Sting in the tail

CAN THE KIA STINGER FASTBACK SEDAN BECOME AUSTRALIA’S TRUE FALCON/COMMODORE REPLACEMENT? WE DRIVE IT TO FIND OUT

WORDS NATHAN PONCHARD

UMDRUM hatchbacks and predictable SUVs might keep the automotive coffers accumulating coin these days, but it’s the little things that keep real car enthusiasts satiated. Little things like this big, new Kia.

An anti-appliance from a brand known for value, pushing against the tide with its rear-drive, all-turbo, gran-turismo mindset, Kia’s new four-door fastback – named Stinger – is the sort of car that makes headlines simply for being unique. And for not being a two-door coupe, as Kia’s 2014 GT4 Stinger concept suggested.

Competitors? Perhaps Volkswagen’s forthcoming CC replacement, the Arteon, and possibly Skoda’s similarly sized, though conceptually opposed Superb, as well as Holden Commodore/Calais variants, before and after transitioning to German DNA. Target buyers? More than likely anyone considering a premium-brand fourdoor (think Audi A4/A6, BMW 3/4/5 Series, Mercedes- Benz C/E/CLS-Class, Lexus IS/GS and Infiniti Q50) who doesn’t need to follow the herd to get their brand-image on. Even Kia doesn’t really know.

What the Kia’s European-led design and engineering teams do understand is that the Stinger’s gestation has been “all about passion” – one intended to spearhead an emotional offensive for the Korean brand. “To make a gran turismo car … that it could see daylight someday; that was our dream,” gushes Kia’s global design chief, Peter Schreyer.

Seven years in the making, the Stinger is most obviously the production realisation of the GT Concept that Kia debuted at Frankfurt in 2011. But it can also trace its classic cues from the “sports car world”. When questioned about the 1967-73 first-generation Maserati

A study in style

The Stinger is dripping with neat design details, many of which have translated directly from the 2011 GT concept car. An exquisite chrome accent line running from the base of the A-pillar to the lower edge of the rear screen, the upswept rear door line, and ‘Cleopatraeye’ tail-lamps are among them, as are many aero aids (smooth floor, rear diffuser) intended to keep the Stinger’s form clean and free of the need for a rear spoiler.

The island-type bonnet shut-line, (non-functioning) air ‘vents’ high up on the bonnet, and ‘Coke bottle’ hip at the Stinger’s waist are all there to enhance its front-mid-engined, rear-drive smo inte Stin th Th shut v bonn a a fron proportion and presence. But it’s the muscle-car hipline that I like the most. In side profile, it appears to be a horizontal swage line, but from rear on, the Stinger’s hips bulge outwards, hugging 255/35R19 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber on the upspec GT and emphasising the rear-drive mechanicals. It’s a meaty look, with the rear lights looking far less droopy in real life.

Ghibli shown in the product presentation, Kia’s chief designer of its European Design Centre, Gregory Guillaume, said: “[We wanted Stinger to] channel the spirit of the iconic GT cars of the ’70s.”

A long, low car – 4831mm in length, 1869mm wide and 1400mm tall, riding on a leggy 2906mm wheelbase – the Stinger exudes that classic GT proportion of short front overhang, long front-axle-to-dashboard distance, long wheelbase and extended rear overhang. “Aggression rather than brutality” is the way Guillaume describes it, vaguely like an Optima on steroids. But if the Optima is Liam Hemsworth in active wear, then the Stinger is big-brother Chris, decked out as Thor.

Beneath the Stinger’s sensual form resides a development of the Hyundai Genesis (soon to be Genesis G80) platform. Overseen by former BMW M engineering head, Albert Biermann (executive VP and head of vehicle test and high-performance development for the Koreans since April 2015), Kia has re-arranged some steering kinematics and Stinger features new front struts, though its multi-link rear axle remains similar to the Genesis’s arrangement. But the Stinger is clearly aimed at a different market.

When Biermann saw the GT in the design studio, he said “it needs to drive the way it looks”. And so the focus has been on developing an engaging and responsive car that’s also a comfortable, long-legged express, thereby fulfilling the gran turismo brief.

Drivetrains are familiar. The base Stinger’s 2.0-litre Theta II turbo-petrol four is from the Optima GT but turned lengthways, tuned for 190kW at 6200rpm and 353Nm from 1400-4000rpm, and mated to the Genesis’s eight-speed automatic gearbox. The Stinger GT gets a 3.3-litre version of Hyundai-Kia’s ‘Lambda II’ 60-degree V6, fitted with a pair of turbochargers and producing 272kW at 6000rpm and a chubby 510Nm from 1300- 4500rpm, also with the eight-speed auto gearbox. Kia is targeting 5.1sec to 100km/h and a 269km/h top speed from the production GT.

Internationally, both engines are available with rear- or all-wheel drive, but no manuals will be offered, and it’s unlikely the Stinger will feature a V8 either.

The 5.0-litre, left-hook-only V8 from the Genesis G80 and G90 is “more of a luxury engine”, according to Biermann. The Stinger’s AWD system is also left-hook only, meaning solely rear-drive for Australia.

