The much-hyped big Kia has finally shown its full fury in a mad track day near Canberra.
Kia bravely put Australian media behind the wheel at Wakefield Raceway near Goulburn in central NSW.
The course has challenging switchbacks and tempting straight-aways, and is far more punishing than anything regular motoring will ever be.
It performed beyond expectation, remembering this is a road-going GT car.
Yes, that’s right, a GT car from Korea. Don’t be surprised if you see a few more surprises in the coming years.
Stinger squirmed pleasingly under extreme braking, but steered exactly where it was meant to go. It begged for mercy, and was shown none of it. It was thrown one way, then the other, with tyres specially selected for track work.
With traction control is left on, only the most ill-advised maneuvers looked like unseating the rear-wheel-drive flagship.
The only time dust flew, was with traction turned off.
But like fight club, we don’t talk about trackwork. And, no, it was not I who turned off the traction control. I’m not an idiot.
First, a few facts:
There are 4 grades, 2 engines, and 1 transmission. 2 different suspension types make for a feast of choice.
The grades are: S, Si, GT-line and GT. There is a 182kw/353Nm 2.0L 4 cylinder turbo, and range-topping 272kw/510Nm “Lambda II” 3.3L V6 twin turbo.
They are both teamed to an in-house-developed 8 speed automatic transmission. An electronically variable suspension system is available on some models.
Tell me this doesn’t look the business.
It is angry, and aggressive, while looking expensive and premium.
A canny onlooker will notice the top models having a distinctive DTRL with an Audi-esque look to it. A double angle-line divides a headlight array, and looks far more expensive than any previous Kia buyers would be used to.
The 4 door-plus-hatch makes the Singer a grand tourer in the 70-s style.
Do you remember the Rover 3500? An executive hatch which hasn’t been equaled, until now. The 3500 pioneered the liftback revolution.
A 406L boot isn’t huge, but it is the flexibility that really matters.
The silhouette has a GT coupe look to it, but it does mean a low rear door. This will catch out the newer players. Mind the head on the way in, or you’ll take it off at the shoulders..
You can’t help but notice a quality that seems spookily redolent of Audi and BMW.
I’m not saying a badge-buyer is going to go for it, but a sensible person certainly might.
Distinctive “Eye of ISIS” rear lights, have a streak along the rear side panel. A pert rump has a muscular look when seen from behind. I see Aston Martin every time I am behind it!
I particularly like the integrated exhausts which look expensive and high-end.
A choice of wheels tops off an exterior that has been blinged to within an inch of its life.
What a treat.
A floating tablet with touch LCD input sits atop a central stack integrated in the style of a cockpit. 3 huge circular vents, and easy to use AC controls hover over a soft-close cubby hole.
I’d like to see a slightly larger screen standard on all models, but that’s just being picky (sorry Kev, SHHH don’t tell SH).
The console also houses drive-mode, gear selection, and parking brake levers. The sports-style steering wheel, and semi-LCD dash finish off a top-notch driver experience.
The seating is gorgeous.
There is no doubt the buttery-soft Nappa leather is real, but I defy you to pick the simulated leather anywhere else in the range.
Electric adjustment on the driver’s seat extends to the passenger on the top model, but all grades get twin AC temperature knobs. And, yes, they can be synced.
Drilled aluminium covers on the speakers of the GT complete a look any Euro snob would be proud of.
Red leather is an option box I’d tick for the GT. It screams “wow-factor”.
The audio sound is excellent. It is deep and rich, and something any luxury buyer would instantly recognize. I have Bang and Olufsen sound at home, and I felt like I was at home. Make of that what you will.
There is a feeling of space coupled to a distinct air of OCD high-end care and attention.
After 6 hours in the saddle, the seats remained comfy.
Kia claims the Stinger is a true GT, and I agree.
As always, the Korean car maker has crammed its flagship chockers full of gadgets you’d expect to pay much more for.
Carplay/Android Auto is standard on many Kia models, including Stinger, and it makes life so much easier for anyone born in the last 30 years. Anyone older than that will need to ask a millennial, because they know where it’s at.
It allows fully handsfree operation when in cell range.
