- A performance bargain
- Strong V-6
- Sleek rear-drive styling
- Lots of safety tech
- Good on-road handling
- No manual transmission
- Can Kia compete with BMW?
- Some styling quirks
- Even more power would be nice
- Not a track star
The 2018 Kia Stinger is a serious performance contender that is fun to drive, powerful, practical, and upscale, and it all comes at a bargain price.
The 2018 Kia Stinger ushers the Korean brand into new territory. A rear-wheel drive hatchback that straddles the compact and mid-size segments at a price that undercuts the BMW 3-Series, the Stinger appears to be an enthusiast’s dream.
It’s meant to be a grand touring car, Kia says, with continental styling, handling tuned by the former chief of BMW’s M brand, and considerable testing on Germany’s challenging Nurburgring racetrack.
We like the Stinger’s balance of style, handling, power, and even utility, though the grip and agility aren’t quite up to the standards set by the European rivals the Stinger emulates. Overall, we rate the Stinger a 7.6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Under its long hood, a 2.0-liter turbo-4 or 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6 power the Stinger. The 4-cylinder is rated at 255 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The V-6 comes in at an impressive 365 hp and 376 lb-ft in the Stinger GT.
The only transmission is an 8-speed automatic. It’s an in-house unit shared with the automaker’s K900 sedan and it includes a pair of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Kia says the V-6 will run up to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, and it feels every bit that strong. The V-6 delivers a rush of power and the 8-speed offers smooth, decisive shifts, though they aren’t as quick as you’ll get with better dual-clutch and automatic transmissions on the market.
All-wheel drive is available, but a mechanical limited slip differential on rear-drive models speaks to the sedan’s athletic mission. The V-6-powered GT has four-piston Brembo front brakes, as well as adaptive dampers. A drive select switch can change throttle response, shift patterns, and AWD and stability control settings. The GT’s rack-mounted electric power steering offers variable ratios as well.
Kia has tuned the basic dynamics correctly. On the road, the steering is direct, the handling is neutral, the car tracks nicely through corners, and the ride is smooth. On the track, however, the tires give up grip too easily, the car doesn’t change directions as quickly as its rivals, and the dampers feel a bit too soft.
Underneath, the Stinger rides on a 114.4-inch wheelbase, which stretches a little longer than rivals like the 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Lexus IS. Overall, it’s more than 190 inches long—a figure that again dwarfs its rivals and is closer to the Lexus GS. While it’s between compact and mid-size, the pricing is even lower than its compact luxury rivals.
Aside from price, the Stinger’s advantage versus those cars might be its shape, both in terms of looks and utility.
A long and chiseled hood reaches back into a raked windshield and athletic rear haunches that underscore the car’s rear-drive design. The look channels some European cars, particularly Maseratis and Alfa Romeos, but comes across not quite as a facsimile of something from the land of supercars.
The hatchback body style gives the Stinger more utility than the sedans it competes against. Front and back seats have plenty of leg room, although with any fastback rear passengers do with a little less head room. Rear cargo room, however, is half again as much as a sedan, and that expands considerably with the rear seats folded down.
2018 Kia Stinger
The 2018 Kia Stinger's bold fastback exterior styling is complimented by upscale cabin with sporty touches.
Kia says the Stinger's design was inspired by the fastback grand touring cars of the 1970s, citing the Maserati Ghibli of the era as a specific example. It is quite striking, with a long hood and a short front overhang, a short rear overhang, a fast sloping hatchback profile, and plenty of ducts and spoilers to show its sporty intentions. The overall effect is bold, aggressive, and attractive, and we rate it an 8 for styling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Stinger's shape was proven on the Nurburging, and that influenced the aerodynamics. Functional aero features include wheel air curtains with working vents, gills behind the front wheels to cut back on wake turbulence, a belly pan to smooth out airflow underneath, and a rear diffuser and ducktail rear spoiler to clean up the airflow at the rear end. The result is a fairly slippery 0.30 coefficient of drag, a measure of how efficiently it cuts through the wind
While it may be aimed at compact German sport sedans like the 3-Series, the Stinger is neither a sedan, nor a compact car. With a 114.4-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 190.2 inches, it is sized closer to the mid-size Lexus GS sedan and is larger than the Audi A5 Sportback.
Inside, nappa leather, a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel, and large gauges ringed in metal speak to the Stinger’s luxury mission. Between those gauges sits a color screen that can be configured to display performance data like cornering G-forces and lap times.
