voice commands. It is a fairly sophisticated system, and is easy to navigate and to understand. During a half-day drive, however, I found the voice recognition system less than satisfying, falling short of the bar set by smartphone personal assistants such as Siri.
A 15-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system is available for the Stinger, featuring Clari-Fi technology designed to improve the quality of digitally compressed music files. It sounded good, faithfully reproducing everything from classic rock to reggae.
A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard in the Kia Stinger, making 255 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 260 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,400 to 4,000 rpm. Upgrade to the Kia Stinger GT for a twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 generating 365 hp at 6,000 rpm and 376 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,300 rpm and 4,500 rpm.
Both engines are bolted to an 8-speed automatic transmission driving the car’s rear wheels. An all-wheel-drive system is an option, able to send up to half of the engine output to the front axle as is necessary, and it features dynamic torque vectoring capability. Upgrade to the Stinger GT to get variable-ratio steering, Brembo 4-piston front and 2-piston rear calipers clamping bigger brake discs, available adaptive damping shocks, and 19-inch wheels and tires.
A brief drive in the Stinger Premium revealed a lively and entertaining car, one generating perhaps more raucousness than might expected, especially in terms of road noise. Thanks to all of the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine’s torque down low, though, it was quick, slicing and dicing through L.A. traffic without a problem.
On a stretch of twisty mountain road, the Stinger Premium felt alive in the driver’s hands, despite its 18-inch wheels, standard steering setup, gas-charged shocks, and less robust braking system. The lack of extra weight over the front axle, combined with rear-wheel drive, definitely helped the car to feel athletic both entering and exiting corners.
Switching to the Stinger GT2, the twin-turbo V6 supplies what feels like limitless power. Push hard on the accelerator, and you could be into triple-digit speeds before you realize it. On freeways, the Stinger GT is rock solid; cruising at 80 mph feels more like 50 mph. Such characteristics reflect the Stinger’s development and tuning in Germany.
So too does its performance on writhing canyon roads. The rear-drive Stinger GT rotates beautifully around corners, and the variable-ratio steering reduces the amount of input required at the wheel, which makes the stubby little paddle shifters more accessible for greater control over the drivetrain. Brake pedal feel and response impresses, too. I do, however, think that Kia could dial in greater stiffness when the car is switched into its Sport driving mode, helping to eliminate some of the excess body motion that makes the Stinger feel heavier than it is.
On an autocross course, the Stinger GT2 was fun to fling around, except for the hard surfaces where the driver must brace his or her legs due to the lack of seat bolstering in order to remain securely in place. Sport mode allows for some tail-happiness in corners, if you want to drift the car a bit. If you want to hustle, especially on an autocross or in inclement weather, I found the all-wheel-drive system beneficial.
Hype shall accompany the rollout of the 2018 Kia Stinger. It is justified.
Though it is not an SUV (indeed, perhaps even because it is not an SUV), the new Stinger possesses the authenticity and credibility to change your mind about Kia. It is a car like few others, which makes it special. It has good looks to go along with its genuine utility. Finally, it delivers the materials, technology, and performance to necessary to bunch above its brand weight.
Nissan might claim that it sells a 4-door sports car. Kia is selling the real deal.