The Kia Stinger feels like it could be the beginning of something big for its Korean maker.

Alternatively it could be a self-indulgent sideline whose most important legacy is to remind Kia of the potentially ruinous consequences of overreaching itself; only the market will tell – though it certainly feels like the former. It is undoubtedly a risk: a stylish four-door saloon whose mission is to tempt people out of AudisBMWsJaguarsMercedesAlfas built by the company that also brought you the RioCee’d and Sportage.

The ambitiousness of this car may seem even greater to us Europeans than elsewhere in the world, where big, moderately expensive Kia saloons such as the K900 and Cadenza already exist.

But whatever your perspective, there’s no mistaking the statement that the Stinger is intended to make. “We’re done with paddling in the shallow end,” it says, “and we’re tired of playing second fiddle to that bigger sibling brand. We’re a world-class car-making outfit. And anything that Europe can do...”

Stripping the Kia Stinger GT back to its metal

Here’s the proof, perhaps. The Stinger, says Kia, is a four-door executive ‘gran turismo’ done with all the elegance, dynamism and sophistication of a blue-chip European brand.

We’ve had a brief taste of it already, on UK roads and in a prototype. For our second one, Kia laid on access to the Nürburgring Nordschleife and filled the pitlane with a handful of top-of-the-line Stinger GTs: a car whose 370bhp twin-turbo V6 petrol engine and rear-driven, adaptively damped chassis promise pace and handling to bear comparison with an Audi S4 or a BMW 440i.

You can decide for yourself whether you like the look of this car, but it undeniably has better proportions than a normal executive saloon: it’s long in the wheelbase, and is both lower and wider than most of its European rivals. To this tester's eyes the Stinger GT looks particularly good with its mix of sporting and refined styling touches.

The car offers a slightly lower driving position than is typical of the executive breed – something you can just about detect once you’ve settled behind the wheel.

The cabin is more luxurious and enveloping than we’re used to from Kia, crowned as it is by a freestanding tablet-like 8in infotainment display. But the car’s fittings and materials aren’t all as upmarket as premium-brand exiles will expect them to be.

On practicality, however, the Stinger’s hard to fault; head room is a touch limited in the second row but leg room is very good and boot space both generous and accessible through the car’s ‘liftgate’ hatchback.

Firing up the Stinger GT’s V6 engine

Both the Stinger GT’s steel platform and its 3.3-litre turbo V6 are adapted from those of the Hyundai Genesis G80 Coupe, while the rest of the worldwide engine range will also include a 251bhp 2.0 T-GDi and a 2.2-litre diesel punching out 197bhp. It’s a relatively heavy car (Kia claims more than 1700kg in this form), and the engine didn’t struggle to give it urgent-feeling pace up the Nordschleife’s notoriously steep gradients.

There’s plenty of accessible torque here – a mildly contrived-sounding audio-system-broadcast V6 soundtrack too, because the US-market sports exhaust won’t pass European type approval. The car’s eight-speed automatic gearbox is a little slower and more slury with its manual-mode shifts than the best competitors’ equivalents but is far from frustrating.

Kia’s stated aim with the car’s ride and handling was not to go after the most grippy and agile cars in the compact executive class but instead to strike a more laid-back and comfortable compromise that would make the Stinger particularly suited to long-distance touring – but still poised and engaging to drive.

A few laps of the 'Ring weren’t the best way to test how effectively the car fulfills that brief, but the Stinger certainly has decent grip and body control and the laudable handling balance you’d hope for.

On mixed-width 19in wheels and European-sourced performance tyres as standard, the Stinger GT corners fast and level, has fine steering weight and directional response and a surprisingly accomplished blend of high-speed stability and mid-corner handling adjustability likely to distinguish it even among premium-brand rivals.

The car rides bigger lumps and waves with a slightly cumbersome, exaggerated gait, and sometimes manages its weight a little awkwardly during fast direction changes – but we were unable to test it in the most sporting of five available driving modes.

The Stinger clearly is still to reveal the full scope of its ability. Next on the agenda will be a drive in a finished car on European roads, followed by a full road test examination in Britain afterwards.

For now, what’s equally clear is that the car merits close examination.

Don’t be surprised if it’s good enough to get tongues wagging towards the end of 2017, to become a permanent fixture in Kia’s European model line-up – and to earn a creditable place in this title’s compact executive class rankings, too. Which, from a standing start, for little old Kia, would be quite something. 

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Kia range

Driven this week

  • Lexus LS 500h
    First Drive
    14 December 2017
    New flagship saloon from Lexus provides a luxury interior to rival the best but comes up short due to its hybrid powertrain
  • Volkswagen T-Roc 1.0 TSI SE
    First Drive
    14 December 2017
    Volkswagen's has high aspirations for its new crossover be the best in class and then some. We've driven the 1.0 TSI T-Roc out in the UK to see if it's as good as Wolfsburg says
  • Dacia Sandero Stepway LPG
    First Drive
    14 December 2017
    We’re familiar with the Sandero – it’s the cheap fuel that really intrigues us. We’ve sourced a dual-fuel Dacia to determine whether running a car on LPG is practical in Britain
  • Ford Mondeo ST-Line
    First Drive
    13 December 2017
    The Mondeo ST-Line marries sporty styling with that car's signature dynamism to make a rather appealing package designed for private buyers
  • Audi RS4 Avant
    First Drive
    12 December 2017
    The Audi RS4 Avant covers ground like few, if any, other estate cars, but it doesn’t involve you all that much in the process