Lexus IS VS Kia Stinger
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- A true halo car for Kia
- Potent performance
- Great ownership plan
- Entry grade interior not as nice
- Could be more affordable
- Sports exhaust optional on GT
This generation of the Lexus IS has been with us for a while now, and it has a lot more to contend with than it did on its debut. The Infiniti Q50 has come and gone, but a new Audi A4 (soon to be refreshed) and a very impressive new BMW 3 Series made life difficult. And that's before everybody wakes up to Genesis, which could bloom into a real threat.
Lexus has carved itself a bit of a niche in this country, going after just about every luxury segment worth chasing (and one or two that possibly weren't...) but the IS has been getting on with the job of presenting itself to customers who have either tired of German luxury or just weren't interested in the first place.
The third-generation IS must soon be heading for replacement, so it's worth having another look to see how the Japanese challenger fares.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Kia Stinger was the most anticipated vehicle the Korean brand had ever launched - and less than a year since it first landed in Australia, the big rear-wheel drive five-door liftback is still one of those cars that, when you spot it on the road, you’ll find yourself exclaiming “ooh, Stinger!”.
This wasn’t the sort of car people expected from a brand like Kia. And it launched at a time when we were wiping away tears spilled over the loss of the Falcon and Commodore (yes, the latter is still on sale, but no, it’s not what it used to be).
It hasn’t sold in huge numbers since it launched, but that’s not what this car was developed for. It was made to change perceptions of the brand, and it has done exactly that. Bulk sales are left to models like the Cerato, Sportage and Rio - but the Stinger is what draws you to the showroom, if only for a bit of a sneaky look.
So, the Stinger is still stylish enough to make you turn your head when you drive past one… and it could be enough to cause you to consider a Kia, even if you can’t afford a Stinger. But should you be taking a closer look? Let’s find out.
|Engine Type||3.3L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
It's difficult to place the Lexus against any of the Germans because it's a different sort of car. Its intent is probably closer to the Benz C-Class than the more overtly sporting BMW 3 Series or the all-rounder Audi A4. All three of those cars are way ahead for cabin, chassis and engine technology (depending on spec levels, of course).
None of them feel as solid or, ultimately, as tightly built as the Lexus. The IS has a very consistent idea of what it's meant to be and it goes all the way back to the LS400 - something identifiably similar but different enough to lure you to Japan.
As far as halo cars go, the Kia Stinger is pretty much perfect. It’s the ideal aspirational offering - the sort of car that would definitely put a smile on your face and cause your neighbours to unexpectedly drop in for a cuppa, if only to see if they can have a look at your Stinger.
For this writer, the flagship GT is the model to go for - 92 per cent of buyers have done exactly that, and it’s because that variant, while pricey, is exactly what this car should be. And while you might find people saying “ooh, Stinger” in any of the versions available, the GT is the one that deserves the admiring stares the most... even if the additional safety equipment recently added to base models now warrants further investigation at the lower price points.
Is the Kia Stinger GT your pick of the range? Tell us in the comments section below.
The first IS is still - remarkably - a common sight on our roads and couldn't be more different to the current generation. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements, like the huge spindle grille. That grille was a bit weak when this first generation arrived, but the mid-life facelift fixed that, but didn't touch the headlights, which still look a bit melted. Then there are the "big tick" daytime running lights, which don't really work with the headlights. It's all a bit odd.
Inside, things are very grey and sober. Obviously, it's astonishingly well-built, but there are just too many carefully labelled buttons and way too many switches you can spot in your neighbour's Toyota Corolla. They're not bad buttons, they just don't fit with the vibe of the rest of the car. Everything is clear and crisp, though, and the materials feel and look fantastic. It feels properly expensive.
I’m at about 80 per cent like, 20 per cent dislike with the Kia Stinger’s exterior design.
There are some really sweet and sleek elements to it: the silhouette of the car is long and muscled, the headlights and grille work together really well, and the integrated body kit with front spoiler, side skirts, rear spoiler and rear diffuser all combine nicely.
