Car reviews - Kia - Stinger - 330Si
Looks and feels like a significant step up from the equivalent Falcon/Commodore, turbo-V6 a real powerhouse, excellent dynamics, long-distance comfort and economy
Room for improvement
Sleek shape compromises rear space and access, sometimes knobbly low-speed ride, transmission reverts to automatic soon after manual paddle-shifts, thirsty in town, couple of cabin finishes let down the overall premium feel
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11 Dec 2017
FEW, if any, cars launched in 2017 were quite so eagerly anticipated as the Kia Stinger and even fewer caused as much of a stir.
As an affordably priced powerful rear-drive large car, its launch was impeccably timed for the end of Australian car production – an event that was initially expected to herald the demise of attainably priced, powerful rear-drive large cars.
Beyond Australia, Kia is pitching the Stinger as a more attainable alternative to premium models such as the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. It is hard to believe this is the same Kia that sells Picanto and Rio econoboxes.
As such, the brand has gone all out making the Stinger look and feel expensive inside and out. Believe us, photos do not do this car justice.
So is this a performance bargain or low-cost luxury? Spoiler alert: The Stinger is both.
Price and equipment
On test here is the Stinger 330Si, mid-point of three V6-powered variants priced at $55,990 plus on-road costs, plus $695 for the Deep Chroma Blue paintwork that is the only premium finish and the only available cost option on this variant.
Another three four-cylinder variants are also available, starting at $45,590 plus on-roads for the 200S.
Standard Stinger equipment includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, satellite navigation, digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, dual-zone climate control, artificial leather seats, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, dusk-sensing headlights, electric-fold door mirrors, rear parking sensors, keyless entry with push-button start and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Identifying V6-powered Stingers – and the top GT-Line four-cylinder variant – is a black and chrome grille design, complimented by gloss-black front and rear bumper inserts and dark-chrome door mirrors.
Exclusive to the V6 Stingers are bright red Brembo brake callipers peering from behind the wheels clamping larger 350mm front discs and 340mm rear discs.
Six-cylinder Stingers also have a limited-slip differential and variable-ratio sports steering setup.
Being an Si trim level, our test car included forward collision alert, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance, driver attention monitoring, adaptive cruise control, a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen, leather upholstery, sports front seats, front parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers and a luggage net.
Instead of the 18-inch wheels with 225/45 tyres fitted to lesser Stingers apart from the GT-Line that gets 19s, our 330Si had 19-inch alloys with 225/40 tyres up front and much wider 255/35 rubber at the back. All Stingers use Continental ContiSport Contact5 as standard.
The top-spec Stinger GT adds three-mode adaptive suspension, heated and ventilated front seats, Nappa leather upholstery, wireless phone charging, a 360-degree camera, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive LED headlights with auto high-beam, additional electric adjustment and memory for the driver’s seat, an electrically adjustable passenger seat, electric steering column adjustment, an electric sunroof, colour digital instrument panel with torque graph, boost gauge, lap timer and G-force meter, a head-up display, suede headlining, alloy sports pedals and aluminium trim on the centre console and doors.
On the GT (and GT-Line) the Deep Chroma Blue colour becomes a no-cost option and your $695 can instead be spent on Aurora Black or Snow White Pearl. Red instead of black leather is also a no-cost option.
Considering the extra kit available on the GT compared with the Si for just $4000 extra, it is unsurprising that almost every Stinger sold in Australia so far has been the flagship variant.
The Stinger’s sleek exterior styling could be accused of being derivative, but its timeless and voluptuous shapes and lines are borrowed from the very best.
We observed shades of Maserati, Porsche, Jaguar and Aston Martin in there, and the Stinger really has to be experienced in the metal to be fully appreciated.
This was especially true of our test car, which was finished in Deep Chroma Blue paintwork of a quality far higher than we have seen on a sub-$60,000 vehicle for some time. The overall effect is that this car could easily be mistaken for something deep into the six-digit price range on looks alone.
