For­mer rear guard

Wheels (Australia) - - Heat To Head -

Think Stinger is Kia’s first rear-drive ve­hi­cle sold in Oz? Wrong! The very first Kia to reach our shores – the Ceres pick-up in 1992 – was rear-drive, but also of­fered switch­able 4WD with high- and low-range. And our first Sportage (1997) was based on a reardrive plat­form, though ours was 4WD only. In­fa­mously, it scored just one star in ANCAP crash test­ing and was re­called twice over­seas for the rear wheels “dis­lodg­ing”.

Stingers with adap­tive dampers will of­fer five sus­pen­sion modes – Eco, Com­fort, Smart, Sport, and Cus­tom – though we’d stick mostly to Smart (an ‘auto’ set­ting) and still-com­fort­able Sport on twistier roads. At a faster pace, Com­fort’s greater ver­ti­cal mo­tion and lesser body con­trol mean that Smart achieves the finest com­bi­na­tion of level bump ab­sorbency, pointy steer­ing, tight con­trol, ex­cel­lent bal­ance, and keen­ness to change di­rec­tion. In that set-up, the Stinger’s a real peach.

Yet no Stinger is par­tic­u­larly at­tuned to tight cor­ners. In the 2.0T, if you go in quite hot you no­tice the car’s mass, but as long as you trail some brake into a cor­ner and are aware that it isn’t a light car (at 1693-1780kg tare weight, she’s a porker), the Stinger can throw its weight around quite ca­pa­bly.

The heav­ier V6 needs to be more con­sciously trail-braked into tight cor­ners to keep it bal­anced, but on fast, flow­ing roads the Stinger range-top­per is ex­cep­tional, mainly be­cause it has the grip to match its grunt. Adding power throws a lovely, throt­tle-ad­justable weight bias onto its out­side rear tyre, work­ing in com­bi­na­tion with a me­chan­i­cal lim­ited-slip diff for plenty of rear-steer an­tics... un­til the ju­di­cious ESC sys­tem de­cides you’re be­ing a hooli­gan.

The Aussies have done a ter­rific job tun­ing the Stinger’s steer­ing. This is by far the most con­nected Kia we’ve ever driven, with crisp, un­cor­rupted feel and none of the kick­back over bumps that has plagued Korean cars for gen­er­a­tions. There’s a de­gree of numb­ness at dead-ahead but the mo­ment you start to add lock, the Stinger is on its game. The V6 GT has just 2.2 turns lock-to-lock (2.5 for the 18-inch-wheeled four), and a meatier feel than its lighter sib­ling, yet it man­ages to serve up sharp­ness with­out over-re­ac­tive ner­vous­ness. It feels pro­gres­sive and nat­u­ral, as a driver’s car should. And for the first time in a Korean car, all three steer­ing-weight set­tings work. Com­fort isn’t too light, Sport isn’t too heavy, and for all but the most lead-footed of driv­ing, Smart is just right.

Kia’s sexy new-gen­er­a­tion steer­ing wheel helps (the pro­duc­tion GT’S will be flat-bot­tomed, by the way), backed by a pair of shift pad­dles for the eight-speed auto. But with­out a ded­i­cated man­ual slot in the neatly formed and in­tu­itive trans­mis­sion se­lec­tor, the Stinger will au­to­mat­i­cally shift it­self back into drive af­ter sev­eral sec­onds of hold­ing a gear at a steady pace. You can work around it by pre-empt­ing the point it wants to shift, then tweak­ing the left down­shift pad­dle to main­tain a ra­tio, but that’s un­nec­es­sary work.

And then there’s the com­mon Korean fault of not al­low­ing you to grab a lower gear early enough. De­spite both en­gines be­ing ca­pa­ble of reach­ing 6500rpm, the most revs you’ll get in a down­shifted gear is just over 5000rpm. On hilly, twisty roads where engine brak­ing is key, that left pad­dle cops plenty of pun­ish­ment.

The Stinger’s hot seat def­i­nitely de­liv­ers a gran tur­ismo feel. Its driver seat’s low­est set­ting is just 180mm above the road – 45mm lower than an Op­tima’s – which def­i­nitely makes you feel part of the car. In the GT, full elec­tric op­er­a­tion (in­clud­ing a driver’s un­der-thigh ex­ten­der) and both heat­ing and cool­ing are part of the deal, as well as sump­tu­ous red Nappa leather if you aren’t pet­ri­fied of colour, but the seats them­selves fall a lit­tle short. Lit­er­ally. There isn’t quite enough

un­der-thigh sup­port due to in­ad­e­quate cush­ion tilt for the driver. And they could use a bit more side bol­ster­ing too – es­pe­cially given the Stinger’s cor­ner­ing ca­pa­bil­ity.

