You know Kia. Twenty years ago it was the Kia Sportage, an attractive take on the compact crossover that payment buyers fell into. Sometimes it was of their own accord, but more often because it was the only type of car they could buy – and the only type of dealer they could buy it from. More recently, Kia gave us the Soul, using hamsters in the pitch and an accessible mix of distinctive design, competent build and utility in the end product. But in the 20+ years spent developing their brand in the U.S., no one – we can safely say – expected the Stinger GT. The Stinger’s debut in the U.S. is stunning, even more so when considering there was no collusion.
In your first glance you know this is a dynamic piece of sheetmetal. All of its 190 inches are planted on the pavement, with relatively low height, substantial width and staggered track. If you were expecting a competitor for the 3 Series, know the Stinger landed in territory more correctly occupied by BMW’s 5 Series and the Audi A6. Unlike a few Korean design efforts coming before it (think Hyundai’s first Genesis), the Stinger comes across as more original, although if looking for a stylistic influence I’d probably go with Porsche’s Panamera. It, too, is planted – and it, too, takes no sh*t from any other 4-door.
Inside, our top-of-the-line Stinger GT2 exudes a Germanic ambience. The buckets up front are sized for the more generous proportions of what we’ll call ‘mature’ Americans, while the dash and control layout is an almost-artful mix of the last century and this one. I like the ability to turn on the radio or find a/c with but one motion and not three, and while wishing the overall design was a tad more artful in both layout and materials, Kia has done a better job here than Alfa Romeo did on its Giulia.
And there is room! In front you expect to be accommodated, but little prepares you for the almost limo-like proportions of the rear. The Stinger is a solidly midsize hatch; with the rear seat up, take the kids. And with the rear seat folded haul the Stumpjumper. It’s akin to having an all-activity vehicle, except that in a performance-oriented hatch driving can be the activity.
It’s under the hood, however, that a star is born. Available with either a 2.0 liter turbocharged four or 3.3 liter twin turbocharged V6, our test GT2 came in the King Kong (big) or Kim Jong Un (way crazy) spec. The mill boasts 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque (at between 1,300 and 4,500 rpm). Driving through an 8-speed automatic via your choice of five driving modes, this thing fully puts the ‘sport’ in sport hatch. Despite – with all-wheel drive – having two tons to motivate, there are absolutely no issues in merging, passing or p*ssing off your significant other. Just make sure you’ve budgeted for defensive driving – at best – or bail.
Despite the Stinger’s midsize footprint, its accurate steering and tailhook-type braking supply a smaller, more tossable platform. On what we think of as our own ‘Rattlesnake Raceway’ in suburban D.C., the Stinger GT darts from apex – or attempted apex – to apex with a self-assuredness that would bring out the Mario Andretti in even the most reserved. In our view, it’s Six Flags Over Seoul – without the waiting.
But then, of course, there’s the bottom line. While the Stinger starts in the low $30s, our hard-loaded GT2 sat at $52K. And as those trolling the Benz, BMW and Audi websites would know, you can buy a lot of German sedan for $52,000. BUT! You won’t buy this combination of capability and performance; BMW’s 3 Series is smaller and less practical, while the Mercedes C Class is too stoic.
We’d take a chance on a 4-cylinder RWD Stinger for around $35K, and simply laugh at those spending a similar amount for an Accord or Camry. But if you have the coin or credit and, uh, courage, this thing will remind you of your mid-‘80s crotch rocket. Thirty years later. For your aging crotch.