FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE WE PRIDE ourselves on being able to assess a car after the briefest of drives, but this is ridiculous.
After being bundled out of a bus in the pitlane of the old Nurburgring Nordschleife, Iím hurried into a Kia Stinger GT, a car Iíve never sat in, let alone driven, and waved out on to the track in hot pursuit of Dirk Schoysman.
Heís the bloke who broke the eight minute production car record here in a Nissan R33 Skyline 20 years ago. And judging by his pace on what is supposed to be the sighting lap, someone forgot to tell him he got it in the bag. Two laps, and less than 20 minutes later (even Dirk couldnít manage an eight in the Stinger), weíre back in the pits and summarily ejected from the car.
Wait, what just happened?
What just happened is Kia took a swipe at the rear-drive establishment, and managed at the very least a glancing blow.
Having caused a world of pain to mainstream European and Japanese brands, the Koreans have set their sights higher.
Likely to be priced in the mid- $40K bracket when it arrives here in September, the Stinger is bigger, roomier, better equipped and more distinctive than some of its established premium targets, though some of the USA-aimed detailing is a bit fussy.
Under that long bonnet you get a choice of two engines, both installed north-south, and both mated to Kiaís own eightspeed automatic transmission: a 182kW/353Nm 2.0 turbo petrol thatíll do 100km/h in 6.0sec, and the top-of-the-range V6 GT. (Thereís also a 2.2-litre diesel good for 147kW and 7.7sec to 100km/h, but not headed here.)
The V6 GT is the car weíre driving today, and likely to be the bigger seller in Oz.
A $55,000 twin-turbo missile that seems set to fill the rear-drive void left by Commodore later this year, the GTís 272kW V6 pushes it to 100km/h in a claimed 4.9sec and on to a 270km/h top speed. This makes it the fastest production Kia yet, and gives it a marketing boost over German rivals pegged to 250km/h by their limiters.
You canít argue with those numbers, or with the push in the back you feel, but itís not the most charismatic engine. The note is fairly muted and flat, however Kia Australia is promising a fix with the option of a bimodal exhaust (see sidebar, right.)
The chassis is the real star, and justifies this whole slightly nuts Nordschleife caper. Former BMW engineering guru Albert Biermann (see profile, Wheels, July) has done a fine job with this car. Some markets get the choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, but only the rear-driver is coming to the Australia, and thatís fine with us.
We drove both and the all-paw is noticeably stodgier, feeling duller both on turn-in and exit, despite the supposed rear torque bias.
Considering its circa-1750kg kerb weight, the rear-drive car has great body control, accurate, natural-feeling steering and the balance to let you hook up the mechanical limited-slip diff and drift the tail out of the circuitís slower corners. An electronic diff will come later, but this is already a fun steer, provided you accept itís not meant to be a full-blown sports sedan.
Weíll have to wait until later this year, when weíll get more than 20 minutes behind the wheel, and in versions tuned for Australia to know just how good the Stinger is. But thereís real promise here, and the Germans have cause to be concerned, if not by this car then the cars that will follow.
Rear-drive chassis is excellent; Oz cars promise even more of everything Engine not charismatic; lack of exciting soundtrack; AWD dulls handling
Interior features brushed aluminium, Nappa leather, a chunky, masculine steering wheel and Alcantara-style microsuede on the A-pillars. So materials feel expensive, but the design is conservative.
Seats are comfortable, but feel better suited to touring rather than performance driving. Side support not great. Ergonomics and general functionality all gets high marks, however.
Wheels for Australian cars will be either 18s or 19s running Continental rubber.
Brakes are from Brembo, featuring 350mm discs up front and six-piston calipers; stopping power is excellent.
Despite our positive impressions of the Stingerís chassis at the Nurburgring, Kia Australia is quick to point out that the car we drove was far from Australian spec in terms of suspension and steering, and promises even better dynamics when local cars arrive in September.
Kiaís local chassis expert Graeme Gambold has again been tasked with tuning the two Stinger variants for local conditions, and will deliver an Oz-specific tune that features revised springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and powersteering calibration. Kia Oz was also underwhelmed by the standard carís exhaust note, and will offer an optional bimodal exhaust system for an expected price of around $2000.
Effectively hands the rear-drive mantle to Stinger, but there will be a period where buyers will choose between the two. Stinger has a handy engine advantage over the local V6, but the SS-V still rules, for now.
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Japanís most logical competitor charges a significant, er, ĎPremiumí Ė about $15K Ė but seems unlikely to be able to match the Stingerís dynamics, no thanks to the by-wire steering that leaves the chassis feeling unresolved.