Kia Stinger 2.0 T-GDI Gt-line BMW rival on test
Can Korea’s rear-wheel-drive executive saloon match its dearer German rivals?
The Kia Stinger may be many remarkable things: a brandbuilding, visually jaw-dropping rear-driven grand tourer the like of which we’ve never seen from any Korean car maker. If you’ve read that before, it’s only because we’ve been told it before. A lot.
And yet, at one level, you knew it was going to be a rule-breaker as well: a car priced to make a mockery of the value propositions of other rear-driven executive saloons mostly made in Germany. Welcome to that level. This is the cheapest Stinger of the bunch: the turbocharged 2.0-litre entry-level model, which undercuts a like-for-like BMW 430i Gran Coupé by almost £8000, and even Volkswagen’s like-for-like Arteon by a similarly hefty wedge.
So far, Kia has been careful to ensure our early experiences of its ambitious new design hero have been delivered by the 365bhp twin-turbo V6 model, and those preliminary tastes have been promising. But the greater affordability of this Stinger could potentially bring it to many more owners, and allow it to exercise a much wider and more powerful influence on the recasting of Kia’s brand image, than the V6 model could reach. Assuming it’s of sufficiently high calibre, of course – and in entry-level, passively damped, four-cylinder form at that.
The 2.0-litre T-GDI Stinger will differ in its Uk-market specification from the form in which American and European customers will get it as a result of an exhaust redesign necessary to package the car’s catalysts alongside a right-hand-drive steering column. An unavoidable increase in back pressure is the reason why, elsewhere in the world, this version of the car develops 252bhp but in right-handdrive markets only makes 244bhp.
But that’s still significantly more power than £32k buys in any other rear-driven executive option.
At this price level, the Stinger’s cabin quality would give you less
The Stinger makes more power than £32k buys in any other rear-driven executive option
cause for complaint than it would had you spent upwards of £40,000 on the car. It’s not that Kia’s cabin plastics in the car look or feel particularly cheap, more that its attempts to make this driving environment seem rich, desirable and expensive as often as not fall flat on their face.
The Stinger’s upper dashboard and upper door cards are made of moulded plastic that do an unconvincing impression of leather. Lower down, Kia’s use of textured aluminium is more effective, but defaulting to glossy black trim around much of the centre console shows a lack of imagination and gives the Stinger’s cabin a slightly drab, monochrome ambience.
The car’s driving position is low and enveloping, though. And on the road, that four-cylinder engine does a very respectable job of motivating this, the lightest of Stinger of the lot, with a crisp and vigorous kind of mid-range throttle response. It has an appetite for revs that you wouldn’t call rapacious but that does make it worthwhile holding onto a gear when you’re in the mood.
The car is brisk and peppy when pulling from 3000-5000rpm, but doesn’t always feel hot-hatch fast. It deserves a better transmission than the eight-speed proprietary unit with which Kia couples it, though. This gearbox doesn’t have a properly locked-out paddleshift manual mode and isn’t quick or decisive enough about its downshifts in automatic.
But the Stinger’s ride and handling should remain the most decisive factors in attracting new buyers into the Kia fold. Even on 18in alloy wheels and with standard passively damped suspension, the Stinger has a pliant and supple ride that copes with small bumps and large equally well.
It also handles with a skilfully tuned blend of well-balanced grip, settled and dependable body control and keenish directional agility. At times, the car could steer a little more predictably, and at other times you’ll curse that slightly mannered automatic gearbox for not giving you the simpler and more direct relationship with the car’s driven axle that you crave.
But there is certainly the pace, poise and handling character of a very respectable junior sport saloon here, and plenty to enjoy for keener drivers who are willing to accept this car for what it is, and to accept one or two compromises for a bargain price.
Standard spec includes 18in alloys, leather upholstery and a proper mechanical limited-slip diff for its driven rear axle
Little wrong with the 8.0in infotainment unit, or its nine-speaker stereo system, but neither screams ‘premium-brand contender’
The Stinger’s good looks, plus its commendable pace, poise and handling, makes the grand tourer an intriguing package