Great to drive and great to look at, only a few niggles (and that big price tag) hold Kia's Stinger back from true greatness.
In the Metal:
It shouldn't be, and isn't really, a surprise that Kia can make a good-looking car. Ever since the Korean brand hired former Audi head of design, Peter Schreyer, to shake up its styling department, pretty much every new car to come out of Kia has been at the very least decently handsome. The Stinger GT is more than just decently handsome though. Low slung and long, it's really rather exciting at which to look, from that snake's head front end, to the swooping roofline, to that very Audi-esque tail. If we have any quibbles, then the sweep of the rear roof is too similar to that of the much cheaper Kia Optima saloon, and there is a sense that the styling might be a bit over-done, and fussy, but for the most part it's just cool.
While that is true too of the interior, there are a few issues afoot here. For the most part, the Stinger's cabin pushes all the right sports saloon buttons. You sit low and laid-back, on excellent front seats, facing a broad, cliff-face dash that sweeps elegantly (via some fillets of brushed aluminium) into the doors. Our test car was slathered with red leather on the inside, which some may find a touch vulgar, but which we - tarts that we are - rather liked. Look to the centre of the dash, to where the infotainment screen stands proud and the three central air vents line up, and you are looking at (and touching) something that's equally good as anything that Mercedes can turn out. Ditto for the centre console, where there's an Audi-style stubby gear shifter for the eight-speed automatic, and lovely little toggle switches for the heated seats. There are some glitches though. The steering wheel looks and feels a little cheap for a €66k car, as do some of the secondary switchgear. The infotainment system looks good, but is pretty basic, and the main dials look rather too like those of the Optima, which costs less than half what's being asked for the Stinger.
On the upside, space in the back is decent, and if the 406-litre boot is rather small, then at least it has a big, electrically-operated tailgate that makes it more practical than a notchback boot would be.
Rear-wheel drive and a 370hp twin-turbo V6 petrol engine doing the huffing? Can't be much wrong with that, especially with famed former head of BMW M, Albert Biermann, another Kia convert, wielding the spanners, right? Well, yes, for the most part, but again there are some small issues that hold the Stinger back a little.
You can choose from engine and chassis modes that vary from Smart to Eco to Comfort to Sport and to Sport+, which is basically Sport but without the traction control. Keep it in Sport and the Stinger feels really, really good. There's a little bit of extra weight for the steering (not much actual feel though), and while the suspension does stiffen up a little, it's not enough to make the ride in any way uncomfortable. In Sport, the Stinger offers a fantastic balance between stability, comfort, refinement and precision.
That steering is super-quick, and the nose reacts to cornering inputs like a rat after some dropped cheese, but it never feels nervous or too pointy. The Stinger can string a series of corners together with no little aplomb, and it's hugely entertaining to drive. With 510Nm on tap, and slightly lax traction control in Sport, you can also slide it at will, and the rear swings around with a lovely sense of control, never moving so fast that you feel you can't easily gather it all up.
In other modes though, it's less successful. Smart, Eco, and Comfort just leave a little too much slack in the suspension, and it feels at times as if the body is just moving around slightly on top of the springs. It's the sense of a lack of precision that you wouldn't find in the German competition, and it's a shame that you can't customise the modes to keep the suspension in Sport, but lock the engine into fuel-saving Eco mode on a longer journey (although to be fair we did beat the official average economy, scoring 31mpg on a 200km run in the car).
Ah, that engine. With 370hp it's not short of power, and there's precious little turbo lag, so the Stinger really flies at a flex of your right foot. It's not shatteringly fast in the manner of a BMW M3, but very quick, in the manner of a BMW 340i. The Kia's engine is almost eerily smooth and silent at a cruise, but sadly it stays that way when you rev it hard. There's a lack of drama and excitement to the exhaust note that one really could expect when you're lashing out €66k and then some on a sporty car. Others on the CompleteCar.ie team have said they like the sounds the engine makes, but to my ears, it just sounds like a big Hoover - all turbo whoosh, but no meaty multi-cylinder soundtrack. The gearbox could do with slightly better tuning too, as it shunts a bit at low speeds, but there are no issues with the Brembo brakes; those big, red callipers haul the Stinger up promptly.
What you get for your Money:
Ah. Here's the big catch. The Stinger comes in only one trim, and it's loaded - heated and cooled leather seats all round, satnav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the adaptive suspension, the automatic, lane-keeping steering and adaptive cruise control, big alloys, everything you could reasonably want, really. That said, it does lack items such as internet connection (which rivals do offer) and there is definitely going to be an image issue, and doubtless some steep depreciation compared to an equivalent BMW or Audi, especially for this V6 version. The upcoming diesel model will likely to a bit better in that regard. Kia does offer a seven-year warranty, which no direct rival comes anywhere near, but that's of dubious advantage for a car that's really more for business users who will buy on a three-year PCP anyway.
OK, so a rear-drive sports saloon-cum-coupe with a 370hp V6 engine was hardly going to pass by us with a mere 'meh' now was it? Kia doubtless wanted to put its best foot forward with the top-spec Stinger, and it has impressed us, no question of that. It's big, sexy, really good fun and a refreshing entrant in the sports saloon world. It's not what you'd call conspicuously good value though, and it comes with a badge that, for all the good will in the world, will struggle against the German grandees. And it could do with a more soulful exhaust note, some higher quality switches on the inside and a final trip to the chassis polishing booth. Even so, this is a massive leap forward in performance, handling and image for the Kia brand, and for that we both salute and applaud it.