With its new Stinger, Kia is well placed to convert those disenfranchised folk left with slim pickings after the departure of the Aussie-brewed rear-drive sports sedans. Can it fill the void?
Kia is doing good things at the moment. On the home front its Sportage is one of the market’s best sellers and the brand’s international reputation is on the up after topping renowned quality surveys. It has a solid range of sensible cars and SUVs, all representing good value but no Kia yet has been what you’d term desirable, until now. Kia’s Stinger is just the halo model the brand needs and it arrives at an opportune time in the Antipodes just as the Aussie-bred sports sedans sign off. So does the Stinger have the goods to fill the vacant niche of a reasonably affordable performance sedan? We’ve spent some time with the top spec GT Sport to find out.
But first to the details
The Stinger is the realisation of the GT Concept that the company revealed in 2011, and six years later we’re driving the production reality. As far as a concept to showroom design goes, this one has translated better than most; the long bonnet, cab-rearward stance and even most of the details have made it through, albeit in a more production-friendly form. Stinger sits on a newly developed rear-drive platform that also underpins a new Genesis, the G70.
They’ve doled out lots of high strength steel goodness and alloy suspension bits, the latter stiffened to ensure constant geometry. The GT models adopt continuously variable electric damping, a first for Kia. Called Dynamic Stability Damping Control, it is said to alter the damping rates on the move so the system will soften the front shocks and firm up the rear for added agility through corners, for instance. More on this later. Down Under Stingers have been further tuned by Kia Australia with stiffer springs, revised dampers and larger roll bars.
As the lead engineer for this car was German, there’s a multitude of drive modes, varying from Eco through to Sport which alters the usual characteristics; transmission, steering heft, those dampers and the throttle map. The steering is of the variable ratio kind for quick action in the turns and Kia has opted for a rack-mounted electric motor which they say enhances the response and reduces road shock through the column. The transmission is a traditional eight-speed auto of Kia’s own design, and it processes the power of a 3.3-litre V6, boosted by two turbos. The engine makes 272kW, and 510Nm of torque from 1300 to 4500rpm, similar outputs to the old XR6 Turbo.
The GT Sport, also gains an LSD, torque vectoring by brake and bigger Brembo brakes. Stinger is offered in three grades here, starting at $54,990 for the EX Turbo, which sports a 193kW/353Nm 2.0-litre four, and is also used by the GT Line which picks up a few more features, including the active dampers for $59,990. The full-cream GT Sport is $69,990. Included is scheduled servicing for four years/40,000kms and a five-year, 100,000km warranty.
How much Sting?
Kia claims a 0-100km/h time of 4.9sec, though this is surface dependent. On a stinking hot day with overheated tar causing a few traction issues we had a hard time dipping into the low fives. There’s a quasi-launch control setting allowing the auto to stall up more revs for the off but it also delivers an excess of wheelspin. Even with a softer launch, the torque still hazes the rears as the V6 winds past 3000rpm so a 5.2sec run had to do. It was consistent over the 80-120km/h trial, turning in 3.0sec passes all day. The stopping numbers were also affected by the molten road surface which added distance.
As for fuel use, it’s officially rated at 10.2L/100km and it can return anywhere from 8L/100km on the motorway to 20L/100km depending on throttle applications. The V6 delivers deceptive pace; it’s not silly fast but pleasingly quick. The throttle is sharp in Sport mode so the engine reacts smartly while the shove builds quickly and it puts on a decent show using the first 3000 units of the rev band. It feels more enlivened once past that mark however, and revs willingly to 6500rpm, by which time Stinger is gathering speed quickly.
Turbo’d V6s don’t typically top the best sounding engines list and this one isn’t a standout either. The burble at idle from the quartet of chromed exhaust tips is racy, although some might find the gruff note around town a bit loud. It has an augmented soundtrack, the Harman Kardon system used to amp up the tune as revs rise. It’s semi-amusing but lacks any rasping induction note or any pops and crackles from the exhaust. But perhaps GT badged cars don’t warrant such antics.
Floats like a butterfly?
