Char­ac­ter added, but enough sting?


In­ter­na­tion­ally, Kia has sent car­en­thu­si­ast blood rush­ing to com­pletely new places with the launch of the Stinger GT, a high­per­for­mance rear-drive sedan that ba­si­cally mounted a South Korean takeover of Jan­uary’s Detroit Auto Show. And yes, it’s com­ing to New Zealand late this year.

Lo­cally, all that Stinger at­ten­tion must be hav­ing a trickle-down ef­fect on the lim­it­ededi­tion Op­tima GT added to the Kia NZ ranks late last year - it­self an at­tempt to do a bit of brandglam­our-build­ing around these parts.

Op­tima GT rep­re­sents a step to­wards a se­ri­ous sport­ing sedan from Kia. In­dent or­der-only for Kiwi mar­ket.

Just to get things straight, one has very lit­tle to do with the other. Stinger is a unique model based on a rear-drive plat­form from (pre­sum­ably) par­ent com­pany Hyundai’s Ge­n­e­sis lux­ury brand, while the Op­tima GT is an up­rated ver­sion of the front-drive fam­ily/fleet sedan we’re all fa­mil­iar with.

Kia Stinger on show. Not an Op­tima GT. Sorry.

If there’s an all-for-one el­e­ment in this story it’s the pow­er­plant. The Op­tima GT has a 2.0-litre en­gine with twin-scroll turbo tweaked up to 180kW/350Nm, a use­ful in­crease on the stan­dard 2.4-litre model’s 138kW/241Nm. While all of the at­ten­tion has gone on the flag­ship Stinger V6, there’s also a four-cylin­der model pow­ered by this same pow­er­plant. So the link is there.

The 180kW mill also pow­ers the Hyundai Sonata turbo, al­though Kia NZ doesn’t like to talk about that. The two brands might be un­der one roof in Korea, but in NZ they’re sep­a­rate dis­trib­u­tor­ships and ri­vals.

The Sonata turbo is a use­ful com­par­i­son, though. The Op­tima GT un­der­cuts it by $2000 but ben­e­fits from a sub­stan­tially more com­pre­hen­sive makeover. The Hyundai re­ally makes no claim be­yond be­ing a lux­u­ri­ous mid-sizer with a bit of boost un­der the bon­net, while the Kia has as­pi­ra­tions to­ward true sport­ing sedan sta­tus.

En­gi­neer­ing changes to the Op­tima GT in­clude a rack­mounted power steer­ing sys­tem, which dif­fers from the mo­tor driven power steer­ing sys­tem fit­ted to the 2.4-litre Op­ti­mas. The in­ten­tion is to pro­vide greater steer­ing feel and quicker, more lin­ear re­sponse to driver in­put.

The Op­tima GT gets new dampers and new footwear: Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport 3 235/45 R18 tyres on unique 18-inch GT al­loy wheels.

On pa­per and in the metal, there’s an air of so­phis­ti­ca­tion about Kia’s ap­proach to the GT. It hasn’t gone for cheap shots - it’s con­cen­trated on the ar­eas that will im­prove the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence most, even if they’re not nec­es­sar­ily the ones that stand up and slap you in face on first ac­quain­tance.

New dif­fuser at rear for the GT. But the front wheels do the driv­ing, re­mem­ber.

Same goes for the styling. The Op­tima has strik­ing styling in stan­dard form of course, but changes to the GT are lim­ited to a re­shaped front bumper, gloss- black trim, a rear dif­fuser and red calipers for the brakes (al­though we don’t get the up­rated stop­pers of­fered in Europe).

So it’s some­what sur­pris­ing to fire up the GT and be con­fronted with at least one cheap shot: a growly sound­track be­ing piped into the cabin that’s ar­ti­fi­cial and ul­ti­mately quite an­noy­ing once you’ve lived with it for a few days. We get the nov­elty and yes, all the cool kids are do­ing it. But an ’off’ switch might have been a good idea for grown-ups.

It’s a slick op­er­a­tor in terms of per­for­mance and han­dling. There’s plenty of punch from the turbo en­gine and it’s re­mark­ably lin­ear. You don’t get face-al­ter­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion, but 0-100kmh in 7.4 sec­onds is re­spectably brisk and the chas­sis is fluid over Kiwi back­roads, es­pe­cially with that stick­ier rub­ber. It has a con­fi­dent feel, no ques­tion.

If the GT is lack­ing a lit­tle fizz at the top, there’s an im­pres­sive ar­ray of stan­dard equip­ment to carry you though. As with the ex­te­rior, there’s not a lot to iden­tify this as the sport­ing ver­sion in­side: a nice steer­ing wheel, some sub­tle red stitch­ing and a few ’GT’ lo­gos here and there.

The Op­tima GT rep­re­sents a step to­wards a se­ri­ous sport­ing sedan from Kia.

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