The time has come to forget any notion of Kia being anything less than a brand deserving respect and, would you believe, aspiration.
That three-letter badge, in all caps, will probably never have the symbolism of a three-pointed star, four interconnecting rings or a spinning propeller roundel, but the company which once appropriated old Mazdas, employed Damir Dokic, and used the most annoying sting in advertising (Keeea!, anyone?) is now able to produce the goods to challenge all the above.
Good Kias are indeed nothing new, with every new model launched in the past decade representing a giant stride towards - and sometimes eclipsing - Aussie favourites like Toyota and Mazda in the ‘Should I buy one?’ stakes. The new Stinger, however, should be the line in the sand that elevates your perception of the brand for good.
Not only does it push Kia into new and exciting territory, but it coincidentally arrives at a time where its Falcon and (Aussie) Commodore local rivals have turned up their toes, leaving behind a yawning abyss for enthusiast buyers looking for a relatively cheap, rear-wheel drive performance car that doubles as family transport.
There’s no V8, and probably never will be (though we reckon the K9’s 313kW 5.0-litre unit would probably bolt in), but the rising cult status of the late XR6 Turbo suggests we’re ready to stomach a twin-turbo V6 capable of the 0-100km/h sprint in under five seconds, and a surprise-package four cylinder version that’ll do the same in six.
It’s all wrapped in a coupe/sedan lovechild five-door hatch body that promises most of the practicality of a wagon without looking like one, comes with the best warranty and ownership plan in the business, and even the top-of-the-range version sneaks in for under $60,000.
The time has come to forget any notion of Kia being anything less than a brand deserving respect and, would you believe, aspiration.
Yes the new Euro-built Commodore is around the corner, which will come in the same shape and size, but it's not a patch on the Kia for visual appeal, and certainly won’t pack 272kW and the rear-wheel drive so cherished by Aussie die-hards.
On paper, the Stinger sounds like the most exciting new car of 2017, with a full range of three four-cylinder and three V6 models on offer, but we’ve now driven it on Australian roads and on the track to see if expectations outweigh reality.
Many fingers were crossed that the Stinger name would first appear as a Toyota 86-rivalling budget sportster like the 2014 Stinger GT4 concept, but the badge has instead been applied to a productionised version of the GT Concept from way back in 2011.
Unlike most ‘concepts’ that appear mere months before the production version, the Stinger’s launch timing suggests it was indeed a genuine design study, used to test the waters before kicking off the development program at full speed around four-and-a-half years ago.
The resulting form has a similar silhouette to the A5 and A7 Sportbacks from Audi’s stable, but the detailing is pure Kia, and advances the Schreyer-era looks well ahead of anything else in the current range.
The Stinger’s low roofline is 71mm lower than a VFII Commodore. (2018 Kia Stinger GT)
This Audi comparison is no coincidence either, as it’s their likes and the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe that Kia’s development team actually targeted, rather than any Australian muscle.
Known internally as ‘CK’, the Stinger’s low roofline (71mm lower than a VFII Commodore) disguises the fact that it’s actually a full 134mm shorter than the last Aussie Holden sedan.
More marginal is its 20mm narrower width and 10mm shorter wheelbase, but the Stinger V6’s 1780kg tare weight would actually exceed the heaviest SS sedan’s 1803kg kerb figure with its 60-litre fuel tank full. The four-cylinder Stingers come in at 1693kg tare.
A slippery 0.30 drag coefficient is made possible by its lithe profile, but is aided by details like functional side vents that extract pressure from within the wheelarches at speed.
Picking the trim levels can be a cerebral workout thanks to a lack of badgework. (2018 Kia Stinger 200S)
The four cylinder line-up starts with the 200S, moving up to the 200Si, and finishing with the GT-Line. The parallel V6 range runs through 300S, 300Si, and GT.
Because of a lack of any identifying badgework on all bar the GT-Line and GT models, picking the trim levels can be a cerebral workout.
But generally, the V6 models, as well as the primo four-cylinder GT-Line, have a toothier lower front grille and larger inlets under the headlights, while the rear end is differentiated by the addition of ducts at each corner and an extra notch of body colour between the exhausts.
The wheels are also a shuffle between trim levels, with the 200S and 200Si wearing 18-inch silver, multi-spoke alloys, and the 300S getting the same wheels in black (with machined finish outer surfaces).
