For years it has been reasonably clear Hyundai intended to make Kia its sporting arm. And though myriad concept and show cars indicated that direction, Kia for the most part has been oriented toward economy cars with front-wheel drive. True, the curious up-market K900 with its 5.0-liter V-8 is an outlier to that pattern, but it certainly hasn’t been a big seller, despite a relatively low price for the amount of content it delivers. Now we have a production version of the Kia GT concept from the 2011 Frankfurt auto show, executed — like that show car — in Kia’s German studio.
The 2018 Kia Stinger is aimed at BMW’s 4 Series Gran Coupe, with the base model using Kia’s 2.0-liter turbo-four making 255 hp and 260 lb-ft, quite similar to the 430i’s powertrain architecture and output. It also boasts a swoopy roofline, big wheels, and a major effort to reduce front overhang, which has been an unstated but vital part of BMW’s appeal for many years. The Stinger’s front end is extremely blunt with a quite vertical centerline profile. The hood is as long as possible, then the skin turns abruptly down into a cliff face broken up by four substantial openings. The key one is Peter Schreyer’s characteristic grille, which provides strong brand identity. An even bigger opening below is the main cooling air inlet, and two corner scoops allow a purely vertical framing element on the car’s outer side surface. It doesn’t promise much in terms of aerodynamic penetration, but it’s nicely done. Those corner scoops provide brake cooling and aid air flow.
One aspect I particularly like is the side-window opening profile. It avoids the too easy, too frequently espoused horizontal sill line in favor of an elegant dip just behind the A-pillar and a smooth rising curve that ends with a right-angle intersection with the bright upper molding, which ends in a point at the base of the backlight. It’s all much better looking than has been usual with Kia designs, and it bodes well for the future. But we have to face the fact that this design is not particularly pretty, not truly innovative, and absolutely will not inspire any other manufacturers to copy it in detail, which is always the ultimate proof of a given design’s validity. People railed against and complained about the shape of the Bangle-van Hooydonk BMW 7 Series some years back, but other car builders quickly saw its aerodynamic and trunk-space virtues and launched their own versions of the tall-trunk design only BMW previously had the courage to embrace.
No matter. If the Stinger is neither bellwether nor masterpiece, it’s an excellent symbol of how far Korean carmakers have come since five Brits set Hyundai up with a factory to make Giugiaro-styled mechanical clones of the cars being churned out in their home country. I suspect improvements will continue to arrive and possibly lead to something great in the near future.
1. The outer corner of the front end is a dead-straight vertical line.
2. Small chimney openings on the hood could relieve heat—if they were actually open. Alas, they are merely a styling element.
3. A sharp-edged bump just outboard of the hood provides some nice surface definition that fades into the A-pillar.
4. This little descending curve leads into a continuous curve that ends in a 90-degree intersection with the top window trim piece.
5. A simple, straight highlight runs from the aft tip of the headlamp assembly to the upper outer corner of the taillight and gives some nice definition to the body side.
6. Kia must have a great deal of confidence in its tooling and stamping people to allow the complex-surfaces fuel door to cross this highlight.
7. Notice how long the rear doors are, running almost into the rear wheel opening.
8. The vertical trim piece frames an outlet on the body side. Unlike the hood “vents,” these are functional.
9. Daytime running lights have a little kick-up at their outer ends.
10. The inner wall of the corner scoops carries the body color back to the inserted grille texture pieces.
11. A kink in the bottom line of the fascia gives an interesting finish to the corner scoops.
12. A welcome detail, the taillights are neatly shaped and big enough without being splashed over half the rear body surface. This moderation is much appreciated.
13. Having the window trim diminish to a point at the bottom of the backlight is a nice touch of elegance not often seen on Kias.
14. Notice that all the glass separation lines are parallel to the B-pillar main axis. This should allow all the side windows to open completely.
15. Headlamp covers are visible from well behind the car, a useful and required safety feature.
16. A hard, sharp line flows back along the bottom of the body from the trim piece for the fender air outlet.
17. Side marker lamps run forward from the taillights, making the transition around the corner from rear fascia to side. On a red car, fine. One wonders if it would be so harmonious on a silver or white car.
18. These openings are similar to those in front and are likewise not functional.
19. Rear reflectors are placed quite low, just above the exhaust outlets.
20. Four exhaust pipes may not be necessary, but they provide a handsome look.
21. A very small “tongue” hanging down gives a bit of interest to the rear-end graphics and recalls the shapes under the front scoops.
22. Buttons, buttons everywhere, on the doors …
23. … on the steering wheel, and lavishly scattered across the instrument panel.
24. The navigation screen is easy to see but is not very well integrated into the composition.
25. Ventilation outlets are just plain circles, but those at the ends of the IP are elaborately shaped.
26. Radio controls are where one would expect them, a welcome note in this depressingly black interior. Well, Kia does want to evoke BMWs.