Stinger prices stretch from £32,025 to £41,180

Stinger prices stretch from £32,025 to £41,180

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The sales collapses in China and the USA are now behind Hyundai and Kia, thanks mainly to the arrival of new SUVs. Things should get even better for Kia Motors America from the fourth quarter as SK3, the Soul, arrives in dealerships, reinvented as a crossover. Cars are still the brand's mainstay though, with one of the most recently added models also doing a lot of stealthy work as an image changer for the brand. 

The Stinger was parked opposite the gourmet burger shop where he works so the registration plate wasn't visible. One of the young guys who works there came out and, knowing what I do for a living, stood back with folded arms, ran his eyes over the car and asked, "what is it; a new Jag?". As an infamous banner behind a certain G Dubya B once stated, "Mission Accomplished". The best bit for Kia Motors though, is what happened next. Announcing what this big, low liftback was to my buddy was met with "really?" and then a walk around, the clocking of KIA 626 and the badges, a look inside, and then the inevitable, "what's the engine?".

Ah yes, the engine. HMG vehicles have become so good that now any minor faults are beginning to stand out. Having 440Nm delivered between 1,750 and 2,750rpm, the 2.2-litre diesel doesn't want for torque. Power, being 200PS is good, and here is where it seems a bit mean to say so, not abundant. At more than 1,900kg, the 4,830mm long Stinger is no lightweight and this more than anything else, stops the Stinger diesel from being a car to rave about. The 3.3-litre biturbo V6, which will charge to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and reach a claimed 168mph, that's another story.

The 2,199cc diesel variants have the same Hyundai Kia Group eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission, as do the cars powered by a 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder alternative, the third of three engines offered in certain countries. There have been suggestions that HMG's 5.0-litre V8 might be added at a later date but Kia has denied that there are any plans to do so. Even though KMC insists that it will be downsizing the cubic capacities of its cars' engines, the Stinger was surely developed with the possibility of V8-compatibility, as it has the latest version of HMG's DH platform as its basis. This architecture is for rear-wheel drive cars, with AWD also available.

KMC has downplayed the idea of the Stinger being "a hard edged sports car", instead telling journalists that it was developed as a Gran Turismo. Design and engineering took place in Frankfurt and Seoul. Some of the familiar Kia details such as the distinctive notch at the top of the windscreen are present. That this is the frontrunner for a fresh design direction can be in no doubt though.

It's hard to imagine anyone not finding pleasing details a plenty when gazing at the Stinger. That applies to the cabin too, although given the size of the car, what Kia says is "cocooning intimacy" might be less kindly referred to as "tight for space". You certainly would not want to be the fifth occupant as the ceiling is low in the back, the transmission tunnel intrusive and shoulder contact with those sitting either side cannot be avoided. Hard shells on the backs of the front seats also feature: not my idea of how a luxury car should be for any back seat passenger. There again, Kia says it's a GT, so if you want a roomier Kia in this segment, go for an Optima.

Stand-outs elements of the interior would include the metal-look speaker covers in each of the doors. Maybe Alessi already sells a high-priced colander with hundreds of tiny perforations. If not, the Italian kitchenware brand likely couldn't do any better than simply copying this design. It's fresh, unusual and perhaps better even than the Burmester speaker grilles in high-end Mercedes-Benz models.

Other premium-looking details are there - soft plastics, a velour-like headliner, beautifully styled curves and some turbine shaped vents which are not dissimilar to those in the Audi TT. These also make a satisfying click when opened or closed. The overall effect is delight yet offset somewhat by disappointing shiny-cheap surfaces here and there. Expect some adjustments to be made as the car approaches mid-life towards the end of 2020 and is updated with a facelift.

The back seat can be claustrophobic for some but there is no doubting the generous amount of space elsewhere, and in particular for luggage. That makes it even more disappointing then, to lift a false floor and find not even a space saver tyre, just a puncture repair kit. There is a big battery positioned where an emergency tyre would go and it has a warning sticker about the risks of damaging electrical systems if the car is jump-started.