Why are we discussing the exterior in the interior section? Because in some ways the Stinger’s looks write cheques the cabin cannot cash. We had to remind ourselves this is a vehicle priced in the $40,000-$60,000 bracket, at which point the Stinger’s interior suddenly looks very good indeed.
Firstly, Kia has clearly gone to town on how carefully this car is put together. The quality of its paint finish is replicated in panel fit and the solidity of its interior.
The dashboard layout is obviously inspired by Mercedes-Benz, from the trio of circular dashboard vents to the touchscreen perched above them. It’s as naff in the Kia as it is in the Benz. Meanwhile the centre console reminded us of Audi.
We’d argue that the quality, tactile feel of those copycat air-con vents and their adjustment mechanism is superior to anything out of Germany for which you’d get little change from $100,000 at entry level. And the same is true for much of the Stinger’s switchgear, the door handles and even the steering wheel adjustment.
The entire width of the central dashboard fascia – except where the steering column emerges – is upholstered in a leather-like material. This kind of upmarket feature first trickled down to attainably priced vehicles with the Range Rover Evoque, but unlike that car we were unconvinced by the grain and texture of Kia’s effort.
Similarly the plastic centre section of the steering wheel. Its elephant’s butt texture and shiny hardness was a little confronting in what is an otherwise luxurious environment.
But really, we’re clutching at straws here. This is a $55K full-size sedan with one hell of an engine up front, a limited-slip diff at the back and Brembo brakes at all four corners. A naff texture here and there? People trading in their Falcons and Commodores for one of these Stingers will be awe-struck at how impressive it is inside.
Touchscreen operation and level of functionality is good, consistent with the latest and best from Hyundai-Kia. Likewise the trip computer that provides plenty of features and customisation, even in the more basic monochrome version fitted to our Si variant.
Despite – and perhaps due to – the rudimentary electric adjustment controls, it was easy for us to find a comfortable driving position and the seats were plush and supportive, remaining so for long journeys. The Kia has a cosy, cockpit-style ambience typical of sports sedans and the limited all-round visibility this brings. People who are used to, or like this style of car will enjoy it but those used to airier SUVs or hatchbacks will find it a little cramped and claustrophobic.
Of course that sleek, low shape with its steeply sloping rear roofline into the fastback bootlid comes with compromises. Headroom is a bit restricted in the back, but not as bad as expected, and it was the stooped position required for entry and egress that grated on us.
Being a mid-spec Si, we didn’t have the sunroof but we expect top-grade GTs to be pretty cramped for tall folk travelling at the back.
Kneeroom for tall rear passengers riding behind tall front occupants was adequate but a Toyota Camry is bigger in the back. The boot is shallow but long and wide, resulting in similar volume capacity to a Honda Civic hatch with the seats up and the parcel shelf in place.
But the liftback opening adds versatility and combines well with the fold-down rear seats to create a vast open space we found handy during a trip to Bunnings. It is a bit featureless and we’d appreciate some bag hooks or elasticated straps to secure small objects to go complement the numerous tie-down points.
In-cabin storage is about on-par for this style of vehicle, with a rather tight glovebox housing the huge user guide, four skinny door bins that can secure small bottles, a sunglasses holder in the ceiling and a resting place for another pair in the centre console. There is also a fairly shallow space, with drop-in shelf, beneath the front central armrest.
The centre console is also home to a tray just big enough for an iPhone SE beneath the 12V power outlet, two USB ports and an auxiliary audio input jack.
A pair of staggered-sized cupholders are conveniently located and versatile, which is more than we can say for the cupholders in the rear fold-down armrest that are a bit too big for takeaway coffee cups and a bit too small for some drinks bottles.
Better news in the back comes from a pair of highly effective rear air vents that have controls for temperature and flow, below which are another 12V outlet and USB port.
Also good was the pair of Isofix anchorages in each outboard seating position, with handy plastic guides to ease fitment. The guides themselves are of exceptional quality, with spring-action hinged covers far superior to the cheap plastic flaps or plugs – that are prone to go missing – used on many so-called premium vehicles.
