The Kia Stinger GT is properly quick and has a big rear-drive personality, but the overseas specification we drove almost felt more like a fast grand tourer than a performance car, lacked a little emotion and was somewhat unsatisfying in the noise department.
But over and over again, during our first drive of Kia’s much-hyped 272kW rear-drive hero, on the Nurburgring Nordschleife no less, we had to keep reminding ourselves we were driving a Kia.
A spacious, four-door Kia sedan that will power oversteer. A Kia with a nicer interior than most Volkswagens. A Kia that doesn’t turn into a smoking wreck after half a dozen corners on a racetrack, a Kia you might actually want to take for a drive.
And this is a car that for many, will absolutely be what the doctor ordered to soothe the anguish of losing our much-loved locals. With 272kW/510Nm, rear-drive and a mechanical limited slip differential, in a big, four-door sedan, you bet this is a car that Australians will feel very familiar with, warm to quickly and find easy to like.
While our time in the Stinger GT was frustratingly brief (just one lap, and no on-road driving) it was enough to notice that this Kia is fast and powerful enough that you’d think twice about leaving it in inexperienced hands on a rainy day, with the electronics off at least.
It is fast. Kia claims 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds with launch control, its 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 sending power through an eight-speed torque converter auto and big, wide, 255-section rear Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyres.
It squats hard off from a standstill and pushes you back into the seat with impressive traction. Kia claims the Stinger GT will do 270km/h. We saw 250km/h down the Nordschleife’s famed 2.5km-long Dottinger Hohe straight which in the Stinger GT felt effortless, stable and calm.
Kia Stinger GT Nurburgring
Yet while we didn't have time to try for ourselves, this is also a car that would wheelspin through first gear and probably into second. “With the DSC off it’s a great drifter,” grinned the Stinger GT’s creator Albert Biermann, the German and ex-BMW M Division chief engineer.
Indeed, if you like your powerful rear-drive cars, you will like the Kia Stinger GT, which also has cutting-edge chassis electronics that very much work with the car’s power and rear-drive layout, rather than against it. Which means more fun. And the Stinger GT is a fun car to drive fast.
You just might not like the way it sounds. The Stinger GT is high tech in that it has multiple drive modes adjusting steering weight, adaptive dampers, throttle sensitivity and engine noise.
There's an ‘interesting’ V6 growl, in the interior at least, although it's an artificial note coming through the speakers and stereo system (rather than a mechanical symposer plumbed from the engine bay). And even though it does sound a little fake, the Stinger GT needs it, because the overseas specification car we drove sounded like a base model V6 from the outside, thrashy and dull.
This is not a car you rev for your mates. “Does it sound good?” We asked, stepping from the Stinger GT having just revved it for a video for some of our journalistic colleagues. “No,” was the reply in unison and without hesitation.
Kia Stinger GT start-up and revving
Although there’s a twist to all this: Kia Australia agrees that the overseas Stinger GT lacks aural sizzle and so Australia is getting its own homegrown bi-modal exhaust system.
Yes, that’s right, built and engineered by the same outfit that does HSV’s exhausts, the Australian Stinger GT will be offered with an optional sports cat-back to up the tailpipe titillation. And we will be very interested to hear what this sounds like when we drive the Aussie car late August.
We’ll also be interested to drive the Aussie Stinger GT because it’ll have its own unique Australian suspension tune. The suspension of the car we tested overseas, while feeling very German and far more sophisticated than anything we’ve driven in an Australian car, had an obvious ‘grand tourer’ tune.
Although the car was developed at the Nurburgring, it almost felt a little too soft in Comfort with Sport mode not taming the body roll quite to our satisfaction, either.
Kia Australia, however, wants to shift its local Stinger GT further towards the performance end of the comfort-handling spectrum, making it more of a corner-carver than a long-distance cruiser. Its local suspension expert Graeme Gambold has been busy working on prototype cars in Oz, giving them a more performance-focused suspension tune.
This could turn the Stinger GT into more of a twin-turbo V6 SS Commodore as currently it’s somewhat of a Korean Calais. You wouldn’t think it, looking at the spec sheet, with that power, those big, 350mm four-pot Brembo front brakes, the 19-inch wheels and wide tyres, but that’s how it drives.
