From £30,9707

Kia’s most dynamically adventurous model yet, the Stinger targets BMW, Audi, Mercedes and the rest of the executive saloon set

The Kia Stinger is proof positive that the brand is a dramatically different brand from the one Kia was only a few years ago. Gone are the days when producing cheap and not particularly cheerful hatchbacks and SUVs was the South Korean manufacturer’s raison d’être.

This brand repositioning is in no small part thanks to a step change in its approach to car design, a shift brought about by the likes of Kia design boss Peter Schreyer and European design chief Gregory Guillaume, as well as a more fastidious approach to improving the perceived quality of its vehicles.

It wouldn’t be a proper Kia if it didn’t come with a seven-year warranty. You won’t get one of these on an Audi A5 Sportback or a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé, that’s for sure

And when you arrive at the subject of this week’s road test, a new, third element in this evolutionary process becomes evident.

Not only does this striking grand tourer double down on the aforementioned characteristics of style and quality, but with a rearwheel-drive platform it shows Kia also wants to be taken seriously as a manufacturer of impressively engineered, engaging driver’s cars.

With so much riding on its success as a builder of this next step of Kia’s brand, the Stinger understandably faced a lengthy gestation period. Six years passed between the unveiling of its forerunner, the Kia GT Concept, at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show and the premiere of the finished product at the Detroit show last year.

During that time, Kia hired Albert Biermann, formerly of BMW M division fame, to lead the Stinger’s test and high-performance development regime, and spent hours honing its new flagship on the gruelling Nürburgring Nordschleife.

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There’s no denying the Stinger is a brazen statement of intent, particularly when you consider the fact that it’s the first time the manufacturer has put a model into production with the knowledge that it likely won’t turn a profit.

Has the Stinger’s execution matched the rhetoric behind its development, though? Let’s find out.

Kia Stinger design & styling

Three flavours of Stinger are available. Crowning the range is the GT S, which packs a 3.3-litre, 365bhp twin-turbocharged V6 under its bonnet, while a humbler 197bhp 2.2-litre diesel is also available.

The third variant – and the subject of this test – is the entry-level petrol model, which is powered by a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine.

This longitudinally mounted T-GDi (for turbocharged gasoline direct injection) powerplant is from Kia’s ‘Theta II’ family of engines. It develops 244bhp at 6200rpm and 260lb ft between 1400rpm and 3500rpm. Power is sent to the rear wheels via an electronic eight-speed automatic transmission and a limited-slip differential.

As has increasingly become common practice in this age of engine downsizing and turbocharging, Kia has also employed what it calls an ‘active sound system’ to pipe an enhanced version of the four-cylinder’s engine note into the cabin.

This Stinger’s 18in alloys are shod in 225/45 R18 ContiSport Contact 5 tyres and are suspended by MacPherson struts at the front axle, and a multi-link arrangement at the rear.

Our GT-Line S model is equipped with passive dampers, but the flagship GT S makes use of an adaptive damping system that is controlled via the car’s electronic Drive Mode Selector.

At 4830mm in length, the Stinger is longer than both an Audi A5 Sportback and a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé, which measure 4733mm and 4640mm respectively.

Despite its size, it’s arguably the most elegantly styled of the three, with its expansive bonnet, long wheelbase and sloping roofline lending it an evocative appearance.

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It’s quite unlike any other Kia that’s gone on sale in the UK, and it attracts attention, even more so when people realise which brand’s name is affixed to its nose.

INTERIOR
Kia Stinger GT line 2018 review cabin

Kia has done a commendable job of shirking its value-oriented brand image as far as the Stinger’s exterior is concerned, but that same feat hasn’t quite been achieved inside.

Opening the door certainly reveals a cabin that’s well equipped – there are heated and ventilated leather seats and a full touchscreen infotainment suite, for example – but materially and visually the Stinger doesn’t quite match the levels of perceived quality achieved by the likes of Audi or BMW.

Engine sound synthesis systems are much less annoying to me in cars with more ordinary engines. The one on the V6 Stinger GT S irks me, but on this 2.0-litre turbo car it doesn’t.

Then again, it doesn’t have to. A BMW or Audi with a similar level of kit as the Stinger GT-Line S will cost you a considerable amount more. That trade-off between relative affordability and material richness might seem like an acceptable compromise to many buyers.

That’s not to say you can’t see where effort has gone into creating a cabin that’s appealing from a design point of view, either. The three circular air vents on the central dashboard fascia, for example, are reminiscent of the arrangement you might find in a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the moulded plastic on the fascia itself gives a somewhat convincing impression of leather.

