Kia Stinger GT-S review (2017): First drive with the all-new coupe

£40495
Price when reviewed

This time last year, Kia unveiled the Stinger, an all-new GT car it said would compete with the likes of Mercedes, BMW and other premium car brands. It looked great at the time, and with the talent of ex VW and Audi designer Peter Schreyer involved with the project, it had all the ingredients in place to be a truly impressive car.

Instead of a car built for value or necessity, the Stinger has been built for driving pleasure – but with a price of around £40,000, it’s big on value, too. And now, after drip-feeding specs, price and interior details, Kia has actually let me drive one.

So what’s the new Kia Stinger to like to drive? Is it a pale imitation of the German competition it’s hoping to emulate or is a dark horse that actually lives up to all the hype? To find out, I took Kia’s most ambitious car yet on a blast around the country roads and motorways of Cornwall.

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Kia Stinger review: Design

The Kia Stinger has been built to compete with similar GT cars from Mercedes, BMW and others and in this sector looks are just as important as price. In press pictures, the Kia Stinger always looked stylish but in the metal, it’s surprising just how handsome it actually is.

The Stinger looks both aggressive and purposeful and, while it has the now trademark grille you see on all Kias, it looks far more sophisticated in this guise. The Stinger isn’t a subtle car, though, and uses broad design strokes to achieve a solid, muscular look.

There are some nice details, like a cool, gunmetal trim instead of the usual silver highlights, and an unusual pair of reflector strips on the rear corner of the car, but on the whole, it’s pretty simple. That bold design means the Stinger lacks the elegance of its European competitors but it also lends the Stinger a frisson of American muscle car.

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Kia Stinger review: Interior

The Stinger may look great on the outside, but the car’s interior betrays its extremely reasonable £40,495 asking price. It’s not an awful place to be. The controls are solid and well placed and, while the switchgear doesn’t feel cheap, it’s still a long way from executive saloons such as the Mercedes C43, Audi A5 and BMW 5 Series. It could be the use of cheaper materials or the general build quality, but there’s an obvious shortfall.

The Kia Stinger comes equipped with USB ports, an AUX connector and a QI charging pad, but the infotainment system on the current Kia is another weak point. In the short time I had with it, it appeared to be very similar to the system used on the Kia Rio and Picanto models for the money, I’d expect an upgrade. It has a small display, which isn’t the sharpest I’ve seen, and there’s no digital display behind the wheel, either.

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A system of this calibre is easy to look past in smaller, less-premium cars like the Picanto or the Rio, but in a premium product like the Stinger, it feels out of place. It’s by far the weakest element of the Stinger. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also supported.

The sound system of the Kia was just as middling. Despite messing around with the source as well as the car settings, the Stinger’s sound system never got as loud as I’d like, and it also lacked a little detail in the high and agility at the low end as well.

Kia Stinger review: Drive

Riding passenger in the Stinger may reveal its little faults, but once you’re behind the wheel, Kia’s rear-wheel drive coupe begins to deliver on its promises. At 1.8 tonnes, it’s not the lightest, but a powerful 3.3-litre V6 turbo engine means it’s no slouch on the straights.

And while you might think a heavy, powerful car is a recipe for awkward, wallowing handling, somehow the Stinger ends up being a fun, engaging drive. Its heavy steering communicates the level of grip just right and gives you the confidence to place the car exactly where you want it. At the same time, the V6 engine up front goads you into stamping on the throttle.

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When you do hit the gas – especially on wet roads – you’ll feel the Stinger lose traction. But, importantly, it’s not a terrifying phenomenon. Instead, the car remains feels predictable, fun, and that’s unexpected in a car this size.

In Sport mode, whether it’s because of damp roads or a liberal traction control system – the rear-wheel-drive Stinger is tail happy in the most usable, exciting way.  Slinging the Stinger round tight twisty corners, and then booting out of them is strangely addictive.

We didn’t test it thankfully, but the Stinger also comes with autonomous braking, lane-keep assist, blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert, too.

Kia Stinger review: Verdict

So is the Kia Stinger a bargain, or a pale imitation of the cars it’s hoping to challenge? It’s more complicated than that. Overall, the Kia Stinger doesn’t come near the likes of Mercedes, BMW or Audi; its interior and technology at the same level, road noise is louder than you’d expect, and there’s a general lack of sophistication all-round.

However, when it comes to driving experience and personality the Stinger is an incredible deal. It looks bold, it handles like a blunt instrument of force and it’s also keen to get sideways when you put it in Sport mode.

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And then there’s the price.

The Stinger costs a reasonable £40,495 and it’s clear Kia has prioritised handling and driving feel over interior sophistication. It’s fantastic to drive, but on the inside at least, you see exactly why it’s £6,000 less than a comparable Mercedes C43.

But if trading interior comfort for handling sounds like a sensible decision, then you’re going to fall in love with Kia’s ambitious coupe; if not, just opt for one of its competitors.

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