What we weren’t expecting from this pre-Detroit Namyang reveal was to actually drive the Stinger. But Kia has arranged for two left-hook pre-production cars – a rear-drive turbo four and an AWD twin-turbo V6 – to be evaluated in several interesting exercises.

The 2.0-litre sticks to Namyang’s enormous skidpan,

Not your mum’s Cerato

Stinger’s roomy interior packs a strong level of personality. There’s clearly been some design inspiration from other cars – notably Mercedes- Benz in the circular air vents and touchscreen prominence – but there’s interesting Kia DNA in there, too.

Classy metallicised, double-deck centre-stack switchgear, uber-cool toggle/barrel rocker switches for the seat heating and cooling, Kia’s terrific new-gen steering wheel with an even deeper dish, and ‘floating’ door grab handles with tactile rubberised backing. It’s a world away from Kia’s cheap and cheerless past.

Given Stinger’s low styling profile, there’s an unexpected amount of room inside, though it’s no Commodore. A 1.93m-tall German journo squeezes into the rear with his hair brushing the headlining, but there’s respectable legroom and seat support, and a slightly elevated view forward. Up front, it’s even better – seated low, legs stretched out in front, just like a GT should be.

completing a slalom, two full-throttle straight-line runs and, amusingly, a ‘drift’ session with ESC off.

The AWD V6 remains exclusively on Namyang’s new handling circuit, where we’re given two hot laps of our own and a cool-down. Biermann likes the layout, though he wishes it had “more fast corners”, which is where the Nürburgring chassis testing comes in.

Equipped with standard adaptive dampers, the Stinger GT’s ‘Drive Mode Integrated Control’ stays in Sport for the hot laps – there are also Eco, Comfort, Smart (like an auto setting) and Personal – and it impresses with its agility. Sport also tweaks the rearbiased AWD system’s response, and there’s torque vectoring to keep the Stinger’s nose pinned tight.

Around the course, the Stinger GT feels smaller than it actually is, which is a good thing. There’s a sizeable difference in weighting for the variable-gearratio steering between Comfort and Sport, but the red-blooded tune provides well-judged and consistent feel, spanning a quick rack with just 2.2 turns lock-tolock.

Braking deep into a left-hand hairpin, the AWD GT understeers moderately if you don’t trail-brake the nose deep enough, but this easily transitions into mild oversteer on corner exit. Kia is still working on the fine tuning, but the bones are definitely there.

What also needs some work is the twin-turbo V6 engine. It’s a strong, seemingly lag-free unit that revs cleanly to six-five or so before upshifting sweetly, but it sounds a bit grainy. It isn’t obviously boosted in sound, either (no bad thing), yet there’s clearly room for some acoustic tuning. Some bent-six induction/exhaust rasp and some overrun crackle would be hugely welcome.

The turbo four fits into the same category, feeling strong up to its 6500rpm shift point but sounding a little workmanlike, without the crisp backing track its performance clearly deserves. With conventional fixedrate dampers (Drive Mode only covers steering, throttle, shift calibration, ESC and, if fitted, AWD set-up), the rear-drive four feels to have a more comfortable suspension tune than the GT. But with 60-70kg less overall weight to deal with than the V6 (and another 60-70kg by deleting the AWD system), the base Stinger also feels lighter on its feet, while its constant-ratio steering feels reassuringly connected.

Wearing its standard 225/45R18 rubber, the four-pot Stinger also loves to drift. Being no slouch itself (low sixes to 100km/h) and with all that low-down torque, plus a standard mechanical limited-slip diff, the base Stinger traces an easily controlled and precise sideways arc for two laps until the Koreans ask me to stop to save the tyres. It’s an encouraging display from this against-type sports sedan.

Indeed, the Kia Stinger could well be a panacea for Aussie petrolheads. Perfectly timed to be in Kia showrooms exactly when Holden’s rear-drive VFII Commodore prepares to depart, at an estimated low- $40K for the turbo-four and low-$50K for the GT, the Stinger brings not only value-for-money to the table, but also some genuine driver and sex appeal.

It’ll probably never be as tough as a Commodore or Falcon on Outback dirt roads, and it won’t seat five in the same level of comfort, but people buy SUVs for that stuff these days. Instead, it provides a cool, stylish, affordable fulfilment of the rear-drive passion that we’ve held on to longer than any country on earth.

Model Kia Stinger GT Engine 3342cc V6 (60°), dohc, 24v, twin-turbo Max power 272kW @ 6000rpm Max torque 510Nm @ 1300-4500rpm Transmission 8-speed automatic L/W/H 4831/1869/1400mm Wheelbase 2906mm Weight 1770kg (est) 0-100km/h 5.1sec (est) Economy 9.5L/100km (est) Price $52,000 (est) On sale September

STINGER’S FRONT VERTICAL VENTS ARE FUNCTIONAL INTAKES THAT FLOW COOL AIR OVER THE BRAKES, WITH THE HOT AIR EXITING THE LOWER GUARD VENTS AHEAD OF THE FRONT DOORS. THIS ALSO HELPS CLEAN UP SIDE AIRFLOW WHERE IT’S TRADITIONALLY TURBULENT