Interesting looks, plenty of performance, massively well-equipped, unbeatable warranty
Indecisive gearbox, iffy cabin details, inefficient engines
What is it?
Meet Kia’s flagship. The long, low, 4 Series Gran Coupe-sized Stinger is a five-door ‘liftback’ that exists to give Kia some proper brand kudos beyond hatchbacks and crossovers. It’s the first rear-wheel drive car the Korean company has ever produced, its been set up by ex-BMW M Division chief Albert Biermann, and at the top of the Stinger range there’s a GT S performance version with 365bhp. Basically, this is Kia saying ‘look what we can do. We can do handsome, interesting, driver’s cars’. Except, because it’s a Kia, what you lose in badge kudos you gain in equipment as standard and the unbeatable seven-year warranty.
Yes, there’ll be plenty of you looking at those prices and exclaiming in horror at the prospect of a £40,000 Kia. A Kia instead of a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe or Audi A5 Sportback. This doesn’t worry Kia. Its primary targets are American and East Asian sales, where customer badge envy is less prevalent, and the Stinger’s huge equipment checklist will help to shift it. European sales are predicted to only make up seven to ten per cent of the Stinger’s total, and in the UK there’ll only be about 1,800 a year finding homes. Over here, the Stinger is supposed to catch eyes and impress punters as it sits among the Kia range in the showroom, or on the website. If you’re reading this now, you’re at least mildly interested in whether or not it’s a credible sports saloon, so it’s doing its job.
To drive, the Stinger is actually nicely sorted, particularly the ultimate GT S version, which is fast, forgiving and more agile than its size or weight suggests. The fundamentals of the driving position are sound, it rides well, steers accurately and it’ll keep pace with a BMW 440i. The standard-fit eight-speed automatic gearbox isn’t much cop, and there are too many driver modes with too little differentiation for our liking, but the driving experience is nowhere near as left-field as you might have expected. The Stinger’s competitive enough to be credible, and as a first effort for a sport saloon, that’s a major result. With so much equipment as standard, it also manages to feel like tremendous value, offering so much that the Germans leave on the options list.
The 2.2 diesel is the one to avoid like a flatulent relative on Boxing Day – it’s not green or clean enough to be recommendable and its agricultural roughness ruins the Stinger’s composure, but the 2.0-litre petrol and V6s are much, much more like it. There’s enough space for a family, it’s a refined cruiser, and it’s possibly the most handsome Korean car ever. There’s more than enough to like here for the Kia Stinger to deserve its albeit small following.
Read the full long term Kia Stinger review by clicking these blue words.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
Nice job, Kia. The Stinger drives well enough to be taken seriously, looks interesting enough to stand out, and is well-equipped and well built enough to justify the highest prices ever applied to a Kia model. If we were to pitch one head to head with an Audi S4 or BMW 440i tomorrow, it probably wouldn’t win out, because of the niggles with its gearbox and cabin trim, plus the hopelessly inefficient engines.
But as a big picture, as a brand-builder to change attitude, the Stinger is on the money. It’s yet more evidence the Korean machine doesn’t see itself as limited to humdrum family cars – it’ll take on the European hegemony and if this is the first effort, it’s going very much in the right direction. It’s a guaranteed head-turner, if nothing else, and the sheer amount of equipment Kia fits, to keep you safe and entertained, is a major selling point in itself.