The timing of Kia’s first rear wheel drive large car couldn’t be more fortuitous. Just as Holden is preparing to switch from its locally-produced rear wheel drive Commodore to an imported front drive hatchback, and previous Ford Falcon owners begin pondering what to renew their leases with the Stinger has emerged.
No, it’s not a direct Aussie large car replacement nor was it intended to be. Instead the Singer was conceived as a lower-priced alternative to European mid-sizers, with Kia’s value-led approach resulting in a five-door liftback that straddles the medium cars the like BMW 3 Series and large sedans like the Holden Commodore for size.
The result is a watershed car for Kia, signaling a new enthusiast appeal thanks to powerful turbocharged engines and rear wheel drive dynamics, and one that will lead the way as the South Korean brand attempts to alter buyer perceptions of what it stands for.
Vehicle Style: Large hatch
Price: $45,990-$59,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 182kW/353Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 272kW/510Nm 3.3-litre 6cyl turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.8-10.2 l/100km
In Australia the 2018 Kia Stinger will arrive with a choice of two engines, either a 2.0-litre four-cylinder (badged 200) or a 3.3-litre V6 (badged 330). Both are turbocharged (with twin turbos on the V6), both mate to an eight-speed automatic, and both send power to the rear wheels.
From there buyers can choose three trim levels; entry-level S, mid-spec Si, or flagship GT-Line four-cylinder or GT V6. In typical Kia fashion there’s no options, just a choice of exterior colours.
Pricing starts at $45,990 plus on roads for the 200S or $3000 more for the 330S while at the top end a GT-Line asks $55,990, or $59,990 for the more powerful GT. That means at each point the Stinger is more expensive than an equivalent Commodore if you choose to use that metric of comparison.
Alternatively the Stinger undercuts competitors in the prestige market, like the Audi A4 or Lexus IS by an appreciable margin without sacrificing much in the way of equipment, and usually with more power and torque, and as a result creates a brave new world for Australian car buyers.
- 200S, 330S: Premium sports seats, dual zone climate control, powered driver’s seat, rear seat air vents, black gloss interior trims, keyless entry and start, 3.5-inch monochrome instrument display, steering wheel paddle shifters, cruise control, projector headlights, power folding heated exterior mirrors, rear park sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels
- 200Si, 330Si: adds leather appointed seats, carbon-look interior trims, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, front park sensors, 19-inch alloy wheels (330Si only)
- GT-Line: adds additional powered seat adjustment including lumbar support, bolsters and thigh support, heated and cooled front seats, aluminium interior trims, power adjustable steering column, aluminum pedals, GT-Line exterior styling package, LED headlights, keyless boot opening, sunroof, flat-bottomed steering wheel, 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, colour head-up display, suede-look headlining, wireless phone charging, 19-inch alloy wheels
- GT: adds oil temp, torque & boost gauges with lap timer and G-force meter, Nappa leather trim
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch (200S. 330S) or 8.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, Aux and USB inputs, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, six (220s, 330S), nine (200Si, 330Si) or premium Harman Kardon 15 speaker (GT-Line, GT) audio
- Cargo Volume: 406 litres to rear seats, 1114 litres to front seats
Kia has gone for a clean and simple look for the interior, that doesn’t quite tread on the toes of prestige brands like Benz or Audi, but still looks contemporary, with an identifiable sense of quality.
The simple design sees three round vents mounted in the centre of the dash, with a free-standing infotainment screen mounted atop the dash, reflecting the trends so loved by European brands.
Front seat space won’t cause complaints from most occupants, with decently sized and shaped sports seats across the range. The rear seat packs in plenty of knee and legroom, but the flowing roofline does take a bite into available headroom.
Spec differences see base models equipped with artificial leather and a 7.0-inch touchscreen system, with real leather and an 8.0-inch screen on mid and high-grade models, topped by soft Nappa leather on the top-shelf GT.
All variants come with a powered driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, rear park sensors and rearview camera. The mid-grade Si variants add extras like rain-sensing wipers and adaptive cruise control, plus different finishes for the centre console and door trims for a more premium feel.
At the top of the range, the GT-Line and GT pile in a stack of extras, with heated and cooled front seats, a powered front passenger seat, a 7.0-inch digital display for the instrument cluster, wireless phone charging, power-adjustment for the steering column, a sunroof and more.
