Car reviews - Kia - Stinger - range
Great build quality, GT a value standout, V6’s steering and playful rear-end, four-cylinder’s agility, adaptive suspension’s ride quality
Room for improvement
Tight rear-seat, 2.0-litre should be cheaper, GT deserves Michelin tyres and sports exhaust, standard suspension’s ride quality
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19 Sep 2017
ASIAN fusion is a very 21st-century culinary concept. Taking traditional dishes from other regions and mixing techniques together could also, however, have been the design brief for the Kia Stinger.
Kia wanted to build a rival to Germany’s BMW 4 Series. Yet if this South Korean’s build quality is anything like Hyundai’s Genesis, it should feel more than a little like a Japanese Lexus inside.
With Australia’s rich history in rear-wheel-drive performance sedans, however, the Stinger comes armed with a turbo four-cylinder, like the short-lived Ford Falcon EcoBoost, plus a boosted V6 that seems spiritually like that of a Falcon XR6 Turbo. Except with real luxury and Brembo brakes on V6s, the Stinger also seems akin to an also short-lived, pre-2013 Holden Calais V Redline.
The Stinger really does seem like a fusion of style and space, or luxury and sports. And with the last remaining local rear-drive sedan gone next month, the pressure is now on to see if Kia has served an enticing first dish of this kind – and whether it really can appeal to this country’s large-car tastes.
The Kia Stinger is not a traditional sedan. A look head-on at a flagship GT confirms its 1870mm width and 1400mm height, which leaves it 28mm narrower but 71mm lower than a Commodore. And at 4830mm long the Kia is 120mm shorter, yet its 2905mm wheelbase is only 10mm shy.
A pushed-forward front axle line is probably the clearest link with our final Australian sedan, but the sloping roofline, low driving position and superb interior fit-and-finish feel foreign.
The Stinger feels like a semi-premium offering, particularly as a 200 GT-Line and 330 GT.
Flaunting a colour head-up display and ‘floating’ colour driver display, 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio, aluminium trim, suede rooflining, and Nappa leather seats with heating and ventilation, the top models somehow seem like bargain buys at between $55,990 and $59,990 plus on-road costs, boasting lush kit not found in a $56,750 Holden Calais V, for example.
Curiously, though, while the $45,990 200S and $48,990 330S get a 7.0-inch (versus 8.0-inch) touchscreen, they lack the front parking sensors, auto-park assistance, head-up display and blind-spot monitor all standard on a $40,490 Commodore SV6, as an equivalent example.
Even the $52,990 200 Si and $55,990 330 Si lack the latter trio of features.
They add autonomous emergency braking (AEB), active cruise and lane-keep assistance – admittedly unavailable in the older Holden – but still forgo heated front seats or a sunroof.
The coupe-style design also impacts headroom even for this 178cm-tall tester in any Stinger. Rear legroom is tighter than expected, too, although quality remains terrific in the rear, right down to the soft-touch door trims and circular air vents. Sure, the 406-litre boot volume also seems a bit small, but the liftback design aids practicality. Plus, there’s an electric tailgate sweetener on the GT duo.
Kia’s 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder closely rivals Holden’s 3.6-litre V6, with 182kW of power at 6200rpm (versus 210kW) and 353Nm of torque from 1400rpm until 4000rpm (against 350Nm).
While those Stingers claim a 6.0-second 0-100km/h – thanks to launch control standard across the range – the engine can also sound grainy and feel strained.
For only an extra $3000 (on S and Si) to $4000 (GT-Line to GT), the 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6 boosts to 272kW at 6000rpm and 510Nm from 1300rpm until 4500rpm, comparing well with a 304kW/570Nm 6.2-litre V8-powered Calais V. Even the 4.9s 0-100km/h claim is identical.
This is a smooth, rapid performer, with a cultured personality that sadly does not extend to the exhaust. While the Stinger V6 sounds like a vacuum cleaner outside, an optional sports exhaust will become available within weeks – and a prototype preview revealed that the dealer-fit accessory does enhance sound.
But it is also very subtle, and does not come cheap at an expected $2000 extra.
All S and Si model grades also have fixed suspension, whereas the GT-Line and GT come with three-mode adaptive suspension incorporating Smart (or ‘auto), Comfort and Sport settings.
A slightly jittery standard ride on country backroads disappoints somewhat, particularly in the context of an expectedly loping large car. The Australian engineers have delivered fine body control, but the non-flagship Stingers do not filter out minor road irregularities well enough.
It is a revelation swapping to the adaptive-equipped top models. The more silken damping especially gels with the syrupy V6, and while Comfort can be bouncy on challenging roads, Smart is excellent and Sport focuses on firm discipline while mostly avoiding harshness.
The quicker steering of the V6 also helps the faster Kias shrink around the driver, with a 9-and-3 hand position able to be retained even in tight corners without crossing arms. Weighting is spot-on in all Stingers, too, being only marginally firmer in Sport.
In isolation the four-cylinder Stingers handle very well. At every tight corner of the Wakefield Park racetrack that Kia hired for the national media launch the 87kg-lighter (at 1693kg) 2.0-litre Stinger proved sharper and more agile than the V6 – especially through a trio of tight right-hand bends.
Without Brembo brakes and a limited-slip differential (LSD), however, the fours were also far less keen to engage the rear-end on corner exit, while versions without adaptive suspension proved noticeably more susceptible to bodyroll.
The twin-turbo V6 with adaptive suspension was superb on the track and road alike, locking the front shock absorbers on turn-in to a corner in Sport mode to keep the body flat while displaying excellent balance, being deliciously adjustable on the throttle and frankly heaps of fun.
Here, the Stinger GT felt most Commodore-esque.
A big surprise was the lenient electronic stability control (ESC) tune, although when it did intervene it was not as smooth as the Holden. It deserves a proper Sport mode, as does the auto – while paddleshifters can be used, the eight-speed regularly and frustratingly defaults back to Drive.
But it has taken Holden years to polish these details that are only slightly missing in the Stinger.
One other asterisk is that Kia fitted all on-track Stingers with superb Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres that are unavailable to customers. It deems the standard Continental ContiSports unsuitable for the track work due to wear issues – and having sampled that tyre on other performance cars, we concur.
On the road, however, the Continentals grip well, with the unique dynamic traits found on the track emulated on country backroads at legal speeds and continuing the divide between the energetic four and playful yet malleable V6, which loves to shift its rear but does so progressively. Thanks must go to the terrific throttle response from the superb engine.
As with the sports exhaust, however, hopefully Kia can make the Michelins available in the Stinger GT, which most deserves it. And as with auto and ESC tuning, on the road some tweaking of the fixed suspension is all that is required to further polish this large gem.
It is rare that the top models are the most persuasive among mainstream models, too, but the Stinger GT feels more alluring at $60K than the four-cylinder model grades do at under $55K. It is a little BMW 440i, a dash of Falcon XR6 Turbo, a hint of Calais V, and seemingly with the build of a Lexus. Yet for all that it is a concoction all its own, which might just be its tastiest virtue of all.
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