Kia lives up to its “Power to Surprise” motto with its boldest statement of intent yet…
Should we even be surprised Kia eventually cracked its family-focused mould and launched a model taking aim squarely at the performance divisions of the mighty German establishment? You’d imagine the man tasked with changing the shape and image of the Kia brand in 2006 – chief designer Peter Schreyer – may have kept a few coupé-shaped doodles to revisit on a rainy day or, you know, once he’d adequately fulfilled his initial mandate. Having penned the groundbreaking original Audi TT, Schreyer’s team alluded to a potential Kia-branded fastback GT as early as 2011 with the unveiling of the GT Concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Three years later and the Stinger name made its first appearance on another striking Schreyer design (GT4 Stinger) at the North American International Auto Show.
Adamant the final product would be a true grand tourer, the Stinger makes optimal use of its modified Hyundai Genesis underpinnings to cast an imposing stance, complete with a wide bonnet area, muscular haunches and relatively slippery profile. With both long-distance comfort and handling in mind, the Stinger boasts a wheelbase comfortably lengthier than those of its closest rivals (2 905 mm).
Available in other markets with a choice of engine configurations and spec lists, Kia Motors South Africa has launched a limited (undisclosed at this stage) number of top-of-the-range 3,3T GT models. True to form, the GT gains maximum-attack styling cues, including 19-inch alloy wheels (with 225/40 R19 tyres up front and 255/35 R19 items at the rear), as well as “Schreyer” upgrades to the grille and front bumper, quad tailpipes and red Brembo brake callipers. It’s a pity some of the garb, including the bonnet- and rear-fender heat outlets, are only for show, but there’s certainly no mistaking the Stinger for anything else (including other Kias) on the road.
Search below the eye line of the interior and you’ll find some brand-familiar firm plastics. That said, everything above waist height introduces refreshing levels of build quality and material feel to the Korean brand’s stable. If there is familiarity with some rival (German) brands within the design of the interior – the three facia-mounted air vents, for example – it’s nevertheless tactile and substantial.
While both front seats offer a superb compromise between comfort and lateral support – as well as a welcome amount of electrically operated adjustment – the Stinger’s long wheelbase affords rear passengers generous legroom and just enough headroom below a sloping roofline (which includes a standard sunroof in the GT). An electrically operated tailgate opens tall to reveal a class-competitive 296 litres of luggage space, while the rear backrest can be lowered in a 60:40-split for additional utility space.
From heated and ventilated front seats (and a heated steering wheel) to adaptive cruise control, a wireless mobile-phone charging station and full climate control, there’s little to want for in terms of standard specification on the Singer GT. The omission of satellite navigation at this price point will raise an eyebrow, yet Kia South Africa believes most owners would prefer to access this feature via the infotainment system’s smartphone-pairing technologies.
Backing up the Stinger’s muscle car-like stance (and coping with the GT’s 1 791 kg mass) is a twin-turbocharged Lambda V6 engine offering 272 kW and 510 N.m of torque from 1 300 to 4 500 r/min. Positioned as low and far aft as the engine bay allows for improved mass distribution, torque is directed to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission offering a launch-control function. We were able to sprint from 0-100 km/h in just 4,99 seconds.
The Stinger GT is so much more than a traffic-light dueller, though, and under the keen eye of ex-BMW M GmbH man (and now head of Hyundai’s vehicle-test and high-performance development), Albert Biermann, the mandate was clearly to make the Stinger a genuine GT all-rounder. Offering no fewer than five driving modes, including an intuitive automatic and customisable individual setting, the GT is content to transform from confident cruiser to a point-and-press mountain pass menace with the switch of a dial; each finger movement to the right is met with a corresponding amplification of the car’s audio-fed exhaust note and a loosening of the car’s stability-control function. In sport mode, for example, this system will happily oversee smile-inducing tail slides before intervening to restore order. With stability control dialled out, the GT offers just enough power, excellent poise considering its dimensions and a fast-acting mechanical limited-slip differential to allow for manageable rear-wheel-drive dynamics. Unlike an AMG, for example, it affords its driver scope to build confidence.
Considering our current petrol prices, a small yet significant niggle in the Stinger GT’s performance capabilities is a fuel index figure starting on the wrong side of 10,0 L/100 km and escalating quickly as you explore the 6 500 r/min redline. Leave it in its auto mode and the transmission shifts at 6 200 r/min even when using the manual-override steering-wheel paddles.
While adaptive damping is available on the Stinger GT in other markets, the non-adjustable default setting on South Africa-bound models is among the best compromises between compliance and dynamic ability we’ve encountered in this segment. It’s simultaneously able to cope with most road imperfections while effectively managing body control once mass shifts under hard driving. While there’s minimal feedback through the steering wheel, this electrically assisted system is at least fast-acting and impressively precise on the move.
The Brembo-sourced brakes provide ample stopping power and returned a class-competitive average emergency-braking time of 2,94 seconds on our test strip.
While we do like a good underdog story at CAR, the additional point or two gained due to the sheer levels of likeability associated with Kia’s first true performance car added to an already impressive points tally. The test team is genuinely excited about what the Stinger GT means for the future of Korean-built performance models. While our market will likely remain frustrated by the absence of more mainstream models such as the Hyundai i30 N, Kia Motors South Africa deserves credit for negotiating even a handful of Stinger GT models for our market.
Yes, R849 995 may seem like a lot of money for a brand more readily associated with city runabouts and the school run. However, the Stinger represents both a shift in thinking by a carmaker bursting with confidence, as well as – in broader terms – a hint of what’s to come in terms of build quality and ergonomics across its evolving portfolio.
Back to the GT. While there is plenty of under-the-skin substance, quality and possibly better resale values to be had with the likes of the all-wheel-drive Audi S5 Sportback or BMW 440i Gran Coupé, there is a surfeit of standard specification, performance, exclusivity and, indeed, enjoyment behind the wheel of the Stinger GT to justify its choice above these German rivals in our market.
*From the November 2018 issue of CAR magazine