It’s one of those hero cars that everyone looks at. When launched in 2018, the Kia Stinger turned heads with a design that seemed more European than Korean.

And that’s not to mention the performance. While it was offered with a turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, most buyers went straight to the 3.3-litre, twin-turbo V6 model – and who could blame them.

2021 brings a slight refresh for the Stinger, and Kia sent us a V6 model to test for a week. For this year, there’s a ‘full-width rear lighting signature’, redesigned tail trim and exhaust outlets, a new 10.25” infotainment system, and additional safety systems like Lane Follow Assist, Forward Collision Avoidance with Junction View, Safe Exit Warning, and Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist.

The engine is unchanged for this year, other than an Electronic Variable Exhaust Valve system fitted only to the GT Sport model, helping the car to produce a deeper exhaust note in Sport mode and a more subdued exhaust note in Eco or Comfort mode. This does give the car a small bump in power. There’s also remote engine start fitted to the 2021 models, while the 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder Stinger motor is completely unchanged.

Last time, John reviewed the Stinger and was pretty much blown away by it – and he still is. That’s high praise from the man with an Audi RS6.

With my heart set on ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, I spent 600km behind the wheel of the updated Kia Stinger GT Sport to make sure it’s still as good as it ever was.

The Range

You get to choose from two Stinger models, the GT Line and the GT Sport. Interestingly, there’s almost no trim differences between the two – it’s all about the drivetrain.

This means the standard equipment list is very long, and makes the Stinger excellent value. That standard equipment includes Launch Control, Forward Collision Avoidance (with cyclist, pedestrian and junction capability), Lane Keep Assist (using a line or the road’s edge), driver attention alert, Lane Follow Assist, blind spot collision avoidance (rear), rear cross traffic alert, Blind Spot View Monitor, Safe Exit Assist, Hill Start Assist, an electric park brake with auto-hold, tyre pressure monitoring, keyless entry and start, automatic high beams, front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree camera system, LED projection headlamps with cornering function, LED daytime running lights, heated and electrically folding exterior mirrors, LED tail lights, LED puddle lamps, chrome-coated quad exhaust pipes, leather seats, a heated steering wheel with 4-way electric adjustment, 8-way electric front seats with 4-way electric lumbar adjust, electric cushion adjustment for the driver’s seat, and electric bolster adjust for the driver’s seat.

But wait, there’s lots more. Add to that LED interior lighting, an electric sunroof with an electric blind, a 10.25” central touchscreen display, a 15-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, SatNav with live traffic updates, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, a colour heads-up display, Qi wireless smartphone charging, adaptive cruise control with stop/start, dual zone AC, automatic headlights and wipers, and lastly an electric tailgate with hands-free operation.

Again – both the 4-cylinder and V6 models have all of the above equipment.

The Stinger GT Line has a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that manages 182kW of power and 353Nm of torque. The GT Sport has the twin-turbo V6 at 3.3 litres and this puts out 274kW of power and 510Nm of torque. Both run an 8-speed automatic gearbox, and the GT Line will get to 100km/h in 6.2 seconds while the GT Sport does it in 4.9 seconds.

The GT Line should use 8.8L/100km of petrol according to Kia, while the V6 is rated at 10.2.

Other mechanical differences between the two include a limited slip diff for the V6 model, and that’s it. Trim-wise, the only difference is that Nappa leather is used on the V6.

You get to pick from five colour options for your Stinger; Snow White Pearl, HiChroma Red, Ceramic Silver, Panthera Metal, and Aurora Black Pearl.

The Stinger GT Line is priced at $69,990, while the GT Sport is $79,990.

You can read more about the Stinger on Kia New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

With our test car finished in HiChroma Red, the Stinger continues to turn heads. Everywhere I went people – ok, mainly car guys and girls – would spin to watch it go by. It’s a big car, make no mistake, and this adds to the power of drawing in any passersby.

There’s lots to like about the look of the Stinger; Those diffusers at the rear, along with four real exhaust tips – nothing fake here – catch your eye. Side on, front on, whatever – it’s stunning.

On the side just behind the front wheels are some air vents. Just like the exhaust tips, there’s nothing fake about them. You can see the ducting from the front brakes feeding hot air into the vents.

