I recently had the chance to drive a 2018 Kia Stinger GT, which is a 365-horsepower, rear-wheel drive luxury sport sedan from Kia. Let me repeat that. A 365-horsepower, rear-wheel drive luxury sport sedan from Kia. In a world where a Mustang can go around a race track as fast as a Ferrari, and a Dodge can be quicker in the quarter mile than a Bugatti, nothing should surprise me anymore. But this does.
It surprises me because, just a few short years ago, Kia’s entire business plan revolved around producing mainstream cars. Excellent mainstream cars, to be sure, but mainstream cars with conveniently folding seats, a lot of airbags and a nice long warranty, all at a value-packed price tag. And now I’m driving one that competes with BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
I drove this car thanks to Kia Cerritos, which is a massive Kia dealership in the Los Angeles area. Kia Cerritos has quite a few Stinger models in stock, and they let me borrow a top-end GT2 version with all the goodies and all-wheel drive. I spent the morning with it a couple of weeks ago in order to really get acquainted with the Stinger GT experience, and I’m happy to announce that it’s the best Kia ever built.
Yes, that’s right: the best Kia ever built. Of course, this wasn’t a difficult feat. Like I said, most earlier Kia models were designed for value and budgets, while the Stinger GT was really engineered to turn heads, to impress, and to dazzle. It does all that, and it does it well.
I’ll start with the styling: I’d find it very difficult to believe there is anyone out there who thinks the Stinger GT is anything less than gorgeous. I know styling is subjective and all that, but I truly believe this is one of the most handsome, attractive sedan models made in the last few decades. The only weirdness is that little red reflector that sticks waaaaaaay too far out from the taillight on the rear fender. I have no idea why this exists, and it looks truly bizarre on vehicles that are any color besides red.
Inside, things are also excellent. Not only does the Stinger GT’s cabin look absolutely gorgeous, but the materials are just perfect — everything is nice to touch, the feedback on the buttons feels like what you’d expect from a luxury car, there are no blank switches, and the materials are excellent. I was also surprised that I didn’t hear a single creak or rattle while I was driving the Stinger GT, which is impressive. Most brand-new entrants into a brand-new segment in their first year of production have some sort of questionable quality issues, but this thing felt like it had been truly, properly screwed together.
And then there’s the drive. The powertrain is excellent: The Stinger offers a base-level 4-cylinder with 255 horsepower, or the GT model — which I drove — with a twin-turbocharged V6 that makes 365 horses. That engine sends power to the wheels through an 8-speed automatic, and it does 0-to-60 in 4.7 seconds. The Stinger GT feels every bit that fast. It’s not exactly neck-snapping, but it’s tremendously quick, and it has a lot of mid-range power when you go to step on the accelerator at 3,000 rpm while you’re already cruising along at 40 miles per hour. The transmission isn’t a dual clutch, but it’s smooth and seems to shift relatively quickly for a traditional automatic with a torque converter.
The big drawback of the Stinger GT’s acceleration run is its exhaust note. The Stinger GT isn’t loud or aggressive — or even really exciting when you floor it — and the best compliment I can give to the exhaust is that it’s “fine.” I think this fits with Kia’s thinking that people will want this car to be a civilized luxury sport sedan (and not overly sporty or “boy racer”ish), but a variable exhaust note would’ve gone a long way toward improving this car’s sporty characteristic.
With that said, all is forgotten the moment you get into a corner, because the Stinger GT offers impressive handling. The steering is nicely weighted, it provides good feedback, and — most importantly — it isn’t over-assisted or vague like the steering in so many luxury “sport” models. I love how predictable it is, and I love how much fun it is to throw around the Stinger GT, as you really feel like you have good control and that the car will be highly responsive to your inputs. It’s just fun — and that’s a big deal for a vehicle that stands at 190 inches in length, which isn’t exactly “short and spry” territory. It’s surprising, and it’s excellent.
It will, however, struggle to sell. I love how it looks, I love how it drives and I even think the price tag — around $52,000 for the one I drove, which was fully equipped — makes it a great deal in the world of luxury sport sedans. But the simple truth is that the world of luxury sport sedans is getting smaller, and buyer tastes are shifting to SUVs. An upstart brand attempting its first luxury sport sedan while the segment is shrinking isn’t exactly a recipe for success. I sincerely hope the Stinger GT is soon followed up with a sporty SUV. The Hornet GT, perhaps.
With that said, this is a great car for a sliver of buyers who want a handsome, fun, exciting, well-equipped, well-built sport sedan without paying huge money for a top-line BMW or Mercedes-Benz. This car offers a lot of perks, and it even comes with the 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty that made Kia famous. It’s a great value, a great car and a great choice in this segment. You just have to get past that badge on the front.
Also published on Medium.