With that GT badge on its rear, this isn’t a hard edged sportster, but its dynamic character doesn’t disappoint either. They’ve done good with the steering. It’s not amazing but it is quick, well weighted (by that we mean it’s not overly heavy) and it gives you a good notion of the action in tricky turns. The grip on the front is impressive, it’s hard to get it pushing wide though it is helped by a torque vectoring function, keeping your cornering line taught. In Comfort mode, quicker progress on twisting highways, such as the Number 22 in the northern Waikato, starts to become decidedly uncomfortable as the Stinger squirms around, but a quick twist of the drive mode dial brings more control in the Sport setting. This primes it for action, the firming of the ride bringing better control, yet the compliance remains, the Stinger taking crests and dips pretty much in its stride.
We aren’t sure they’ve nailed the constantly adapting DSDC suspension though; at times the rear end can feel a little loose. It sure makes for a lively drive but it’s slightly unnerving on unfamiliar tracks as it’s not a predictable trait. However, for the most part the Stinger exhibits a positive attitude to bends, the front diving in hard and it likes powering out, the rear easily rotated with a dose of throttle to improve those cornering capers. And the ESP allows plenty of leeway to give the tyres a hard time and let the tail wag slightly when provoked. It feels well balanced in the turns but there’s still 1800kg of mass that needs managing. The brakes are up for it with good power and decent stamina too.
Its auto delivers smooth and quick changes in a straight line, but down a winding road it dithers over gear selection and won’t hold a ratio off the throttle. It therefore needs to be paddled to avoid frustration, and these work well. Overall, the Stinger’s dynamics impress. It might be labeled a GT but it can still get down and dirty on some pretty demanding roads. So not a perfect 10 but it’s an enjoyable drive, quick enough and yet not overly demanding either.
Quality tops it off
They’ve made a good fist of the interior too. The Stinger’s cabin offers a mix of functional style and convention for ease of operation. It incorporates useful storage yet it looks interesting, and the materials are of a high grade for the price point, so too the finishing. The touchscreen is a bit of a stretch from the driver’s seat but its operation is straightforward, helped by a few hard buttons to ease navigation and sort ventilation swiftly. Sat nav is hardwired and there’s both Apple and Android compatibility. Traditional instruments are supplemented by a head-up display and a multifaceted trip computer.
The seats are wide but offer enough lateral support and there’s a decent range of adjustment with an electrically adjustable column. Leather used is fine Nappa, the sort the Germans reserve for their $200k offerings. The suede headlining would cost you extra in most German saloons too. With the sloping roofline, entry to the rear is eased by wide doors and while there’s enough leg room, feet fight for space under the seats but they have left enough head room thanks to a curving headlining. The seat’s pretty comfy, though three across will be a squeeze. Boot space we’d label as OK, but the hold is shallow and narrow between the suspension towers. You’ll still be able to fit a couple of suitcases or golf bags back there, while the rear seat split folds for the occasional longer load.
Active safety widgets include AEB, blind spot monitoring, and lane keeping, and there’s active cruise which works in slow moving traffic. This however leaves a gap just big enough for people to squeeze into when set to its shortest following distance, and it’s slow to accelerate again from a stop in traffic.
Commuting in Comfort mode delivers posh progress considering the 19-inch alloys while there’s little waiting for the engine to deliver its pull. The steering is easy and with just over two turns between the stops, it makes parking simpler, as does the clear picture from the multitude of cameras. And it’s easy to switch the view between them with buttons on the touchscreen. The rearward view is reduced by the nature of the sloping hatchback and those large C pillars but there are good side mirrors and blind spot watchers and those parking cameras will see you out of tight spots. This is as comfortable and useable as it is good looking.
As to competitors, they are thin on the ground at the price. There are 200 or so Commodore SS V models left in stock but the Stinger is a more sophisticated, higher quality package, while the closest Euro is the Giulia Veloce, which matches its looks and drive but not the level of fit out, after sales service and quality while still charging $10k more.
Whether your typical Euro buyer would consider the Stinger because of its badge is another thing. Those not dominated by such snobbery will find a compelling four-door GT-cum-sports sedan in the Stinger, but maybe not in yellow.
|Model||Kia Stinger GT Sports||Price||$69,990|
|Engine||3342cc, V6 TT, 272kW/510Nm||Drivetrain||8-speed auto, RWD|
|Fuel Use||10.2L/100km||C02 Output||239g/km|