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Larry Printz: The car you never thought Kia would make: the 2018 Kia Stinger GT

Larry Printz, Tribune News Service on

Published in Automotive News

BURBANK, Calif. -- We live in the age of deja vu, a time when everything seems to feel like a movie we've already seen. Usually, this occurs only in the summer, with summer repeats of television shows. Now, with the predominance of cable TV, it's something we encounter far more frequently.

Yet that's true of life in general.

We give ourselves too much credit for creating something new, when in fact it's merely a newer version of an old idea. Federal Express is little more than the Pony Express for the 21st century. Uber and Lyft are little more than taxi cabs that you dial up via an app, rather than gesturing for one on a Manhattan street corner, hoping that a driver deems it worth their while to stop. And while Tesla is an electric car, it's a form of transport that's almost as old as petroleum-powered cars. Even the hype that surrounds it, and the gullibility of journalists to unquestionably swallow it, is old.

And that's what gave me an "uh-oh; here we go again" moment with the 2018 Kia Stinger, a mid-size five-door hatchback that goes on sale in select U.S. markets in December.

Kia has long played the value card, especially when it introduced the K900 full-size luxury sled. Renamed from its Korean appellation – K9 – so as not to cast unnecessary aspersions, its original name proved prophetic -- at least when it came to sales. Opting for a full-size luxury sedan from Kia was like buying caviar at K-Mart.

"If you look purely from a volume standpoint, you would say no, it wasn't successful," said Michael Sprague, chief operating officer and executive vice president for Kia Motors America in an interview held at the vehicle's U.S. launch last week.

So launching a gran turismo that competes with the Fatherland's finest at a lower price point seems like a movie we've seen before, and it's not entirely convincing.

That's understandable, according to Orth Hedrick, vice president, product planning, Kia Motors America, who says that there's a significant difference this time around. "When we launched K900, it was $59,900. At the time, it was a huge jump because we came out with that car before the Cadenza, which was nowhere close to any of our vehicles," he said.

"By difference, the Stinger is starting at just under $32,000, which is the starting price for our turbocharged Optima. So, it is well within range of a lot of the buyers that we have today."

As well as a lot of buyers Kia doesn't have, and that's what makes it a hand well played.

Uniquely, it's a premium midsize rear-wheel drive sedan with a starting price of $31,900. All-wheel drive is $2,000 additional. And it competes in a field of premium compacts.

The Kia Stinger uses the corporate FR platform that will underpin the forthcoming Hyundai G70 sports sedan and is powered by a 255-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or a 365-horsepower twin-turbocharged DOHC V6 that's also offered in the Genesis G90 and G80 Sport. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard.

Designed in Frankfurt, its styling descends from GT Concept that debuted at 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show. Its malevolent mug is the tastiest rendition yet of Kia's classic fascia that's actually a working air curtain with functional vents that aid brake cooling. The rear view is somewhat less arresting, although the Stinger's four oval exhaust pipes speak to its real mission, one that goes beyond sporting good looks.

Sampling the twin-turbo V6 model, it's hard to come away unimpressed, for this is every bit the GT that Kia promises. Its quick steering makes quick work of twisting roads, while its firm ride yields to an underlying softness that ensures ride comfort. Opting for Sport mode makes things more interesting, especially when it comes to sharpening the steering's responsiveness. Other drive modes include Comfort, Smart, Eco, and Custom.

Its solid feel inspires confidence. You could be forgiven for thinking it doesn't wear a Kia badge. And while those accustomed to German sports sedans may object to the Stinger's underlying softness, it never undermines its handling. Given the state of the America's crumbling infrastructure at the hands of career politicians, it's easy to admire the Stinger's adept ride/handling balance at the extremes. It's not an imitation of Europe's finest, but a Korean answer to a European GT, one that most drivers will find captivating.

The cabin's design seems far more sober than the exterior, although there are some wonderful design touches, such as the heated/ventilated seat control activated by a delightfully simple toggle switch on the center console. Similarly, the front door handles are thin blades that prove an interesting counterpoint to the armrests.

Designers got the little things right, with most controls simply designed and easy to use. Audio controls have a metallic finish and are set above the climate controls, which are finished in black plastic and inset below them, making them easy to distinguish while driving. If there's one ergonomic faux pas, it's that it's easy to fold the power mirrors when you merely want to adjust them.

Seats are firm and comfortable, even for longer stretches behind the wheel, a rarity in a Kia. Legroom is generous up front, and superior to any of its similarly priced luxury competitors in the rear. And while the quiet cabin doesn't feel like a cut-rate luxury car, there are items, such as the cheap plastic finish of the glovebox door, that remind you that Kia's money was spent on hardware, not a glitzy cabin.

In 2009 the Soul changed the brand's whole persona, and even if every vehicle hasn't lived up to that, its brashness can be felt in its other products. The Stinger does what the K900 could never do – elevate the brand.

 

Clearly the 2018 Kia Stinger is no stinker.

Kia didn't spare any effort in making the Stinger a true GT at a price that mere mortals could afford. It's a car that speaks more to the brand's evolution and where Kia is going than it is about the product.

And while the 2014 K900 may have been too much too soon, the Stinger should ensure that this time the movie has a different ending.

STATS

Base prices: $31,900-$49,200

Engine: 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6; 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder

Horsepower: 365 (V6); 255

Torque (pound-feet): 376 (V6); 260

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 19/25 (V6); 21-22/29

Fuel type: Premium

Wheelbase: 114.4 inches

Length: 190.2 inches

Cargo capacity: 23.3-40.9 cubic feet

Curb weight: 3,611-4,023 pounds

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About The Writerlarry Printz Is An Automotive Journalist Based In South Florida. Readers May Send Him Email At Thedrivingprintz@Gmail.Com.

(c)2017 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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