Those typing the words ‘KIA Dealership Near Me’ into their Google search bar are likely to have been enticed by accessible pricing, fresh design philosophy and the overall strength of KIA’s warranty offerings. Some of us might still remember KIA’s stateside presence during its infancy, back when there was only a modest audience proving responsive to their offerings. But flash forward a couple of decades and it’s a very different world for the South Korean automaker, who has stepped outside of Hyundai’s shadow to carve out their own piece of the automotive pie.
And never was that well-earned independence felt more than during the development and release of the KIA Stinger. If you had asked my twenty-two year old, muscle-car infatuated self if I could imagine buying a KIA, you’d probably be blown out the door by the wind of my riotous laughter. And while the 2011 tease of the KIA GT concept was enough to catch my attention, I’ve been to enough rodeos not to hold my breath waiting for most concept vehicles to make their way into the production schedule. All-too-often, it’s a long road; and even if a concept goes the distance, it will have been usually been modified and diluted, minimized to a form most efficient for mass production.
But the Stinger proved to be a surprising finisher, reintroduced in 2017 as a “true Gran Turismo” intended by KIA to blend confident power and performance with a genuine sense of refinement and grace. To quote Gregory Guillaume, KIA’s Chief Designer, “The Stinger has nothing to do with being the first to arrive at the destination—this car is all about the journey.”
Needless to say, KIA had my attention on this one. But in light of my loftily optimistic expectations, could the Stinger actually measure up? Would it prove to be more than the eye-catching subject of that Super Bowl commercial where they de-aged Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler? Would it prove to be a new chapter for KIA? Well, let’s take a closer look and see if we can come to some sort of agreement.
A “Street Style Icon”
Those were the words selected by GQ Magazine to describe the Stinger, a sleek four-door sedan that might also be voted ‘Most Likely to be Held Back by its Badging.’ Designed to compete (at least aesthetically) against such refined mainstays as BMW or Audi, the Stinger was clearly punching outside of its weight class. But those of us willing to look beyond our elitist badge snobbery were able to appreciate the Stinger for the raw sense of ambition that it represented.
Not entirely unlike the Dodge Charger, the Stinger proves commendably successful at infusing traditional sedan styling with a bold (yet on-brand) attitude that perfectly conveys the spirit of classic Gran Turismo. Sleek contours pull your eyes backward from KIA’s iconic tiger-nose grille and surrounding fascia, with the fastback inspired rear helping to finalize a sense of forward motion. In other words, the Stinger moves, even when it isn’t actually in motion; and if that’s not high praise in performance styling, I don’t know what is. We’ll get to its actual performance but, at the end of the day, we’re still caught off guard by just how fast it looks.
Granted, there is a sense of form being favored over function (the roofline, for example, hinders visibility) but, let’s be honest, that’s really par for the course when it comes to this segment. Also, the Stinger will never be mistaken for a comfort-centric passenger vehicle (with only modern space available in the rear) but a similar justification could be offered. But, as long as you know what you’re in for with the Stinger, it’s a perfectly satisfying buy; and considering the starting price point, we hope that you’d be asking yourself those kinds of introspective questions before pulling the trigger.
What You Need to Know
For 2019, the Stinger is available in five trim levels.
The 2.0L (priced to start around $32,990 MSRP) kicks things off with its aptly-named turbocharged I-4 paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Delivering a confident 255 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, the powertrain features continuously variable valve timing and direct injection, and fuel economy falls in modestly around 29 mpg (highway, 22 city). The same powertrain extends out to the premium trim level (from $39,190) and—as with the entire lineup—and the AWD upgrade is available.
Next comes the GT (from $39,300) GT1 (from $45,300) and GT2 (from $50,200) respectively. Each comes powered by a 3.3-liter V6 mated to an 8-speed automatic delivering 365hp, 376 lb-ft of torque and 25 mpg (highway, 17 city). Offering limited slip differential, the GT trim levels empower the Stinger with greater traction control improving their overall handling, a welcome upgrade with the enhanced power output. Another upgrade comes in the inclusion of Brembo performance brakes, and variable gear ratio which improves the Stinger’s stability and responsiveness.
Of course, the higher GT models enjoy certain exterior modifications in terms of grille, badging, trim accents and wheel design as well. The visual differentiation from lower trim levels is felt more subtly in the Stinger’s interior, where KIA has chosen to create a high-end cabin experience for almost every trim level—a commendable choice, indeed.
Driving in the Real World
The idea of a performance KIA is an interesting one, due primarily to the relative tightness of handling we’ve found in other KIA’s. That said, the Stinger proves immediately responsive albeit with a greater sense of freedom. Offering strong acceleration with both powertrains (only slightly slower than notable luxury sport sedans), it is well-mannered, only thrusting you back when you drop the hammer.
Braking is confident and easy to modulate, be it at higher rates of speed or stop-and-go traffic. And the Stinger handles like a dream, regardless of which driving mode you’re in; Comfort allows for a well-controlled drive, which Eco makes things a little more passive. Sport, of course, infuses the experience with a surge of energy and more aggressive shifts.
All in all, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself behind the wheel of the Stinger. It doesn’t quite measure up against the luxury brands that the industry has positioned it against, nor does it have the same historical cache of classic Mopar builds, but it’s a genuine contender in this new generation of accessibly-priced performance vehicles.
How Does the Stinger Measure Up?
In all honesty, we’re still as excited about the Stinger as we were two years back in Frankfurt when it was originally unveiled.
Like anyone, our car-buying spend is controlled somewhat by personal bias and brand loyalty, likely to prevent us from pulling the trigger on a Stinger purchase any time soon. But if those preferences favor FCA’s variation of classic ‘Detroit Streel’ in the form of both Chargers and Challengers, it feels fair to place the Stinger in the same category.
Boasting ably competitive performance, unapologetic styling and a range of options to choose from there’s a lot to like in the Stinger. In no way has its realization felt like a disappointment, consolation or desperate grab for relevance. KIA really hit it out of the park with the Stinger, and we applaud them for it. Definitely not something we thought we’d ever say about KIA.