Regardless of specification, all Stingers make use of the same 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system. The dashtop-mounted screen incorporates satellite navigation, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The screen is responsive to the touch, with minimal amounts of lag, although its position on the top of the dash does mean you have to stretch to reach it – not always ideal while on the move.

It’s not particularly graphically advanced, either, especially when compared with systems from Audi and BMW.

Entry-level Stingers make do with a nine-speaker sound system and GT-Line S and GT S models are fitted with a 15-speaker Harman Kardon premium set-up. We can’t comment on how it compares with the standard set-up, but sound quality is rich and balanced, with little in the way of distortion at higher volume levels.

It’s a capable infotainment system but, next to those available on other cars at this price point, it struggles to stand out.

It’s certainly not a home run for Kia, then, but there’s also nothing inherently offensive about the materials it has selected for use in its flagship’s cabin.

It’s a roomy cabin too. Passengers in the rear will find an abundance of leg room – 50mm more than you get in an Audi A5 Sportback – and head room isn’t too bad, either.

The front seats are electrically adjustable, as is the steering rack, which caters to changes in both rake and reach. It all means that getting comfortable is a simple, uncomplicated process.

Boot space is 406 litres and is easily accessible courtesy of that liftback tailgate, which rises to reveal a large, square-shaped aperture. The boot isn’t as large as an Audi A5 Sportback’s or a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé’s (they both offer 480 litres), but there’s more than enough room in the Kia for weekend luggage for a family of four.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE
Kia Stinger GT line 2018 review engine

Disappointingly, the Stinger GT-Line S falls some way short of the straightline performance claims made by its manufacturer.

On a cold day on a damp track, our figures show a best 0-60mph time of 7.39sec, which is a long way off the 5.8sec time claimed by Kia.

Good cornering balance makes the Stinger GT-Line S fun to drive up to a point, but an over-eager stability control system hampers any effort to explore its very limits.

Conditions on the day can’t be blamed too much for this, because the Stinger didn’t feel as though it was struggling to find traction off the line. Instead, it felt like a big, heavy car that was let down by a hesitant gearbox in those first crucial milliseconds where you lift off the brake and bury the throttle.

For the sake of comparison, the 197bhp Jaguar XE petrol that we road tested back in 2015 completed the benchmark sprint in 7.6sec, despite its deficits of 47bhp and 24lb ft.

Once up and running, the Stinger still only just managed to pip the less powerful, albeit lighter, Jaguar when accelerating from 30mph to 70mph, clocking a time of 6.4sec next to the XE’s 6.9sec run.

Considering the fact that the 2.0-litre Stinger’s superior levels of power and torque over its immediate rivals at this price point are likely to be a strong draw, it is a shame that those supposed accelerative advantages didn’t exactly shine through on the day.

Still, above 2500rpm the Stinger feels responsive and has more than enough poke to perform safe overtaking manoeuvres out on the road. Just be prepared to make a small allowance for the fact that the automatic transmission can be slow to react when the kickdown switch is engaged.

At least it is relatively smooth on the upshift, though. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel mean you can swap cogs yourself, although with no locked-out manual mode, the transmission will promptly reselect ‘D’ if you don’t select another ratio via the paddles.

The turbocharged four-cylinder engine doesn’t make the most exciting noise in the world. Although there is a relatively muscular edge to its timbre, don’t forget that the inclusion of the active sound system does mean there’s an element of sonic trickery involved too. Still, it’s quiet and refined at a cruise, and that shouldn’t be knocked.

RIDE & HANDLING
Kia Stinger GT line 2018 review cornering

The top-of-the-range turbocharged V6-powered Stinger GT S is a pretty tempting value proposition in its own right at £40,535, but only when you get further down the Stinger range can you fully appreciate how alluring an alternative to the familiar pack of style-conscious executive options this Kia really is.

The price of our 244bhp Stinger 2.0 GT-Line S test car, for example, only buys you a mid-spec Audi A5 Sportback with front-wheel drive and 187bhp; a front-driven Volkswagen Arteon with the same engine and transmission or a BMW 4 Series 420i M Sport with rear-wheel drive but even less power and torque.

The ESP system struggles a little to stabilise the car if you’re aggressive through tighter bends

That means the Stinger’s rearwheel-drive handling ought to play a part every bit as central to the car’s appeal as its engine, styling or anything else. And for interested drivers at least, in spite of one or two frustrations, it’s certainly good enough to do that.

All of the advantages you’d hope to be rewarded with having opted for a rear-drive saloon – strong traction, uncorrupted steering and a natural sense of balanced cornering poise that can be tapped into to enliven the car’s driving experience – are present here.

