TWO laps of the Nurburgring made for a high intensity European speed date with the greatly anticipated Kia Stinger. Is this the future of accessible four-door performance?
WHAT IS IT?
Kia’s all-new, sporty flagship that’s set to land in Oz later this year with two turbocharged four-door variants to choose from. Stinger’s timing is perfect, but it has to be brilliant to take over the performance sedan mantle from Australia’s fallen natives.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Back in January, Kia offered selected media a preview drive of the Stinger in pre-production guise at its proving ground in South Korea. It impressed, and so it was impossible to ignore the opportunity to sample the most recent revisions at the world’s most famous racetrack, and the home of its development.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
As an all-new car in relatively uncharted territory for the brand, Stinger is a promising showing that should be cause for concern inside the headquarters of the German heavyweights as a sign of things to come. The chassis is the real star, and with local knowhow still to maximise it for Oz, this Kia could find a place in the hearts of Aussies.
PLUS: Rear-drive chassis is excellent; Oz cars promise even more of everything
MINUS: Engine not charismatic; lack of exciting soundtrack; AWD dulls handling
THE WHEELS REVIEW
WE PRIDE ourselves on being able to assess a car after the briefest of drives, but this is ridiculous. After being bundled out of a bus in the pitlane of the old Nurburgring Nordschleife, I’m hurried into a Kia Stinger GT, a car I’ve never sat in, let alone driven, and waved out on to the track in hot pursuit of Dirk Schoysman.
He’s the bloke who broke the eight minute production car record here in a Nissan R33 Skyline 20 years ago. And judging by his pace on what is supposed to be the sighting lap, someone forgot to tell him he got it in the bag. Two laps, and less than 20 minutes later (even Dirk couldn’t manage an eight in the Stinger), we’re back in the pits and summarily ejected from the car. Wait, what just happened?
What just happened is Kia took a swipe at the rear-drive establishment, and managed at the very least a glancing blow. Having caused a world of pain to mainstream European and Japanese brands, the Koreans have set their sights higher.
Likely to be priced in the mid-$40K bracket when it arrives here in September, the Stinger is bigger, roomier, better equipped and more distinctive than some of its established premium targets, though some of the USA-aimed detailing is a bit fussy.
Under that long bonnet you get a choice of two engines, both installed north-south, and both mated to Kia’s own eight-speed automatic transmission: a 182kW/353Nm 2.0 turbo petrol that’ll do 100km/h in 6.0sec, and the top-of-the-range V6 GT. (There’s also a 2.2-litre diesel good for 147kW and 7.7sec to 100km/h, but not headed here.)
The V6 GT is the car we’re driving today, and likely to be the bigger seller in Oz. A $55,000 twin-turbo missile that seems set to fill the rear-drive void left by Commodore later this year, the GT’s 272kW V6 pushes it to 100km/h in a claimed 4.9sec and on to a 270km/h top speed. This makes it the fastest production Kia yet, and gives it a marketing boost over German rivals pegged to 250km/h by their limiters.
You can’t argue with those numbers, or with the push in the back you feel, but it’s not the most charismatic engine. The note is fairly muted and flat, however Kia Australia is promising a fix with the option of a bimodal exhaust (see sidebar, below.)
Its interior features brushed aluminium, Nappa leather, a chunky, masculine steering wheel and Alcantara-style microsuede on the A-pillars. The materials feel expensive, but the design is conservative. Up front its seats are comfortable, though lateral support isn’t great meaning the Stinger feels better suited to touring rather than performance driving. Ergonomics and general functionality all gets high marks, however.
The chassis is the real star, and justifies this whole slightly nuts Nordschleife caper. Former BMW engineering guru Albert Biermann has done a fine job with this car. Some markets get the choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, but only the rear-driver is coming to the Australia, and that’s fine with us. We drove both and the all-paw is noticeably stodgier, feeling duller both on turn-in and exit, despite the supposed rear torque bias.
Wheels for Australian cars will be either 18s or 19s running Continental rubber. Brakes are from Brembo, featuring 350mm discs up front and six-piston calipers, and stopping power is excellent.
Considering its circa-1750kg kerb weight, the rear-drive car has great body control, accurate, natural-feeling steering and the balance to let you hook up the mechanical limited-slip diff and drift the tail out of the circuit’s slower corners. An electronic diff will come later, but this is already a fun steer, provided you accept it’s not meant to be a full-blown sports sedan.
We’ll have to wait until later this year, when we’ll get more than 20 minutes behind the wheel, and in versions tuned for Australia to know just how good the Stinger is. But there’s real promise here, and the Germans have cause to be concerned, if not by this car then the cars that will follow.
Welcome to Oz
Despite our positive impressions of the Stinger’s chassis at the Nurburgring, Kia Australia is quick to point out that the car we drove was far from Australian spec in terms of suspension and steering, and promises even better dynamics when local cars arrive in September.
Kia’s local chassis expert Graeme Gambold has again been tasked with tuning the two Stinger variants for local conditions, and will deliver an Oz-specific tune that features revised springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and power-steering calibration.
Kia Oz was also underwhelmed by the standard car’s exhaust note, and will offer an optional bimodal exhaust system for an expected price of around $2000.
Model: Kia Stinger GT
Engine: 3342cc V6, dohc, 24v, twin-turbo
Max power: 272kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 510Nm @ 1300-4500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 1750kg (estimated)
0-100km/h: 4.9sec (claimed)
Economy: 9.0L/100km (estimated)
Price: $55,000 (estimated)
On sale: September