Straights obliterated, the Jag’s all-aluminium platform then carves into bends beautifully, with a front end that feels appreciably more alert than that of its rival and which claws into the road surface with greater enthusiasm, even if there isn’t a great deal of feedback through the weighty, slightly elastic steering. It’s a car that urges you to chase the throttle and yet never feels unduly ragged.
It’s a brutal initial examination for the Stinger GT-S, which doesn’t flow like the XE-S (very little does) and can’t match its agility. Here’s the thing, though: enough similarities exist between the pair that an XE S owner, forced to borrow a Stinger for weekend, may feel a tinge of remorse come Monday morning. Both do the GT thing well and both are deceptively quick, the Jag’s 3.0-litre engine hitting harder, higher up in the rev range, but there are times when the simpler Korean car, developed at the Nürburgring (sigh), elicits the more palpable sense of fun.
And so to the BMW. We attempted to get hold of the four-door Gran Coupé version for this test but had to settle for the 60kg-lighter coupé. Remarkably, it’s the Stinger that makes shorter work these tricky roads than our stiffly sprung M Sport-spec 440i, which finds good pliancy but also demands a strong hand for the steering wheel, whose fat rim is prone to writhing through your palms over corrugations in the road. Occupying the last rung on the BMW ladder before you’re in M4 territory, it sits at the opposite end of the sports saloon spectrum to the Kia, trading isolation from the road for closer acquaintance with it, warts and all.
The payback is involvement. For 2017, BMW has tweaked the car’s suspension geometry, damper rates and anti-roll bars, as well as the steering, all in the name of keener dynamics and increased feedback. The 440i simply has a different set of priorities to the other cars here, particularly the Stinger, which comes across as flat-footed by comparison. The steering is low on road-feel but weights up beautifully through bends and, front-end duly nailed, it gives you a confidence only the Jag can compete with. Both cars hit their stride at a higher level than the newbie. The BMW’s 322bhp twin-turbo straight- six is also the pick of the engines here and pulls ferociously hard, it’s creamy delivery punctuated only by the crisp shifts of the eight-speed auto ’box and a slither of turbo-lag. Anyone predisposed to the raw charms of the light-blue car will probably find it hard to love the Kia. Equally, potential Stinger customers won’t clamour to shell out for a less supple rival with a poorer overall ride. It’s the XE S that emerges on top by best meeting the needs of both cohorts.
Ultimately, though, Kia’s trump card really is that modest asking price. It’s an admission the brand doesn’t currently expect the GT-S to be taken seriously by buyers and yet the truth is that, of the three cars here, this is the one that makes the fewest mistakes. The BMW blots its copybook with its long-range refinement, or lack thereof, while the Jaguar’s price tag gives serious pause for thought. Value, pace, comfort and the ability to entertain are all part of the Stinger package, even if its interior quality does let it down.