None is quite delivered with any particular brilliance, it should be noted, but there’s enough purity and swagger about the way the car conducts itself, in any case, to give the Stinger clear sporting flavour even in this milder engine specification.

Since the 2.0 GT-Line S does without the adaptive dampers of its V6 stablemate, it’s a simpler car to drive. It has a well-judged meeting of taut body control, high-ish lateral grip, crisp handling response and fluent-riding suppleness that serves it well on UK roads.

Just as there’s no disguising the car’s weight in its straight-line performance, of course, so there’s no mistaking it in the way the Stinger gently begins to run short of vertical body control at speed on really testing roads, and can’t quite keep its body as flat as some rival sports saloons manage when cornering hard.

Plainly, Kia could have chosen a firmer-sprung and more direct route to driver appeal with this chassis, but it’s to its credit that it didn’t.

As you begin to test the limits of the car’s grip level, you could certainly do with a touch more tactile feedback from the steering, which, although well-weighted, isn’t as communicative as it could be, and doesn’t return to centre as sweetly as it might.

And since you have a driven rear axle, nearly 250bhp and a limited-slip differential, it also seems a great shame not to have a stability control system you can fully disengage.

The Stinger has the makings of a very commendable track driving experience, with all the power, agility, body control and natural balance you could want. However, it’s prevented from being a car in which you might seek out opportunities to drive really hard by its gearbox and electronic stability control.

The transmission has a tendency to kick down when you use wide throttle openings even when you’re using manual shifting mode. It’s partly because manual mode doesn’t disable the pedal’s kickdown switch, but mostly because, even if you’re careful not to hit that switch, the unit’s ECU often simply decides that you need a lower gear even when you haven’t asked for one.

The stability control system does have an off switch, but it’s clear soon enough that ‘off’ doesn’t really mean as much. Even in Sport+ driving mode the system intervenes – and often does so quite abruptly.

Nevertheless, the Stinger strikes you as a car that’s poised and enticing to drive up to fairly committed level, but one that’s also mature-feeling and comfortable. By and large, then, it is exactly the kind of grand tourer its maker set out to create.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Kia Stinger GT line 2018 review hero front

An entry-level Stinger GT-Line with the 2.0-litre T-GDi petrol engine will set you back from £32,025. At this price point, a generous level of standard equipment includes 18in alloys, heated front seats and steering wheel, satellite navigation and a comprehensive suite of driver aids and safety systems.

Stepping up to mid-spec GT-Line S adds: an electrically operated sunroof; LED headlights with automatic levelling and a dynamic cornering function; ventilated front seats; a 360deg around-view monitor; wireless smartphone charging and a powered tailgate. For that Kia charges a £3500 premium over the GT-Line.

A premium badge shows its worth: an Audi A5 Sportback depreciates less than the Kia or a Volkswagen Arteon by a considerable margin.

By comparison, a similarly specced, albeit less powerful, Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI would cost nearly £43,000. That’s a premium of almost £7000 over the most basic 2.0 TFSI in the German manufacturer’s range.

Meanwhile, the range-topping Stinger GT S, with its V6 engine and adaptive damping system, is priced from £40,535.

It’s also worth remembering that all Stingers across the range are covered by Kia’s seven-year warranty as standard.

Although the Kia may be the more attractive choice in terms of initial outlay, however, the Audi A5’s premium badge will pay dividends when the time to sell arrives. Our experts predict the Stinger will retain 43% of its value after three years and 36,000 miles. The Audi, meanwhile, is forecasted to hold on to 50% of its sticker price over the same period.

VERDICT
Kia Stinger GT line 2018 review static

For bringing the Stinger to market, Kia’s ambition should be praised. Not only will the model act as an effective brand builder, but it’s also a highly commendable first attempt at a rear-driven saloon.

That’s not to say it’s without compromise, though. While the material richness of the cabin may not be on a par with that of an Audi or BMW, it pays to remember that on a like-for-like basis it’s also considerably cheaper.

This likeable GT is a promising, if slightly flawed, sign of things to come

The slightly lacklustre performance is a touch more disappointing, though, especially as its superior power and torque figures over similarly priced rivals will likely be one of its key draws.

Still, as a comfortable, responsive, well-equipped and refined grand tourer, the Stinger doesn’t fall too short of the mark at all. Breaking into the executive saloon segment with little to no prior experience was never going to be a cakewalk for Kia.

Although the Stinger misses out on top honours, the fact that it places amongst its peers at all shows just how seriously it should be taken.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Kia Stinger First drives