Touch input allows simple choices made on the fly via the tablet by either front occupant. Quick access buttons for radio stations can be programmed quickly, and of course DAB digital radio, and SatNav is standard.
Launch Control allows takeoffs to be controlled by the system. We tried it, but unless we did something wrong, found it inconsequential.
Climate control keeps the cabin just so. We have all experienced temperatures at some variance to that selected on the controls. But not here.
I cannot fault the driver layout, no matter how hard I try.
The top model also gets blind spot and lane monitoring, and active cruise control. These are things I just can’t live without.
A colour HUD (heads up display) is handy, but you can’t see it with polarized sunglasses. You get speed, and SatNav info projected onto the windscreen right in front of the driver.
We did the lot.
A very (very) long track session showed the Kia to be incredibly competent in an environment it will never ever be asked to endure under normal operation.
Extreme cornering, braking, steering, and acceleration shows weaknesses in design. Stinger shrugged it all off.
Getting stuck in to the brakes made her squirm, and tugging on the steering wheel brought the nose into a corner in ways a normal driver would never do, but would love to try.
Stinger remained composed, unless pushed beyond what a road-going sedan would normally be asked to deal with. Even then, it did not come unglued, with the traction control left on. Turn it off at your peril. Yes, you Sam.
The exhaust has a beautiful sound even in 4-cylinder form. It roars pleasingly when called upon.
Brembo brakes pull Stinger up quick smart under normal conditions, and there is no noticeable fade with extreme use.
On the road, we liked the standard dampers most of all.
It felt supple and sophisticated, although Graham Gambold, the man who did the local tuning, said the “smart” setting was best on the adjustable system. He too, likes the conventional dampers most of all.
Road noise was most noticeable on the top model with the lowest profile tyres. Even then, it was kept to a minimum, and wind noise was almost undetectable.
The GT nature means a driver could easily cover a thousand kilometres and feel fresh as a daisy at the other end.
Kia says police “forces across the country have looked at Stinger to replace the Commodores” which cease production in a month.
This is everything COO Damien Meredith promised it would be.
He is the man behind Kia’s famous 7 year warranty, and one of the people responsible for Kia’s steady rise to the top ten.
The abandonment of Holden, Ford, and Toyota of their local manufacturing put all retailers on equal footings.
Any patriotic reason Australian buyers had for Holden and Ford has evaporated.
There is nothing else to touch Stinger in this segment. There will be no rear wheel drive sedans other than the Kia.
Either by accident or design, Kia has found itself in a unique position. The 4.9 second 0-100 V6 puts the GT in an arena previously occupied by V8 commodores and Falcons.
There is no manual transmission, and no purely-manual operation of the 8-speed auto.
Paddles can be used, but it always reverts to automated shifting.
The roomy cabin and sexy metalwork make Stinger a compelling option.
It drives beautifully, and sits in the road like any posh GT coating twice as much, and that is the point. Kia has done for $60,000 what Audi and BMW took $120,000 to achieve.
I’m not pretending that a Kia is a BMW for a minute. But, while 60 grand would by a baby Beemer, you’d be so painfully cramped after 200 kilometres, you’ll have lost the will to live.
And, you certainly would not be taking any friends along for the ride.
As I said, for $60,000, what else can take 4 adults comfortably? And, could it take their gear as well? No.
For the time being, Kia has made Stinger the one and only choice for a buyer wanting a large car with 4 (or 5) seats, with plenty of pulling power.
It is stylish and classy, with even the base model being able to see off the others in a single stomp of the peddle.
I said at the top of the story, that Kia had delivered on their promise, but now I think of it, they’ve only gone and overdone it.
When I first reviewed Optima, I said “how have they done it for the price”, so rather than repeat myself, I’ll leave you with that quote.
Stinger is a benchmark by which the Japanese, Europeans (and indeed other Koreans) will struggle to reach.
Engine: 2.0-litre four cylinder (182kW and 353Nm) or a twin-turbo 3.3-litre V6 (272kW and 510Nm)
Trans: 8-speed auto (manual paddles, but no manual setting), No manual gearbox
Performance: 4.9Seconds (V6) using launch control, 6.0 (2.0L) using launch control