There is no denying the street cred of the Stinger, and it partly comes down to the sheer size of the thing. Its dimensions are 4830mm long, 1870mm wide and 1400mm tall, with a lengthy 2905mm wheelbase.
So, it has presence - and pretty much every model in the range has that, even a base grade 200S. Unfortunately there’s also some pretence.
Things like the fake bonnet vents look like eBay add-ons, and the plastic red light line that runs from the tail-light into the rear guard, for me, ruins the cohesion of the car. These parts look cheap, where the rest of the Stinger looks expensive.
I also struggle to deal with the projector halogen headlights on the lower grades: you get LED headlights in the top-spec, and LED daytime running lights on all of them, but yellow beams? Yuck. They could have at least gone with HID or xenon lamps.
But on the whole, there’s a lot more to love than hate.
As you may know, the wheel design and size depends on the model of Stinger you choose. So, the 2.0-litre gets an 18-inch alloy in silver, fitted to the 200S and 200Si, and the same wheel but with black highlights is fitted to the 330S.
The 19-inch alloy wheel fitted to the 330Si and 200 GT-Line is identical. And the 330 in GT spec has a model-specific 19-inch wheel (though it looks very close to the other 19-inch wheel option). Every Stinger comes with a space-saver spare wheel.
As for the cabin, the interior dimensions are pretty accommodating - you need to remember the size of this car, because it’s pretty big. Check out the interior photos to see what I mean, and we’ll take a deeper dive into the inside.
For some reason, the IS has always had a tight rear seat, despite its growth over the years. Handily, one of my neighbours has the iconic original IS200, and there isn't a big difference between the two cars, despite being separated by two decades.
This IS has such a flat windscreen that you have to be careful not to whack your head when you're getting into the front seats. The glass is super-fast and no doubt that pushes the cabin space towards the rear. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable and you also get heating and cooling, so you're covered all year round for posterior thermal comfort.
Front and rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders each and a bottle holder in each door.
The boot swallows a suspiciously identical-to-the-Euros 480 litres.
The interior of the Stinger is undoubtedly the most desirable of any vehicle ever sold by Kia in Australia. It looks good, no matter which spec you’re going for… but clearly, the S version with its smaller 7.0-inch touchscreen can’t quite match the bigger tablet in the models above, let alone the little changes in trim and finishes that you see as you step up the range ladder.
The flagship GT and GT-Line models are sumptuously appointed, with loads of adjustability to the driver’s seat and trim that looks as expensive as the price-tag suggests it should. The Si is smartly luxurious, where the S looks more like a ‘price leader’.
Now, to the real complaints. The driver’s seat is perched too high for my tastes - I’d like to sit a little lower when pushing through corners - plus there’s no lumbar support in lower grade cars. And anyone my height (182cm) or more will need to watch their head getting in and out of the driver’s seat. I banged the top of my noggin on more than one occasion.
The headroom situation is similar in the back seat, because the scooped roofline makes for limited space if you’re on the tall side. Thankfully, though, legroom is pretty good, and so is shoulder-room if you have two in the back. Three across will be a squeeze, as the middle seat is more ornamental than anything else, with very little legroom due to the transmission tunnel and not much in the way of comfort to the seat base or the upright.
If you have children, there are dual ISOFIX attachments for the rear window seats, and three top-tether hooks as well. Plus all Stingers have rear air-vents - and so they should.
Storage is pretty thoughtful throughout, with bottle holders in all four doors, plus map pockets (mesh ones!) in the seatbacks, and there’s a fold-down armrest with cupholders in the back. The front has a pair of cupholders between the front seats, plus a covered central storage bin, and a caddy for your phone in front of the gear selector.
Clearly if you’re thinking about a Stinger, then you’ll want to know what sort of boot space it offers, given the size of this car. But sadly, the cargo capacity is pretty slim, at just 406 litres. I guess that explains why I’ve seen a lot of Stinger models with a roof rack set-up…?