The dash­board treads a sim­i­larly good but not-quite-there path, with a very Euro­pean aes­thetic (in­clud­ing Benz-style ‘eye­ball’ air vents that look pret­tier than their Ger­man in­spi­ra­tion) and some great de­tails like the seat-tem­per­a­ture tog­gles and a pleas­ant fin­ish to the cen­tral brushed-metal strip. But the parts-bin info screen in the Stinger’s in­stru­ment pack low­ers its as­pi­ra­tional tone and the mul­ti­me­dia screen graph­ics – while easy to de­ci­pher and use – are from an­other era and de­sign ethos. At least you can sub­sti­tute them with Ap­ple Carplay to lift the so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

Even with the front pas­sen­ger’s seat set to its low­est po­si­tion (via a man­ual crank-han­dle ad­juster in the base 2.0T), there’s an ac­cept­able amount of toe room for an adult ban­ished to the rear, with leg- and knee-room bor­der­ing on gen­er­ous… for two peo­ple.

A size­able trans­mis­sion tun­nel ex­poses the rear-drive Stinger’s low-slung form, mak­ing the cen­tre po­si­tion a childonly af­fair, though the outer spots will com­fort­ably seat adults. There’s min­i­mal ‘theatre ef­fect’ though, with the front head­rests loom­ing large in your field of vi­sion, and the seat it­self mir­rors the front buck­ets in its rather short cush­ion length and sparse un­der-thigh sup­port.

What rear pas­sen­gers do en­joy is an­other pair of ‘eye­ball’ air vents with their own tem­per­a­ture-con­trol dial, a 12-volt out­let and a USB port. And you can’t dis­count the flex­i­bil­ity of the Stinger’s lift­back bodystyle, blend­ing a sleek ‘fast­back’ ap­pear­ance with fold-flat rear back­rests and greater lug­gage flex­i­bil­ity than a tra­di­tional sedan. That said, an Op­tima clearly eclipses the Stinger for rear seat room (de­spite its 100mm-shorter wheel­base) as well as boot space (510 litres ver­sus 406).

But the Stinger isn’t meant to make to­tal prac­ti­cal sense. This is an emo­tional car driven by the pas­sion of Kia’s Euro­pean de­sign bosses, pro­duc­ing a se­duc­tive sedan that just so hap­pens to wear a Kia badge. And we have to ap­plaud the Stinger’s Aussie-tuned chas­sis, which treads an im­pres­sively sub­tle line be­tween con­trolled com­fort and ag­ile sporti­ness. Add a value-for-money pric­ing struc­ture span­ning roughly $43,000 to $60,000, give or take a grand or two, and you get plenty of pres­ence for what is es­sen­tially chump change com­pared to what its com­par­a­tive Euro­pean ri­vals cost – the ex­act cars, in fact, which Kia will be pitch­ing the Stinger against in most other mar­kets.

Be that as it may, the four-pot engine’s lack of acous­tic per­son­al­ity doesn’t match the Stinger’s sport­ing panache, and that’s where the dis­con­nect be­tween the styling team, who’ve done a ter­rific job in nail­ing the gran tur­ismo brief, and the en­gi­neer­ing de­ci­sion to insert an off-the-shelf engine like this be­comes ex­posed. The Stinger de­serves to have its sport­ing per­son­al­ity and styling charisma en­hanced by suitably se­duc­tive pow­er­trains, even the four-cylin­der ver­sion.

Thank­fully, the op­tional sports ex­haust saves the Aussiemar­ket Stinger V6 from be­ing a wor­thy but not-quite-there sport­ing sub­sti­tute for our for­mer V8 ap­petite. In terms of pace and price, it’s bang on the zeit­geist, and there’s also stuff like Kia’s seven-year un­lim­ited-mileage war­ranty to gar­nish the deal.

The Stinger isn’t per­fect, but as an adap­tive-damped GT range-top­per, or even an en­try-level rear-drive al­ter­na­tive to a bunch of far less dy­namic front-driv­ers, Kia’s en­ter­tain­ing flag­ship brings enough in­di­vid­u­al­ity and qual­ity to de­mand that Euro-fo­cused badge snobs pay se­ri­ous at­ten­tion.

OZ WILL BE A KEY STINGER MAR­KET, SEC­OND ONLY TO THE US, WITH THE MA­JOR­ITY OF LO­CAL SALES TIPPED TO BE V6 MOD­ELS

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