2018 Kia Stinger First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Kia Stinger First Drive

Fighting Above Its Class

The 2018 Kia Stinger is a giant leap forward for the South Korean automaker. It's the continuation of a trend that started when Kia hired design chief Peter Schreyer away from Audi more than a decade ago. The first result of that hire was the 2010 Kia Optima, which introduced a design language with sharp edges over a graceful form. Seemingly overnight, Kia went from awkward to aspirational, and the trajectory continues to this day.

As stylish as the latest Kias have become, they haven't had the performance and handling to match their style. To help drive change in that area, Kia's parent company hired away one of BMW's top engineers, Albert Biermann, and put him to work. The first Kia to feel his influence is the all-new Stinger, a sporty four-door touring sedan with flowing grace and the promise of performance to back it up. Kia is so confident in the Stinger that it counts the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, Porsche Panamera and Audi A7 as competitors. It's one thing to compete on paper, but it's something altogether different on the road. So was the hype justified?

2018 Kia Stinger

In a Word, Sorta
As a grand touring sedan, the 2018 Kia Stinger promises the ability to transport two couples for a weekend getaway with a healthy dose of style, comfort and performance. In regard to these basic tasks, yes, the Stinger succeeds. When you compare it against those German luxury sedans, it has some of them beat in categories such as power output, interior space and cargo capacity. That's an impressive feat for a carmaker that has been associated with affordability rather than affluence. At the same time, however, the Stinger doesn't surpass the benchmark sedans when it comes to the big picture.

As superficial as it sounds, one reason shoppers will likely not cross-shop the Stinger against a BMW, Porsche or Audi is the badge. Kia simply does not have the brand cachet and prestige that those marques possess. Objectively, when you begin to compare the overall driving characteristics and interior quality, the differences are not in the Stinger's favor, but the standards are for cars costing twice as much. If you consider it a grand touring sedan on its own merits and in its own price bracket, it's impressively sensible.

The base rear-wheel-drive Stinger starts in the very reasonable $33,000 neighborhood. Along with that modest price is a somewhat modest turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 255 horsepower and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Feature highlights include 18-inch wheels, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, a heated and 12-way power-adjustable driver seat (eight-way-adjustable front passenger seat), a heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a six-speaker audio system.

For our money, the Stinger's potential isn't realized until you reach the $39,000 GT trim that employs a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 rated at 365 hp. Besides the bump in power, you also get 19-inch wheels, upgraded Brembo brakes, adaptive suspension dampers and a few exterior embellishments. Some features found in the four-cylinder Premium trim aren't included on the V6 until you spring for the $44,000 GT1 trim. On top of that is the Stinger GT2. It starts around $50,000 and comes complete with adaptive headlights, a power rear hatch, a limited-slip differential, a head-up display, premium leather and a ventilated 16-way power driver seat (12-way front passenger). You also gain the entire suite of safety features that are optional on supporting models (forward collision warning and mitigation, lane keeping assist, a driver attention monitor, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control). For another $2,200, you can add all-wheel drive to any of these models.

So for the fully loaded 2018 Kia Stinger, you're looking at about $52,000. That will barely get you a base BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. You'll miss the base Audi A7 by $18,000 and the Panamera by a full $33,000. Prestige or not, the Stinger just succeeded in a category in which Lexus, Infiniti and Acura are having difficulties finding a foothold.

2018 Kia Stinger

Command Performance
We spent the better part of a day driving both rear- and all-wheel-drive versions of the 2018 Kia Stinger. They benefit greatly from the optional V6, and if you're seeking performance, it's a must-have. Kia claims the GT will reach 60 mph in 4.7 seconds versus 5.9 seconds for the base four-cylinder. It's quick but very manageable, and even in the rear-drive model with some of the stability and traction control assistants dialed back, you have to be very deliberate with throttle stomps to break the tires loose from the pavement. That's not to say it feels underpowered, though; it has plenty of power to keep you entertained, but it does make us wonder if a higher-performing Stinger is in the works. The suspension certainly feels as though it can handle quite a bit more power.

