Driven: 2018 Kia Stinger GT AWD – Promises Kept

By Author: Harvey Briggs, Date: Jan 11, 2018
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Few cars were introduced last year with more hype than the Kia Stinger GT. We were promised Nurburgring-tuned performance. We were promised BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz level quality. We were promised a car that would change perceptions of the entire Kia brand. Pretty bold. But then again, you don’t name a car Stinger unless you plan to deliver something that is going to leave a mark.

The early reviews have all been positive. Kia actually took a cadre of journalists to Germany to drive pre-production versions of the Stinger GT on the Green Hell. My friend Matt Askari’s experience is similar to those others reported. (My invitation must have gotten lost somewhere in those pipes and tubes that make up the interwebs.)

So the question as I took delivery of the Kia Stinger for a week in frigid Wisconsin was not, “is the Stinger a competent performance car?” It is. But rather, “is it a performance car you can live with?”

My first surprise came on opening the front door to the Stinger and peering inside. Kia’s done some decent interiors before, most notably in the Cadenza, but nothing like this. Not only did they get the design of important things right like the seats, steering wheel, and instrument panel, but they’ve also elevated the quality of materials, fit, and finish to a level that rivals another car in this category, the Lexus GS. The touch points – which include rotary dials for both the HVAC system and radio tuning and volume – have a metallic finish. The buttons on the center console that serve as a menu for the 8-inch touch screen are large and easy to read, and the touchscreen itself is very responsive showing little lag. It’s simple, intuitive, and smart.

Behind the Wheel: Kia Stinger GT

The instrument panel picks up on that trend with two large circular gauges flanking a center driver information screen that you can scroll through to get everything from trip information to a G-Force meter to let you know how much of the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires you’re using. There’s a customizable head-up display in the Stinger GT as well, which is important because this thing gets from zero to extra-legal speeds in a hurry. No, it’s not a McLaren, but it will hustle you to 60 in well under 5 seconds making it the quickest Kia ever.

This is achieved thanks to a 3.3-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine that makes 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, and a drive mode select system that has eco, comfort, sport, and custom settings, you can tune the performance of the car to the driving you’ll be doing. The drive mode select system alters throttle mapping, transmission shift points, steering feel, and suspension damping. Drive around town in Eco mode and it almost feels like you’re driving an ordinary sedan. But turn the dial to the right and Sport mode leaves no doubt this is a car that was designed to be driven, fast.

Much to the joy of my local purveyor of petrol, I kept the Stinger in Sport mode most of the time meaning I averaged somewhere around 15 miles per gallon during the week. And it was worth it. I had a few high-speed runs to get a sense of the car’s stability, which was excellent. A few times I tweaked the throttle, sending the rear end sliding in the corners, which was another surprise since this car features all-wheel drive. It turns out the system has an 80/20 rear bias until the computers determine you need more grip up front at which point up to 50% of the power can be directed to the fore. Were I to own this car and plan on driving it year round, I would get myself an extra set of wheels fitted with Blizzaks for the winter months. All-season tires, even the performance variety, are a compromise which instead of delivering the best of both worlds always seem to end up giving you the worst. If you’re spending $50,000 on a performance car, spend a couple grand more on a second set of tires if you live where it snows.

The other strong point about the Stinger is its exterior design. This is a seriously handsome car. The long hood, low roof, wide stance, and sloped rear deck create a promise of performance that the engine, transmission, suspension, and chassis are more than happy to keep. Vents front and aft of the wheel arches in front ensure the 13.8-inch Brembo rotors their four-piston calipers stay cool no matter how often or how hard you stand on the brakes. This gives you plenty of stopping power that remains consistent even after an hour of spirited driving. While the hatchback design does good things for the profile and has practical advantages in terms of cargo room and flexibility, there are a couple of drawbacks. First, rear visibility isn’t great. The window is narrow and its steep rake means, especially when you’re tall like me, you can’t see very far behind you through the rearview mirror. The other is noise. With just a cargo shelf separating the cabin from the trunk, there’s a lot of road noise. Also, in my test car the rear seatbacks rattled over bumps. I think this is due to the fact they’re only really anchored on the outside. Yes, it’s a nit, but Kia wants to be compared to Audi and Mercedes-Benz and that’s an issue you don’t have in their cars.

So the list of positives is long and negative list is very, very short. The Stinger GT is a very livable performance car that seats four comfortably, has plenty of room for your stuff, and is just a blast to drive whether you take the long way to the grocery store as I did, driving 46 miles to end up just a few blocks down the street, or you’re taking off for a weekend adventure. The 2018 Kia Stinger GT AWD is the rare new car that actually lives up to the hype.

2018 Kia Stinger GT AWD
Four-door, five-passenger, high-performance hatchback
Base Price: $39.250 (includes destination)
Price as tested: $52,300
Major Options: All-wheel drive ($2,200), GT2 Package ($4,450) includes auto high beams, rain sensing wipers, sunroof with power sunshade, blind spot warning with lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision assistance with pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, driver attention warning, shift by wire gear selector, Harman/Kardon 720 watt 15-speaker sound system.
Engine: 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 with direct fuel injection
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters
Power: 365 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM
Torque: 376 lb.-ft. @ 1,300-4,500 RPM
Curb Weight: 4,023 pounds
0-60 MPH: 4.6 seconds
Top Speed: 167 MPH
EPA MPG: 19 City, 25 Highway, 21 Combined

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Harvey Briggs

Harvey Briggs is the Founder, Editor, and Publisher of Rides & Drives. He has also written for Car and Driver, Winding Road, and the luxury lifestyle blog, Pursuitist.com. His passions run from fast cars, small planes, boats and motorcycles to music, travel, and sports. When he's not on the road testing the latest cars, he been known to turn up on stage playing rock and blues guitar at clubs around his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Follow Harvey's adventures on Instagram and Twitter @harvey_drives and find him on Facebook. Though keeping up could be a problem. As Harvey says, "If I don't slow down, time can't catch me."

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