Loading an infant into their rear-facing capsule was a real drama, though, owing to the small door apertures and that plunging roofline. The little one’s view out was pretty restricted by the slit-like side windows and chunky C-pillar, too.
More positively, there was plenty of space for a passenger seated in front of one of these bulky kiddie carriers and older children in forward-facing seats will have a better time of it, although they will have to peer over the high waistline to see out.
On the move, the Stinger is as quiet and smooth as the looks and cabin ambience suggest, even on some of the noisy coarse-chip surfaces along our test route that pose a real challenge for some much more expensive machinery.
We found our car’s adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist systems were up there with some of the best, too. The Stinger does like to beep and chime rather a lot, but we didn’t find these notifications too shrill and most are customisable for volume.
Engine and transmission
One of the things that has enthralled enthusiasts since the Kia Stinger was announced is the 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 under its long bonnet.
It punches out 272kW of power at 6000rpm and 510Nm from just 1300rpm all the way to 4500rpm, with an eight speed automatic transmission between it and the limited-slip rear differential directing drive to the rear wheels.
For perspective, the 3.0-litre single-turbo V6 of an Audi S4 – costing $99,900 before on-roads – develops 260kW at 6400rpm, with peak torque of 500Nm arriving at 1370rpm and lasting until 4500rpm. So the German engine is a bit peakier, with a little less power and torque but a similarly fat band of grunt available from low revs.
Audi also uses an eight-speed auto, although this is sourced from German supplier ZF whereas the Stinger’s is an in-house unit developed by Hyundai-Kia.
But the Audi, of course, gets quattro all-wheel drive while Australian market Stingers are all rear-driven (some markets get all-wheel-drive Stingers).
We were mightily impressed with the S4 driveline and the Stinger unit is almost – almost – as good.
This is high praise given the difference in price, and probably a more valid comparison than the V8-powered Commodore SS that Kia hopes to replace in the hearts and minds of Australians with its Stinger. Besides, nothing can match the character, charisma and sheer aural presence of that old V8.
Like the Audi mill, the Stinger’s is perhaps too smooth, too linear to satisfy performance buffs. Both exhibit a ruthless efficiency about the way they deliver and sustain serious thrust, with only the Audi’s traction advantage ensuring madcap blasts of acceleration are repeatedly available from standing or low-speed starts, not to mention the ability to jettison the car and its occupants out of bends with mind-bending ferocity.
If anything, compared with the Audi S4 that feels as though it is holding back due to some kind of life-preservation mode until around 4000rpm when it really lets rip, the Stinger’s acceleration feels even more linear than the Audi’s once its rear tyres have hooked up. And the Kia’s throttle response is magnificent for a turbocharged unit.
Audi has also paid more attention to making the S4 sound good, while the Stinger is eerily quiet but for a muted zingy sound at high revs – befitting the luxury grand tourer it aims to be – and gets an awful synthesised engine note with Sport mode engaged. We expect strong uptake of the Australian-developed sports exhaust that will arrive just in time for Christmas.
What’s it like when just getting about? The Stinger V6 is smooth, refined and quiet and provides a sense of effortless muscularity that is comforting and relaxing. We’d be happy with this engine in, say, a Lexus. In this sense, its deep reserves of performance potential are simply a bonus.
The hearty powerplant is also a great companion for long-distance drives, a perfect pairing for the Stinger’s grand tourer design brief. Hills and overtakes are shrugged off with minimal fuss using nowhere near the full travel of the accelerator pedal.
Kia’s eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is clearly calibrated with grand touring in mind. Around town it is the quintessential slushbox, letting revs rise and fall through each ratio as naturally as if it were breathing.
It prefers to rely on the engine’s considerable low-end torque by prioritising higher gears and is rarely caught napping on the approach to junctions and roundabouts, or when a burst of acceleration is required to exploit a gap in traffic. Kickdown response is swift and smooth and we rarely – if ever – detected clumsy clunks in awkward low-speed driving scenarios.
