CANBERRA’S an ironic place to launch the Kia Stinger. It will occupy a segment left vacant by the end of local manufacturing, an outcome some argue the nation’s capital could have helped avoid.
The upside to this is we’ve driven Kia’s new five-door just as you lot would. We’ve trundled through road works, cruised down the highway to Wakefield Park and cut a couple of laps in anger, cycling through the line-up as we went.
Engine capacity splits the six variants into two groups, with a 182kW/353Nm 2.0-litre turbo four kicking things off before a 272kW/510Nm 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 fills out the premium spots. Both are married to an eight-speed auto.
We’ve focused on the V6, partly because it features more toys, like Brembo brakes, variable-rate steering, and a mechanical LSD, but mainly because there’s an extra 90kW/157Nm spinning the rear boots, putting the Stinger V6 lineball with a first-gen VF SS or XR6 Turbo.
Four cylinders or six, though, Aussies will find the Stinger’s dimensions familiar. Its 2.9m wheelbase matches a Commodore’s, while its lift-back body is 85mm shorter (4830mm) and 28mm narrower (1870mm).
Settling into the front pews – Nappa leather in our top-shelf GT variant – suggests the raked turret and sloped silhouette have penalised interior space a tad. Inside feels snug for a 178cm bloke, and headroom would seem cramped for anyone over six-foot.
There’s little else to fault inside. Besides some buttons hinting at the maker’s cheap and cheerful origins, the cabin is a classy affair with tech that feels worth the GT’s $59,990 ask.
Although you’re aware of tyre and wind noise, they don’t spoil the ambience. Unfortunately, pushing the start button doesn’t either. A muted, artificial note is all the 3.3-litre V6 currently produces, however, Kia says its optional dealer-fitted exhaust will be ready by the time you read this.
Power is easily accessed due to the throttle pedal’s short-travel and sharp mapping. The V6 might lack an LS3’s pipes, but the good news is it’ll punch the Stinger sideways and lay fat elevens, furiously piling on the pace whether on the move or from a standing start.
Memory suggests its every bit as fast as the late Falcon XR6 Turbo. Where its drivetrain differs is delivery. Its punch doesn’t need a wind-up, feeling creamy and linear until about 6000rpm, 500rpm short of its redline.
It’s at this point the automatic plucks the next gear, at least with stability control on, as the engine starts to run out of puff. We’re told it will let you run the V6 to redline if ESP’s off.
On the right surface, Kia’s 4.9sec 0-100km/h claim is realistic. Launch control isn’t just a stall up, either, but an ESP mode that monitors traction for the first 20 metres or so. Still, 510Nm from as early as 1300rpm can catch out the 255mm rears easily.
Meanwhile, Kia’s eight-speed auto upshifts smoothly, kicks down quickly, and obeys paddle commands, but sadly doesn’t have a true manual mode and can get a little flustered when downshifting.
Spilling out on to Wakefield Park reveals the Stinger is no track car. Hard braking unsettles the nose-heavy chassis (it’s balanced 57:43 front-to-rear) while the front-end lacks communication. Its ContiSportContact 5s can’t cope with a day’s work, either. Track examples were fitted with Michelin Pilot Super Sport 4 rubber instead.
Its brakes, on the other hand, can take the punishment. The fixed Brembo calipers will sponge after a while, but they’ll last long enough with a little mechanical sympathy.
Kia’s moved the steering’s assistance from the rack to its column. It’s improved the electric system’s accuracy, but don’t expect to be reading braille through the thing.
What’s promising is how much lighter the Stinger feels than its 1780kg from the tiller. The initial roll reminds you it’s no featherweight, and it’ll need trail-brake to tuck the nose in, but at eight-tenths you can adjust its angle with either pedal.
The GT’s stiffer front suspension and adaptive dampers sharpen its changes of tack, at times approaching the poise and balance of Holden’s hallowed SS-V Redline. Overall though both the GT and non GT’s feel soft in setup, like a Holden Commodore SS.
Out on the highway the Stinger’s lesser siblings gain the upper hand. The GT’s damper modes, selected via a dial on the centre console, range between too soft in Comfort and too stiff in Sport, whereas the regular S ($48,990) or SI’s ($55,990) passive setup is suppler, yet controlled – an excellent compromise ready for any interstate haul.
Dropping a grade from the GT saves you four grand but sheds the colour dash LCD (with boost and G-force gauges), heated/ventilated nappa leather seats, power steering column, colour heads up display and six speakers inside. While the LED headlights, five-spoke alloys design, black and white pearl paint options, and blind-spot safety tech are also ditched.
The GT stacks up as great value. In a perfect world, we’d paint it Micro Blue (pearl hues cost another $695), trade in the adaptive dampers, and tick the optional exhaust box when it becomes available.
The Stinger GT isn't quite a Commodore SS-V Redline slayer, yet, but it’s managed to roll speed, comfort, refinement, and value into one. Kia’s first stab at a large rear-drive sedan is a solid one. Even the four-cylinder car is an entertaining steer.
With only a short drive, we’re salivating to spend more time in the Stinger. And if lugging four people across country in a fast, well-appointed sedan for less than $60K sounds like your bag, you should be too.
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
Likes: Proper grunt, decent chassis, loads of kit
Dislikes: Front-end point quiet exhaust note, no manual-mode
2018 Kia Stinger GT specs
Engine: 3342cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Max power: 272kW @ 6000rpm (6500rpm redline)
Max torque: 510Nm @ 1300-4500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.9sec (claimed)