Yes, the folks with the Rio and the value-priced sport-utes have rolled out an all-new model – the Stinger – that can pretty much hold its own where rubber meets road. I don’t expect a mass exodus from the premium-brand showrooms, but the Stinger is way better than I expected. And I’m sure there are a few people glad to hear that: Kia offered it for pre-order and 130 people plunked down a deposit, test-drive be damned.
You could sell on the looks alone, with that long-hood, short-butt Gran Turismo styling (although it reduces rear-window visibility to just a narrow slit). But you need more than a pretty face, and Kia backs it up with solid performance.
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American buyers can start with a 255-horsepower, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. That’s scheduled for our market next spring, but for now, we get only the top-end powerplant, a 3.3L twin-turbo V6 that cranks out 365 horsepower, along with 376 lb.-ft. of torque. Offering a manual transmission would have really cemented this car’s chops, but power slides exclusively through an eight-speed automatic on its way to all four wheels.
It’s a smooth-shifting unit, but has one of those awful electronic shifters that moves from the middle position so you’re pushing forward for Reverse, along with hitting a separate button for Park. U.S. cars get a rear-wheel-drive version as well, and so the AWD system is otherwise biased toward the back wheels, giving them 80 per cent of power in the “Sport” drive mode.
Kia has always been about lots of stuff for the price, and the hit on the wallet is surprisingly easy. The base GT trim level comes in at $44,195, and for that you get leather seats, Brembo brakes, a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, a power-adjustable and heated steering wheel, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, and 12-way driver and 10-way passenger power-adjustable chairs.
The GT Limited rings in at $49,995 adding such items as Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a 15-speaker Harman-Kardon audio system, wireless phone charging, rain-sensing wipers, GPS navigation, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, a heads-up display, and adaptive headlamps. Both trims come with high-performance Michelin summer tires, while the winter-tire package available at the dealer is by Pirelli. That’s common for a sports sedan, but those used to mainstream products will have to remember to budget for the winter booties.
On winding roads and even an autocross course, the Stinger was all about the drive. The engine has a delicious rumble, and acceleration is pleasingly quick – Kia claims zero-to-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds – faster than a base Porsche Panamera. Weight distribution is 52/48 front to rear, and it corners flat. Taking it from “Normal” to “Sport” mode increases the steering weight to a satisfying feel, and the feedback lets you know what’s under those performance tires.
At the autocross course, Kia brought along competitors from BMW, Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, and a even a Porsche Panamera for comparison testing. And here’s the thing: The Stinger didn’t measurably outdrive most of them, but it was right up there with them. It digs in and hugs the corners, accelerates smoothly with no lag, and those big Brembo brakes bring it down fast and straight. Once back on the highway, it was a smooth and well-planted touring car, with supportive seats that stayed comfortable throughout the day’s drive.
The interior is handsome and roomy, both front and back, and the sloping rear hatch – power-operated, with a hands-free function – opens to reveal a generous cargo area. The slick design still retains functionality, with infotainment and climate controls that are wonderfully simple, especially when compared to the far more complicated ones in the higher-end models I drove alongside the Stinger. There are some items that remind you that it is a Kia, such as some hard-glossy-plastic buttons on the steering wheel, but I don’t see that as an issue when you look at the price.
That price-and-performance package is the deal here, for a car that really doesn’t have any direct competition from other non-premium manufacturers. The Stinger can dance with the big boys, but I’m not going to suggest that many Audi and BMW buyers are going to cross the street to it. Instead, I think it’s going to open the door to those who can’t afford the premium seats, but still want to attend the game.
Sibling company Hyundai, which once proudly announced it sold the cheapest car in Canada, proved it could do luxury, and do it well, with Genesis. I think Kia’s going to do the same with the Stinger, but with performance. And even if you can afford more, you should still give the Stinger a whirl.
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