Given the Stinger’s performance and the engaging dynamics we will describe later, the lack of a proper manual override was disappointing and the transmission also lacks a dedicated sport setting.
It has paddle-shifters for manual gear changes, but automatic mode resumes all too soon, announcing itself by quickly changing up at least a couple of ratios, even with the drive mode selector in Sport, a setting that largely sharpens throttle response from a drivetrain perspective.
This frustrated us no end on a long section of twisty road that had several consecutive third-gear corners with straights in between too short to warrant an upshift and the car capable of corner entry speeds high enough to not justify a change down to second.
We found that by tapping the left-hand paddle when road speeds were high enough to disallow a downshift would prevent the transmission from returning to the dreaded D setting. But of course, there are only so many situations in which this works.
Two jobs for the facelift, then: Proper manual and sport modes for the transmission and work out how to make the engine sound fruitier.
Apart from that, the Stinger’s drivetrain is a sublime effort and a genuine democratisation of premium-class power for the people.
Even better, for people who do a lot of long journeys the Stinger is surprisingly fuel-efficient. We got 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres on the motorway, with the air-conditioning fighting 31-degree heat. Given the official highway figure is 7.5L/100km, that’s pretty good going.
Our average fuel use, however, was a bit higher than the official combined cycle rating of 10.2L/100km as the Stinger achieved 12.3L/100km during our week with it. Measured on a morning of suburban driving and our dynamic test on twisty, undulating country roads this increased to 14.2L/100km. For comparison the official city cycle figure is 14.9L/100km so the Stinger didn’t do too badly here.
Ride and handling
We found the Stinger’s luxurious character slightly at odds with its knobbly low-speed ride quality. In other markets the big Kia is more softly sprung and the brand’s talented team of chassis engineers that tunes cars for Australia works hard to find a compromise for this market that values dynamics and performance.
Australians also appreciate a long-legged high-speed ride for long-distance driving and the Stinger happily delivers on this part of the brief, with rough road absorption markedly improved at 80km/h and above. On the motorway it glides along in considerable comfort.
But slight urban and suburban discomfort was more than offset by how this Stinger performed dynamically.
Shown a twisty country road with elevation changes, dips, crests, off-camber corners and all kinds of surface quality the Stinger came alive in our hands in a way that felt delightfully old-school.
Former head of BMW’s M division Albert Biermann may have waved his magic wand over the Stinger’s dynamic development but we sensed a great deal of Jaguar about the way this car flowed, too.
We experimented with the Comfort and Sport driving modes and concluded that the best for hard driving was a custom setting with all the Sport mode settings enabled except the artificial and distracting synthesised engine note.
The step up in steering firmness in Sport mode is subtle and only really noticeable when switching back to Comfort after some time in Sport. At this point, Comfort’s steering feels a bit uncomfortably light. What Kia seems to have successfully achieved with the Stinger’s Sport steering mode is a noticeable improvement in feel, along with a greater sense of directness.
Steering response in both modes is identical, but the extra meatiness and more natural feeling of load-up in Sport mode just felt better when tipping the Stinger into corners, which it does with an agility that belies its size and weight.
And it takes just one corner to feel how much the keen Stinger front-end has to give and how balanced it is – provided the driver is judicious with throttle application and timing. It is a car that really connects with the driver and, as such, is instantly rewarding.
There is not the mechanical sensation of the diff apportioning drive across the axle as found in some really special feeling cars like the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV or Subaru WRX STI, but there is constant chassis chatter and the steering feeds a lot of information from the road surface to the driver’s fingertips.
Grip levels are respectable, but not so high that the Stinger doesn’t start to move about a bit at legal speeds. Sounds like a recipe for a fun car to drive, and it is.
This, and the slight lack of immediate sense about what the rear axle is doing combines with a surprisingly generous margin for slip from the stability control in Stinger’s sport mode means this car is always up for a little power oversteer.
It can be initially surprising how little it takes to have the Stinger’s tail twitching and wagging. It is very prone to begin rotating, meaning some measure and discipline is required to keep things neat and tidy, but it is not hard to do so as the breakaway is progressive unless provoked.
