When it comes to timing, Kia hit the jackpot with its rear wheel drive Stinger. Just as Australia’s last locally-built big rear wheel drive sedan wrapped production, Kia’s first similar product arrived.
That’s an amazing coincidence, and one that assures the Stinger a better chance of success than if it had found itself battling for showroom attention against Commodore and Falcon.
As an all-new model in an all-new segment for the brand, the Stinger not only has to attract attention to itself, but is sure to bring attention to the entire Kia range. Something that arguably wasn’t required with a record year already in the making.
Aussies are sure to love the big size, big power, and rear wheel drive dynamics of the Stinger before they even turn a wheel - but Kia didn’t have the Commodore in mind when it developed the Stinger, instead hoping to steal the limelight from European mid-sizers like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Can a mainstream Kia straddle the divide between the brand’s value positioning and aspirational Euro-competitors? After a week with the Stinger it’s safe to say those prestige brands have cause for concern.
Vehicle Style: Large hatch
Price: $59,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 272kW/510Nm 3.3-litre 6cyl turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 10.2 l/100km | Tested: 12.7 l/100km
The Kia Stinger GT is as much Stinger as you can possibly buy. Kia’s two-pronged Stinger range incorporates turbocharged four-cylinder models, or the enthusiast’s choice: The 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6.
Priced from $59,990 plus on-road costs, the Stinger GT isn’t (to the surprise of some) the most expensive Kia available in Australia but it’s not priced that way blindly either. The GT comes loaded with standard equipment to rival prestige brands.
Nappa leather trim, heated and cooled front seats, electrically adjustable seats and steering, a panoramic sunroof, 360-degree camera, a powered tailgate, and a thumping Harman Kardon stereo are just some of the standard inclusions.
In fact the engine specification, let alone the standard features, look more like what you might expect to find in a BMW 340i, Audi S4, or Mercedes-AMG C43.
Those seem like lofty targets to aim at, and indeed they are, but with a price around to $30k to $40k cheaper than any of those accomplished sedans Kia is setting Aussie buyers up for a new chapter in value-for-money motoring, with a premium twist.
- Standard Equipment: power-adjustable Nappa leather sports seats, dual zone climate control, rear seat air vents, keyless entry and start with auto-opening tailgate, power folding heated exterior mirrors, auto lights and wipers, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled front seats, aluminium interior trims, power adjustable steering column, aluminum pedals, panoramic sunroof, 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, colour head-up display, suede-look headlining, wireless phone charging, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, Aux and USB inputs, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio
- Cargo Volume: 406 litres to rear seats, 1114 litres to front seats
Although the Stinger’s arching form may appear to give passengers little consideration, the opposite is true. Yes the low-slung roofline requires a quick duck of the head to allow access, but once inside there’s more than enough space.
To put it to the test we loaded a pair of six-foot fellas one behind the other, and neither complained about available space, with even rear headroom getting a passing grade.
The secret lies in the Stinger’s long wheelbase. At 2905 the Stinger has a wheelbase just 10mm shorter than a VF Commodore the seats are set low in the cabin to create a sense of upper cabin space with enough room to stretch your legs out ahead.
The cabin’s design features some obvious tributes to European marques, like the Audi-style gear selector and Mercedes-inspired dash vents but Kia’s interpretation of the tombstone touchscreen lacks an integrated look, with a thick bezel and lower resolution than might otherwise be found in the aforementioned Euro brands.
Thankfully Kia also sees merit in the use of physical controls rather than relegating all interior functions to the screen, as a result its simple to make one-touch adjustments to the climate control, or audio system without the need to plough through a series of on-screen menus.
The liberal specification also extends to finishes like Nappa leather trim for the seats, which are heated and cooled up front, with a range of adjustment that even extends to bolster width.
Some less expensive cars also include heated rear seats and one-touch rear power windows, though inexplicably the Stinger goes without those small luxuries, though neither is enough to dull the Stinger’s impressively plump specification.
Some of Kia’s interior legacy remains though, with the vehicle we tested featuring a loose and rattling door trim, and a hot-weather creak deep somewhere within the dash - not the first Kia vehicle we’ve tested to do so and a situation that gets worse over time (as personal ownership experience attests to).
The cabin fits the family car role with plenty of storage nooks, plus wireless charging for compatible mobile phones, though cupholders are on the small side.
Head to the boot and powered tailgate swings open to reveal 406 litres of space, with a load bay that is long and wide, but quite shallow. Folding rear seats increase versatility, but disappointingly the boot lacks dividers, side pockets, or bag hooks to keep items from moving about.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol, 272kW @6000rpm, 510Nm @1300-4500rpm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive with limited slip differential
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multilink rear with adaptive dampers
- Brakes: 350mm ventilated front discs with four-piston Brembo calipers, 340mm ventilated rear discs with two-piston Brembo calipers
- Steering: Rack-mounted electric power steering, 11.2m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1500kg braked, 750kg unbraked, 75kg towball load
Endless comparisons have already been drawn between the Stinger GT and Holden’s dear departed SS Commodore range and for the most part the comparison is moot.
