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First Drive: Kia Stinger

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Does the Stinger signify that Kia’s aspirations are overly ambitious? Not at all, says Craig Thomas.

Image is everything, the marketers tell us, and that’s certainly true in the automotive world. If you consider that many of us see a car (consciously or subconsciously) as an outward extension of our personal sense of style – and expensive metal overcoat, if you will – the logical next step is to see the badge on a car in the same way as a logo or designer name on a piece of clothing.

And in the executive car park – as we discovered in the seminal 90s BBC documentary From A to B: Tales of Modern Motoring – the badge on a car is an important signifier of status in the corporate world. Company car choice might be governed by TCO and efficiency considerations, but without the right badge, forget it.

Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz definitely rule the corporate roost, to the extent that Lexus and even Jaguar have found it tough to break their stranglehold. So how exactly does Kia – a company still seen as a budget marque – expect to gain traction in one of the toughest segments of the market?

Well, a stylish and highly desirable car such as the new Stinger could certainly shift perceptions.

On the basis of its looks, the Stinger certainly doesn’t give up any ground to established premium rivals. Designed under the aegis of styling chief Peter Schreyer (who was responsible for the original Audi TT, so he clearly knows something about designing sporty cars), the Stinger is a gran turismo with echoes of Maserati Quattroporte, with its elongated coupé styling and unfussy surfacing, along with Kia design cues such as the tiger-nose grille. The result is a sleek, stylish car that looks every inch as good as rivals such as the Audi A5, BMW 4 Series and Volkswagen Arteon – or even better, in some cases. It certainly ticks that important image box for the company car market.

The all-important interior test is also passed comfortably, with the Stinger’s cabin exuding the kind of quality that many won’t expect from the Korean brand. Is it as good as Audi or BMW? Not quite, but the Stinger’s cabin is modern and sporty, with good-quality materials: it feels comfortable and relatively spacious for a GT, with decent rear head- and legroom that should be sufficient for most passengers.

There are three trim levels – GT-Line, GT-Line S and GT-S (reserved for the range-topping 3.3-litre V6) – to choose from, but standard equipment levels across the range are excellent for a class where many features are optional extras. So there are electrically adjustable leather seats, an 8-inch colour touchscreen for controlling the infotainment system (which includes satellite navigation, smartphone integration – with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – and Bluetooth), voice recognition, front and rear parking sensors, rear parking camera and 18- or 19-inch alloys.

Power comes from one of three engines: 244bhp turbocharged 2.0 T-GDi and 365bhp twin-turbo 3.3 T-GDi V6 petrol units, plus a fleet-friendly 2.2-litre CRDi diesel producing 197bhp, which has an official economy figure of 50.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 147g/km. We’ve only driven the V6 to date and it was certainly impressive, with all the performance you’d expect from a GT.

The Stinger is also a true GT in the way it rides and handles. It’s not an out-and-out sports car, but it is certainly well balanced and endowed with grip levels that will leave drivers in no doubt that it can cope with almost anything likely to be thrown at it. The rear-drive chassis feels agile for such a big car and, at the same time, there’s a compliance to the ride quality that will ensure occupants remain comfortable.

Highlights

  • The 2.2 CRDi returns 50.4mpg and emits 147g/km
  • The boot has a 406-litre capacity
  • A highly capable chassis with good balance

What we think

It’s certainly a big ask for the Stinger to take on the premium German executive GTs, but its looks, performance and on-road ability are very persuasive. Factor in prices that come in at around £8,000 cheaper than its rivals (while also being considerably better specced) and it’s suddenly a serious contender.

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Craig Thomas

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