Caraganza First Drive Review 2018 Kia Stinger GT2: Running with the big dogs

(Kia)

(Kia)

If someone traveled forward to today from say 10 years ago, they would find some odd things: Snapchat, Airbnb, virtual reality, 3-D printers, SpaceX and a Kia sportscar.

A decade ago the South Korean auto maker had a less than stellar reputation in America.  Sure, they’ve upped their game but anyone from 10 years ago, or anyone who hasn’t shopped for cars in the last few years, might still have a bit of a negative bias.

I mean a Kia Soul filled with human sized hamsters isn’t exactly my favorite form of advertisement.   And I admit to having the same sort of bias, despite the fact that the Kia brand is much, much better than before.

But does that mean they are ready to enter the vaulted cathedral that is the midsized luxury sport sedan market? Can they ‘get off the porch and run with the big dogs’ as we say in the South?

I was able to answer that question when Kia sent me a new 2018 Stinger for a recent week.

The Stinger is one of the few concept cars that actually came to market. Usually a concept car is made to grab the attention of automotive journalists and members of the public. Looks cool, has fancy new gadgets, but will never be seen in a showroom.

Kia showed off the GT Concept at the Frankfurt auto show in 2011.  As it moved from the convention center floor through the production process to the showrooms it lost the wing cameras in favor of true side mirrors, B-pillars were added, and the rear hinged doors were swapped around, and the sedan became a hatchback, although it doesn’t look like one. The Stinger kept the grille-flanking intake scoops, and the rounded rear windows the GT Concept had as well as the wraparound taillamps.

What we ended up with is a very good-looking car.

The Stinger comes in five trim levels: Base, Premium, GT, GT1 and GT2. The Base starts out with an MSRP of $32,800. By the time you get to the GT2 the MSRP is $50,100 in the rear wheel drive configuration.  You can get rear wheel or all wheel drive. The base has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 255 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.  The GT variant has a turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 365 horses and 376 lb-ft of torque.

The Base Stinger has a nice selection of standard features including LED running lights and automatic headlights; power folding mirrors, keyless entry/ignition, drive modes, leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable front seats, a heated steering wheel, rearview camera, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay-Android Auto and a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio controlled by a 7-inch touch screen.

Moving up the line adds things like LED headlights, an upgraded audio system and a bigger display. By the time you get up to the GT2, there’s a limited-slip differential, a hands-free trunklid, a heads-up display, premium leather upholstery, and upgraded front seats with ventilation. Automatic wipers are also available as an option for all Stingers.

(Kia)

(Kia)

The GT2 level has all the nanny features standard, while they are an option on the others. There’s adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and intervention, a driver attention monitor, automatic high-beams, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

All the levels use an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

Taking up about the same room as Kia’s Optima sedan, the Stinger is lower, sleeker and far more powerful.  My first impression was how good the Stinger looks sitting still; it looks fast. But, is it?

I had the GT2 for my week; loaded of course. And not only was I wondering if it was fast, I was curious if it was worth the $50,100 price tag.

The interior is comfortable, but I was struck by the lack of luxurious cues; it’s more like an Audi, and less like the BMW.  It’s all business. It’s not as upscale as the advertising would make you believe, but it certainly isn’t lacking in comfort and style.

The low growl from the 3.3 liter was satisfying; let’s go have some fun, it seemed to be saying. Well, okay then.

I was a bit fearful, thanks in part to my Kia bias perhaps, that the Stinger might be all bark on no bite, or um, sting.

0-60 is 4.7 seconds alleviated that notion.  The power to the road matches that growl.  The suspension does indeed adapt, and the variable steering can be adjusted along with the drive mode to match just about anything you can throw at it.

Here’s the problem. The same week I had the Stinger, Mercedes had also sent me a S63 AMG. Hopping back and forth between the two showed not simply subtle differences but Grand Canyons of differences.  Of course, the S63 has 603 horses and 664 lb-ft of torque, and costs three times more than the top of the line Stinger. So, I tried to focus on the similarities; the launch off the line; the low growl, the overall drive.  And I have to admit, the differences were small.

Good on you Kia.

It turns out the Stinger can run with the big dogs; maybe not an S63 AMG for long, but with the A5’s, IS, C Class, 3-Series, XE and ATS it can certainly hold its own.  And that makes that $50,000 price tag pretty much spot on, or at least in the ballgame.

But for how long? Can Kia with its Stinger sell well enough to keep it on the market? Only time will tell.  I for one hope so. Because at the end of the day, of all the new things coming out in our world today, this little Stinger is one of the best.

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 RWD
MSRP: $49,200
MSRP (as tested): $51,100
Engine: 3.3-liter turbocharged V6, 365 horsepower @ 6000 rpm, 376 lb-ft torque @1300 rpm
Fuel Mileage (EPA): 19 city, 25 hwy, 21 combined
Fuel Mileage (as tested, mixed conditions): 22 mpg
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Base curb weight: 3829 lbs.

Interior Dimensions
Passenger Capacity:     5
Passenger Volume: ft³     93.8
Front Head Room: in     38.3
Front Leg Room: in     42.6
Front Shoulder Room: in     56.4
Front Hip Room: in     55.5
Second Head Room: in     37
Second Leg Room: in     36.4
Second Shoulder Room: in     54.8
Second Hip Room: in     56.1

Exterior Dimensions
Wheelbase: in     114.4
Length, Overall: in     190.2
Width, Max w/o mirrors: in     73.6
Height, Overall: in     55.1
Track Width, Front: in     62.8
Track Width, Rear: in     63.7

Warranty
Basic: 5 Years/60,000 Miles
Drivetrain: 10 Years/100,000 Miles
Corrosion: 5 Years/100,000 Miles
Roadside Assistance: 5 Years/60,000 Miles

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Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.

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