Kia Stinger road test: Is beauty deeper than the metal?
PERFORMANCE matches the looks. Slick and sharp, the Stinger is the best performer ever to wear the Kia badge.
Quick off the mark with strong cornering capabilities it possesses all the hallmarks of a fun rear-wheel drive offering, combined with the comfort of a true grand tourer.
Much of that is courtesy of former BMW M division legend Albert Biermann, who is now on the Kia payroll.
The two engine options offer vastly different personalities. Opt for the V6, which about 75% of owners are expected to do, and you get a hairy-chested brute. More linear and lighter, the 2.0-litre turbo is still swift (it takes just over a second longer to reach 100kmh), yet manages the task with less fanfare.
Pure muscle motivates the V6, whereas the little sibling has finesse.
The V6 variants get some vital mechanical upgrades including Brembo brakes with the stand-out red calipers, a limited slip differential which delivers torque to both wheels equally for better traction when driving quickly, while variable gear steering ratio enables improved feedback for keen steerers.
Range-topping GTs also have dynamic dampers, which alter the suspension feel when changing between sport, comfort and other drive modes that also change the acceleration and steering response. They felt a little busier and flustered in some circumstances than the standard car, which has remarkable grip and bite when you really want to push the limits.
Both engines are partnered to an eight-speed transmission which does a stellar job of finding the right cog for every occasion. While there are paddle shifters, rarely do you need them...and there is no way of permanently engaging manual mode, it shifts back to auto if you don't pull a paddle after about 30 seconds.
Those wanting more can look forward to an even hotter Stinger.
Under development is a leaner and meaner derivative which will go harder and rival some of the best in the business. Kia Australia doesn't have any details yet, but the engineers say Stinger has a whole lot more ability than what's currently on offer.
Falling just shy of European standards, the interior remains worthy of comparison with Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW.
The horizontal lines, circular turbine-looking air vents, concave surfaces and on the range-topping GT aluminium finish across the dash along with matching Harman-Kardon speakers, Stinger reeks of something more expensive.
Sporting seats up front hug the occupants into place with cushy lateral support.
Accommodation best suits four adults. Getting three across the back seat can be done but the centre pew is firm and the footwell is compromised due to the transmission tunnel.
The centre console has some good storage spots close to the USB and 12-volt ports, and there are two cup holders in the console and rear fold-down arm rest. Each door also has space for a bottle, albeit only 375ml containers.
Boot space is just over 400 litres (more than a 120 smaller than a Falcon) which is enough for a couple of large suitcases. The cargo area is elongated due to the shapely rear, but the rear seats drop in a 60-40 configuration to aid flexibility.
Competition will soon not exist.
Production of the Australian-made Commodore is ending next month, and while you could get an SV6 for $40,490, to match the performance you'd have to shell out at least $47,490 for the 6.2-litre V8-powered SS.
Next year the Commodore nameplate will be on European-sourced vehicles which offer impressive dynamics, but only in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations.
Those chasing pure performance could downsize to the all-wheel drive VW Golf R ($52,990) or the Subaru WRX STI Spec R ($57,690), but there's a compromise in size and you'll have to contend with a much firmer ride.
When chasing like-for-like comparisons, you really must head toward the Europeans where you'll also need to take your bank manager.
Prices nearly double the Stinger when trying to match space and performance...think the Audi S5 Sportback ($105,511), BMW 540i ($138,610), Jaguar XF 35t S ($124,450). Match that Stinger V6 power and torque and you'd be looking more at a Mercedes-AMG C43 ($105,112)...heck it's got the same amount of power as a Porsche Carrera 911 ($220,900) and it's only 0.3 seconds slower in the sprint from 0-100kmh.
Charging in the Australian market, Kia has become the nation's fastest growing mainstream brand through strong value and great looking passenger cars and SUVs.
Surprisingly, it also makes an impressive grand tourer with a sporting bent.
Don't expect raw edge-of-your-seat performance.
It's certainly quick and adept, which will allow the driver to have an enjoyable squirt when the going gets twisty, yet then do the school and grocery run without passengers needing a kidney belt.
We'd go for the mid-spec Si for the ride and value proposition with either engine. Looks, fun and value. You really can have it all.