The Kia brand just got a whole lot more desirable. Meet the Stinger GT, a flagship saloon that goes on sale in the UK in January 2018. Four-cylinder diesel and petrol versions of the Stinger GT will be available, but here we’re testing the range-topping GT S, where ‘S’ delivers a 365bhp, twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V6.
For a company that has built its brand on rational, value-driven products, entering the highly emotive world of performance cars is a bold next move. And yet, thanks to a level of performance and specification that would see you sinking a further five figures into any equivalent German executive saloon, the value trump card is clearer to see here than ever.
The Stinger GT S looks special, exotic even in this rich metallic red (a lb645 paint option). The standard shape is squat and muscular, with the sort of aesthetic that reminds you of a gym bunny wearing a T-shirt that’s deliberately one size too small. Look closer and the details are a bit hit and miss: the headlamps and tail lights are beautifully finished with a strong graphical identity, yet the bonnet vents and centre-locking wheel hubs are both fake.
Still, there’s no denying it has the sort of presence and desirability that puts it well in contention with the likes of the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, more so than it does the Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport and Volkswagen Arteon.
The cabin looks equally plush, although making things look the same as premium rivals is relatively easy. Emulating the quality, tactility and haptic pleasure of those daily contact points is clearly much tougher, as evidenced by a few of the centre console buttons, or the rotating knob that toggles through your multiple driving modes.
There’s generous space for two adults in the rear outer chairs, despite the aggressively sloping roofline, and the 406-litre boot has an electrically operated hatchback to improve practicality. The Audi A5 Sportback (480-litres) or Volkswagen Arteon (563-litres) may offer more space, but this isn’t exactly slumming it.
Nor is the level of standard equipment on offer. The Stinger GT-S features 19-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, adaptive dampers, an electronic limited-slip differential, heated and cooled front leather seats, heated rear outer seats, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control with lane assist, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment with phone integration and wireless charging, a 15-speaker Harman Kardon system, plus a brilliant head-up display with the clarity and quality to rival the best from BMW.
It is so impressively well stocked that the only possible option you’d ever tick is metallic paint.
How does it drive?
A reputation for affordable family hatchbacks with seven-year warranties doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with creating a performance saloon that is engaging to drive, but Kia has managed this feat first time out of the blocks.
Think of the Stinger GT S less like an out-and-out sports saloon and more like a grand tourer that blends driving excitement with comfort. Think BMW M Sport, rather than full-blown M Division. Performance is still rapid; the turbocharged 3.3-litre V6 develops 365bhp and a maximum 376lb ft of torque from a low 1,300rpm. With a launch control function and no discernible turbo lag, the 0-62mph sprint time takes just 4.7secs and the eight-speed automatic is geared for a top speed of 168mph.
All UK cars will be rear-wheel drive and feature a limited-slip differential, which helps the car feel light and agile (the Stinger’s chassis was signed off by the former boss of BMW’s M Division, so you’d expect it to be), but it’s foiled by steering that’s precise but completely lacking in feel.
What strikes you most about the Stinger GT S is the ride comfort. It’s oh-so-supple and well damped, producing a bit of body movement in fast corners to counter all the low-speed bumps and potholes felt during every day commuter-ville.
There are five driver modes: Eco, Smart, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, which tweaks the throttle response, steering weight, suspension firmness and gearshift times accordingly. Sport+ mode is the most fun and alert, although it does highlight the fact the Kia’s automatic gearbox doesn’t offer a manual override function. You can operate the wheel-mounted paddles to shift down a gear, but the car will default back into a standard automatic mode shortly after.
And where is the noise, Kia? There is no orchestrated flourish of revs on start-up, nor any tuneful melody when approaching the redline. Apparently the US-market sports exhaust considered for the UK didn’t pass European type approval, so buyers may need to budget for something aftermarket.
Should I buy one?
The Kia Stinger GT S certainly has the power, poise and potential to make you think twice. As brand builders go, this is easily the best car Kia has ever built. It’s a surprisingly strong, well resolved sports saloon and the fact it comfortably undercuts significantly less well-equipped rivals is an additional bonus. You may not move from your fast Audi just yet, but Kia will certainly be on your radar from here on in.
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