2018 Kia Stinger — Kia’s surprising real-deal sports sedan

By Jim Prueter

(April 9, 2018) In the rapidly changing world of automotive driving preferences, which has seen buyers cotton to sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks rather than family sedans in record numbers, Korean automaker Kia is swimming against the current with the latest addition to its lineup, the 2018 Stinger.

The Stinger is no ordinary run-of-the-mill mid-sized sedan. Rather, it’s a powerful mid-size sport-luxury “liftback” sedan that’s redefining the Kia brand.

In a segment that’s been owned by the best of the celebrated Bavarian brands including the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, we find beauty, near luxury and performance in the most unlikely of places with the class debut of the Kia Stinger, the automaker’s first attempt at a sporty luxury car.

To pull it off Kia went after and landed ex-BMW M Performance Division chief Albert Biermann for his chassis expertise, with the explicit mission to redefine the Kia brand and produce a vehicle that gives Kia some much needed sizzle. The Stinger was designed in Kia’s Frankfort, Germany, studio. Without question, the mission was accomplished. Stinger is highest performance production vehicle in the company’s history, a true GT.

The Stinger is available in five trim levels: Base 2.0L ($31,900), Premium ($37,100), GT ($38,350), GT1 ($43,250), and GT2 ($49,200). Rear-wheel drive is standard with torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive a $2,200 upgrade on all trim levels.

We spent our drive time in the Base-trim Stinger that comes standard with a 255-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The same engine-transmission combination powers the Premium but adds a sunroof, navigation system with an eight-inch touchscreen color display and Harman/Kardon QuantumLogic Premium Audio system.

A 3.3-liter twin turbo 365 horsepower V-6 with price differences attributable to additional controlled suspension selections, numerous options, luxurious accommodations and advanced driver assistance and safety features power all GT models.

From my first drive behind the wheel, the Stinger had me in its grips, leaving me with a narrative that took me beyond the boundaries of what I believed Kia was all about – even with the smaller, yet impressive, four-cylinder engine.

Sitting low with athletic good looks and a profile of a tiger ready to pounce, the overall styling is designed to be noticed with sleek yet powerful lines; it’s undeniably attractive.

Inside, the instrument panel leans towards the austere, not unlike the German brands, but is impressively well built with quality materials. Silver trims, both faux aluminum and the real metal is, in our opinion, overused but perhaps a better look than the staid look and feel of the BMW. We’ll leave the choice up to individual tastes.

Where Stinger really pulls off the huge value advantage across all trim levels is the massive amount of standard equipment that German brands charge extra for. This includes real leather seating trim (rather than leatherette, pleather or other faux leather seating), power adjustable driver and passenger seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay Smartphone integration, SIRIUSXM audio, dual-zone climate control, and comfortable, supportive seats.

Handling is forgivingly impressive and the car is much more agile than its size or weight suggest it should be. It’s quiet, rides well, steers with precision, handles incredibly German like and feels much closer to BMW 430i than one would expect. If there is a fault, it’s that there are too many driver modes – Eco, Smart, Comfort, Sport and Comfort – with minimal differentiation in the car’s steering, ride and engine response. However, for a first effort at building a credible sports sedan, Stinger is a very impressive result.

While I didn’t get the opportunity to drive a GT model, I’m told by journalist peers who did, that the ultimate performance in both power and handling is significantly more dynamic than the 2.0-liter four-cylinder models. It’s probably the one we’d buy for the allure of increased horsepower and dynamic handling.

Still, for about the same price as a much dowdier family sedan — Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima and others — our hand’s down choice would be the Stinger. It feels exceptionally roomy with a large back seat, and even with the $2,000 optional advanced driver assistance system package that includes almost all advanced safety features – forward collision avoidance, forward collision warning system, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, blind spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning, rain sensing wipers, smart cruise control and more – the MSRP on our Base model, including freight and handling, was just $34,800. And it comes with an industry best 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and 5-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty.

Bottom line, the Kia Stinger is a legitimate rear-wheel drive sports sedan with attractive good looks, a sumptuous cabin, impressive engine choices, and nimble handling. We think it’s enough to entice consideration for those shopping the German sports sedan offerings.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $31,900 - $49,200
Price as Tested: $34,800
Powertrain: 2.0-liter 255 hp Turbo four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 22-MPG City – 29-MPG Highway
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: As of this writing the Stinger has not been crash tested for results by either the NHTSA or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Competes With:
Audi A4
BMW 4-Series
Jaguar XE
Lexus RC
Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Fab Features
Impressive turbocharged engines
Fun-loving driving dynamics
Terrific good looks inside and out