On a challenging mountain pass, the Stinger carves through turns with confidence. There is a noticeable amount of body roll, even with the adaptive suspension dampers, but it doesn't feel at all excessive. In some ways, the body motions evoke the current Mazda Miata, which is high praise for a large sedan like this. Yes, the Stinger will heel over in curves, but it settles in quickly and decisively with no awkward rebounds. The GT tips the scales at around 4,000 pounds, and you'll feel that weight in these maneuvers and under braking, yet it doesn't put a damper on the fun.

The brakes do take a beating when driven hard, though, and you'll smell that telltale pad smoke every time you stop. The brake pedal has a long stroke and it's also a little soft for a sporty car. The steering effort is also a bit too light for our tastes, but it is accurate and easy to place the car just where you want.

We also had the opportunity to put the Stinger through its paces on a makeshift autocross course where we could safely test and exceed the limits of handling. There's initially a tendency for the front tires to surrender grip and plow through turns, but it's easy to recover from and it can be avoided entirely with more delicate driver inputs. The rear-wheel-drive Stinger GT can be raucously fun when the rear tires release their grip, especially since they do so in a very controllable and almost leisurely manner. Yes, the Stinger will drift. By comparison, the all-wheel-drive model is more precise, has a lot more grip at its disposal and is almost as entertaining.

2018 Kia Stinger

Thankfully, the Stinger's athleticism doesn't affect how it behaves in normal conditions. There's a slight hesitation upon initial acceleration, but otherwise there's little to complain about. On the highway, the suspension has all the compliance needed for a smooth ride. Oddly enough, we noticed that at very low speeds, rough surfaces tended to cause more noticeable shudders and skips when turning. On the whole, it's easy to drive and maneuver in the real world.

On longer journeys, the Stinger has high levels of comfort to quell fatigue. Road noise is present, but just barely so, and wind noise is essentially absent. The V6 engine sounds pleasant, even under hard acceleration. In Sport modes, that sound is augmented with added tones pumped through the speakers, but they're subtle and not nearly as off-putting as competing systems. Still, we'd be fine without the fake noises.

Padding for the front seats is firm, but the seats are well-shaped for a variety of body shapes and sizes. We liken them to Audi seats in many ways, though with fewer adjustments. After several hours on the road, we never felt any hard points or a lack of support. The rear seats are similarly constructed but aren't as accommodating for average adult passengers. Those taller than 5-foot-8 may find headroom lacking, and there's not a lot of space for their feet under the front seats either. There's is plenty of room for their knees, though.

The design of the overall interior also has hints of Audi, though materials quality isn't nearly as premium. For the price, however, the cabin is very nice. The dash and center stack are elegantly minimal, with a clear infotainment touchscreen mounted on top and three circular vents below. There are just enough buttons to quickly jump to your desired functions without having to fuss with multiple menus on screen, and they're well marked and logically placed. We particularly like the look and operation of the seat heating and ventilation that are positioned in a rounded cluster of secondary controls between the center armrest and gear selector.

Of the few gripes we have, the audio system is one of the more prominent. It's easy to use, thanks to Kia's Uvo infotainment system, but the sound quality itself is lacking. The premium 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio upgrade has plenty of power and clarity, but the staging (where it sounds like the music is coming from) felt as if it was behind the front seats. Moving the fader forward induced tinny overtones that made us wince at times. For most passengers, it will likely be forgivable.

We had no issues with the Stinger's cargo capacity, however. Under the large power rear hatch, there's 23.3 cubic feet of space, which can easily gobble up a few golf bags and plenty of luggage. The low liftover height over the bumper makes loading bulkier items easier, and with the rear seats folded flat, up to 40 cubic feet of space is available.

2018 Kia Stinger

Mission Accomplished
The elevated expectations about the 2018 Kia Stinger may have had us more skeptical and critical than usual, but the Stinger met them with an easy confidence that you wouldn't expect from a car in this price range. It's the real deal when it comes to performance and doesn't skimp on comfort or creature comforts as a result. It's an impressive sedan on the whole, and at least for now, there aren't any real direct competitors. If money weren't an issue, we probably wouldn't cross-shop it with the aforementioned German luxury sedans, but for most of us, money is an issue.

So if you aspire to those levels of performance and luxury but the funds are still well out of reach, the Stinger is a truly fantastic and attainable alternative. If this is an indication of what we could expect from Kia, the future is indeed bright.

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