While sliding behind the wheel of a Stinger GT-S earlier this year, it hit me: I was actually excited. About driving a Kia.
I don’t wish to be down on the products of the Korean car maker. They’re perfectly worthy, well built and excellent value motors, after all. But none have been likely to get your pulse racing until now.
The drive that followed didn’t exactly win me over, however. There was a lot to like about the V6-powered machine, but I struggled to see why you’d buy one over something more obvious from BMW or Audi. So could a longer drive in the standard, 2.0-litre inline-four GT in GT-S Line trim change that?
The good points of the S are still here. Like its big brother, traction levels at the rear aren’t exactly high (relatively skinny 225-section tyres are a big contributor to this), and when the back end does break away - which happens often in Sport+ mode - it does so slowly, and gently. It’s all quite relaxing, in an odd way.
It’s incredibly soft, too, so when proceedings take a twisty turn, the Stinger really gets its lean on. It all feels quite controlled, and never alarming. The steering meanwhile isn’t on the same page as the chassis: it’s fast and eager off-centre, but this mismatch doesn’t detract from the overall package.
Yes, on bumpier roads that squishy attitude leads to some slight body control issues, but the payoff is a beautifully smooth ride when you’re just cruising around. The 18-inch wheels with the fat sidewalls of the Continental Sport Contact 5 tyres fitted to them help, too, even if they do look utterly lost in the Stinger’s wheel arches (the rims on the GT-S are an inch bigger). So while the Stinger is no sports car, as a Grand Tourer to rack up the miles in, it’s superb.
Unfortunately, the engine is a weaker point of the package. The 2.0-litre turbo is at least reasonably punchy, with a gutsy mid-range and a handy 244bhp on offer. 0-62mph takes 5.8 seconds, so this ‘lesser’ Stinger isn’t exactly slow. But it’s laggy and sounds uninspiring, and the results of Kia’s misguided attempts to improve the aural situation by piping fake noise through the speakers in Sport mode are just dire. Thankfully, this can be switched off.
On the face of it, £31,995 for a reasonably quick, comfortable and handsome-looking car that’s absolutely stuffed full of kit seems like very good value. Especially since it’s getting on for BMW 5-series size, even though the likes of the BMW 4-series Gran Coupe and Audi A5 Sportback are being touted as the car’s closest rivals.
The trouble is, the residuals aren’t so great, so when it comes to leasing, you could well end up paying almost as much for the Kia. You have to really want it, and really want to be different. For thinking differently, you’re rewarded with a car that’s fun and wafty, but while it doesn’t do a whole lot wrong, it doesn’t excel at much either. The Stinger is nice. It’s fine. It’s pleasant. And that just isn’t enough these days. The V6 is mired with the same problem, and the lower price point of the 2.0-litre doesn’t change that.
It’s hard not to make comparisons between the Stinger and the performance car parent company Hyundai brought out around the same time: the i30 N. And indeed, a certain motoring programme you might have watched a few times even put the two together for one feature. I can see why.
While the i30 N has exploded into its segment and made many more established rivals look a bit silly, the Stinger sits awkwardly on the edge of its area of the market, not doing anything dramatically enough to tempt people away from the usual German choices.
If you’re going to go the way of the Stinger and opt for one powered by petrol (there’s a 2.2-litre diesel also), the V6 feels like a better way to do it, since the 3.3 has a charm to it the 2.0-litre is missing. If anything, driving the smaller-engined sibling makes me want to revisit the six-cylinder version once more…