The rear side of the car has those reflectors coming quite a long way forward, and it’s a distinctive Stinger trademark. In fact, I’d go as far as to say there’s nothing else on the road like it. It doesn’t matter what angle you spy the car from, you instantly know it’s a Stinger.

The Interior

The sporty exterior is carried over to the cabin, with three bullet air vents right there in your face, in the centre of the dash. They certainly add a bit of sportiness and class to the cabin, along with the brushed alloy finish on the centre console, doors, and dash.

This quality is carried over into the entire interior of the Stinger. Kia has had well-finished interiors for many years now, but the 2021 Stinger lifts it again. For example, there’s heated and cooled seats, controlled by a single alloy toggle switch, and even these two switches (one for each front seat) are beautifully made, and move with precision.

The seats themselves have three levels each of cooling or heating, and there’s another switch next to these for the heated steering wheel. With temperatures down to five degrees during our test, I definitely used those heated seats and steering wheel. Through the central display menus, you can actually tie the operation of the seat heating/cooling and heated steering wheel to the aircon system, so you don’t even need to bother turning them on manually if you want. The ultimate in laziness? Maybe.

Each front seat has a tasteful ‘GT’ logo on it, to remind you this isn’t ‘only’ the 182kW four-cylinder model. There’s also electric cushion-length adjustment for the driver’s seat, for the tall people out there.

Still speaking of the seats, while the interior is very dark, there’s contrasting stitching on the seats, doors and dash. The pillars and headlining are a grey suede, so this means the interior is very dark, which possibly means sporty to Kia. The centre console is quite high too, adding to the sporty but closed-in feeling. At the rear of the centre console is a medium-sized cubby, complete with a removable shelf. It takes an SLR camera quite comfortably. There is a sunroof (not panoramic) with an electric blind to lighten up the inside if it’s sunny out.

Still on the quality side of things, just looking at the doors reminds me of an Audi. There’s a similar quality of finish, textures used and style. It looks brilliant, and while our Stinger GT Sport is touching $80K, it looks like it costs more than that.

Up front and centre is a Qi wireless phone charger, with a 12-volt socket and single USB port next to it. There’s a sliding cover over the whole lot to remove the temptation of looking at your phone while driving. Rear seat passengers have a reasonable amount of room, but it’s not as good as the Skoda Superb. There is plenty of width though, and your passengers in the rear will have access to a 12-volt socket and a single USB port as well. There’s a nice safety feature for rear passengers; Safe Exit Assist prevents the rear doors opening if the system detects a hazard approaching from behind the vehicle, such as a cyclist or another vehicle. For younger passengers who might not think about this, it’s a great way to save wiping out a cyclist.

Feature-wise, you aren’t left wanting for much with the Stinger GT Sport. For its $80K, it’s very well equipped. For 2021 buyers now get a mood lighting system, where you can pick one of 64 colours of your choice. Let’s face it, it will be your kid’s choice, not yours, and that’s ok. New to 2021 is a frameless interior mirror. Easy access is fitted too, so since the steering wheel has 4-way electric adjustment, Easy Access will automatically lift the steering wheel up to accommodate you getting out of the car. It shifts right back down again when you get back in, of course.

The car has a big, wide boot at 406 litres with the seats up, and there’s a space saver spare under the floor.

The Drive

Upon driving off in the car, one of my potential disappointments with the Stinger would be the inclusion of fake engine noises. You get to select from a variety of these; Enhanced, Natural, Soft, or off. Honestly, there’s not a lot of difference, and I ended up driving  the car with the fake engine noise turned off. Yes, Enhanced does add a bit of baritone throatiness to the exhaust note, but the engine sounds just fine as it is, all natural. It’s not raspy, it doesn’t bark and blip. The Stinger GT Sport is more classy than that, so there’s a nice 6-cylinder noise that reminds you of an 80s BMW straight six, and that’s a major compliment.

Just tootling about, the Sport is completely at home; it loves the Daily Drive, with gallons of torque and that silky smooth V6, it’s a joy to commute in. Well, mostly; that sexy-as-hell rear quarter design does mean that there’s a major blind spot down the side of the car. This isn’t really an issue, as the car has a trick up its sleeve; Stick your left indicator on to change lanes, and the driver’s information display changes to a left-hand side blind-spot camera. A right-hand lane change turns the right-side camera on. Kia calls this their Blind Spot View Monitor. This is almost the same system we saw in the Hyundai Santa Fe a few months back, and it works very well. Of course, this assumes you will use your indicators to change lanes, something that New Zealand drivers struggle with.