The Stinger's infotainment system looks like a tablet attached to its dash top, a look that's en vogue among German brands. Below the screen sits a trio of round climate control gauges.
2018 Kia Stinger
The best handling Kia to date, the Stinger offers neutral, predictable handling, with a pair of turbocharged powertrains that is highlighted by a strong twin-turbo V-6.
Kia pulled out all the stops to make the Stinger handle as well as possible. The company hired BMW M chief engineer Albert Biermann to head the development team and did extensive testing at the Nurburgring, among other places. The result is a car that has the basics right, offering neutral, predictable handling, a smooth ride, and great power in the GT form. We rate it an 8 out of 10 for performance based on these strengths, but ultimate track prowess is lacking. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Stinger has some of the hardware to make it all work, too. The body is made up of 55 percent advanced high-strength steel—Hyundai-Kia is also a steel company. The front suspension employs traditional MacPherson struts (with an aluminum brace between them) while the rear end has a five-link independent suspension mounted to a stiffened subframe.
The GT model has Brembo brakes with 13.8-inch discs and four-piston calipers and 13.4-inch discs and two-piston calipers at the rear. It also gets adjustable dampers, and staggered 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, 225/40s up front and 255/35s out back. Rear-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional. This system uses an electronically controlled clutch up to half the power to the front wheels. The top GT2 model gets a limited-slip rear differential, and AWD models are offered with a brake-based torque vectoring system that uses the ABS system to clamp down on individual inside wheels to send the power to the outside wheels in a turn.
Biermann and his team got the basics right. The Stinger GT rides well, even with the dampers in the Sport setting, and the handling is balanced and neutral. On the street, it rotates willingly through corners, and the brakes provide strong stopping power.
But Kia touts the Stinger GT as a track car and that's where it falls down. The dampers just aren't firm enough, the car weighs a bit too much, and the tires give up grip too easily. Firmer damping and less weight would keep the car flatter, improve turn-in, and prevent body roll in corners, as well as allow the Stinger GT to transfer its weight from one direction to the next quicker.
When pushed hard on a racetrack, wider, grippier tires would prevent the car from pushing forward upon turn-in then transitioning to kicking the tail out mid-corner. Bottom line: Kia has left room to tune this car more aggressively.
The Stinger has four drive modes that adjust the throttle response, transmission mapping, the all-wheel-drive system, stability control, and damping. They are Eco, Smart (which learns your behavior), configurable Custom, and Sport. Due to those tires, even in Sport, the stability control is forced to intercede a bit too early, though it then gets the car back under control and lets the tail hang out in a turn. Sport doesn't make the throttle too touchy for the street, but it does hold gears longer.
Power is prodigious from the Stinger GT's twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V-6. It delivers a smooth rush of thrust, emitting a refined howl as it slingshots the car toward the horizon. The 0-60 mph run takes just 4.7 seconds, and the top speed is 167 mph. Power comes on quickly, and the 8-speed automatic transmission provides quick, smooth shifts in the Sport mode. The transmission can get confused on the track, though, where it isn't as quick to react as some other automatics or dual-clutch transmissions. The standard steering wheel shift paddles can help here.
The base Stinger comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 255 horsepower. It's not nearly as strong as the V-6 and isn't up to snuff with the turbo-4s from BMW, Audi, Mercedes, or even Chevrolet, but it is a fine base engine.
2018 Kia Stinger
Comfort & Quality
The Stinger's hatchback body style gives it a practicality that sport sedans can't match and its interior sports high-quality materials and the latest tech.
Kia’s recent moves upmarket with the Cadenza and K900 have paid off, and the Stinger follows the same path, albeit in a sportier direction.
We like the majority of the Stinger's materials, as well as the space afforded by the hatchback body style, and the supportive seats. We rate the Stinger an 8 out of 10 for comfort and quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Stinger's cabin punches above its price class. The materials are generally high-quality, with soft-touch surfaces dominating the cabin, though a few cheaper plastics can be found. The black, wing-shaped dashboard is complemented by contrasting metal trim.
Every Stinger comes with leather upholstery, and softer nappa leather is standard on the top trim. The front seats are comfortable and supportive in their base form, and the driver's seat has 12 power adjustments plus four lumbar adjustments. Again, the top trim gets an even better setup, with 16-way adjustments, heating and ventilation, and air bladders that provide even more support.
