Tiger grille marks Stinger grand tourer out as unmistakeably Kia. Will buyers look beyond the non-premium badge to discover the excellent car beneath?

Tiger grille marks Stinger grand tourer out as unmistakeably Kia. Will buyers look beyond the non-premium badge to discover the excellent car beneath?

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Although only about 80 of the brand's 180 UK dealers have signed up to sell it so far, Kia's new Stinger, in those showrooms from January, is certainly going to change its image a bit. Suddenly, the maker of staid but worthy family and fleet cars, like Rio, Picanto, Soul and Sportage, pitches a flagship five door, grand tourer with a turbocharged, 365bhp, 3.3-litre petrol V6, capable of 0-60mph acceleration in a claimed 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 168mph.

The car is said to have evolved from the "golden age of beautiful grand tourers" and is the production version of the GT Concept revealed at the 2011 Frankfurt show. For me, it's very much the reincarnation, if much improved and advanced, of a line of D-segment models Japanese makers like Toyota, Mazda/Ford (which shared models in Asia-Pacific markets) and Mitsubishi fielded in the early 1990s, enhancing model lines of worthy but dull fleet/family sedans and wagons with a slightly sporty five-door versions that could still take a family and luggage but were given a boost with the option of a quad cam, 24-valve, fuel injected V6 sized somewhere between two and three litres, electronically controlled automatic transmission and handling enhancements such as electronic adjustable dampers.

Twenty years on, Kia produces the more purpose-built Stinger, which will also soon offer two litre T-GDi petrol and 2.2 CRD-i diesel I4 engines with more taxation-friendly CO2 outputs, designed at its Frankfurt studios under the steely supervision of design president Peter Schreyer and European design head Gregory Guillaume. With road manners fettled by at least 480 laps (10,000km/6,000 miles) of the tortuous Nürburgring Nordschleife in a testing regime headed by Kia's ex-BMW vehicle test and high performance development head Albert Biermann.

The result is a car to which I took an instant liking. The nose styling is unmistakeably Kia, it's a good looking, rakish hatchback, panel fit and paint are high quality and interior materials and finish are generally to a high standard apart from silver coated plastic door releases which would look and feel nicer in metal. And the top spec V6 is loaded with every driver aid and safety item you'd expect for GBP40,000 these days plus luxury items such as heated and cooled, electrically adjusted seats with driver side memory, heated steering wheel, fully connected infotainment, even a glass sunroof that opens. And it's a practical hauler for a family or four adults with decent luggage space under the electrically opened rear gate.

With an eight speed automatic transmission, developed specially for the Stinger, the turbo V6 delivers neck-snapping acceleration from rest and is a delight to drive fast on twisty roads. There are no fewer than five driving modes from Smart thru Comfort to Eco, Sport and do-you-know-what-you're-doing? Sport Plus mode (which disables some of the traction control aids that might prevent you from an embarrassing exit into the scenery). These settings also adjust throttle and steering response to match.

Some European brands also offer such five door grand tourers - Audi's A5 and BMW's GT series come to mind - but Kia UK is realistic about its prospects with that end of the market.

"We don't expect to lure people out of BMWs, Audis and Mercs," a spokesman said. "We think there are people out there looking for something different and will be happy with the Kia brand."

Suggest snidely that the Kia is likely to depreciate way faster than a European brand and the reposte is swift. The company claims CAP initial residuals are 7% better than rival Audi S5 and BMW 4 series models after 12 months and still 4% better than the Audi and par with the BMW after 36.

Kia sees the Stinger as a "brand builder". By early next year there will be three trims - GT Line, GT Line S, both with a choice of either petrol or diesel turbocharged I4s, and the V6 only GTS. Prices range from GBP31,995 to GBP40,495. UK sales are pitched at 1,800 to 2,000 a year - the brand expects to sell 93,000 units overall in the UK this year and 94,700 in 2018 - with the engine split about 1/3 each. Which dealer sells Stinger is up to the individual outlet with 80 committed now and the hope that over 100 will be on board within three to four months as those still on the fence see how the car is doing with the launch outlets.