Still on that daily commute, the ride is unexpectedly good in anything but Sport mode. I wouldn’t say it glides over bumps and potholes, but I expected it to be a lot harder. Turning on Sport mode will change this compliance; On a weekday trip on a windy but bumpy road, I switched Sport mode on, as you do, but only lasted a few minutes before turning it off again. Sport mode is 100% for a smooth road.

I was going to wait for a bit before talking about driving the Stinger GT Sport as it should be driven, but I can’t wait. This car is superb on the Daily Drive, but it’s also a blast to drive on a quiet country road, where you can make the most of the performance and handling. And oh it handles, it stops, it goes – and it goes very well. Sure, you can mosy along in Smart or Comfort mode, but get to that favourite road of yours, stick it in Sport, and hang on. The Sport GT gets to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds, which isn’t incredibly fast by today’s standards, but it gets there so damn smoothly, revving right out to the redline at 6,000rpm, and sounding very nice while it happens.

While it doesn’t sound like one, the Stinger GT Sport reminds me of the CV8 Holden Monaro. Both cars love to get the tail out, and the car does it relatively easily if you push that right-hand pedal just a little too hard on a bend. For a big car, it loves to be a bit of a Bart Simpson, making the driver grin while the car sticks and goes around corners better than it should, for its size. It is a big car and turn-in isn’t as crisp as something like the Ford Fiesta ST, so it needs to be thrown at the corner a bit, but it loves it. And while it doesn’t sit absolutely flat on a tight bend, it does extremely well, with body-roll well controlled, and those Michelin Pilot Sport tyres sticking like something to a blanket. While it’s not AWD, the car’s low height helps to make it feel planted on the road.

Part of this is the way the car gets the power down to the road. In his review, John thought the car had some sort of torque vectoring diff, but according to Kia it’s just a straight limited-slip diff. If it is, it works incredibly well.

But with a decent amount of power on tap, those Michelins on 19” alloys can’t cope with full-throttle acceleration in a straight line, I expect they’d leave a pair of black marks on the road. That’s what I’ve been told, at least. In fact, even at 50km/h in Comfort mode, punch that gas pedal and you may well hear some battle going on at the rear of the car, tyres vs. 510Nm of torque. The tyres don’t win.

And it isn’t just quick in a straight line, midrange is where the Stinger GT Sport really shines, with overtaking maneuvers finished in a flash, and passing slower traffic on the motorway is just a blip on the radar. If there’s one small blip on that radar, it is off the line; floor it from a start, and there will be some hesitation before those twin turbos spool up. It’s not a long time, but it’s not an instant rush of acceleration. It reminds me of the Audi Q7 in this respect; that car does exactly the same thing.

So it goes extremely well, but believe me, it stops well too. Initially I hit the brake pedal too hard the first time I got behind the wheel. It didn’t feel like I was giving it too much pedal, so yes, they can bite initially until you get used to them. But man, get this car moving quickly and those brakes come into their own. With 350mm 4-pot Brembos at the front and 340mm 2-pot Brembos at the rear  (all red callipers, of course), braking is not an issue. Repeated hard stops or simply using them as intended sees no brake fade, no reduction in braking performance. These brakes are freaking awesome.

The steering could do with a bit more feel when driving quickly, but it is certainly sharp, and quick to turn. It does get heavier in Sport mode, but I think this is simply more of an artificial weighting, instead of giving more feedback to the driver. It’s certainly not bad, but the handling and braking are so good, this lack of decent feedback is noticeable. The steering wheel itself is great to hold, leather finished and a flat bottom of course, and the buttons were almost identical to the Kia Stonic. That’s no bad thing; this current layout of buttons on Kia cars’ steering wheels is excellent, with little need to look down to see what you are pressing. They are near-on perfect. The one drawback here – and it’s the same one that John noted 3 years ago – the centre hub of the steering wheel looks like it’s off a Kia Rio. Actually, I just checked and it looks identical. It’s not bad, but out of keeping with the total sportiness that is the Stinger GT Sport.

