Kia is going head-to-head with BMW and Audi in the fiercely competitive sports saloon market with the new Stinger, revealed at its European debut in Milan earlier this week (13 January 2017).
First unveiled at the Detroit motor show in early January, the Stinger is a high-performance saloon car looking to lock horns with the BMW 3-Series and 4-Series, as well as the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and Jaguar XF.
The South Korean's first foray into this market would see it go up against some of the world's most popular cars. But it hopes that undercutting them on price while matching their quality, performance and sporty, engaging drive should be enough to convince some drivers to defect.
Although Kia itself says the Stinger and flagship Stinger GT were benchmarked against the BMW 440i, the new car is actually closer in size to the 5-Series – a full 200mm longer than the 3-Series.
This translates into the Stinger offering a room interior with good boot space and rear leg room, although the steeply raked rear windscreen limits head and shoulder space for backseat passengers.
Kia has gone for a long, low and aggressive design with the Stinger, made even more so with the GT's deeper air intakes, larger wheels, chrome quad exhausts and a rear diffuser. The Stinger is wider yet lower than the BMW 3-Series and has a wheelbase that is 96mm longer.
We think the Stinger looks better in the metal than in Kia's press photos, where the wide, shallow upper grille seems to sit awkwardly on the car's nose. But after spending some time with the car, we can say it's a handsome thing, especially in this car's metallic red paint, similar to that often used by Alfa Romeo. The Stinger is a long car, a fact made more obvious by a pair of C pillars that appear to stretch slightly too far from the side windows to the rear screen.
Inside, the cabin is neat, tidy and features all of the high-tech toys you would expect in this segment, although it isn't known if advanced features like lane-keep assist, where the car steers itself to stay in lane on the motorway, are standard or optional extras. We liked the inclusion of a QI wireless smartphone charging pad, however, the infotainment screen has taken the Mercedes route of sitting awkwardly on top of the dashboard like an afterthought, rather than be more neatly integrated.
The Kia Stinger would be offered with three different powertrain options when it goes on sale in the fourth quarter of 2017. These start with a turbocharged 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine producing 197bhp, which has a 0-60mph time of 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 158mph. Next sits a turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine producing 252bhp, and although Kia has not offered performance figures we expect it to be slightly quicker than the diesel.
Finally the flagship Stinger GT, as shown here at the European launch, has a turbocharged 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine producing 370bhp. This version can hit 60mph in 5.1 seconds and has a top speed of 168mph.
Although this puts it below the likes of the BMW M3 and Mercedes' AMG saloons, it represents something entirely new for Kia brand, which has undergone quite the transformation over the last decade. All three versions come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard, and two-and four-wheel-drive options are available.
Continuing the sporty theme is active dampening, a first from Kia that offers the driver five different levels of comfort and cornering performance. But despite this and the car's development at the infamous Nurburgring circuit, the company says they were not there to chase lap times and it would not be publishing the results. Instead, it would use the track as a sped-up simulation for real-world driving.
Kia is positioning the Stinger as a 'gran turismo' car, in that is is spacious, refined and comfortable for the motorway cruise, then quick, dynamic and eager to please on winding country roads. The GT's 19in alloy wheels clad in 'ultra-high performance' rubber and housing Brembo brakes help to make that argument a convincing one, at least on paper.
As for pricing, the company has not revealed its hand just yet. Instead, we expect to see the diesel Stinger start at just under £30,000, while Kia suggests the GT would be slightly more expensive than its current flagship, the Sorento SUV, which costs just under £50,000 with all the trimmings.