The Kia Stinger was one of the most hyped cars in recent years, and deservedly so. With the rest of the world going crossover crazy, Kia decided that what the market needed was a stylish four-door GT car that put an emphasis on driving enjoyment without breaking the bank.
And it certainly delivered; in particular, the rear-wheel drive V6 Stinger GT offered more fun than cars twice its price.
But initially we only got to test the range-topping models at the launch; a few months later, I happily arranged a week with a more pedestrian version.
Starting at just $32,900 (for RWD, add another $2,200 for all-wheel drive), the base model has those same good looks, but it loses a couple of cylinders from the engine and a bunch of gadgets and conveniences. The downsizing is immediately obvious when you lift the hood. Even the large plastic cover can’t help hide the fact that there are acres of empty space in the engine bay.
The engine in question is a 2.0L (twin-scroll) turbocharged four-cylinder, mounted longitudinally in the car. The all-aluminum engine is used widely across the Kia and Hyundai family, and in this configuration it has double overhead cams with variable valve timing. The car also uses direct injection. Peak power is 255hp (190kW) at 6,500 rpm, with 260lb-ft (353Nm) of torque available between 1,400 to 4,000rpm. As with the V6 Stinger GT, the only transmission option is Kia’s in-house eight-speed automatic, although most of the gear ratios are slightly longer.
However, you don’t just lose a hundred and some horses with the smaller engine; it’s also a couple of hundred pounds lighter than the V6. In the case of our test car, that’s a good thing, for we are equipped with an AWD Stinger. The power split front-to-rear varies depending upon drive mode, which will also alter throttle mapping. In sport, the power delivery is the most rear-biased, but even in the most slippery conditions the Stinger will only send up to 50 percent of available torque to the front wheels. Sadly a limited slip differential is not available even as an option, nor is dynamic torque vectoring at the rear axle.
Losing a bunch of weight from the front axle cures my main complaint with the AWD car, as it now feels much more nimble at the front-end and more willing to entertain a quick change of direction. (This is noticeable even though the four-cylinder car has slightly slower steering than the GT.) At the same time, the smaller-engined Stinger never feels quite as playful as the more powerful version. In fact—dare I say it—it feels a little underpowered. The 2.0L engine needs to be revved out if you’re in a hurry, and, even on 18-inch all-season tires (as opposed to sticky summers on 19s), I found it impossible to break traction.
The transmission also encourages a more laid-back driving style. In auto, it’s almost always in a higher gear than you’d expect. Waiting for it to kick down reveals shift times significantly longer than ZF’s 8HP or a good dual-clutch gearbox.
Kia has actually rejiggered its options list a little since we tested the Stinger, so our car came with some features that now appear to require picking the more expensive ($39,100) Premium version. Specifically, if you want some advanced driver assistance systems, like forward collision warning, forward collision avoidance (with pedestrian detection), adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, and rear cross-traffic collision warning, you’ll need to go for the Premium car. Other options that require the more expensive car as the starting point include a heads-up display and wireless phone charging.
But it’s not as if the base Stinger is particularly stripped out. The standard infotainment system uses a 7-inch display (an 8-inch screen with voice command is an option) and will be familiar to anyone who has driven a recent Kia, Hyundai, or Genesis. It’s a perfectly fine system; the touchscreen is not particularly laggy, the in-built navigation is unobjectionable, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. And it’s a Kia, so you can be pretty sure it will be reliable.
One thing you don’t lose out on with the cheaper Stinger is the car’s looks, and, judging by our interactions over the week, the public is still in love with those. In fact, it garnered at least as much positive attention from passers-by as the (also metallic blue) Porsche Panamera that preceded it in Ars testing or even the (also metallic blue) Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T that came a week later. The four-door fastback body style is plenty practical, too, with acres of rear leg room (OK, maybe just 36.4-inches [92.4cm] and 23.3 cubic feet [660L] of cargo space [40.9 cubic feet/1,158L with the rear seats folded flat]). EPA mileage is 21mpg city, 29mpg highway, and 24mpg combined.
As with the more powerful, more expensive Stinger GT, my recommendation to the would-be Stinger buyer is not to bother spending the extra $2,200 on AWD. Although I wasn’t able to drive a RWD 2.0 car, it is lighter than the AWD variant—Kia’s figures are a minimum curb weight of 3,611lbs/1,638kg for RWD and a maximum weight of 3,792lbs/1,720kg for AWD. I reckon losing another 180lbs (81kg) should remedy some of the feeling of being underpowered while making the front end a little more nimble as well. If you live somewhere with a real winter, that money would be better spent on a set of winter tires.