Price and features
At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range, stacking up well against the obvious luxury competition. That scores you a 10-speaker stereo, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric front seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, headlight washers, keyless entry and start, partial leather trim, power everything, auto wipers, and a space-saver spare.
The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply - it's hard to use, is devoid of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and takes longer than it should to learn where everything is. The sound, however, is excellent from the 10 speakers, the screen is huge and (mostly) pretty and the sat nav works quickly and without fuss.
So, you want to know how much a Kia Stinger will cost you? Well, it’s an extensive range, with a price list that should help it appeal to a broad range of consumers. There are six models in the line-up, and here’s a simple rundown of the list price (or RRP, before on-road costs) for each of them.
With the 2.0-litre engine you can get: the 200S, priced at $45,990; the 200Si, priced at $52,990; and the GT-Line, priced at $55,990.
For Stinger models powered by the 3.3-litre engine, you have three options, too: the 330S, priced at $48,990; the 330Si, priced at $55,990; and the flagship GT, which lists at $59,990.
We asked Kia Australia to provide us with a model comparison table, showing where the GT sits in terms of popularity for sales so far in 2018. Amazingly, 92 per cent of sales are the GT, meaning vs the other five variants account for only eight per cent between them.
Now let’s take a look at the standard features across the trim levels.
The entry-grade 200S and 330S models have artificial leather trim on the seats, dual-zone climate control, electric driver’s seat adjustment (eight-way), manual front passenger seat adjustment, a digital driver info display with digital speedometer, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto headlights (halogen projector beams with LED daytime running lights), heated exterior mirrors with folding, and a 7.0-inch infotainment screen with a six speaker sound system.
There is no CD player, but you get media USB (plus an additional USB charging socket and two 12-volt outlets) and there’s Bluetooth phone and audio streaming connectivity, as well as DAB+ digital radio. Keyless entry (with a button on the door handle, rather than the more advanced hand-sensing system on some rival cars) and push-button start are standard on all models, too.
While in late 2017 the Stinger didn’t come with advanced safety equipment on the base model S versions, that has been rectified for 2018 model cars. Read more about what’s included in each variant in the safety section below.
The 200Si and 330Si models gain real leather seats, along with a larger 8.0-inch multimedia screen and an updated sound system with nine speakers (including a subwoofer under each front seat) active cruise control, plus this version adds auto wipers. The Si grade also gains a luggage net and carbon-fibre-look trim.
The 18-inch rims fitted to the 200S and 200Si are the same, but for the 330S you get 18s (another design) and the 330Si gets bigger 19s (again with a unique style).
If you decide to step up to the GT-Line (for the 2.0-litre) or the GT (for the 3.3-litre), you gain quite a bit of extra kit.
Nappa leather lines the seats, and there’s flat-bottomed steering wheel with GT badging, plus the front seats add memory settings and powered bolster adjustment and thigh support adjustment. The front passenger seat gains electric adjustment, and both front seats have heating and ventilation, but there’s no heated steering wheel.
The GT-Line and GT models rock a 15-speaker harman/kardon audio system, and add an electric sunroof (not a panoramic sunroof), auto-dimming side mirrors, and extra technology including a 360-degree camera and colour head-up display, including speed limit indicators - but it doesn’t have traffic sign recognition, so it’s useless in roadworks-prone areas.
The interiors of these two models also sees the introduction of alloy sports pedals and Qi wireless phone charging, plus faux suede headliner and pillar trim.
If you get the range-topping GT, there are model-specific digital gauges for oil temp, torque output, turbo boost, G-forces and a lap timer. Plus this version has electric steering wheel adjustment in this variant only.
The GT-Line and GT have LED headlights with auto high-beams and cornering function, plus the wheel size jumps up to 19-inch for the GT-Line, and the GT also gets a unique 19-inch wheel design. Plus these top two versions have adaptive dampers.
And to reinforce the sportiness of the Stinger V6, every model with that drivetrain comes with Brembo brakes, a limited slip differential and a variable-ratio steering rack.
