When I think back to my early days as a motoring writer, I always knew what to expect when a Kia appeared on my rota. In those days Kia was the manufacturer of worthy, but generally uninspiring, budget-priced cars. It has been quite fascinating to see how the company has evolved over the years.
Arguably, the car that has done most to shake up the Kia image is the new Stinger. Kia’s bold vision is that the Stinger will elevate the company to become a challenger in the sports executive car market traditionally dominated by the likes of BMW and Audi.
The seriousness of Kia’s attempt is shown by the time it has taken to get to the Stinger to market. Kia signalled its intent with its GT concept, which was unveiled at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show. Underlining their commitment, Kia has adopted the traditional executive saloon architecture – a longitudinally mounted engine driving the rear wheels.
So the Stinger has the right mechanical layout to tackle this market, but what about style?
The Kia Stinger was produced under the design directorship of Peter Schreyer, who had joined the Korean company from Audi. His successor as leader of the Kia design team is Luc Donckerwolke, formerly design director at Bentley. Again that shows the serious intent.
With high-flyers like that, Kia obviously believes in the importance of design. It shows.
I well remember the first Kia Stinger I saw. A vivid “look at me” yellow, it was parked in a Highland car park in the summer. Where such a lurid colour could look gauche on many cars, the Stinger carried it off and looked stylish and sharp. I noted the admiring glances it was attracting. Job done for the designers!
The sporting looks are enhanced by a low sweeping roofline and long bonnet. The rakish lines, do mean that taller people need to mind their heads when exiting the Stinger. Most people would learn to dip their head a little, after one collision with the roof rail. For me it took two!
At the back the sweeping roof line means that the rear window is quite shallow. Fortunately the Stinger has a rear-view camera and, like so much of the equipment on the Stinger, it comes as standard. This is in marked contrast to the established sports executive brands who tempt you into spending thousands more on desirable options and extras.
The sleek lines may cause concern about headroom, particularly in the back. At just a little short of six foot, I found the headroom perfectly adequate. There’s more rear legroom than on some others in this class, but longer-legged passengers will still want the front seats moved forward from their rearmost position.
The boot is large and pretty spacious, maybe a tad smaller than some of the obvious competition, but more than enough for most requirements.
The range-topping Stinger is the GT S with its 3.3-litre V6 delivering a potent 365 bhp. My test car was the GT-line S with a two-litre four-cylinder engine producing 255 bhp. This is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, with a limited slip differential to help ensure the power actually goes to the tarmac.
To enhance the sporting image, the Stinger has a system to deliver some of the more sporting engine noise to the interior. In this era of turbocharging smaller power units, this enhancing of engine noise is becoming ever more common. Some cars achieve it by ducting the sound, some, like the recent Lexus
we drove and the Mustang
before that, deliver the enhanced sporting sound through interior speakers.
The view from behind the wheel is good, too. The Stinger’s cabin is well-equipped with most of the goodies being included as standard. You might expect to pay extra for luxuries like heated and ventilated seats, but even they come as standard on this Stinger.
The interior looks and feels good. Clearly a lot of effort has gone into making it feel upmarket. Being finicky you might conclude that the Stinger doesn’t quite match the material quality of, say, BMW or Audi. But, then, the Stinger not only comes at a much keener price, especially when you take into account the luxuries that are included.
In the centre of the dashboard is the eight-inch touch screen which operates the sound system with its nine-speaker set-up, the sat-nav, various set-up options and either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
But with a sports executive car, aiming at BMW and Audi, the proof of the pudding is definitely in the driving.
The good news is that the Stinger feels nicely balanced on twisty roads. Combine that with good power and torque and the result is a car that it is as at home on give-and-take country by-ways as it is on the motorway.
You can choose to dial in ‘Sport’ or even the more extreme ’Sport+” setting to give a sharper more sporting response. Just occasionally, though, I felt the automatic gearbox a tad slow to react to a prod on the accelerator.
But, that doesn’t dull my amazement that Kia has progressed this far. Here is a car that is satisfying to look at, luxurious to inhabit and rewarding to drive.
I was also impressed with the refinement. Noise levels are very low and the suspension provides a smooth and well-damped ride, even over some of our poorly surfaced roads.
So, the Kia Stinger is an eye-opener and an amazing first entrance into the sports executive market. It may not yet quite match the ultimate performance, handling and sophistication of the best European targets. But, it must be worrying for them to see how close it has come on first attempt.
Then there is that price. Where the established players sell you a car, then hand you an options list that will make your wallet even lighter, Kia sells you a car that comes fully loaded with driver aids, plus safety and luxury equipment including those heated and ventilated seats, power tailgate and sunroof. To top it all they throw in their seven-year Kia warranty.
The Stinger makes it clear that Kia has ambitions to take a growing slice of this market. They may not yet be able to break the brand loyalty for BMW and Audi. But I bet they have Stingers in their appraisals fleet.
Kia Stinger GT-Line S 2.0T-GDI 8 speed auto ISG
Carbon dioxide emissions: 181 g/km
Combined fuel economy 35.8 mpg
Top speed: 149 mph
0-62: 6 secs
Power 255 hp/PS
Engine size 1998cc petrol
Boot capacity 406/1114 (back seats up/folded)