The ’Ring of con idence

This could go re­ally badly wrong: a Euro­pean de­but for Kia’s am­bi­tious rear-driver at the un­for­giv­ing Nür­bur­gring

CAR (UK) - - First Drives - CHRIS CHILTON

W

E 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 Nür­bur­gring 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 8min 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 BMW 4-se­ries Gran Coupe, and man­aged at the very least a glanc­ing blow. Hav­ing firmly estab­lished it­self in the fam­ily car sec­tor and caused a world of pain to main­stream Euro­pean brands, the Kore­ans have set their sights higher.

Likely to be priced from £29k to £40k when it ar­rives this win­ter, the Stinger is big­ger, roomier, bet­ter equipped and more dis­tinc­tive than some of its estab­lished pre­mium tar­gets, though some of the US-aimed de­tail­ing is a bit fussy.

Un­der that long bon­net you get a choice of three en­gines, all in­stalled north-south, and all mated to Kia’s own eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion: a 252bhp 2.0 petrol that’ll do 62mph in 6.0sec, a 2.2 diesel good for 197bhp and 7.7sec to 62mph, and the top-of-the-range V6 GT. That’s the car we’re driv­ing to­day, but is un­likely to be a big seller.

A £40k twin-turbo mis­sile with pic­tures of the Audi S5 Sport­back on its dart­board, the GT’s 365bhp V6 pushes it to 62mph in 5.1sec and on to a 168mph top speed that makes it the fastest pro­duc­tion Kia yet and gives it a mar­ket­ing boost over Ger­man ri­vals pegged to 155mph by their elec­tronic 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. US cars re­lease a lit­tle more ex­haust noise, but EU rules de­mand a qui­eter sys­tem here, so most of what you hear is piped in through the speak­ers.

The chas­sis is the real star, and jus­ti­fies this whole daft Nord­schleife ca­per. Chas­sis man Al­bert Bier­mann was poached two years ago from BMW af­ter 30 years with the firm, the last eight of which he spent at M Di­vi­sion. No doubt he’s des­per­ate to get his hands on the next Pi­canto, but re­cently he’s been busy tweak­ing the Stinger.

And he’s done a fine job. Some mar­kets get the choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, but only the rear-driver is com­ing to the UK, 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.

Con­sid­er­ing its circa-1800kg 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 on 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 fully fledged M4 ri­val.

We’ll have to wait un­til the au­tumn, when we’ll get more than 20 min­utes be­hind the wheel, and in ver­sions peo­ple will ac­tu­ally buy, to know just how good the Stinger is. CO2 fig­ures are tbc too, and given the car’s weight and di­men­sions, it might strug­gle to com­pete.

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.

UK spec has yet to be in­alised, but ex­pect the in­ished Stinger to go big on con­nec­tiv­ity

Stinger is dy­nam­i­cally good but not even try­ing to be an M4

3.6-litre V6 one of two petrol op­tions, and there’ll be a diesel. UK is rear-drive only

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