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Kia Stinger GT (2017) prototype review

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The new Kia Stinger arrives in Europe late 2017, but CAR has had an early drive of a prototype at Hyundai-Kia’s Mobis winter test facility in northern Sweden. It’s an important launch for Kia, a rear-drive saloon that the Korean manufacturer hopes will offer a tempting alternative to the German exec establishment.

Though the name might bring to mind the GT4 Stinger concept revealed at the 2014 Detroit show, the Stinger actually translates the 2011 GT Concept to production reality. It’s designed by Peter Schreyer – the ex-Audi man responsible for Kia’s transformation into a more modern, desirable brand – and Gregory Guillaume, chief designer at Kia Europe.

Crucially, Kia now has a similarly high-profile name for dynamics: it head-hunted Albert Biermann, BMW M Division’s former vice president of engineering, in late 2014, and he’s been tasked with making the Stinger drive as well as it looks.

Three powertrains are available: a pair of four-cylinder petrol and turbodiesel engines, and a 3.3-litre turbocharged V6, all fitted with an eight-speed paddleshift auto designed in-house, and featuring a centrifugal pendulum absorber to damp vibrations.

We’re driving the Stinger GT, which gets the V6. It’s designed to rival the BMW 440i GranCoupe, though BMW benchmarked the facelifted 340i as the 4er wasn’t yet available. Kia claims the 44bhp more powerful Stinger GT is faster when tested to its own benchmarks.

Is it an all-new platform?

No. Kia says the Stinger’s body consists of 55% high-strength steel, and the platform is a development of that used in the Hyundai Genesis. It gets MacPherson strut suspension up front, and a multi-link rear axle, fitted with coil springs and adaptive dampers all-round, the latter independently adjusted front and rear.

Measuring 4830mm long and with a wheelbase of 2905mm, the Stinger takes something of a Mondeo approach to the segment, tackling the medium executive German opposition – BMW 3-series/4-series GranCoupe, Audi A4/A5 Sportback, Mercedes C-class – with proportions that are actually closer to the next segment up. The 440i GranCoupe, for instance, is 4638mm long, with a wheelbase of 2810mm.

While other models get a choice of 17- to 19in alloys, the Stinger GT gets 19s all round, and is also fitted with 350mm four-piston front and 340mm dual-piston rear Brembo brakes.

What’s it like inside?

We drove two prototypes, and while both interiors were very much pre-production and not mature enough to glean too much about quality, they did provide some useful insights. The first thing you notice is the incredibly low driving position. You can lower the seat right down to the floor in an extremely sporty position, while the steering wheel (electrically adjusted in our prototype) was easily adjusted to an equally perfect position. The seats are also very comfortable and can, of course, be adjusted to a higher-seating position.

In the back, legroom is extremely generous, as you’d expect from a car with such a long wheelbase. In fact, there’s something of the Australian muscle car here, a car with great comfort, space and performance. The Stinger may even do well in Australia with the demise of domestic Ford and Holden manufacturing.

Two metal-ringed analogue dials clearly display key driving data in the instrument binnacle, and there’s a TFT screen between, which can display lap times and the all-essential G-force information. The centre console most closely resembles a Mercedes with its triple jet-engine-style air vents, metal-capped switchgear and tablet-style touchscreen standing proud at the top of the dashboard.

What’s the Stinger GT like to drive?

The Stinger is tasked with being a rounded performance car with high levels of comfort, not a full-on BMW M car rival. But it has been developed at the Nürburgring, and Biermann says his mission has been to add a bit more entertainment to Kia chassis dynamics.

Caveat alert: our Stinger GT was a pre-production model, and we drove it on 70cm of ice on road-legal studded winter tyres. Not entirely representative of a blat down a British B-road, then. However, the V6 has quite a deep, cultured note at low revs that leaves you in no doubt that there’s something quite potent beneath the bonnet, and it feels flexible too, with an easy whoosh of low-down torque – the 376lb ft arrives from just 1300rpm, says Kia, though we lost much of that flexibility to wheelspin.

The steering wheel is nicely proportioned and it’s easy to find a natural grip, and the electrically assisted, variable-weight rack – with the electric motor mounted on the rack, not the column, points out Kia, to minimise vibration and improve response – feels linear and naturally weighted, though, again, we need to try it on a grippier surface to get a true sense of the weight and feel available.

The Stinger GT has five driving modes: Eco, Sport, Sport +, Comfort and driver-configurable Smart, allowing the steering, dampers, powertrain and stability control to be tailored to driver preference.

Switch to Sport and the stability control becomes less intrusive, while still intervening with corrective adjustments made via individual control of the brakes, and a reduction in engine torque. On ice, in this mode, the Stinger is extremely safe while still allowing a little slip. If you’re feeling more adventurous but not entirely ready to kill the stability control, you can then select a mid-way setting for the stability control, which relies purely on brake interventions. It allows such large slip angles on ice, you wonder if anything is being done at all –you only really notice your guardian angel while actively trying to spin the car, which we definitely did on purpose.

But as any BMW M engineer knows, all the best/most-over-confident drivers want to turn off the stability control altogether. After, oh, at least a minute exploring the Stinger’s other modes, that’s of course what we did, sliding at increasingly lurid angles with the long wheelbase providing excellent stability as speed continued to build.

Not to sound like a stuck record, but we really need a go on a proper road to get to know the Stinger for sure. But our high-speed slide-a-thon on a frozen lake was promising. The steering offers consistent weighting as you twirl it around, and self-centres very naturally with no dead spots, while the body felt very well controlled – three different chassis tunes are being offered, one for Korea’s poor roads, one for Europe and one for the US, and our car had the slightly softer Korean set-up.

The V6 engine does lose its low-down character as speeds rise, sounding a little hard-worked and tuneless towards its 6000rpm power peak, though spinning the wheels in fourth gear is likely to exaggerate this rather more than blatting along a favourite road. Feathering the throttle also revealed response to be a little soggy, though far from poor.

A limited-slip differential wasn’t confirmed when Biermann arrived at Kia, but of course the Stinger GT has one now the German is in control. The LSD always locked up the rear wheels very cleanly to provide a high degree of control over the slipping and sliding rear. It’s key to the Kia being so much fun.

Verdict

We don’t recommend you buy a car based on our sliding around a frozen lake, but this early drive of the Kia Stinger GT has certainly piqued our interest. The GT is comfortable, spacious and looks likely to offer significantly more performance than rivals for – hopefully – a chunk less outlay. It also feels well-balanced and set-up to entertain a keen driver, as you’d expect with an ex-M Division man guiding development.

Whether or not anyone will buy a turbocharged V6 Kia in the UK remains to be seen, though insiders talk of a 400-unit target annually for the GT (and the 2.2 turbodiesel will be the big European seller). That sales target is small by some standards, but still a relatively large number of people to get through your dealership doors. The price and residuals will be key, and it’s too early to confirm those at this stage, though £40,000 or a little below is possible.

kia-stinger-04 kia-stinger-02 (1)Once we know that later this year, as well as how the Stinger feels on land, we’ll give you the definitive verdict.

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