The GT-Line and 300Si wear snowflake-pattern 19-inch black and machined finish rims, while the top-spec GT picks up less detailed (and more five-spoke-esque) snowflake pattern and machine-finished 19s.
The 200S and 200Si wears18-inch silver, multi-spoke alloys. (2018 Kia Stinger 200S pictured)
The GT-Line and 300Si wear snowflake-pattern 19-inch black and machined finish rims. (2018 Kia Stinger 300Si)
Something the Aussie Commodore and Falcon never managed is the Stinger’s five-door hatch design, which pretty much gives it the practicality of a station wagon, without looking like one.
The new European Commodore will also do this, but remember it also drives the front wheels like pretty much every other hatch.
With a wheelbase within 10mm of the Aussie Commodore, it’s fair to assume the Stinger would have similar taxi-like back-seat credentials, but sadly, it doesn’t.
Given the low-slung seating front and rear, this has compressed the interior space to the point where there seems to be less leg and headroom than a Cerato, with a low roofline to limbo under or negotiate when loading a baby. For the record, there are two ISOFIX child seat points back there.
The boot is also smaller than you’d expect for a car of this size, and seems to have been optimised for markets without a spare tyre instead of the space savers beneath the floor of Aussie versions.
At a still-reasonable 406 litres (VDA) it’s not directly comparable with the Commodore sedan’s, which is measured at 495 (liquid) litres. It might seem like we’re harping on about the Stinger’s numbers deficit over the RWD Commodore, but the Kia’s big practicality drawcard is the huge hatch opening’s ability to swallow large items.
It will also swallow a bottle in each door, and there’s dual cupholders front and rear on all variants.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
Splitting the Stinger range into six variants is unusual for a niche model from a mainstream brand, the line-up covering a $14k spread from the entry-level four-cylinder 200S at $45,990, to the twin-turbo V6 GT at $59,990.
200S - $45,990
300S - $48,990
200Si - $52,990
300Si - $55,990
GT-Line - $55,990
GT - $59,990
Are Australians ready to spend $60,000 on a Kia? The popularity of top-spec Sorentos for similar money proves we are, but time will tell if the same applies to a performance machine like the Stinger.
It’s fair to say value improves the further up the scale you go, and Kia has clearly fought hard to keep V6 pricing close to the dollars we’re accustomed to paying for V8 Commodores.
Aside from the under-bonnet hardware, spec levels are generally common between four-cylinder and V6 equivalents. All Stingers come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav with 10-year SUNA live update plan and map care updates, plus auto headlights.
All Stingers come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and sat nav. (2018 Kia Stinger 200S pictured)
The Si versions come with real cow seats and a larger 8.0-inch multimedia screen. (2018 Kia Stinger 300Si)
The GT-Line and GT gain nappa leather and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. (2018 Kia Stinger GT pictured)
The S models make do with artificial leather trim and miss out on AEB and front parking sensors, but Si versions come with real cow seats and auto braking, along with a larger 8.0-inch multimedia screen, active cruise control and auto wipers.
The GT-Line and GT gain nappa leather and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, memory front seats with power bolster and thigh support adjustment, 15-speaker harmon/kardon audio, electric sunroof, a 360-degree camera, blind-spot detection, cornering headlights, auto high beams and colour head-up display.'
The 8.0-inch multimedia screen doubles as a 360-degree camera. (2018 Kia Stinger GT)
The instrument cluster steps up to a 7.0-inch colour screen, plus there's alloy sports pedals and a Qi wireless phone charger, while the headliner and roof pillars are finished in 'Chamude' artificial suede.
The GT adds specific digital gauges for oil temp, torque output, turbo boost, G-forces and a lap timer.
Australian V6s can also be optioned with a $2500 locally-developed bi-modal exhaust upgrade for a fruitier sound.
There are nine colours to choose from, and while metallic is free, pearlescent hues will cost an extra $695. Black and white are limited to the GT-Line and GT.
Given the value and headline-grabbing nature of the V6, Kia expects 75 per cent of buyers to opt for the bigger engine, with the GT making up the clear majority of these. Kia acknowledges that international demand for the Stinger will limit Australian supply for the next 12-18 months, so you may need to be prepared to wait.
