Ben Griffin finds out whether the V6-powered BMW 440i and Jaguar XE S rival is worth £40,495 in his Kia Stinger GT S review, which took place on a particularly bleak day in Cornwall.
How do you make a brand desirable? That question is the challenge facing both Kia and Hyundai, which sell cars in their droves yet, such is the lack of appeal, buying toilet roll is a more emotional purchase. Because when push comes to shove, buyers care about the badge up front.
That may be less true in tougher economic times, of course, but then both South Korean manufacturers have brought in expertise to inject sportiness into their respective ranges to solve the problem. For Hyundai, it is the i30 N and for Kia it is the Stinger GT S.
Having driven the i30 N Performance and found it to be bags of fun, the bar is high for the Stinger GT S. But then it is a larger, heavier grand tourer while the former is a hatchback. Expectations must, thereffore, be adjusted accordingly.
Still, common traits exist between the two. The most obvious being, of course, that former BMW M bigwig Albert Biermann was tasked with making the cars serious contenders and changing brand perception.
Recombu Cars‘ Ben Griffin flew into Newquay airport to cruise around Cornwall on a very rainy day in November tasked with finding out if he has done a good enough job.
Kia Stinger GT S: What is it?
The Kia Stinger GT S is the range-topping provider of speed in the range, sitting above the bog-standard GT-Line and more lavish GT-Line S. A 3.3-litre V6 outputs a very potent 365bhp at 6,500rpm and 376lb/ft of torque from 1,300 to 4,500rpm, giving it plenty of go.
Not only does that make it the fastest Kia ever, it is also the first grand tourer and the first rear-wheel drive car the South Korean manufacturer has ever built. And, as anyone with fully-functioning eyes will agree, the first to make you look twice.
To help it compete with the likes of the Audi S5 Sportback, BMW 440i M Sport and Jaguar XE S, Kia has fitted the Stinger GT S with a number of performance-focussed upgrades. Powerful Brembo brakes ensure it can stop fast, while the standard limited-slip differential helps with power delivery (something missing from its rivals).
Then there is the electronic suspension setup, which is designed to provide varying ride characteristics, depending on the driving setting you choose, as well road-smoothing qualities befitting a car designed to cover distances in comfort.
In terms of size, the Kia Stinger GT S is 4,830mm long, 1,870mm wide and 1,400mm tall. As for the wheelbase, that is 2,905mm long. A 440i M Sport is 190mm shorter, then, while the XE S comes in 158mm under budget.
If the design seems familiar, that is because it is inspired by the GT Concept unveiled back in 2011. Muscular is more fitting than pretty, but there are some elegant touches here and there to keep it classy.
An elegant side profile is reminiscient of its competitors, while the back appears to be a slightly more cluttered Alfa Romeo Giulia. If you squint a bit, that is. There is an element of copycat about it, yet enough homegrown design flair (such as the tiger-nose grille) shines through to make it original.
The inside of the Stinger GT features leather goodness, but is hardly the most dramatic cabin space. Three circular air vents in the centre of the dashboard are very Audi TT RS and the overall quality is decent, but slower Kias are only slightly less plush.
Being slightly longer than its rivals provides ample leg room for six-footers relegated to the rear seats. Sadly, the middle seat (if you can call it that) is very thin and the transmission tunnel kills foot space, making it a four-seater at best.
Kia Stinger GT S: Any good to drive?
With a delicate touch, the Stinger can reward you with an involving, if somewhat plain drive. A combination of a meaty steering wheel and heavy weighting makes it more of a brusier, in stark contrast to the more delicate and precise 440i and the even livelier XE S.
Unsophisticated is an accurate description for the Kia Stinger GT S, actually, but this is no bad thing. In the wet, the instant low to mid grunt of the two turbos provide a drift-happy, old-school bruiser vibe not that far from the latest Ford Mustang.
This makes the Stinger a bit frisky, especially as wet weather highlights the front end’s tendency to plough into understeer and relatively non-existent steering feedback. The porky kerb weight (ranging from 1,855 to 1,907kg, depending on spec) plays a significant role.
Extremely linear power delivery makes the Kia Stinger GT S come across as slower than its 0-60mph (not 0-62mph) time of 4.7 seconds suggests, but you can head into illegal speed territory in rapid fashion – with the throaty V6 providing an agreeable sound as you do.
A top speed of 168mph means it can sit above its electronically-limited Germanic rivals, but then only those who venture to the Autobahn will ever notice the benefit and that assumes you go at a time when traffic is non-existent.
Cornering grip appears decent, although it was too slippery to see just how decent. What we did notice, however, is that Kia has done a great job of minimising body roll without harming the ride quality. This is despite the fact the Stinger GT S errs on the soft side.
Even in Sport+ and on big alloys, the Stinger and its adaptive damping system, MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbone at the rear setup soaks up bumps with surprising vigour, highlighting the fact the Stinger GT S favours satisfaction over sheer excitement.
Kia’s paddle-operated eight-speed automatic lacks the same creamy gear changes boasted by some of its rivals, but it comes to life fast enough when you want it to, particularly in the lairier Sport and Sport+ driving modes.
Abruptly remove your foot from the accelerator and there is no run-off period to ease the transition between forward and gliding. Instead, the Stinger GT S backs down rather harshly in noticeable fashion.
On longer journeys, the Stinger GT S really makes the most sense because it has enough grunt to pass anything in its way and the seats provide excellent levels of comfort. Only a slightly higher level of road noise keeps it from being the perfect motorway accompanient.
Ultimately, we wish Kia had injected the same level of excitement into the Stinger GT S as the i30 N, but then we expect our opinion to grow when we get to drive in drier, grippier conditions. Certainly, we have been left wanting more, which is positive, indeed.
Kia Stinger GT S: UK price, running costs and specs?
With prices starting from £40,495 for the GT S model, the Stinger looks tempting when you consider the similarly powerful XE S costs £7,550 more. Want the 440i M Sport? That costs an extra £4,995 and the admittedly boring Audi S5 Sportback costs a £7,680 premium.
Not only is the Kia Stinger GT S a lot of horsepower for the money, the generous equipment list means you can avoid needing any optional extras. Noteworthy is the standard inclusion of the useful and clear head-up display, 19-inch alloys and nappa leather upholstery.
You also get an eight-inch touchscreen display with in-built navigation, smart cruise control, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with memory function, front and rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, autonomous emergency braking and a 15-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system.
You will, however, need to pay £645 for anything other than the standard Sunset Yellow paintjob but that is the only extra beyond a few non-essential travel accessories such as a £20 fire extinguisher.
Being a powerful V6, high running costs is no surprise. CO2 emissions come in at a less than savoury 225g/km and we averaged 23mpg at absolute best. Not so far from the combined figure of 28.5mpg, but expect to spend reasonable time at your preferred petrol station.
Kia Stinger GT S: Should I buy one, then?
The Kia Stinger GT S makes less of an impression than the i30 N Performance, but there are enough positives to make it praiseworthy. Apart from the fact it is comfortable and fast, you get a generous amount of equipment and a genuinely decent drive for considerably less money than its rivals.
In some ways, then, the Stinger GT S reminds us of the Vauxhall Monaro and later VXR8 (before the ridiculous price hike of the final edition). Serious firepower, simplistic charms and money spent on performance upgrades that matter, all at the expense of street credit.
That is anything but the worst thing, though. Because it makes the Stinger GT S a brave purchase that tells the world you want maximum power for minimum outlay. That you value horsepower over what your neighbours will think. In other words, it tells the world you are a petrolhead.