Car Review: 2019 Kia Stinger GT
The Kia Stinger is an underdog that, despite a few foibles, nails the sport sedan basics
The Stinger may be showing its age in a few spots, but all in all, it’s a mighty competitive sports sedan
Sometimes, things aren’t quite as you remember them. Maybe after reuniting with a long-lost buddy from high school, you realize they’re actually kind of boring. Or perhaps, having re-watched The Office for the millionth-and-second time, Jim is actually kind of a jerk.
The Kia Stinger seems to have avoided that fate. Released to much fanfare in 2018, you’d think this part hatchback, part sport-sedan is a lame duck by now, eclipsed by newer, shinier, and more capable competitors in the segment stealing the spotlight. That simply isn’t really the case — sure, some of the Stinger’s newness and novelty has worn off, but by and large, it’s still an excellent and legitimately competitive sport sedan.
For 2020, the Stinger’s nuts-and-bolts remain largely untouched. Power still comes from a twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V6 putting out 365 horsepower and 376 lb.-ft. of torque, and it’s still hooked up to an eight-speed automatic. Up here in Canada, all-wheel-drive is the only way to go, but U.S.-spec cars can be had in rear-wheel-drive flavour. Not going to lie, that AWD-only caveat for us is a bit of a kick in the pants, especially on something as enthusiast-oriented as the Stinger. The Stinger’s closely related Genesis G70 sibling does offer rear-wheel-drive and a manual transmission, but only on the 2.0T Sport.
It isn’t exactly light, either. The Stinger weighs in at 4,023 pounds (or 1,825 kilograms), and you certainly feel that weight when you push it hard on, say, a twisty road or a tight and sweeping on-ramp. But it’s not a dealbreaker — the Stinger’s bottom line is in line with the rest of the segment, and more importantly, the chassis is well-sorted. The amount of speed and grip you can carry through a tight corner is impressive for something this big, and it stays remarkably flat when you push it hard. Not only that, the steering is well-weighted and responsive, and there’s a good amount of feedback, even in the Stinger’s softer drive modes.
With 365 horsepower on tap, you expect the Stinger to be properly quick. Well, it certainly is, Kia promising a zero-to-100 km/h run in just under five seconds. Drop the hammer and the Stinger absolutely won’t hesitate to shove you into the seat, but don’t count on much, if any aural drama — the exhaust note is fairly muted and devoid of the snaps, crackles, and pops you’d hear in so many other sporty cars out there. Whether or not that’s a detractor is up to you; I wouldn’t mind a bit more drama in sport mode.
When you’re not pushing the Stinger, it’s mostly well-behaved. Wind and road noise are well-controlled, but while the Stinger does a decent job at isolating you (and your passengers) from imperfections like rough pavement and expansion joints, you’ll feel nastier bumps and potholes. Still, the eight-speed automatic is a smart unit, delivering quick shifts when you want them, and fading into the background when you just want to mindlessly cruise and commute. After a week, the Stinger’s trip computer settled at precisely 9.9 L/100 kilometres — not bad for something with 365 horses and AWD, though much of that was on the highway.
Oh, can we talk about that name for a quick second? Stinger. It’s a downright cool name when most of its competition is a bowl of alphabet soup. Here’s looking at you, BMW.
Looks are always a subjective quality to evaluate, but the Stinger is arguably one of the more attractive sport sedans out there, particularly in profile. The sloping roofline is sleek without impeding too much on rear-seat ingress and egress — you don’t have to crane and fold your neck too much to get into the rear seats. Around the back, the rear tail light treatment are especially distinctive and the quad-tipped exhaust adds a touch of muscle. Rather than relying on an oversized front grille, the Stinger is refreshingly understated, although the non-functional hood vents are a touch tacky. Thankfully, the rest of the vents you see around the Stinger — particularly the gills integrated into the wheel arches — are actually functional. It’s a remarkably clean design that doesn’t rely on overworked design cues. I think it’ll age well.
Inside, the Stinger makes a formidable first impression with top-notch materials and a no-nonsense layout. The triple air vent layout is reminiscent of an Audi TT (or a Ferrari 550 Maranello) and the driving position is spot-on, with well-bolstered and supportive seats. The infotainment system is extremely easy to use — unlike iDrive or Mercedes’ MBUX interface, there is absolutely no learning curve to the Stinger’s infotainment. Ditto for the rest of the physical switchgear that takes care of the radio, climate control, and drive mode selection; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The only concession to gimmickry seems to be the joystick shifter with a separate button for Park, but again, there are far worse shifting solutions out there.
That being said, the Stinger’s interior is missing a few key details that detract from its mission statement. Visibility isn’t great; the view out the rear is slightly hampered by the low-cut roofline, thick C-pillars, and narrow rear window, so shoulder checks might be a bit of a challenge. If you’re on the taller side, you might find the panoramic sunroof cuts into your headroom, though there’s more than enough legroom up front and out back. Materials could use some improvement, too — there’s perhaps a bit too much hard-touch plastic on lower door panels, and you might hear some interior rattles going over particularly harsh bumps and rough pavement.
But where the Stinger arguably needs the most improvements is on the tech front. To be fair, it can be fully kitted out with the basics you’d expect in 2020 — adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, a 360-degree camera system, etc. But it’s missing bits that would would otherwise win over tech-oriented sport sedan buyers, like all-digital instrumentation or Hyundai and Kia’s new Blind View Monitor — you know, the camera-based blind-spot monitor that takes over one of the digital gauges and displays an image down the side of the car, depending on which turn signal you’ve activated.
Smart Park would’ve been an excellent addition, too, since remote parking is virtually unheard of in the Stinger’s price bracket. And while the Stinger’s infotainment was certainly intuitive, the optional eight-inch touchscreen looks tacked-on and the graphics could use a refresh. If Hyundai can transform the Sonata, of all things, into a cutting-edge family sedan, Kia owes it to the Stinger as its halo car. With a refresh rumoured for 2021, it’s likely the Stinger will see a few of these well-deserved (and much-needed) enhancements, along with a power bump. Stay tuned.
For the 2019 model year, Kia experimented with a sub-$40,000 base Stinger GT-Line, sporting a 2.0-litre turbo-four under the hood. Well, the GT-Line has been quietly discontinued for 2020, leaving the $44,995, V6-powered Stinger GT as the entry level model, albeit a very well-equipped one with leather seating, 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, and plenty more. Stepping up to the fully loaded, $50,495 GT Limited adds bits like a heads-up display, an upgraded Harman Kardon audio system, and a limited-slip differential. One quick note about the car we’re evaluating — while it’s technically a 2019 Stinger 20th Anniversary Edition model, it’s largely the same car underneath as the 2020 Stinger GT Limited. The key differences are the strictly cosmetic, namely the wheels, colour combination, and interior trim.
More established competitors, like the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 430i Gran Coupe, might be more satisfying on the tech front and offer greater attention to detail, but at the $50,000 mark, you’re still looking at four-cylinder base models versus the fully loaded, 365-horsepower Stinger. If you don’t care about the latest bells and whistles, and all you want is a well-tuned sport sedan, you just can’t argue against the Stinger’s performance-per-dollar ratio. Even a few years into its life cycle, the Stinger keeps nailing the basics.