That’s not to say it drives poorly - in the overseas tune, it’s still a massive surprise on track, incredibly stable at high speeds owing partly to that generous 2905mm wheelbase (a VF Commodore is 2915mm) but also showing off unexpected agility and even playfulness, as well as impressive poise and balance and not being excessively understeery like you might first think. This is a great handling car.
The big, 1750kg Stinger GT still works its tyres hard and Aussie owners might do well to fit their Stingers with ContiSportContact 5Ps, rather than the OE-fitted 5, when they’re up for their first set of tyres.
And unfortunately, while the Brembos are strong and give you confidence to brake hard and late, that same confidence eked away as the brakes started to run out towards the end of our Nurburgring lap.
While we tested it at a track, and it held up impressively well, the Stinger GT is not really a car you’d pine to take to a track day.
And while we’re talking gripes, the engine is also one that is all about the low-down torque and mid-range muscle, running out of lungs towards redline. That, together with the lacklustre engine noise, means there’s little point extending the 3.3-litre V6 to its 6500rpm redline.
The transmission, too, while eight speeds, and very responsive, is more like a six-speed with two overdriven top gears, not having a ratio for every corner like you might hope. In fact, often under brakes you’re frustratingly denied the downchange you intuitively felt was available. There is also no hardcore manual-only mode. The Stinger GT is auto only.
The interior also strangely doesn’t match the boldness and attitude of the exterior. This is an aggressive yet handsomely-styled car in the metal, showing off intent with big 19-inch wheels, bonnet vents, quad exhaust pipes, assertive front bar and that fastback roofline. Yet the interior is mature and even conservative by comparison.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s exceptionally nice - there’s brushed aluminium, Nappa leather, a chunky, masculine steering wheel, fantastic- and expensive-feeling materials everywhere, including even an Alcantara-style microsuede on the A-pillars.
It’s spacious and more German than Korean. But there’s only one GT badge on the steering wheel and that’s it. Even the seats and dials miss out on some GT branding and keep the excitement to a minimum.
This is a smart, well-appointed interior, yet somehow too sensible compared to the car’s daring exterior and performance. It’s like a 40-year-old did the exterior and engineering and their father did the interior. Having said all that, some people will like the interior for its classy restraint.
Kia Stinger GT walkaround
The seats, too, could be a source of disappointment when the car gets to Australia. Kia Oz might be able to give it the suspension tune and exhaust note to match the hardcore hardware like the big Brembos, grunt and limited slip diff, but the seats are made for grand touring, not performance driving. They’re comfortable yet despite adjustable side bolsters, lack support when the red mist descends, as it inevitably will in the Stinger.
That all said, we are now entering the nit-picking realm and one must come back to the reality in that this is a well-appointed, 272kW rear-drive four-door sedan that will cost about $55K when it goes on-sale in Australia in September. And you’ve still every right to be excited.
Anybody looking to replace their SS Commodore or XR6 Turbo with a Stinger GT will not be disappointed for the most part. They’ll find a big, roomy, practical sedan with a nicer cockpit than any Aussie car, more sophisticated suspension, plenty of grunt and that satisfying rear-drive handling - and hopefully a decent noise with the Australian-only exhaust.
Of course, while for these people the Stinger GT will feel familiar in a strange way, it will still have a very new, foreign flavour that will take some getting used to. And while the Stinger GT isn’t perfect – and you should wait for our review from the Australian launch, with the local suspension and exhaust, given that so far we’ve only driven it for one lap around the racetrack it was engineered for, and not the road – we can’t understate how happy and glad we are that it exists.
It will be a genuine option for those anguishing over the end of our beloved powerful rear-drive Aussie cars, and it’s an impressive new player in this very Australian segment. And not just for a Kia, though there is that.
4 out of 5 stars
KIA STINGER GT
Engine: 3342cc V6, twin-turbo, DOHC, 24v
Drivetrain: 8-speed automatic, rear-drive, mechanical limited-slip differential
Power: 276kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 510Nm @ 1300rpm-4500rpm
Weight: 1750kg (estimate)
0-100km/h: 4.9sec (claimed)
Top speed: 270km/h (claimed)
Price: $55,000 (estimate)