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2019 Kia Stinger GTS Test Drive

This is the best Stinger so far.

Billy RehbockWriter, Photographer

We're fans of Kia's first-ever performance sedan here at Automobile, so much so that we spent a year chaperoning a HiChroma Red 2018 Stinger GT2. At the end of our stewardship, we concluded that "if more automakers stepped up and made something as well rounded and overtly attractive as the Stinger, the enthusiast market would be the better for it."

Kia doubled down on its formula of well-rounded and affordable performance with the special-edition 2019 Stinger GTS. Our test car, which arrived in a glowing hue of Federation Orange, represents one of just 800 such GTS models. It arrived well-equipped and right-priced, reminiscent of what Porsche does with its GTS lineup. Other than the paint, differences from the regular Stinger continue with real carbon fiber accents, including the mirror caps, grille surround, and side fender vents.

When we say the Stinger GTS AWD is priced right, we mean it. The performance four-door starts at just $47,395, about $5,000 less than a top-spec AWD model would cost. Considering that the Audi S5 Sportback starts at $51,900, the Korean sport sedan's value proposition becomes even more apparent.

Engaging Performance

For starters, the Stinger GTS is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V-6, making the same power and torque figures of 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque as the mainstream models. It sends power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. However, this is another place where the GTS and other Stingers differ. Kia revised its AWD system, calling its performance-oriented tune D-AWD. The "D" officially stands for "dynamic," but it also stands for "drift." Lamentably, we didn't have an appropriate place to test this feature.

In addition to its revised all-wheel drive setup, the Stinger GTS also touts a limited-slip differential, which is aggressive enough to be noticeable even when maneuvering around a parking lot. Whether it's launching off the line or powering out of a corner, the Stinger GTS puts its power down. I had forgotten just how fast it is too-this engine is one of the most underrated on the market. The unflappable AWD system, further aided by some really sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tires, made the Stinger a complete joy to have for a weekend.

The first order of business was taking the Stinger to the Malibu canyons. I toggled the drive mode setting to Sport, which frees up 80 percent of the power to go to the rear wheels. Around tight bends, the GTS seemed happy to comply, rotating around corners like a much smaller car. From the moment I turned the steering wheel, I noticed that the steering felt noticeably firmer and more accurate than what I remember from our long-termer. This hunch was verified as I navigated through the twisty bends, as I always had confidence that the Stinger would go exactly where I wanted. I'm a big fan of German sedans, and now more than ever, the Stinger feels just like one.

Part of its Teutonic disposition comes from the fixed, not adaptive, suspension. Our long-term car had a propensity for getting squirrely when it encountered road imperfections when driven at brisker paces. I noticed almost none of that in the GTS. It seems Kia applied some of the suspension tuning Genesis developed in the G70 to the Stinger, since the two cars now ride much more similarly. At one point I had MotorTrend associate online editor Duncan Brady in the passenger seat, and we noticed how well the Korean sedan damped even the biggest bumps, quickly regaining its composure.

Well-Equipped at its Price

In order to attain its commendable price tag, the GTS model necessitated some compromises that made it slightly less luxurious than our former long-term car. For example, it doesn't have ventilated seats, a powered liftgate, or adjustable bolsters. It wasn't stripped bare, however. Kia still equipped it with a standard sunroof, an eight-inch touch screen, and heated seats.

For better or worse, there's an Alcantara steering wheel, which I tend not to prefer in a road car, and an Alcantara center arm rest. It also has a premium headliner, made from a very nice-looking microsuede material. Our test car also had an optional cargo mat installed for $125, and AWD-specific carpeted floor mats for $150.

Road Trip Champion

On a road trip to wine country to check out some potential wedding venues, the Stinger GTS lived up to the "GT" component of its name. It plied the highway with great authority, offering massive passing power and a composed but comfortable ride. The seats are supportive over greater distances; we easily racked up over 200 miles, including two 100-plus mile legs without stopping. Road and wind noise were minimal, allowing the standard Harman Kardon premium speakers to shine. We got plenty of positive attention along the way as well. Just as we were returning home in the afternoon, my fiancée caught a police officer craning his neck out of his patrol car to get a better look.

The Stinger GTS still does everything that we liked about our former long-term car while improving upon the few criticisms we did offer. It is capable of accessible and engaging performance at a reasonable price, and still looks fantastic. Kia went the distance with the 2019 Stinger GTS—it's just a shame that it's a limited-production model.

2019 Kia Stinger GTS AWD Specifications
PRICE $47,395/$47,670 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.3L twin-turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/365 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 365 lb-ft @ 1,300-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 17/25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 190.2 x 73.6 x 55.1 in
WHEELBASE 114.4 in
WEIGHT 3,829 lb
0-60 MPH 4.7 sec
TOP SPEED 167 mph