As for under-bonnet presentation, everything is nicely finished and that includes the turbocharger which carries branding that announces Garrett Honeywell and Made In Korea. The engine itself can sound a touch rough when fired from cold but it soon settles down into a quiet idle. Starting or stopping is via a silver button hidden to the left of the steering wheel. Unfortunately, the Stinger comes as standard with the usual Kia (un)welcome chimes. Perhaps as an owner you would become used to this. On a Rio, it's OK, but on a car costing well in excess of GBP30,000?

It should also be possible to start the car without first having put your seatbelt on. Fail to do this and it's BONG BONG BONG. Worse, the seat whirs rearwards as the door is opened and the steering wheel rises. This is supposed to be a convenience feature but is it? Being pulled back from the brake pedal which you must depress to start the car and then returned to where you wanted to be in the first place seconds later does not endear you to the Stinger. Also, does anyone opening a door and being in the middle of pushing it to one of the three stay positions want to be slid backwards in their seat at the same time? If you've parked on a slope, you must wait for the seat to stop and then start pushing the door again as it will have been moved out of reach. Sounds petty? Perhaps. Does this happen in an Audi? It does not. Luxury means silence and no intrusive gimmicks.

Thank goodness the Stinger is as good to drive as its looks promise it might be. The diesel engine would be even better were it to produce another 25-50PS to cover the occasional appearance of turbo lag, although in fairness the car isn't exactly slow. Top speed is 143mph and 0-62mph takes 7.3 seconds. The Urban consumption is 38.7mpg and I saw 41mpg. CO2 is 154g/km.

The handling seems to have been set up with a bias towards safety and that's no bad thing of course. Maybe the petrol cars would be a better choice for an enthusiast driver. Me, I just didn't feel that the Stinger 2.2 felt like it's rear-wheel drive. I also couldn't classify what Kia wants it to be. Sure, going after Audis and BMWs is ambitious and there is no reason why the company shouldn't try to take on the German brands. The thing is, the Stinger is sized between the 4,733mm long Audi A5 Sportback and the 4,969mm A7 Sportback. Perhaps the model KMC was wanting us to compare its big hatchback to is the BMW 3 Series GT?

Build - on a dedicated line for RWD cars

KMC has previously also built Hyundai models at Sohari but these days all vehicles manufactured at the factory, which is south west of Seoul, only produces Kias. The Stinger is put together on a line which is dedicated to RWD cars. This, Kia's first plant, was opened in June 1973. Its current annual capacity is 350,000 vehicles.

Kia Motors America delivered 5,298 Stingers during the first four months, numbers for May not being available at the time of writing, even though KMC was quick to announce worldwide sales earlier on 1 June (247,176, up by nine per cent YoY). Numbers for KME's region were not yet available at the time of writing but the UK, which is Kia Motors Europe's number one market, is expected to account for 1,400 deliveries by year-end. South Korea, China, Russia, Australia and certain countries in the Middle East should also be places where the car finds a ready audience.

Future derivatives to maintain sales momentum

If Kia is clever, it will make sure that the Stinger remains newsworthy and in so doing, maintain sales momentum and a continuation of the good that the car is doing for how people think of the brand. What sort of things could be done? Well, aside from the possibility of adding a V8, a petrol-PHEV would be the obvious additional powertrain.

Supposed minimal interest in wagons hasn't stopped Audi from exporting its S and R Avants to China but the Optima/K5 estate is about the same size as the Stinger, which probably means a Stinger SW can be ruled out. What about a coupe? That could work and Kia might have dropped a loud hint about this possibility back in 2014: anyone else remember the GT4 Stinger concept? Coming before a two-door car will surely be an extended wheelbase version of the existing bodyshell. If that's the case, then perhaps the tight space in the back was intentional.

KMC to add a future luxury division?

One other thing to note when pondering the importance of this big hatchback. In the domestic market, the Stinger is not a Kia. No really, there are no brand badges. Instead, the car has a stylised E on its nose and tailgate. This suggests similar thinking to what Hyundai initially had with Genesis. The E is said to stand for Excellence and Exclusivity. KMC says the top and bottom lines of the E represent the Stinger's axles. As for the middle crossbar, this is supposed to symbolise a longitudinally-mounted powertrain. The same badges appear on the new K9 sedan (K900 in some export markets), another RWD car.

It isn't a major leap to wonder how soon a new division will be created for fast-looking, high-priced Kias. Might the Stinger be looked back upon in the 2020s as the car which launched KMC's sports-luxury division?