Kia Stinger — Challenging the elite

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Korean auto company known for its nondescript economy cars of the '90s has surprised the automotive world over the past decade with new, fresh, head-turning designs including a revitalized mid-sized Optima sedan that now competes with the best of the segment; a funky little Soul hatchback that will wow you over with its driving demeanor, and the mid-sized Sorento crossover that has earned numerous awards.

So what's next for the emerging Kia brand? Meet the gorgeous J.D Power Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) winner Kia Stinger, ready to challenge the European competition with an aggressive yet graceful design, two performance-oriented engines including a twin-turbocharged V-6 in a well-disguised hatchback design that offers the practicality of more storage space not available in a traditional sedan.

The Stinger will get your attention with its low, wide stance, aggressive grille treatment and fastback roofline. From the rear, the Stinger's broad shoulders and quad pipes give the perception of an expensive European sports sedan.

We think the Stinger is the perfect size stretching out 190 inches with a wheels-pushed-to-the-corners wheelbase of 114.4 inches. The new right-size Kia seats four adults with amble cargo space (23.3 cubic feet) under the rear hatch. And its well-balanced rear-drive chassis is shared with the upcoming Genesis G70 later this summer.

The engine configurations are also shared with the new G70 including the base turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 255 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and the GT powered by a 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 making 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. Both are mated to an eight-speed automatic. And all-wheel drive is available with either engine.

In addition to exciting straight ahead performance — the GT in rear-wheel drive format runs from 0-to-60 in 4.4 seconds and through a quarter mile in 12.9 seconds at 111 mph — the Stinger GT has the ability to carve up a winding rural blacktop with the best of the European and Japanese sports sedans. We found steering and suspension feedback excellent on our usual back-road "test tracks." And on serious curves the Stinger just hunkers down offering ample grip.

Kia gives the driver the opportunity to program the car the way they prefer with five drive modes — Comfort, Sport, Smart, Eco and Custom. Switching between the drive modes affects transmission programming, throttle tuning, and steering weight. While the Custom mode allows drivers to mix and match each of the settings separately we did most of our driving in the Sport mode

If you want ample power, but don't need the cutting edge performance of the muscular V-6, the turbocharged 4 will adequately meet your needs. For comparison purposes, the 2.0-liter has been measured from 0-to-60 in 6 seconds. It can be ordered with all the technology and safety goodies available on the GT including the drive modes and all-wheel drive. And it has some advantages including a starting price of $32,800 and improved gas mileage of 22 mpg city, 29 highway and 25 combined on premium gas compared to the GT mileage of 19/25/21.

The interior is attractive and well laid out with actual knobs and buttons for audio turning and volume and climate control. Like many cars today, the navigation and infotainment screen sits high in the center of the dash, and the steering wheel controls include audio and adaptive cruise controls. There are three USB ports and all models come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Upgrade to the Premium trim in the 2.0-liter model and the GT1 trim in the GT model and you will move from a 7-inch to an 8-inch touchscreen and a 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.

Basic safety is covered in all trim levels including a backup camera, but extra features such as blindspot monitoring and forward collision warning must be ordered with the Kia Drive Wise package for $2,000.

The GT starts at $39,250 including the $900 destination charge. Included in our base rear-wheel drive GT test car was the Limited Package featuring many safety aids including forward collision waning, blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and lane departure warning. Our fully loaded GT2 V-6 AWD priced out at $52,300.

Perhaps the biggest downside to the Stinger is its Kia nameplate. Some people that may be attracted by the Stinger's sports sedan attributes and its compelling style might still shy away because it doesn't come with the cachet of a BMW or Audi nameplate; we believe they are missing an outstanding car for a fraction of the price of the European models.

Base price: $32,800; as driven, $52,300
Engine: 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V-6
Horsepower: 365 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 376 foot-pounds @ 1,300 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: rear wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 114.4 inches
Length: 190.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,023 pounds
Turning circle: 38.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 23.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 40.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 19 city, 25 highway, 21 combined
0-60: 4.4 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo, Audi A5, Nissan Maxima

The Good
• Outstanding performance
• Head-turning styling
• Hatchback utility

The Bad
• Lacks cachet of BMW

The Ugly
• Blindspot monitoring an option