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Quick Take: 2018 Kia Stinger GT

Even if it’s not a home run, it’s still a solid triple

It's like being the last of your friends to see a movie. You've avoided the spoilers, but you also know they loved it. That raises your expectations, even though the previews maybe weren't so convincing. So when I fired up the 2018 Kia Stinger GT, months after the first writers to drive it, it was with more than a little anticipation.

You see, most of my cohorts in the car business had already driven the Stinger—at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, no less. They'd returned from Germany with Cheshire cat smiles and endless, under-embargo praise. I was a tad skeptical, having driven many Kias prior to the Stinger. But I was hopeful, too. Kia has made such strides in exterior design, interior quality, and powertrain refinement that the foray into sportiness seems inevitable—but success in the sporting arena is anything but a given, even for the established players.

To say the Stinger GT faced a high hurdle from its inception is to misunderstand the challenge. Taking on the likes of the BMW 4 and 6 Series, the Porsche Panamera, and the Audi S5 Sportback is functionally impossible, even with a competitive product. Why? Because Kia lacks the heritage, reputation, and brand cachet of the German luxury marques. Fortunately, Kia knows that and doesn't waste its effort trying to be something it's not (not yet, anyway). Instead, it aims for a more achievable goal: a genuinely sporty sedan that ticks enough boxes to be the rational choice over its venerable ersatz rivals.

I wasn't let down, exactly, but I also didn't get the wig-pushed-back amazement of a two-thumbs-up summer blockbuster. You certainly can't blame the roads—Angeles National Forest has some of the best in the country, easily up to the task of displaying the goods of any car with performance aspirations. It's not that the Stinger GT isn't a very good sport sedan. It's that it's not as good as I'd hoped, given all the tongue wagging by other scribes.

The problem, ultimately, is with rationality. After a day behind the wheel of the Stinger GT, I can say with all seriousness that it is the rational choice over a BMW 440i or even a base-level Panamera. It's just as comfy as either German, nearly as nice inside (less so compared to the Porsche), accelerates quicker, handles with similar alacrity, and costs somewhere between two-thirds and half as much. But as much as the world's luxury brands tout their engineering, their build quality, and their design, the rational decision—made with dollars and cents, not emotions and desires—will only rarely land you in one of their cars.

There's passion in the Stinger GT, though. With Albert Biermann, former vice president of engineering at BMW's M GmbH, at the helm of Hyundai-Kia's vehicle testing and high-performance development group, the Stinger has real performance bona fides despite having no heritage to draw on in the rear-drive sport sedan arena. And it's certainly not rationality that makes you stick a twin-turbocharged, 3.3-liter V-6 engine rated at 365 hp (at 6,000 rpm) and 376 lb-ft of torque (from 1,300 to 4,500 rpm) lengthwise into a family sedan. Rationality does strike with the use of an eight-speed automatic transmission, but that's quickly forgotten when you realize, upon turning off all the electronic nannies, that the instrument panel is telling you launch control is now available. Peg the brakes, pin the gas, and then bam! You're off as soon as the brake is released.

Claimed 0 to 60 mph? Just 4.7 seconds. It feels faster. Fortunately the four-piston Brembo brakes up front do their work neatly, hauling the car down from speed with reasonable feel. Turn in for a hard corner, and you'll notice the lack of initial body control, letting the car almost flop into the turn. I suspect this is down to the tuning of the progressive-rate springs, rather than damping, and it pays dividends in ride quality, but it leaves the Stinger GT feeling a bit soft and lazy on the front end, especially when compared back to back with the Porsche Panamera. Once the car has leaned sufficiently to reach the higher-rate portion of the springs, however, body motion is well controlled, and transitioning to profitable throttle application is easy. If you're a bit more abrupt on the throttle, you can break the rear loose easily, and thanks to the long wheelbase, it's easy to hang it out as long as you'd like. It's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it'll cut the mustard.

The Stinger GT's all-wheel-drive system has perceptible rear bias when driven hard, too. But even in the rear-drive-only model, with the Stinger GT's safety equipment in maximum alert, it's all but impossible to slide the car more than a few feet—which should reassure drivers curious about the dynamics of a rear-wheel-drive car but not yet used to the delicacy required on the throttle in wet or wintry conditions.

Let's face it, as much as the Stinger GT can be included reasonably in company with the likes of BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche, its actual customer base is more likely to come from brands like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan. That customer base hasn't had much experience with rear-wheel-drive cars. Naturally, many (perhaps even most) will opt for the all-wheel-drive system. But for those value buyers grabbing a standard Stinger (not the GT) on the strength of its good looks and roomy interior, the lower-cost rear-drive model will be the go-to pick.

Maybe—just maybe—if we're lucky, those matinee Stingers will become cult classics and, like "Repo Man" or "The Big Lebowski," grow a culture of midnight-showing enthusiasts around them, inoculating yet another generation with the love of rear-drive sport sedans and cars that are about more than just the basics, even while being basic.

2018 Kia Stinger Specifications
PRICE $32,800 (base), $39,250 (GT)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/255 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 1,400-4,000 rpm
3.3L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/365 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 376 lb-ft @ 1,300-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD/AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 19-22/25-29 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 190.2 x 73.6 x 55.1 in
WHEELBASE 114.4 in
WEIGHT 3,611-4,023 lb
0-60 MPH 4.7 sec (est, GT)
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