HSV and FPV fans may be pleased to know that an even hotter version is in the works, with a launch date planned within the Stinger’s five-year model life. This could well be the model used to launch the Kia equivalent of Hyundai’s new N performance brand.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
With a claimed 0-100km/h figure of 4.9s, the V6 Stingers are easily the fastest production Kias ever.
Making this possible is a twin-turbo version of the 3.3-litre V6 from the Sorento, screwing out a mighty 272kW/510Nm, with the latter available from 1300-4500rpm.
The four-cylinder engine is hardly the Starfire of our generation though (this is a good thing), with the 2.0-litre turbo punching out a respectable 182kW (just 2kW short of a Walkinshaw VL SS Group A) and 353Nm available from 1400-4000rpm.
The 2.0-litre turbo punches out a respectable 182kW/353Nm.
The 3.3-litre V6 makes a mighty 272kW/510Nm.
These numbers help it to a claimed 6.0s 0-100km/h sprint, which is hardly slow.
The Stinger’s 8.8 and 10.2L/100km four cylinder and V6 official combined fuel consumption figures may not seem too flash by modern standards, but unlike most performance cars these days both engines have been designed to do their best with 'regular' 91RON unleaded petrol.
The average price of 91 is 13.7c/L less than Premium 95RON in Sydney this week, which would go some way to balancing the bigger numbers on the windscreen sticker.
Even the first touch of a Kia Stinger elevates it beyond any retired local muscle. And so it should, being a generation ahead, but it’s also very closely related to the Genesis G70 luxury saloon that’s been developed to tackle the likes of BMW’s 3 Series and the Mercedes C-Class.
From its bespoke key fob with real metallic details to the quality steering wheel leather and the gentle way both engines fire into life, it all feels genuinely premium. As good as the local Commodore and Falcon were, they weren’t this swish.
I’ve often praised current Kias for the well-oiled feel to their controls, but the Stinger makes many so-called luxury Infinitis feel more like a Pulsar in this area.
The Stinger makes many so-called luxury Infinitis feel more like a Pulsar in this area.
One really impressive ‘why haven’t they thought of this before?’ detail is how the Stinger’s instrument panel highlights your actions with the wiper and headlight stalks, which is surely much safer than poking your head around the steering wheel while driving to check what wiper/light mode you’re in.
This perception of premium continues on the road, with great road noise isolation and comfortable ride quality. This is particularly true for the cheaper models on 18-inch wheels, with the shorter sidewalls of the 19-inch tyres offering less bump absorption.
Like all Kias of late, the Stinger has been treated to suspension tuning by Kia engineers in Australia. This is after spending its formative months under the watchful eye of former BMW M head honcho Albert Biermann at the Nurburgring.
For the record, there are four different Stinger steering and suspension tunes, split between 200S/Si, 300S/Si and one each for the GT-Line and GT’s active dampers.
All V6 versions score Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential and a variable-ratio steering rack.
All V6 versions score Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential and a variable-ratio steering rack. (2018 Kia Stinger GT)
The adaptive dampers on the GT-Line and GT seem to lack a degree of body control in the default 'Comfort' drive mode, but everything seems better when moved across to 'Smart' mode. Why not make Smart mode the default, Kia?
The base S models may make do with artificial leather trim, but it still feels pretty comfortable, or, a bit like the equivalent 'Artico' or 'SensaTec' used in cheaper Mercedes and BMW models. Still, it’s fair to expect real cow hide in car starting at $46k, let alone the 300S for three gorillas more!
Some of you will also be disappointed to learn the V6 never loses its premium feel, in that the exhaust note is almost characterless unless you pony up for the optional bi-modal sports system.
The upgraded sound may still be a world away from the glorious tunes of the last 6.2-litre Commodores, but it at least adds some personality to the Stinger’s soundtrack.
The four actually makes more of a spirited commotion straight out of the box, but it sounds suspiciously like most of it is coming via the speakers.
The adaptive dampers on the GT-Line and GT seem to lack a degree of body control in 'Comfort' drive mode. (2018 Kia Stinger GT)
As far as performance goes, both offer different degrees of creamy turbocharged thrust, with the V6’s extra herbs kept well in check by the LSD.
Both feel every bit as quick as their performance claims suggest, with the four-cylinder models representing a real surprise package for such a big, heavy car.
