The Kia Stinger truly is the muscle car that came out of nowhere. With brutish power and refinement, this could very well be the future.
I have seen the future, and it is now. The Kia Stinger GT encompasses it. It’s a muscle car with the heavy on-road feel of the Challenger and the heavy steering of the Mustang. Like the Dodge Charger, it has four doors. But it’s also got refinement, sophistication, and seamless power that none of those cars share, because they are big-brute V8s. That’s not a criticism (I drive a V8 Mustang); it’s an indication of where speed is going as it relates to car design and engineering.
I know the perfect word for the Stinger: svelte. The power comes on like velvet, not so much picking up the front end or loosening the rear end as just putting a hand right square on your heart and pushing you back into the driver’s seat—hard.
What’s velvet about that? You don’t feel it anywhere but in that polar center of your body. The car itself is simply, suddenly going faster. And you can have this rush any time you want it, even from a standstill in the “Eco” mode. But you’re probably going to want to be in “Sport,” and that’s accomplished by flicking a little dial on the center console to the right.
The only complaint I have, and I only mention it now because we’re talking power and drive, is that the automatic tranny shifts too much. That is, eight drive gears are just too many. You’re always shifting. It’s too herky-jerky.
Well, there is one further gripe, but this is not Kia’s fault: the auto-off feature that cuts the engine to save a teaspoon of gas when you’re stopped must be defeated manually by pushing a switch every time you start the car. Drag. Probably a governmental reg, as I have noted in reviews of other cars recently. It’s not that restart is not instantaneous; it’s that the vestigial air conditioning available as you sit is not enough for most SoCal days, starting right about the late spring-early summer of the year. Even 80 degrees outside is too much, and you have to push the little “A” and restart the car.
Far outweighing those little negatives are the positives, big and small.
This car is far more fun to drive than the Lexus RC 350 F Sport I tested recently. Its engine specs are relatively similar (the Lexus is a 3.5 litre, the Kia a 3.3), but the Kia gets up and goes, with almost frightening capability, whereas the Lexus thinks the matter over for a split second.
Despite the rush of power, though, the car always holds the road. You can’t induce wheelspin, or at least I couldn’t, and corners are taken with the flat confidence that makes the car feel glued to the road.
Just to make the point that I continue to be impressed with the way Kia engineers things, here are three car-to-driver interfaces that are different than anyone else’s, and outstanding:
The key fob, which is the part of the car you’re in touch with every time you use it, after all, is different than most rectangular fobs. It has a kind of a thumb switch that you push to open the locks. No more turning the fob over in your hand or finding it spun upside down in your pocket. Ergonomics and engineering at work here, even in a seemingly small thing.
The shifter handle, again a part of the car that you’re in touch with on every drive. It’s kind of short, but thick, and it has a most satisfying thumb switch on the left side to allow you to move it up and down the gears.
The radio is quite sensible and easy to use, and there’s a “radio” button placed next to the tuning knob that allows you to switch back to radio mode on the electronic screen where information is displayed. You actually WANT to use this feature, unlike in the Toyo-Lexus models, which have a completely crap track pad that drives users mad and gets complaints in every review of any model so equipped.
Add these things to super-stylish leather seats (red in the model I drove), interesting displays that can be selected to appear on the central screen, such as those depicting the drive modes via graphics, and a hatchback, and you’ve got yourself an interesting vehicle.
Did I say “hatchback”? Think about the meetings that were held when this car was proposed.
“Well, Mr. Senior Director of Product Planning, I have designed the future of sports sedans,” said the youngster.
“Oh really, young design school grad with huge student debt, tell me.”
“Well, sir, it’s a four-door.”
“That’s alright, kid. People drive Dodge Chargers after all.”
“You could call it the world’s first GT hatchback.” Big smile. Long pause. Image of the unemployment line floating in front of eyes.
“A hatchback, you say? How’s that going to sell?”
Well, let me tell you, it’s a bit odd. Now, having a place to bring home the Christmas tree, throw a cabinet in and move it to a friend’s place, or put a modestly sized and partially assembled bar-be-que in after buying it closeout at the Lowes late in August has its charms. Every household probably needs at least one such car, truck, or the like. But a hatchback sports sedan that can kick the tail of most other sports cars out there under $50 grand, “That’s just weird, honey,” to quote the Annette Benning character in American Beauty.
But it’s been tried before.
Those of you with a certain seasoning will remember the Buick Custom Hatchback 2-door. The rest of you can internet search it. Who knows if Kia was thinking of this when they made the Stinger GT, but there is a certain familial resemblance, at least in the trunk-that’s-actually-a-hatch aspect.
Does it work? Well, it’s functional, as we just covered. The hatch is not very visible, from the outside, though the car overall has a kind of elongated quality to it due to the trunk/hatch. From inside, the penalty is clear—small rear window and not a great deal of rear visibility.
All of that aside, this is one beautiful and nicely appointed sports sedan from the outside. Mine had red brake calipers. There are air inlets in front of and behind the front wheels and on the hood, the latter non-functional. You could criticize that, since everything else on the car is so purposefully designed, but hey—why not throw a little boy-racer at this thing, since you’re invoking the sports mode of thinking with the Stinger?
Under the hood, you have a handsome engine cover and two turbo units, plus X-bracing going from the shock towers to the front frame member surrounding the radiator. The hoses and other mechanical pieces are a bit of a rat’s nest, truthfully, but maybe that’s Kia’s next foray—cleaning up under the hood the way that the German competition in the sports sedan segment does.
But you know what? Even if they never get around to that, who cares? You’re not going to see under the hood from behind the wheel. But you are going to feel the next-to-frightening power and awesome balance of this car when you mashify that little pedal under your right foot. And you’re gonna be glad that someone is willing to go into product planning meetings and ask for something new to be offered.
It has never occurred to me to buy a Kia, but I’d buy the Stinger.