So the car is so much fun on a quiet, windy road with no kids in the car. Or maybe that was supposed to read, no wife who gets car sick. There’s one issue with the Stinger GT Sport when driven with a bit of verve; while it has a heads-up display (HUD), you aren’t shown what gear the car is in or what revs the engine is doing – no matter what drive mode you are in. This makes it difficult to know how close you are to the red line without looking down to the rev counter. In a car like this with such an incredibly smooth engine, having those two pieces of information on the HUD in Sport mode (at least) is a must. There’s no option in the display settings to enable either of these. Maybe we’ll get this in the next update.

Perhaps as to make up for this missing info, you can select to see some gauges on the driver’s information display. So instead of a trip computer, you can see three performance gauges – oil pressure, torque output, and a turbo boost gauge. They are quite small however, so it’s a little difficult to see what they are doing when you quickly glance down. Since the dash isn’t active, but instead old school analog, so the gauges never get any bigger.

There’s no moving the gear lever to switch the car into manual mode – a pull of one of the paddles and the car will go to manual mode this way. It does revert to Drive if you don’t use paddles for a while, but in Sport mode the car stays in manual mode permanently (if you pull one of the paddles first), and then you can hold the right paddle for three seconds and the gearbox will be back into auto mode.

Unfortunately, during my week with the car, it rained most of the time, so with only two days of fine weather, I made the most of it. In the rain, the Stinger GT Sport can be driven sedately but a prod of the gas pedal at the wrong time will see the tail come out. Still, it’s all very controllable, as it can be with a rear-wheel drive car.

There’s a number of drive modes to choose from; Smart, Comfort, Eco, Sport, and lastly, Custom. In Custom, you can adjust the powertrain (Eco/Comfort/Sport), Steering (Comfort/Sport), and Suspension (Comfort/Sport). One bonus of the drive modes in this car is that it remembers what mode you had it in when you last got out of the car. At last! A Korean car that does it right, so thank you, Kia. Actually, I slipped the car into Eco mode one day, and left it on Eco for two days without even noticing. There’s heaps of torque, so the car can very easily cope with Eco mode without any real loss of drivability, as can happen in cars of lesser torque/power.

Speaking of Sport mode, one very nice touch is that when you slip the car into this mode, the driver’s seat bolsters automatically come in to hold you more tightly. It’s one of those things that makes you wonder if actual ‘car guys’ helped design the Stinger GT Sport.

Switching back to brakes, the Stinger has an electric park-brake, with auto-hold function. I love brake auto-hold, but my normal complaint of Japanese and Korean cars is that it turns itself off when you get out of the car. This can be a bit dangerous, as when you next get back in the car and expect it to be on, it isn’t. That can get tricky at the lights as the car may move towards the car in front, unexpectedly. However, I’m happy to say that not only does the Stinger remember it’s drive mode, it also remembers if you had brake auto-hold on, and leaves it on. So it is possible for a Korean car to do this, and I can only hope this change flows down to other Kia models, and ideally other Korean cars.

Still on the plus side of things, the 360-degree camera system is up there with the best of them, coming on automatically if you get too close to an object, and also you can select from a variety of angles once the screen is up and live. You can also push the camera button on the centre console to get the camera on straight away. I guess this system makes up for the lack of an automatic parking feature. There’s another feature that was seen on the Hyundai Santa Fe, and even on the Stonic; Sounds of Nature. You can select from a variety of different scenes, like Noisy Café, Ocean Waves, or perhaps Warm Fireplace. You get a static image on the screen and in the case of Warm Fireplace, crackling wood-burning sounds coming through the speakers. Again, perhaps to entertain the kids on a long trip.

Both Stinger models are fitted with a 15-speaker, Harman Kardon audio system, and it’s brilliant. The audio quality is excellent, and there are three Logic Surround modes: Reference, Audience, and Stage – all with very distinctive changes in the sound quality. I did drive with the audio off most of the time in the car, forgetting just how good it is. The Stage setting really brings out the feeling of listening to live music.