The fact this car weighs 1780kg becomes most apparent once the rear-end gets pendulous, and if nothing else, this certainly adds a lot to the engagement and satisfaction of driving this car with gusto.
A pretty quick steering rack means slides can be controlled without furious arm-twirling and, for more prosaic driving, has not impacted the Stinger’s pretty compact 11.2m turning circle that makes it easy to manoeuvre.
Just stick to Comfort mode in the city if you don’t want to drift across a tricky junction when making a dash through gaps in traffic – don’t ask how we know this.
Downsides apart from the slightly compromised low-speed ride?The damping was caught out by a couple of road lumps just before a crest, causing our Stinger to bounce over the hill a little and a rippled stretch of up-hill bitumen also upset the traction control so much that the warning light remained on for a couple of hundred metres, during which the Stinger refused to accelerate at anything more than a snail’s pace.
Also, at 90km/h and above there was an odd helicopter-like sound that seemed to come from somewhere around the rear. It was difficult to tell whether there was an associated vibration or whether it was just resonance from the deep pulsating, flapping sound.
Our car may have had a slight wheel balance or tyre issue, but we have heard reports of this phenomenon being a common Stinger trait.
Safety and servicing
At the time of writing, ANCAP had not yet rated the stinger for crash safety.
Standard safety equipment includes seven airbags seatbelt pre-tensioners and load-limiters, active front head restraints, three child restraint anchorages and two Isofix positions.
The usual anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability control and traction control are present and supplemented by a hill holder, tyre pressure sensors, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors and an active safety bonnet for pedestrian protection.
Kia’s market-leading seven-year warranty, seven-year capped servicing, and seven-year roadside assistance package includes 12-month/10,000km service intervals.
Under the capped-price program, the seven services cost between $252 and $785 depending on interval, averaging at $487.43, or a total cost of $3412 over seven years (correct at time of writing).
That Kia has stepped up to provide such a fast and fascinating enthusiast-friendly car is pretty astonishing. That they got the Stinger so right, straight off the bat, is even more impressive.
But perhaps not surprising, given Kia’s recent form in consistently putting out excellent and genuinely desirable vehicles. Still, a car like this is a significant departure for the brand.
Apart from concerns about the sunroof fitted to the GT robbing what limited headroom the Stinger provides, were it our money the decision to spend an extra $4000 over the Si seems a no-brainer for so much more equipment and adaptive suspension that helps address the round-town ride comfort.
If you’re in the market, the Stinger comes recommended. The downsides are few and the upsides many.
And if your experience is anything like ours, you will have a car that never fails to turn heads and prompt questions from interested onlookers.
That is surely of even more significance for a Kia.
Volkswagen Arteon from $65,490 plus on-road costs
Like the Stinger, the Arteon is pitched at pushing its brand into new and more upmarket territory. This technological tour-de-force is a fair bit pricier than the Kia and can’t match its outright performance, but the swoopy coupe-like shape and grand touring personality are cut from a similar cloth.
Holden Calais SS-V Redline from $57,190 plus on-road costs
At the time of writing there were still a handful of these in dealer stock and the V6 Stinger – particularly in top-spec GT form – serves as a kind of spiritual successor to this car in a way the imported Commodore will not.
Forever an icon and brimming with character, a bellowing V8 – available with a manual – and an incredibly well-sorted chassis. It’s more spacious for rear passengers than the Stinger, too.
Chrysler 300 C from $55,000 plus on-road costs
A naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6 cannot match the Stinger’s twin-turbo 3.3-litre unit at this price and you are getting an ageing brick-shaped beast compared with the svelte, all-new Kia. But the Chrysler 300 retains a great deal of politically incorrect charm.
BMW 420i Gran Coupe from $74,900 plus on-road costs
The car that Kia is going after overseas. The BMW has a smaller engine, less standard kit and is $20,000 more expensive than the Kia. But many would pay that for the badge on the 4 Series’ boot and bonnet.
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