The rear seats offer enough leg room for a 6-footer to sit behind a 6-footer, but head room becomes limited for anyone taller than that due to the fastback roofline.
That roofline is part of the hatchback body style, which works in favor of the Stinger's utility. It resolves into a rear cargo area that has 23.3 cubic feet of space, about 1.5 times as much as a typical sedan's trunk. Fold the rear seats down and that expands to 40.9 cubic feet, which is almost as much as you get in a small SUV. Practicality and sportiness is a winning formula.
2018 Kia Stinger
Crash tests aren't in yet, but the 2018 Kia Stinger offers a full spate of active safety features.
Without crash tests yet, we can't give the 2018 Kia Stinger a rating for safety. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
However, Kia says it is targeting top crash test ratings from both agencies.
Standard safety features include seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag, hill-start assist, front and rear park assist, and a rearview camera. The top-of-the-line GT2 model comes standard with all of the available safety features, and they are all optional otherwise. They consist of forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, rear cross-traffic alerts, blind-spot monitors, automatic high beams, driver attention alerts, lane-departure warnings, active lane control, and dynamic headlights that point into turns.
2018 Kia Stinger
Well-equipped for the price, the 2018 Kia Stinger's greatest strength is its performance per dollar proposition.
The 2018 Kia Stinger is offered in five models, the 4-cylinder base Stinger and Stinger Premium, and the V-6 Stinger GT, GT1 and GT2. Even the base model comes well-equipped and all models offer a good value for the money. We rate the Stinger an 8 for features for its generous list of features, its nice list of options, and that value promise. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Standard features on the base Stinger consist of leather upholstery, a 12-way power driver's seat with four-way power lumbar adjustment; an eight-way power front passenger seat; heated front seats; a tilt/telescoping, heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel; dual-zone automatic climate control; an auto-dimming rearview mirror; a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, cruise control; the usual power features (locks, windows, and mirrors); automatic headlights; steering wheel shift paddles; and 18-inch alloy wheels. Entertainment and communications features include a 7.0-inch version of the brand's Uvo3 touchscreen infotainment system with AM/FM/HD radio, satellite radio, six speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, and Uvo eServices Telematics, which is a smartphone app that offers maintenance alerts, parking minders, roadside assistance, and individual points of interest.
The Premium model adds LED headlights; LED rear turn signals; a sunroof; a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel; a 7.0-inch digital instrument panel display; an electronic parking brake; memory for the driver's seat, steering wheel, and outside mirrors; an 8.0-inch version of Uvo with navigation; and a 720-watt, 15-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with Clari-Fi that digitally expands compressed music and QuantumLogic Surround Sound.
The Stinger GT is equipped like the base model but it comes with the electronic parking brake, aluminum pedals and scuff plates, a flat-bottom steering wheel, a nine-speaker audio system, and 19-inch wheels.
To that the GT1 adds LED rear turn signals, a sunroof, the 7.0-inch digital instrument panel display, performance gauges in the instrument cluster, the memory function, the 8.0-inch version of Uvo with navigation, and the 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
The GT2 is maxed out. It comes with a limited-slip rear differential (RWD only) forward collision warnings with all the safety features, plus a head-up display, a smart opening rear hatch, auto-dimming outside mirrors, nappa leather, ventilated front seats, and 16-way power front seats with four-way air-cell lumbar support, two way width-adjusting side bolsters, and seat extensions.
Equipment from higher-line models can be ordered as options for lower-line models. All-wheel drive is optional on all models for $2,200. The GT2 tops out at just under $50,000 without AWD and right around $51,000 with it.
2018 Kia Stinger
Fuel economy isn't the Stinger's first priority. Most versions will manage mid-20s combined, although all versions require premium fuel.
With its turbocharged engines, the 2018 Kia Stinger isn't about fuel economy. However, its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder should offer good fuel economy and be the volume model. Don't expect the V-6 to go easy on gas, though.
The 2.0-liter turbo-4 is rated by the EPA at 22 mpg city, 29 highway, 25 combined. That's good enough for a 7 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Add all-wheel drive and those numbers drop to 21/29/24 mpg.
Opt for the 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6 and the Stinger GT's fuel economy drops. Rear- and all-wheel-drive versions are rated identically: 19/25/21 mpg.