Kia is on the upswing. It is making high-quality, attractive cars. It launched its first luxury sedan, the K900, with a Super Bowl advertisement. Hell, it even has a competitive racing program.
But most people still don't aspire to drive Kias. They don't lust after the brand. Its cars and trucks don't turn heads from a distance or provoke irrational financial decisions. Kia can start to change all of that with the GT4 Stinger.
The Stinger is the striking yellow sports-car concept revealed in January at the Detroit auto show. It's a 2+2 coupe with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder pumping out 315 hp, which is more than enough to propel the 2874-pound machine with the requisite energy for enthusiast drivers.
Its classic sports car proportions are immediately recognizable: a long hood, a short deck, and a menacing stance. The upright LED lights bookend Kia's wide, open-mouthed grille and would be distinctive on the road at night. The flared, curvy wheel arches are sexy. Design manager Erik Klimisch said the Stinger has a "little Pininfarina" in it. That's having confidence in your design.
It's not just the styling. Kia really laid it on thick in all facets with the Stinger, adding a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, a custom racecar chassis with a double wishbone suspension, Brembo Gran Turismo brakes, and Pirelli performance tires. The 20-inch aluminum wheels have carbon-fiber center locking inserts.
There's never been a Kia with all of that, because until now the company has only produced front-wheel-drive commodity cars for the masses. A halo car would do a world of good.
How realistic is the Stinger? Kia has built a lot of cool concepts over the years that haven't come close to production. Remember the Kia Ray plug-in from the 2010 Chicago auto show? Probably not. On the other hand, the 2006 Kia Soul concept telegraphed the appearance of the boxy small vehicle that arrived three years later.
Although the Stinger looks sharp, it faces significant hurdles to get to production. The most significant is that Kia does not currently have a compact, rear-wheel-drive chassis. Sister division Hyundai has the rear-wheel-drive Genesis coupe, but that platform would likely be too big.
Then there's the matter of execution. Kia has never built a sports car, and the Stinger's chassis and engine would need to be finely honed in order to face-off against the excellent Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S twins, not to mention the 2015 Ford Mustang, and Nissan's rear-wheel-drive IDx concepts, which are rumored to be headed for production.
If the Stinger does make it to showrooms, it would fulfill the longtime wishes of design chief Peter Schreyer. "We always wanted to make a sports car. Something like this would have potential as a product."
Scott McKee, Kia's public relations director, offered only the party line: "We have a history of building concept cars that turn into production vehicles, but we have nothing to announce."
Let's hope Kia has something to announce soon.