First Drive: Kia Stinger GT S

30th November 2017
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

Value for money and seven-year warranties aren’t sexy selling points but dressing them in smart design has proven a winner for Kia’s mainstream models. But can the same really support a move against premium marques where brand snobbery is king? Even without that obstacle how can Kia expect to build a BMW-beating sports GT at the first attempt?    


Easy. When Kia wanted its cars to look appealing to the kind of people who usually bought Audis and Volkswagens it poached the chap who styled them, Peter Schreyer. And when it wants its cars to handle like BMWs it does the same, recruiting a chap called Albert Biermann from the M performance division and providing him with the time and resources to work his magic.

And this is the result. Top of a pending five-model line-up, the Kia Stinger GT S is a 365bhp (370ps), rear-driven, five-door sporting coupe with a mission to make cars like the Audi S5 Sportback, BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and Jaguar XE look stodgy and overpriced. Being as good as them won’t be sufficient. Being cheaper isn’t enough either. The Stinger has got to be exceptional in every respect, from the word go.

So the looks are suitably bold and assertive. The proportions have shades of A5 Sportback and 4 Series Gran Coupe about them, maybe even a little Porsche Panamera. But the detailing is anything but derivative, Kia’s trademark ‘tiger’s nose’ grille stretched wide and thin across a broad, low-slung bonnet line and contained within bold, aerodynamically engineered gills and air intakes. This is a serious looking car, one with a mission to jolt buyers from their comfort zones and announce Kia’s arrival in the sector with a bang. Broadly it’s successful in this. 

Having caught the attention the Stinger quickly needs to deliver on the expectation. On paper the 365bhp and 376lb ft (370ps and 510Nm) from the Hyundai-derived 3.3-litre V6 show promise, the engine driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Meanwhile the multi-mode dampers are tuned specifically to British roads, Biermann and his team visiting the UK to tweak the Nurburgring-honed chassis specifically for our demanding tarmac.


On paper performance is impressive, the Stinger hitting 60mph from standstill in just 4.7 seconds and topping out at 168mph. It pulls hard through the rev range too and although the automatic gearbox shifts up too early it feels happy being given a proper workout. A pity there’s no manual mode to properly exploit this character though. Progress through the driver modes from Smart, Eco, Comfort and Sport into the most potent Sport+ and the response gets sharper, an approximation of a more assertive engine note piped in through the speakers. 

But it’s the handling that really impresses. Even in Comfort mode, the steering has superb weight and response, with far more feel than the 4 Series. As you progress through the modes the weight increases and, with it, the sense of agility. Meanwhile, the damping follows a more Germanic style of being tied to the road, a contrast with the more flowing style of the Jaguar XE S. It’s firm but fair, even the sportier modes perfectly acceptable for daily use rather than the exaggerated ‘marketing’ interpretation of sportiness found in some rivals.

The sharp front end gives something to lean against too, the better for appreciating the benefits of that rear-wheel drive layout. A defining characteristic BMW once called its own but, through Biermann, Kia seems to have appropriated for itself. Relaxed and refined on the motorway but playful and inspiring on the backroads it’s an impressively rounded car with broad abilities. 


A few cheaper materials can be found in the cabin but, broadly, it’s stylish, well-screwed-together, functionally spot-on and lavishly equipped with Nappa leather, head-up display, Harman/Kardon sound system, navigation and all the toys and driver aids you’d expect of a car at this price point. The difference is they’re all included as standard in the £40,495 starting price, the only option being premium metallic paint at £645. 

Enough to tempt the conservative and traditionally image-driven buyers of Audis, BMWs, Mercedes and Jaguars into a Kia showroom for the first time? The quality of the product they find once there may well come as a pleasant surprise, the Stinger exploiting its genuine dynamic flair to lead a bold charge into a whole new realm.

The numbers

Engine: 3,342cc, V6, twin turbo, petrol

Transmission: eight-speed automatic

PS/ Nm (bhp/ lb ft): 370PS@6,000rpm/ 510Nm@1300rpm (365bhp/ 376lb ft)

0-62mph: 4.9 seconds (0-60mph in 4.7s)

Top speed: 168 mph top speed

Price as tested: £40,495 (range from £31,995)

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