Anyone seeking proof that Kia has transformed itself from a purveyor of low-cost, disposable economy cars to a world-class automaker need only look at the GT4 Stinger concept shown today at the 2014 Detroit auto show. With a powerful turbocharged engine wrapped in a muscular two-door body, the Kia GT4 Stinger demonstrates how, one day, the Koreans might build an affordable sports coupe.
The Ignition Yellow bodywork was crafted by Kia's California design studio, the same team that brought the wild Soul hatchback-based Track'ster to the 2012 Chicago auto show. "Driving enjoyment was the number one priority," chief designer Tom Kearns said in a statement. "The GT4 Stinger is a throwback to days when driving a car was a visceral experience that wasn't muted by electronic gimmickry."
That sounds like the same mission that Subaru and Toyota set for the BRZ/FR-S sports coupes, and indeed the Kia concept car is almost a carbon-copy of those twins. Compared to a Subaru BRZ, the small, low, and wide GT4 Stinger concept is 3.0 inches longer, 4.5 inches wider, and 1.4 inches lower. It is about 100 pounds heavier than the Subaru, but at a claimed 2874 pounds, the GT4 Stinger concept is still a relative lightweight.
At the front of the car, a carbon-fiber splitter sits below vertically stacked LED headlights and brake-cooling air ducts. The flat hood is broken up by a pair of chrome accent pieces, before leading into the wraparound windshield that Kia likens to "wrap-around sunglasses." Cutout A-pillars improve visibility and are blacked out to create a floating-roof visual effect. Behind that, a glass hatch opens to reveal a small cargo area filled with a strut-tower brace.
The Kia GT4 Stinger concept's flared fenders conceal staggered 20-inch wheels, behind which Brembo four-piston brake calipers clamp cross-drilled brake rotors measuring 15 inches in diameter. The entire car rides on a new rear-wheel-drive platform fitted with independent suspension. To help keep weight low and the focus on driving, Kia has kept the car's cabin free of unnecessary ornamentation. There is a rubber mat instead of carpeting, red fabric pulls instead of a door handles, and no radio. The pedals and the exterior door handles are made from billet aluminum, and a flat-bottom steering sits in front of red-illuminated gauges with a prominent tachometer.
That tachometer keeps the driver apprised of the 2.0-liter turbo-four engine under the hood of the Kia GT4 Stinger concept. With 315 hp directed through a six-speed manual transmission, straight-line performance should handily eclipse that of the 200-hp Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S. Moreover, because the turbocharged engine is related to the 400-hp 2.0-liter turbo mill in the Kia Optima Grand-Am race car, Kia says it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to put the 315-hp version into a street car.
Despite that promise, there are no plans for the Kia GT4 Stinger concept to reach a showroom any time soon. Although the automaker says the car, "provides a possible and highly provocative glimpse into Kia's future," it would likely be several years before production-ready coupe inspired by this GT4 concept made it to showrooms.