Australian GT models can be optioned with a $2500 locally-developed bi-modal exhaust. It’s worth the money, but really could be included standard. And you can’t option an exhaust through Kia Australia on the turbo four-cylinder models, which is a bummer.
Floor mats are standard on all grades, and you can expect the “tinted windows upgrade” question to be asked at the point of sale, as no model comes standard with privacy glass. What about colours (or colors, if you’re reading this somewhere other than Australia)? I personally think white looks great on the Stinger, but there is also silver, red, blue, black, grey and a darker blue that almost looks purple depending on the light. There is no orange option like the hue used on the GT Federation concept.
There are some widely reported problems with the hero 'Sunset Yellow' paint colour, and Kia Australia has instituted a fix for this: it will repaint the car at no cost (with a lifetime guarantee), refund the customer or replace the vehicle. For more on potential Kia Stinger problems, read the ownership section below.
Engine & trans
Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a very reasonable 180kW and 350Nm, carrying the code number 8AR-FTS. An eight-speed automatic sends the power to the rear wheels and will propel the 1680kg machine to 100km/h in seven seconds flat.
You can tow 750kg with an unbraked trailer and 1500kg braked.
Let’s talk engine specs. There are two drivetrain options for the Stinger range: the four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-litre engine (hence the 200 prefix), and the twin-turbo 3.3-litre V6 (ditto the 330 prefix).
The 200, or 2.0-litre turbo motor, isn’t the horsepower hero here, but nor is it underdone. It has 182kW of power (at 6200rpm), and 353Nm of torque (from 1400-4000rpm). The four-cylinder is only available in Australia with an eight-speed automatic transmission - no manual gearbox is available.
The 330, or 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged engine, offers more punch - and so it should, considering its engine size. It has 272kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 510Nm of torque (1300-4500rpm). Again, it only comes with an eight-speed automatic gearbox - there is no manual transmission option.
If we had to give a rating for each engine individually, it’d be a 9/10 for the 3.3L and a 7/10 for the 2.0L - and not just because of the stats.
You can forget any type of turbo diesel motor in Australia (but there is a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel in Europe - the same engine used in the Sorento SUV). We’re an all petrol market, though no market has an EV, plug in hybrid or LPG version of the Stinger, and you can probably forget all about a Stinger with a supercharger, too.
And while all models sold in Australia are rear-wheel drive (RWD), not front wheel drive like all other Kia passenger cars sold in Australia. The diesel sold in Europe is available with all-wheel drive (4WD / AWD), and so is the V6 in some colder markets.
Being a big car with a strong engine, you might be interested in fitting a towbar (yes, you can) to haul some weight behind you. If so, the towing capacity of the Stinger is the same across both engine types: 750kg for an un-braked trailer, 1500kg for a trailer with brakes, and with a tow ball download limit of 75kg.
The sticker on the windscreen suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, drinking premium unleaded. Unfortunately, and despite my fervent efforts, the best I could manage was a far more sobering 12.7L/100km.
That's not a great result, and it's quite similar to the 200t I drove a couple of years ago. Even with stop-start.
Fuel consumption mightn’t rank highly on your list of priorities if you’re looking at a Stinger, but even so, below are the fuel economy figures for both models in the range.
The 200 models, or versions with the 2.0-litre engine, have claimed combined cycle fuel use of 8.8 litres per 100 kilometres.
The 330 models, with the 3.3-litre V6, have claimed combined cycle fuel use of 10.2L/100km.
During our time in the four-cylinder GT-Line we saw a displayed average of 8.7L/100km (with a lot of highway driving in the mix), while the V6 GT model we drove - mainly in highway driving and commuting, with some typically argumentative Sydney traffic - was using 9.7L/100km. A spirited drive down the coast returned 10.4L/100km at the bowser in the 330S.
Both are capable of running on regular unleaded fuel, but premium unleaded (95RON or 98RON) would be our recommendation.