The car’s LED-Bi-Function Projection Directional Headlights (say that in a hurry) are excellent, but not adaptive. Still, on a dark country road one night the headlights proved themselves to be very good, and having a cornering function for your headlights is always better. Our test car’s headlights did have one beam pointing up into the trees 50 feet off the road, but likely this was just a misadjustment.

It’s good to see that Kia have given both models adaptive cruise control as standard. This will bring the car to a stop, unlike some other systems, but the adaptive cruise in this car can be somewhat jerky, especially when you come to a stop, then hit the cruise button to move off again. The car seems to wait for a bit too long, then shoots forward, then brakes a little too hard to avoid hitting the car in front. Some work needs to be done on this, as it detracts from what is a brilliantly smooth car on all fronts.

If I’m being honest, and I don’t want to be because the Stinger is so good, there are a few other niggles. There’s no traffic sign recognition, so changes in speed limits aren’t picked up on the central display or HUD. No fear you’d think, all the speed limits are programmed in. But the ones that are locked in are often wrong. Going down Ngauranga Gorge, the HUD showed a speed limit of 70, then 100km/h. Both of these are wrong, as it’s 80km/h, and has been for years.

And while it’s great to have steering assist to keep the car centred in the lane, steering assist on the Stinger is biased towards the left side of the lane. If you are in the left lane, that’s great. But in the centre or right-hand lane, you can see other cars next to you getting a little nervous, as your Stinger edges closer and closer to them. I turned the feature off because of this.

More? Well, there’s no rear window wiper which can be a pain on a wet day, but not the end of the world. Surprisingly at $80K, there’s no automatic parking, which you can get on a sub-$40K car these days, but again – no real issue there. I can still do it old school and parallel park a car.

With two turbos, 3.3 litres of engine and six cylinders to feed, Kia suggests the GT Sport should use fuel at the rate of 10.2L/100km. Over 600Km of driving, I managed to get 11.4L/100Kms out of the Stinger, and I was impressed at that. For the performance at hand, that’s a very reasonable number.

The Competition

It feels a bit ridiculous to compare the Stinger GT Sport to these other cars, but if you want this much power or even close to it in a 5-door lift-back, this is what you are looking to pay. It just cements how much of a bargain this car is. The Skoda Superb is nipping at its heels, but there’s an almost 70kW difference in power, and that’s massive.

I’ve included the M340i even though it’s a sedan, otherwise this list was looking very short.

Brand/ModelEnginePower/Torque
kW/Nm
Seats0-100km/h,
seconds
Cargo capacity, litresFuel L/100kmBase Price – High to Low
Audi S5 Sportback TFSI Quattro S Tronic AWD3.0-litre, turbocharged V6 petrol260/50054.84658.8$126,500
BMW M340i xDrive Sedan AWD3.0-litre, turbocharged 6-cylinder petrol275/50054.44807.7$119,100
Kia Stinger GT RWD3.3-litre, twin-turbo V6 petrol274/51054.940610.2$79,990
Skoda Superb Sportline TSi AWD2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol206/35055.76608.1$70,990

The Pros and Cons

Pros
Styling
Interior design, quality
Absolute value for money
Ride
Standard equipment list
Handling
Brakes
Cons
HUD – no rev counter or gears shown
No traffic sign recognition
Adaptive cruise can be a kittle jerky
Not enough room in my garage for one  
Vehicle TypeFive-door, rear-wheel drive, performance lift-back
Starting Price$69,990
Price as Tested$79,990
Engine3.3-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 petrol
Power, Torque
kW/Nm
[email protected],000rpm
[email protected],300-4,500rpm
Transmission8-speed automatic
Spare WheelSpace-saver
Kerb Weight, Kg1,738
Length x Width x Height, mm4830x1870x1400
Cargo Capacity, litres
Seats up/seats down
406/1,114
Fuel capacity, litres60 (premium fuel)
Fuel Efficiency,
L/100Km
Advertised Spec – combined – 10.2
Real World Test – combined – 11.4
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing Capacity
Kg, unbraked/braked
750/1,500
Turning circle, metres11.2
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 Warranty5 years, 100,000Km
5 years Roadside Assist
4 years, 40,000km free scheduled servicing
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Economy
7
Interior
8
Performance
9
Safety
9
Styling
10
Value
9
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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