Storage space is decent throughout the cabin, and beneath the tailgate there’s 406 litres of cargo room to the rear seats, which fold to reveal 1114 litres of capacity.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol 182kW @6000rpm, 353Nm @1400-4000rpm or 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol, 272kW @6000rpm, 510Nm @1300-4500rpm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive (limited slip differential for V6)
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multilink rear - adaptive dampers for GT-Line and GT
- Brakes: 320mm ventilated front disc, 314mm solid rear disc (4cyl) or 350mm ventilated front discs with four-piston Brembo calipers, 340mm ventilated rear discs with two-piston Brembo calipers (V6)
- Steering: Rack-mounted electric power steering, 11.2m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1500kg braked, 750kg unbraked, 75kg towball load
The Stinger range starts off with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 182kW and 353Nm, but for more demanding drivers the 3.3-litre twin turbo V6 pushes out 272kW and 510Nm.
By comparison, Holden’s entry-level 3.0-litre naturally aspirated Commodore V6 manges 185kW but only 290Nm, so to match the four-pot Stinger’s torque you need to step-up to the 3.6-litre SV6 with 350Nm. Holden has no answer for Kia’s turbo V6 (try as you might, you can’t call it an SS competitor) but Ford used to with the dearly departed turbocharged 4.0 straight six of the standard XR6 good for 270kW and 533Nm.
Kia doesn’t necessarily see the Stinger as a rival for those Aussie heroes, although the company sees a huge opportunity in the market vacated by Ford and Holden. The Stinger was instead benchmarked it against cars like the BMW 4 Series and Lexus RC F to ensure a more premium feel.
Kia was not shy about the potential abilities of the Stinger, launching the car on a series of challenging roads around Canberra, along with letting it loose at Wakefield Park Raceway.
Along with the base-line engineering input globally, Kia’s Australian operation has also gone to work on the Stinger’s suspension settings, developing two unique setups, with a passive suspension system used on the S and Si, and a more advanced adaptive damper tune for GT-Line and GT.
On smooth roads the standard suspension tune provides fantastic body control, with level cornering and keen steering although the cars we drove showed a tendency to jitter over high-frequency surfaces and took time to recover from big hits.
The adaptive system is tied to the cars' drive mode controls, offering Comfort, Sport, Smart, Eco and Custom modes that also affect engine noise and driveline. As the names suggest, Comfort softens the dampers for a more compliant ride, while Sport buttons down the ride control more tightly.
The Smart setting also lived up to its name, able to vary between the comfort and sport modes in response to driver inputs and road conditions, and on a road drive between Canberra and Yass managed to absorb bumps without diluting responsiveness through bends.
Time on the track revealed a fun side to the Stinger, and a willing, but progressive and controllable attitude towards kicking the tail out for a bit of a slide, should you desire.
Choosing the 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder will reward those behind the wheel with an engine that has strong initial bite then pulls smoothly and progressively through its midrange, but its the turbo six that offers real punch with a 0-100 km/h claim of just 4.9 seconds.
At just $3000 more than the 2.0-litre engine in S and Si trims, and $4000 more for the GT compared to the GT-Line, the V6 doesn’t strain the bank too much, and brings plenty of benefits for keen drivers.
The one missing element is an engaging exhaust note, with the Stinger’s international tune designed to be as unobtrusive as possible from outside the car, with a synthesised engine note pumped into the interior. Kia Australia has identified that as a missed opportunity, and will introduce an optional sports exhaust through dealers for buyers who’d like a fuller soundtrack.
Another enthusiast letdown can be found in the eight-speed automatic, which when left alone works just fine in day-to-day driving, but enthusiasts that want to flex the Stinger’s muscle will be disappointed to find that the transmission automatically upshifts near redline rather than holding a selected gear.
ANCAP Rating: The Kia Stinger has yet to be rated by ANCAP
Safety Features: Safety inclusions on all variants include seven airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, electronic stability and traction control, rear park sensors and rearview camera, and a pedestrian-protecting pop-up bonnet.
The Si models add front park sensors, driver fatigue detection, lane keeping assist, and autonomous emergency braking, while the GT-Line and GT also add a 360-degree camera system, blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert, and dynamic cornering headlights.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
This biggest hurdle Kia’s now sports sedan (well, hatch actually) may have to overcome is initial supply constraints that will see just 200 to 250 cars per month be available for Australia, but the brand hopes to double that within 18 months.
As one of the most hyped new cars of 2017, Kia was always going to have a hard time turning the fervent expectation of its new halo car into a tangible drive experience, but the Stinger’s position in the Australian market will become clearer with time.
Ultimately, it's not a direct replacement for the Commodore SS, but a suitable alternative to the SV6 or Calais maybe, and not expected to take the mantle of best-seller away from any other competitor, though a firm buyer base will form over time.
The reality is, Kia has built a perception-changing, brand-building machine that will turn heads, and for those that park one in their garage it also happens to be a well equipped, comfortable, and rewarding package.
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