SANDY — Kia is not the first automaker to try and beat the German sport sedans at their own game, but it is the only non-luxury automaker I can think of to claim they can.
Perfecting the sports car is one thing. Mastering luxury is another. But to do both takes dedication and a willingness to enter price paths that Kia has rarely tread. Kia demonstrated that dedication by hiring former designers and executives of both Audi and BMW to help usher the 2018 Kia Stinger to market.
Kia’s first effort is a good one and brings with it the promise of what is to come from future model years.
Todd Grace, sales manager of Jerry Seiner Kia in South Jordan, is confident the car can lure luxury buyers to Kia dealerships.
“It’s interesting to see near-luxury and luxury buyers come in on a whim because they’ve seen the positive reviews or read a magazine article comparing this car to the top brands," he said.
The Stinger does not shy away from its South Korean roots. The car's design cues resemble the Optima sedan's, but the Stinger takes a more aggressive stance that is clearly German-influenced. The Stinger's profile could pass for that of an Audi or BMW sedan.
The tall and muscular rear end — with its true GT fastback design and hatchback-style deck lid opening — is a perfect styling touch. The large dual exhaust outlets and unique reflective markings that wrap around to the rear tail lights set the Kia apart.
The Nappa leather and soft-touch dash, door panel and center console materials are well-appointed and attractive. While the materials themselves don’t rise to pricier German sedan standards, Kia has done an excellent job carrying the sporty feel of the exterior inside without making it garish or gimmicky.
The Stinger's best interior feature is the infotainment system layout, which blends the touchscreen with physical buttons and knobs in a way that is better than more expensive infotainment systems that often rely too heavily on one physical controller or the screen itself.
The Stinger's all-wheel drive and potent 3.3-liter turbo six-cylinder engine round out the sporty package.
The Stinger's front lacks the elegance and punch of the rest of the car. In fact, the front of the vehicle could be mistaken for an Optima at a glance.
The front air effects and a lower grill do set it apart from other Kias, however. The South Korean automaker has resisted the urge of other Asian manufacturers to assault the senses with a massive grill — perhaps a safe choice that would benefit from something more.
Performance is where Kia promised to rival the Germans, and, while it is a great first effort, the Stinger falls short when the driver demands the most from the car. The Stinger's sure-footed highway handling (complimented by a limited-slip differential and multi-link rear suspension with struts up front) becomes sloppy when the driver pushes the car through corners.
The eight-speed automatic transmission, with rev matching manual mode and paddle shifters, is confident and smooth — except when hard driving brings the engine closer to redline. It's then that the transmission seems apt to guess and hesitate. The hesitation in the shift responses can become frustrating, even when the driver uses the paddles.
The Kia performs well and sounds great when driving in a straight line. The Stinger goes from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, and the car's grand touring setup and passing power are true pleasures. But the German sedans the Kia is gunning for leave the Stinger behind in the canyon corners.
This may sound back-handed, but the highest compliment I can pay the Stinger is that the car's interior and sporty handling made me at times forget I wasn’t driving a sport sedan from Europe. I’m a sucker for round vents, metallic trim and a layered dash.
The overly-prominent Kia logo on the steering wheel erased any fleeting feeling that the Stinger was an Alfa or Mercedes, though. Whether it's fair to Kia or not, the Stinger will have to overcome the stigma of not being a luxury-branded car, complete with the luxury dealer experience that typically comes with spending more than $50,000.
I doubt those used to the luxury dealer perks will try to save a few thousand dollars at the Kia dealer. The fully-equipped Stinger GT2, however, is worthy of those considering a luxury sport sedan for the first time.
But what could turn the tide for the Stinger is if Accord and Camry buyers considered spending a little more for the four-cylinder version of this car. The Stinger offers something far more satisfying than the status quo for those previously loyal to Honda and Toyota.
- Vehicle type: front engine, rear- or all-wheel drive, five-passenger, four-door hatchback
- Engine: twin turbocharged and intercooled V6, aluminum black and heads
- Displacement: 204 cubic inches, 3342 cc
- Power: 365 horsepower; 376 pound-feet of torque
- Transmission: eight-speed auto with manual mode and paddle shifters
- Wheelbase: 114.4 inches
- Performance: 4.7 seconds from zero-60 mph; 12.9 second quarter mile at 111 mph
- Fuel economy: EPA city/highway/combined 18/27/21 miles per gallon
- Price as tested: $52,500