The fuel tank size for the Stinger is just 60 litres, which is quite small for a vehicle of this size, and could mean less mileage than you’d think - even if you engage the Eco mode. In fact, in the best-case scenario you’ll see about 680km in the four-cylinder, and 590km in the V6.
From the driver's seat you get that very appealing sense of solidity that you get in every Lexus, even the baby SUV UX. That's partly because when a car weighs this much, it helps soak up the bumps. Lexus has a particular ride quality, even in its sportier variants, that makes you feel safe and cosseted.
The steering's weight is light, but not so light you can't feel what the wheels are doing, yet it's not overly chatty.
But the main contributor to the feeling of solidity and safety is realising how unbelievably quiet and smooth the IS is. Even the turbo four is the most distant of whirrs (without sounding bad), smoothly dishing up the power and torque. I'll admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 0-100km/h time of seven seconds - it just doesn't feel that quick, but the speed does indeed pick up.
The eight-speed automatic could be more decisive - I often found myself grabbing a lower gear because the transmission had been a bit tardy picking the right cog. It could also drop into third or fourth a little too firmly when in Sport mode. It wasn't bad, it just felt like it was making a last-second decision to pick the gear and then ramming it home a touch enthusiastically. In normal city driving, however, it's smoother than the butter through which a Barry White track is being played.
As a sporty sedan it does okay, too, but the suspension is really set up to keep everything calm and comfortable. The electronics cut in early and often on slippery surfaces and even Sport mode is pretty tame. And that's perfectly okay.
Let me just put it out there: if you’re considering a Stinger, you should be going for the V6. Of the buyers who have already purchased a Stinger, almost all of them have done exactly that… I mentioned the GT accounts for 92 per cent of sales, and V6 versions count for 96 per cent of all Stingers sold.
It’s not just because the V6 offers the most enviable performance figures - although speed is a big reason to buy a car like this: a 0-100km/h time of just 4.9 seconds is fantastic considering it can run on 91RON regular unleaded petrol.
The real reason is that the Stinger feels like the V6 is what it should have, and the four-cylinder is only there to meet a price point. Is there any need to meet a price point, though, when almost all Stinger buyers are choosing the most expensive version? I think not.
Sure, the 2.0-litre engine is a zesty offering, but doesn’t set the senses on fire as much as the V6. It builds pace well, and even sounds pretty good under hard throttle - but for me, the six is better suited to the character of a big car like the Stinger.
The automatic transmission is focused more on efficiency when teamed to the four-cylinder, upshifting a little too soon in the normal or comfort drive modes - though choosing sport mode is the best way to rectify that, as it makes the throttle response and shift patterns more aggressive.
But the V6 is just so much better. It offers superb refinement, excellent throttle response and it’s properly fast. The transmission feels up for it, more ready for sudden throttle thumps, and it rewards with potent in-gear grunt. But the fact the transmission will overrule you when you're using the paddle-shifters is truly annoying, even if it is protecting costly, breakable moving parts.
You will need to keep an eye on your rear tyres, because Kia has done a great job of allowing some tolerance from the traction control system. From a standstill, the alloy wheels at the back will often do more rotations than those at the front…
But it isn’t just the punch - it’s the way the Stinger handles itself. There are four suspension tunes that have been developed by the brand’s local suspension gurus, and the examples I sampled - the GT-Line, GT and 330S - all did a terrific job of controlling the body of the car.
The GT-Line and GT, admittedly, have adaptive dampers to can firm things up when you engage the Sport drive mode or tailor the 'Custom' drive mode as such, and if the road surface isn’t perfect the wheels can be a little slappy in their engagement with the road below.
But just find a smooth road, and you’ll be able to properly unleash the abilities of the Stinger. Plus for models on sale in the latter part of 2018, the GT will see an upgrade from Continental rubber to Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, which is what Kia intriguingly fitted to track cars at the launch of the Stinger in 2017, before switching back to Contis for the road drive.
