In his 2009 book on investment strategies, A Gift to My Children, ace investor Jim Rogers narrates an interesting anecdote. According to his yarn, one day back in the Sixties when General Motors was the world’s most successful corporation, one of its analysts went to the board of directors and warned them that “the Japanese are coming!” But the smug bunch of suits in the room chose to ignore the warning. And it didn’t take them long to realise the hard way that underestimating the Japanese was one of their biggest blunders. Driving the all-new Kia Stinger GT along the winding mountain roads in Fujairah this week, I was reminded of this little tale. No analyst employed by any of the world’s leading automakers would have cautioned their board members that “the Koreans are coming”. But the manner in which the Stinger is digging into corners with surprisingly negligent body roll and excellent agility makes me think it will be imprudent on any brand specialist’s part not to give a heads-up about the Koreans to his European, American or Japanese employers.
For a car that was built from scratch for a brand that has no history whatsoever in performance motoring, the Stinger is a remarkably impressive achievement.
The Stinger is not the result of an overnight decision or short-term strategy. It’s the manifestation of a well-thought-out plan that began many years ago when the Hyundai-Kia Group poached former Audi designer Peter Schreyer to infuse some much needed style into its cars. This was followed up by the appointment of none other than performance tuning wizard Albert Biermann, the former head of engineering at BMW’s M division. The Stinger happens to be the first car developed under Biermann’s watch.
With its muscular haunches, long bonnet, short front overhang, wide front and rear track, low-slung sportback silhouette, quad exhausts and steeply raked windshield, the GT has arguably the best lines in a production car penned by Schreyer. But it would be far-fetched to say it’s one of Biermann’s best creations. However, for a car that was built from scratch for a brand that has no history whatsoever in performance motoring, the Stinger is a remarkably impressive achievement. The engineers put every development Stinger through 480 laps of high-stress driving around the Nürburgring Nordschleife before releasing the production model. Up to 55 per cent of the chassis is made up of advanced high-strength steel, and the extensive use of hot-stamped components add to the car’s structural rigidity. The MacPherson front suspension features large diameter shock absorbers, high-strength wheel bearings, and an aluminium strut brace, while the five-link rear setup is mounted on a stiffened subframe. Going up tortuous roads that cut through the Hajar mountain range, the Stinger GT is precise and predictable in its handling. Coming out of turns, it puts down power impressively well, especially in Sport mode. Our top-spec GT tester is equipped with Kia’s first continuously damping electronically controlled suspension system, which intelligently adapts to different road conditions and driving styles. It offers five drive modes, Custom, Eco, Sport, Comfort and Smart, which help the driver tweak the dynamics accordingly. The flat-bottom steering wheel befits the GT’s sporty demeanour, and it is direct and precise in its feedback, with the turn-in only slightly less immediate than that of a BMW 3 Series or a 4 Series Gran Coupe. For a Kia, that’s high praise. The ride quality is firm without being harsh in Sport mode, and is extremely compliant in the other less aggressive modes. Stopping power comes from Brembos on all corners, four-piston callipers up front and two-piston ones at the rear. They do a great job in shaving speed off effectively without being grabby.
Power comes from a twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V6, which churns out 370bhp and 510Nm of torque. These might not seem like superlative numbers in today’s world, but they are good enough to hurtle the GT from 0-100kph in just 4.9 seconds, 80-120kph in 3.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 270kph. Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, it offers all of the available torque on tap at a low 1,300rpm. The auto ’box is smooth and crisp in its shifts, especially in Sport mode, where gears are held longer and throttle response is quicker. However, it seems confused about downshifting when I enter a corner fast on my way back. But taking control via the steering-mounted paddle shifters takes care of this.
The cabin is also elegantly designed and beautifully crafted in Nappa leather, and Kia claims the interior is more spacious than most of its competitors, including the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, the Audi A5 Sportback, the Lexus GS and the Mercedes-Benz CLS. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and getting into the perfect driving position is easy thanks to 16-way power adjustment feature.
Overall, the Stinger GT is an amazingly well-built first attempt at a performance fastback. While it might still fall a wee bit short against certain German rivals in terms of dynamics, it makes for a truly compelling case with prices starting from Dh150,000. If European, Japanese and American carmakers have not yet taken Kia seriously, the Stinger GT is their wake-up call.