After just one standing-start acceleration blast through the gears, I almost wanted to get out and check the badge on the nose. This thing is a Kia? Why, yes, it sure is—says so right there. That said, in a side-by-side proficiency run, this newcomer would leave a V-8-powered Dodge Charger Daytona sucking its exhaust fumes.
Kia showed off the racy GT Concept seven years ago at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show. And now comes the new-for-2018 production Stinger GT—looking almost exactly like the concept car and boasting a thunderous, 365-hp twin-turbo V-6 behind its dramatic prow.
Kia claims a 0 to 60 mph time of just 4.7 seconds but to me, the GT feels even quicker than that. Top speed is an electronically limited 167 mph—which is to say, this new Kia is ready to eat BMWs, Audis, and Benzes for lunch—and then gulp down that Charger Daytona for dessert.
Though the Stinger GT is available with optional all-wheel drive ($2,200), my tester was a rear-driver. And it packed plenty of standard good stuff with its $39,250 base sticker: Brembo brakes front and rear, heated front seats, 19-inch alloys with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber, a rear-view camera, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, keyless pushbutton start, and much more.
My test car also included the optional ADAS driver-assistance package ($2,000), which adds such safety features as blind-spot assist, lane-keep assist, and forward collision warning and avoidance. So for just $41,250 you’re out the door with a dashing, leather-lined, luxuries-abounding four-door hatch that also happens to run like it owes somebody money.
The cabin is an attractive and roomy space, though you’d never say it boasts the richness or artful flair of just about any Audi cockpit. (And it’s worth noting: You can option a Stinger GT well past $50K.) That said, it works just fine. The controls—both hard buttons and the center touchscreen—are laid out intelligently and work splendidly. No searching for some hard-to-find switch; no fuss whatsoever. As for room, I drove with three passengers along on several occasions and nobody ever complained about the accommodations. The rear seat is generously sized and under the rear hatch lies enough space to stash a ton of cargo. I filled it with six bags of groceries and had lots of room to spare.
Around Los Angeles, the Stinger got plenty of attention—both for its dramatic Micro Blue Pearl paint scheme and because nobody had seen one before. Overall it’s a striking piece—aggressively proportioned, the big alloys nicely filling the wheelwells, standard LED headlamps shaped into a menacing squint. One passerby asked, “That a Jaguar?” Wasn’t a bad guess.
Standard Drive Mode Select lets you choose from among five vehicle settings: Smart, Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. In Custom, the driver can adjust everything from shift responsiveness to suspension stiffness to the amount of added engine sound being piped-in through the audio system’s speakers. Mostly I left the Stinger in Sport, where the car displayed a welcome playfulness without the suspension beating me up over broken pavement.
Clearly, Kia has biased the GT’s performance toward “pleasurable sportiness,” not “ultimate performance.” The 8-speed automatic has a manual-shifting mode, and it responds well enough to up- and downshift commands using the paddles behind the wheel. But you’d never mistake it for a twin-clutch unit.
Similarly, the chassis responds well enough—to a point. Pushed hard, the rear end tends to loose its footing. The electronic steering doesn’t deliver the fine road Braille you’ll find in many competitors. And the fore-aft body motions under braking or acceleration are more than you’d encounter in, say, a BMW.
Back off a bit, though, and the Stinger is a pleasing dance partner. There’s no denying the appeal of its sensational straight-line speed. And the big Brembos—four-piston units in front—do an excellent job of reining-in the speed when needed. At highway cruise the cabin is noisier than you’d find in a German rival, but it’s not objectionable. The Stinger does a respectable job on fuel, too, returning 27 mpg on the highway.
The added-cost safety systems work brilliantly. Blind-spot assist is helpful without being intrusive. Lane-keeping assist and lane centering are on par with a Telsa. Adaptive cruise control does an excellent job of keeping the Stinger moving along smoothly in the flow of traffic. Big applause here.
What’s patently clear after driving the Stinger GT for a week: Kia is making huge strides. From seemingly out of nowhere has come a Korean sports-hatch that, right out of the gate, in many ways is already beating the big-name bluebloods at their own performance game. The looks and the power are there right now. Once Kia ups the refinement and gets the chassis buffed to a shine, the Stinger GT is really gonna start kicking taillights and taking names.
I’m betting it gets there a lot sooner than you’d expect.
2018 Kia Stinger GT 3.3T RWD Specifications
|PRICE||$39,250/$41,250 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.3L DOHC 24-valve twin-turbo V-6/365 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 376 lb-ft @ 1,300|
4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD hatchback
|EPA MILEAGE||18/27 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||190.2 x 73.6 x 55.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.7 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||167 mph (est)|