Think Kia, and a handsome old school grand tourer wouldn’t spring to mind, but then the new Stinger is meant to change perceptions.
The production version of the Kia GT concept, shown at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor show, the Stinger is the South Korean company’s first rear-wheel drive car launched in Europe – and the fastest.
Created under the watchful eye of Kia’s design guru, Peter Schreyer, the Stinger was inspired by the stylish gran turismos Europe Head of Design, Gregory Guillame, saw while growing up in 1970s France, cruising effortlessly from Paris to the Riviera.
Elegantly styled with a muscular stance, long bonnet and swept back body, the Stinger turns heads.
Slip into the low-slung cockpit, where the seat glides electronically into your favourite driving position, press the Start button and you’re confronted by Kia’s next surprise… a 365bhp 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6.
Capable of 168mph and a sprint from standstill to 60mph in just 4.7 seconds, it’s the fastest accelerating Kia ever.
This is the flagship GT S model priced at £40,495. It will be joined by two other trim levels – the GT-Line and GT-Line S (starting at £31,995), available with a 244bhp turbo petrol unit and a 197bhp turbo diesel.
Models with the smaller engines may well be the biggest sellers, but the top-of-the-range GT S I tested is the one that takes the challenge to the likes of BMW, Audi and Jaguar.
Engineered by ex-BMW chassis guru Albert Bierman, the Stinger handles as well as it looks.
The powerful V6 is mated to a smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels via a limited-slip differential. In practical terms, it means the Stinger isn’t just eye candy – it’s entertaining to drive too.
You can choose from five drive modes – Eco, Comfort, Smart, Sport and Sport+ – each one tweaking the throttle and gearbox response, steering weight and suspension stiffness. However, you’ll probably spend most of your time in comfort and Sport, ideal for cruising and tackling more challenging roads respectively.
And while it’s not quite a match for BMW’s driving dynamics, it’s not far off, which is praise indeed.
With a compliant ride, little body roll when cornering and a responsive engine, the Stinger is a rewarding car to drive.
And as you’d expect from a rear-wheel drive performance car, it has a playful side. Yes, plant your right foot to the floor and it’s possible to lose the back end, but it never feels out of control.
It sounds great too, though pedants will say it’s enhanced through the car’s audio system. If anything, it would be nice to have an option to crank it up.
Naturally, the Stinger’s Brembo brakes are more than up to the job. They were developed in Austria, Germany and Spain as well as around the Nurburgring, while the GT S also boasts19-inch alloys with 225/40 R19 tyres at the front and wider 255/35 R19s at the rear.
The good news doesn’t stop there – Kia’s pulled out all the stops inside too. Quality, supportive leather seats, soft-touch plastics and an attractive driver-focused cockpit are all part of the mix.
There are three interior colour options – black, grey and red – and the latter looks especially sophisticated.
The infotainment trend may be minimalistic, but Kia’s taken a more traditional approach. There’s a large 8.0-inch touchscreen dominating the centre console, but there are plenty of switches and dials below offering plenty of shortcuts. Smartphone swipes are all very well, but sometimes traditional essentials such as radio, sat nav and climate control and better accessed the old fashioned way.
There’s also a 7.0-inch TFT customisable screen between the two big dials in the instrument binnacle ahead of the driver, plus a head-up display which shows key information including speed and navigation instructions – all projected onto the windscreen.
It’s superbly equipped – goodies include heated and cooled front seats, heated rears, 60-degree surround view cameras, a 15-speaker Harman Kardon hi-fi and full LED headlights, to name but a few.
The Stinger’s safe too – all versions have Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Keep Assist, Driver Attention Warning and High Beam Assist.
However, the Stinger isn’t perfect. For instance, you’d have to be exceptionally restrained to get anywhere near the claimed 28.5mpg, but then I guess that’s as much a compliment to its driveability.
Also, despite its long wheelbase, taller rear-seat passengers will find the legroom no more than adequate and may struggle for headroom. On the plus side, boot space is a generous 406-litre luggage capacity.
Verdict: It may not have the badge appeal of its German rivals, but the stunning new Kia Stinger achieves everything its creators set out to do, offering a winning blend of relaxed cruising, driving dynamics and excellent value. All that, plus Kia’s unbeatable seven-year warranty.