While the V8 Commodore is a fantastic muscle car, the Stinger is something different, and the clue is in the name - this is a GT car, a grand tourer with a sting in its tail.
With a twin-turbo V6 engine the Stinger is endowed with a muscular 272kW (somewhere between the naturally aspirated Commodore’s V6 and V8) and a far more compelling 510Nm of torque, on tap from a fantastically low 1300rpm.
The result is an engine that is happy to amble about in a relaxed fashion, but with a more liberal right foot delivers a tidal wave of torque that pushes occupants back in their seats and thrusts the car towards the horizon.
Backing the engine up is an eight-speed automatic, developed in-house by Hyundai-Kia. Smooth and supple in the way it shifts gears, the transmission works with the driver to extract the best performance and comfort balance depending on inputs.
Enthusiasts will lament the lack of a manual transmission, and even part-time thrill seekers will quickly fall out of love with the Stinger’s manual mode, selected by plucking a gearshift paddle on the steering wheel, but unable to be engaged as a driving mode.
In order to best set the Stinger up for Australian duties Kia has put the big hatch though a local development program that sees suspension tuned to Australian roads and driver preferences.
The adjustable suspension system (like engine, transmission and steering) is linked via the Stinger’s drive modes through Eco, Comfort and Sport modes with a Smart setting to pick the appropriate mode in relation to driver inputs, or an Individual stage that allows mix-and-match control of the vehicle characteristics.
For the most part the suspension feels at-home Aussie roads. There’s an underlying firmness to the ride over pitter-patter road scarring, but give it an unexpected pothole or a series of mid-corner undulations and the Stinger stays settled and holds its line.
Sport mode for the suspension throws all that out the window, creating a harsh riding car that can’t balance the firmer dampers with softer springs, creating a ride that’s too firm for all but glass-smooth roads with a tendency for the rear end to bob about before settling over big hits.
At least adding passengers seemed to have minimal effect, be it just the driver, or with a full load of occupants the Stinger never felt out-of balance with extra weight on board.
Steering tells the opposite story - communication from the front wheels is apparent, though it’s muted. Opt for Comfort and the steering is so light as to feel vague, but select Sport and the added weight helps settle the almost-instant off-centre twitchiness.
Those two details combined make the Custom mode so important, allowing drivers to pick and mix their favourite feel, with Sport engine/transmission, Sport steering, but Comfort suspension creating a more balanced vehicle (in this driver’s opinion) than any of the stand-alone modes.
One thing that is undeniable is just how much grip the Stinger mages from its 255mm wide rear tyres, not to mention a stability control calibration that although not too playful, still allows the driver some freedom of movement. A word apart from the ‘fun police’ clamp down of some previous Kia vehicles.
Less pleasing is the amount of road rumble and crash-through nose from the rear axle. Partly owing to the hatchback design which lacks the rear crossmember and solid parcel shelf that a normal sedan might use for a stiffer structure.
ANCAP Rating: The Kia Stinger has yet to be tested 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. Additional features of the GT include front park sensors, driver fatigue detection, lane keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking, a 360-degree camera system, blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert, and dynamic cornering headlights.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Seven years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Kia offers seven years of capped price servicing with visits every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first). Service pricing is starts as slow as $252 (at 10,000km) up to $785 for the most expensive 70,000km service. Your Kia dealer can provide full pricing, terms, and conditions.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A big car with a premium presentation and hatchback versatility, with Euro-prestige in its gunsights the Volkswagen Arteon delivers plenty of poise and polish, huge levels of equipment, and pricing that applies value to the luxury formula.
The Chrysler 300 is an almost forgotten about American that’s big, powerful, and dramatic to look at but flies under the radar. Although not as dynamically honed as the Stinger, there’s still much to like about the mature way the 300 drives.
BMW’s 3 Series has long been held as the standard by which Euro sport sedans are judged, and is often held as a benchmark for the Stinger’s development. Certainly the 3 is a touch more balanced than the Stinger, but dollar-for-dollar a more basic 318i can’t match the Kia’s enticing performance and equipment.
If you’re shopping mainstream, something like the Mazda6 will have surely crossed your mind. This big sedan looks and feels premium but lacks the performance punch of the Kia, though you’ll save a few dollars in the process.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Kia deserves to have a roaring success on its hands with the Kia. The combination of enthusiastic rear wheel drive dynamics and a robust and willing turbocharged engine make the Stinger a perfect fit for Australian families that aren’t willing to compromise on performance nor overstep their budget.
Although the Stinger isn’t an absolutely perfect car, it’s already a strong contender and in its first generation the Stinger does what brands like Lexus and Infiniti have been unable to do after multiple iterations.
There’s little doubt that as it evolves, the Stinger will be more finely honed into an even better vehicle, but before that can happen buyers need to resist the lure of a heavy and cumbersome SUV and take another look at what a traditional family car can do.
The Stinger will never be a replacement for vehicles like the Falcon XR6 Turbo or Commodore SS, nor does it attempt to be. Instead it opens up a new opportunity, both for Kia and its brand perception, and for Australian motorists brave enough to shun underpowered Euro prestige and ignore badge snobbery.
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