The 2018 Kia Stinger is a provocatively named, turbocharged fastback sedan that arrives in America in a few months, and we’ve just been given a great snapshot of what to expect at Germany’s notorious Nürburgring circuit.
While the very final tuning is under way, the late-stage prototypes we drove are “99 percent there,” says Albert Biermann, former BMW M chief engineer, now head of engineering for the Hyundai Group. Despite our first experience with the Stinger being at a famously technical track, Biermann and others stressed that the Stinger is very much a grand tourer. To be clear, just about no one will track the Stinger. So why then do we find ourselves in the Eifel region of Western Germany? Because Korea’s new sports sedan signals a dramatic brand shift for Kia, and the Stinger GT is the first to reflect a new, more performance-oriented direction. Kia at the Nürburgring? If you want to make a point, this is one way to do it.
Arriving this fall, the Stinger will have three powertrain options on offer globally, but only two gas-fueled turbocharged engines for North America. The entry-level Stinger 2.0T is rated at 255 hp and 260 lb-ft, but our impressions are based on the GT, motivated by Kia’s brawnier 3.3-liter twin-turbo, good for 365 hp and 376 lb-ft. Peak power arrives at 6,000 rpm, and peak torque between 1,300 and 4,500 rpm. All engines — including the not-for-America 2.2-liter diesel — are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles. Both rear-wheel drive and AWD configurations will be available.
While the automaker has made some sporty-looking, attractive sedans such as the Optima Turbo, and Cadenza, it wants to “make them drive like they look,” says Biermann. Throw the ‘Ring’s 73 corners, 17 percent incline, and 11 percent decline — all at speed — and you’ll learn quite a bit about Kia’s newest, very quickly.
So how does the Stinger drive? If this was an exercise to understand the touring aspects of the car, it was lost on us. Lap one of our lead-follow drive on the ‘Ring wasted no time in demonstrating this new, more dynamic direction. The pace car in front smashed the throttle and entered the ‘Ring at speed, banking hard-left on the first turn. I followed suit, mashing the gas, flying into the first turn, tires screeching, the rear sliding out just a bit despite the GT’s AWD.
Immediately I’m surprised by the acceleration. Despite the presence of twin compressors, the Stinger is quite long, and at more than 3,800 pounds, I didn’t expect it to be this quick off the line. Then again, the manufacturer quotes a 0-62 mph time of 4.9 seconds, which makes it the quickest Kia ever. Still, after many years of driving Kias, I somehow didn’t believe the GT could accelerate like it does.
Turn after turn, I’m almost giddy because the steering is so responsive, and the handling is surprisingly good. One thing I notice is conflicting impressions of the boost: At times it seemingly comes on immediately, and others there’s noticeable lag. Because everything is happening so fast out on the notoriously tricky ‘Ring, I’m not really able to suss out why. We’ll need more time in the car to figure that out.
Getting up to speed is easy, but braking is at least as important. At one point I see 154 mph on the longest straight, so it’s reassuring that the Brembos scrub speed in such a linear way. There’s a bit of travel on the pedal, but we’re told that the pads and discs have not been changed all day, despite logging hours of duress on the Nürburgring.
Biermann tells us braking is an area Kia’s engineers focused on more than on any previous model. “The most important thing is that it’s consistent,” he says, adding, “I think we achieved that, I’m pleased with it.”
The high-performance ventilated Brembo disc brakes –350 mm at the front, 340 mm at the rear –are quad-piston calipers in front, dual-piston rear. The Brembos are standard exclusively on the GT models, 2.0T Stingers will be fitted with an in-house developed setup. It should be noted that while the GTs will come with high-performance Michelin 225/40 R19 and 255/35 R19 on the front and rear, the 2.0T Stingers are fitted with 225/45 R18 Bridgestone tires.
With five driving modes, the suspension utilizing struts up front, and a multilink setup in the rear, one aspect of the GT that we most definitely could gauge was the ride comfort. We were encouraged to drive in Comfort mode, a small barrier against the ‘Ring’s brutal elevation changes and banking, with the suspension travel really being put to the test. While much of our drive time was indeed in Comfort, we switched into Sport mode as well. At such dramatic speed, it was a little hard to fully gauge the differences. The violence of track — hard acceleration, turning, braking — amplifies some impressions, while making others more nuanced.
What’s clear, however, is the GT will be a very capable long-distance cruiser, and significantly, that’s a primary selling point. “We were inspired by the grand tourers of the ’60s and ’70s, Gregory Guillaume, Kia Motors Europe’s chief designer, and lead designer on the Stinger told us. The car was made for road trips, with the idea that you could drive all day but still arrive refreshed at your destination. While three laps on the ‘Ring – two driving and one as a passenger – didn’t exactly leave us “refreshed,” it did leave us exhilarated.
And while the first go was in the AWD Stinger, lap two found us in the rear-wheel drive model. While AWD can send up to 50 percent of power up to the front axle if needed via an electronically-controlled clutch, the RWD employs a limited-slip differential on the rear axle, and can shift power between the wheels via brake-torque vectoring.
With a faint acquaintance of the track, we were able to more confidently enter the famous Carousel, and take a few of the turns with a little more confidence. While both models were quite capable, the rear-driver was, as you might expect, a little more fun, and the one we’d want. But if your driving conditions require both axles engaged, you’ll still be getting a very fun driver.
With a wheelbase of about 114 inches, the long hood and fastback profile give Stinger good proportions and plenty of gran turismo presence. The tiger-nose grille, sharp LED headlights, and air-intake garnishes up front give the Stinger a well-defined aesthetic. Quad pipes in the rear, and slight diffusers round out a strong appearance.
On the inside you can see clear cues from the German counterparts in the segment, with Burmeister look-alike speakers surrounded by a faux-metallic finish — there’s also an available 720-watt, 15-speaker Harmon Kardon surround-sound system — three cylindrical air vents on the center stack, and the 8.0-inch infotainment screen tacked above the dash. But overall the cabin is comfortable, roomy, and attractive. There’s plenty of head and legroom in the rear, and despite a high beltline, visibility is good.
While Kia says it’s aiming for the Germans, like the Audi A4, BMW 4 Series, or Mercedes-Benz C-Class, you’d also have to consider the Inifiniti Q50 and Lexus IS to be competitors. What buyers actually will cross-shop with remains to be seen, but with the Stinger, Kia is making a deliberate shift into a more premium space.
The 2018 Kia Stinger GT will arrive in America in October, and there’s much we still want to assess between now and then. But what’s clear is the Stinger will be the most appealing Kia we’ve seen yet. With striking design, a level of dynamic handling and capability never-before experienced from Korea, and more allure than anything wearing a Kia badge, we’re looking forward to getting more time with the Stinger.