A launch mode makes it easy to get the best out both versions from rest. It's activated by selecting Sport mode, deactivating stability and traction control, applying the brake, then giving it full throttle. As long as you release the brake within four seconds, they will leap out of the blocks.
The Stinger’s Australian launch included track time at Wakefield Park near Goulburn, in southern NSW, and over several three-lap sessions, the big Stinger wasn’t embarrassed by the tight, undulating circuit.
We were surprised to see the cars assigned to track duty were fitted with grippier aftermarket Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres instead of the standard Continental ContiSportContact 5 rubber, but Kia explained this was due to durability concerns for the factory tread under track conditions.
Following advice to leave the traction aids on, the V6 had a tendency to nudge its electronic threshold earlier than expected, which frustratingly kills the throttle for a few seconds like a lot of older systems.
Before you reach the limit, the Stinger has a slight tendency toward oversteer, with the rear end requiring a conscious nudge to start moving. Things could well be better on the standard tyres, as is the case on the road, but this is how it performed on the Michelins.
The four-cylinder Stinger is more composed at the limit. (2018 Kia Stinger 200Si)
With 90kW/157Nm less being sent through the rear wheels, the four-cylinder is (unsurprisingly) more composed at the limit, with the added benefit of less weight in the nose making it more nimble on turn-in.
It's an easy 20km/h slower down the main straight though, so your call as to what's more important to you.
The only other thing we didn’t love is the fact the auto is slow to downshift when you’re pushing hard, even with the shift paddles, and tends to drop two gears at the last minute rather than one at a time when you’d like.
But given the turbo engines’ low down torque, this probably doesn’t affect performance as much as it feels.
One other annoying surprise is that selecting manual made to make use of the paddle shifters isn't permanent, the system reverting back to auto after about 30sec. Nothing like that kind of intervention between corners, on a spirited country drive, to spoil the fun. That said, this is a simple calibration issue that should be easy enough to fix.
On an entertaining public road (with the standard tyres fitted) at speeds less than 10 tenths, the Stinger feels much more at home, with genuinely good steering feel.
On an entertaining public road the Stinger feels much more at home. (2018 Kia Stinger 300Si)
It seems to shrink around you too, which is probably a factor of its low centre of gravity and short-ish overhangs.
No matter which engine resides under the bonnet, the Stinger is a fantastic long-distance grand tourer, and we can honestly say the four-cylinder will be more than enough for most of us, and forms a surprisingly sweet package overall.
But, the V6 is the emotional choice, and it’s tough to argue with all that extra poke for no more than $4000 extra.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
[UPDATE] In December 2017 testing, the base 200S and 330S Stinger grades scored a three-star ANCAP rating (due to their lack of AEB and lane support systems as standard), with all other models (Si, EX, GT Line, GT Sport, and GT) scoring a maximum five star rating.
Aside from the base S models missing out on AEB (even as an option) and lane guidance, the rest of the range comes pretty well equipped safety-wise, with seven airbags, reversing camera, and a pedestrian-cushioning active bonnet, while the GT-Line and GT add blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts.
It’s also worth noting the AEB system is active at speeds up to 80km/h.
There’s seven years of capped-price servicing, too, with Kia extending the Stinger’s service intervals to 12 months/10,000km, compared with previous turbo models’ six month/7500km schedule.
Capped service pricing for four-cylinder models is pegged at $249, $434, $317, $617, $281, $562 and $696 for each interval during the warranty period, while V6 models cost marginally more at $252, $436, $320, $635, $284, $565 and $785.
Australia invented the ‘relatively cheap, rear wheel drive performance car that doubles as family transport’ genre, but Kia has come out of nowhere with a surprise spin on the theme that should satisfy more than a few Falcon and Commodore mourners.
If you can look past the badge (and you should), and can afford the ironically better value of the more expensive models, we highly recommend giving both engines a test drive.
It’s hard to pinpoint a sweet spot in such a broad range, but the 200Si is probably the smartest buying.
When you can get the bigger engine with all the fruit in the GT for just $7k extra though, it’s hard to look past. If you also reach this decision but are confronted with a waiting list, do at least give one of the four-cylinder versions a go.
Does the Stinger light your fire? Tell us what you think in the comments below.