"We want them all to sell it, of course, but dealers do have a choice," the spokesman said.

"It's not a huge volume car and not a huge volume segment. It's a flagship car to help change people's perceptions of the brand. Kia is not a premium brand, we are a volume brand, but we want to show people we can do it with a car that can stand comparison with others."

Kia's year

In an overall UK market off 4.5% year to date Kia UK expects to sell 93,000 cars this year, claiming that's "real sales" and not pre-registrations that immediately end up in dealers' 'near new' used stock. The uncertainty surrounding diesel as politicians threaten 'environment taxes' and outright bans in some big cities like London has led to some fall off in retail sales in the south east but this is far less noticeable in regions in the north and Scotland. Kia claims more and more retail sales and less high discount, guaranteed buy back fleet business and says most models in its range are "doing well". The Sportage SUV remains the brand's top seller - 27,000 found buyers in 2017 and it will again be the most popular model in 2017 ahead of a facelift due some time in 2018 as the SMMT predicts a drop in sales from 2017's expected 2.6m units overall to 2.4m. Of that, Kia wants to claim a modest 94,700.

Stinger GTS details

  • 4,830mm long, 1,870mm wide and 1,400mm tall on a 2,905mm wheelbase.
  • "Classic gran turismo proportions" – long bonnet, short front overhang, long wheelbase, cabin positioned towards the rear of the car, lengthy rear overhang beneath broad shoulders and a 'Coke-bottle' nip in the waist.
  • 3.3 litre V6 twin turbo Lambda II family engine, 365bhp at 6,000rpm and 510Nm of torque from 1,300rpm to 4,500rpm. Fastest accelerating Kia ever with 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds and 168mph top speed. Rear wheel drive (AWD in Europe) through in house designed electronic eight speed automatic gearbox. Kia's first use of a Centrifugal Pendulum Absorber (CPA) torque converter more typically found in aviation and racing applications which reduces torsional vibrations through the drivetrain.
  • 28.5mpg combined test cycle consumption, 225g CO2.
  • ISG engine stop/start system and Active Sound System which relays the engine note to the cabin through the car's audio system.
  • Independent suspension with front MacPherson struts and five links with double wishbones at the rear. Adaptive Dynamic Stability Damping Control (DSDC). Variable ratio rack mounted Motor Driven Power Steering (R-MDPS).
  • Brembo 350mm ventilated discs at the front and 340mm ventilated discs at the rear. Holed and grooved to provide high heat capacity with low fade. Quad piston front calipers and dual piston rear calipers. 19 inch alloy wheels with 225/40 R19 tyres at the front and 255/35 R19 at the rear.
  • Space for five people and luggage. Low slung Nappa leather seats. Leather covered, high mounted, wing shaped dashboard with eight inch touchscreen infotainment. Leather trimmed door armrests, (heated) steering wheel and partially chromed gear shifter.
  • Front seats have eight-way power adjustment with memory on the driver's side plus two way power cushion extender and four way power lumbar adjustment. Front seats heated and ventilated, outer rear seats also heated. First Europe market Kia with electronic steering column tilt and reach adjustment.     
  • Dual zone automatic air conditioning, seven inch LCD TFT supervision cluster with customisable head up display which allows key information – speed, navigation instructions and audio, cruise control and blind spot detection messages –  to be projected onto the windscreen. 360-degree Around View monitor. 
  • 15-speaker Harman/Kardon premium sound system with subwoofer, external amp and front centre speaker. Includes Clari-Fi, which restores the sound often lost when digital music files are heavily compressed, and QuantumLogic Surround Sound, which redistributes signals from the original recording to deliver multi-dimensional playback. DAB radio, MP3 compatibility and Bluetooth with music streaming. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto offer voice control.
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Keep Assist, High Beam Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Speed Limit Information system, plus Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Active Bonnet and Electronic Stability Control linked to Vehicle Stability Management. 
  • Front and rear USB ports, wireless charger.      
  • Seven-year/100,000-mile warranty plus optional three and five year service packages.