And while most of us won’t be carving up mountain passes everyday, the Stinger makes for a comfortable and composed cruiser or commuter, too. There’s not much cabin noise, and Comfort mode in the cars with adaptive dampers is very good. It’s not as cushy as air suspension in some cars three-times the price, and you don’t have the same ground clearance advantages as you might in, say, a Mercedes-Benz CLS which can raise up for steep sections, but unless you have a hellish driveway, you’ll struggle to bottom out. For those interested, the ground clearance is 130mm.
In the 330S, the chassis (MacPherson strut front suspension/multi-link rear suspension) is really well set up. Sure, you don’t get the smarts of adaptive dampers, but the tune that Kia’s local team has done on it is excellent: it rides over bumps well (the slightly smaller wheel/tyre package undoubtedly helps in that regard), and it handles corners with ease and steers quite nicely. A bit more nose-end grip could help things even more.
The braking response of the Brembos on the V6 models was definitely better than the four-cylinder models - strong and straight, and with good pedal feel, too.
One minor complaint I had was with the adaptive cruise control - it isn’t as good as some other systems I’ve used: it can be jagged in its reapplication of throttle, whether in the 2.0-litre or the 3.3.
The IS lands with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake asssist, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, active-safety bonnet and tyre-pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.
When Kia launched the Stinger, it had not one safety rating, but two: a three-star ANCAP score for the 200S and 330S base model versions, and a five-star ANCAP for all other Stingers. The reason was the S models lacked some electronic safety features. Now, however, every Kia Stinger has the five-star ANCAP rating, based on 2018 testing.
Now, let’s just put this out there: this scoring was confusing and also confounding when compared with other ratings from the safety watchdog. For other vehicles in the market, ANCAP hadn’t issued two ratings if a specific variant didn’t have the safety equipment needed: instead, it would issue an overall rating for the range, with a side note about specific models that may not meet the five-star score… like the Honda CR-V. Why ANCAP decided to single out the Stinger is beyond us.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk safety equipment.
Every Stinger now has auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, driver attention alert, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, and seven airbags (dual front, front side, full length curtain and driver’s knee).
The high-spec GT and GT-Line models gain a 360-degree camera/surround view camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and front parking sensors - but no park assist system to help you out in carparks. These versions also get a colour head-up display (HUD).
Where is the Kia Stinger built? The answer is South Korea.
Lexus offers a slightly unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which I guess is a good way to separate yourself from the Euro competition, who are stubbornly sticking with three years. Added to the warranty is four years of roadside assist.
Also throwing a punch at the Euro manufacturers' generally lacklustre after-sales offering, Lexus offers to either come and fetch your car from you for servicing or will give you a loan car for the day. And you'll get your car back freshly washed and vacuumed, too.
All of this (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability) is intended to lure you away from the Germans.
Kia offers one of the best ownership plans in the business, with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan backed by seven years’ roadside assist if you keep your logbook stamped by Kia dealers, and a seven-year capped price service plan.
The cost varies depending on whether you choose the four-cylinder or the V6, but the intervals are the same: both four- and six-cylinder models require maintenance every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever comes first). That’s shorter than most Kia models, which only need servicing annually or every 15,000km.
The four-cylinder models are more affordable to own due to a lower average service cost of $451, compared with the six-cylinder version at $487.
If you’re worried about Kia Stinger problems - be it engine problems, transmission problems, suspension issues, quality complaints (like that yellow paint issue) or any other type of reliability complication - check our Kia Stinger problems page. Don’t forget that old-school owners manual in the glovebox, where you’ll be able to find out what sort of replacement battery you’ll need, also what oil type is required.
As for resale value? That’s a bit of guesswork, given the car hasn’t been on sale all that long. But Glass's Guide’s depreciation calculator suggests the following: for a GT model after three years/50,000km, you should expect a trade-in price of just $21,200, or a private price of $26,000.
Thinking a base model 200S might be a good buy? Maybe wait three years, because the predicted resale value is just $15,800 as a trade-in, and only $19,500 retail (and you'll still have four year's worth of warranty!).