First Drive: 2018 Kia Stinger GT

2018 Kia Stinger GT driving

The Stinger GT might be the year’s biggest surprise in performance vehicles. One surprise, of course, is that it’s a Kia: a 365-hp sweetheart of a sedan from a company once synonymous with bottom-feeder transportation. Those days are long gone. Kia and corporate sibling Hyundai sold 1.4 million cars in America in 2016—many, like the Stinger, designed to undercut prices of German cars and overachieve in luxury, features, and performance.

With a price of $32,800 for the base 255-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder model or $39,250 for the GT with a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6, the Stinger shone on our test drive, conquering everything from winding California canyons to a racetrack in the Mojave Desert. Like the Audi A7, the Stinger is a hatchback disguised as an alluring, slope-roofed sedan. The Kia’s ultra-long wheelbase helps carve out the roomiest back seat in its class, along with a generous 23.3 cubic feet of luggage space. The interior can’t match the splendor of far pricier luxury rivals, but it is shipshape and loaded, including an optional 720-watt Harman/Kardon stereo.

2018 Kia Stinger GT
2018 Kia Stinger GT driving down the highway

If Audi is a clear design inspiration, the Stinger’s performance traces to Munich. Albert Biermann, the former chief engineer of BMW’s M division, was poached to oversee high-performance development for Kia and Hyundai. Under Biermann’s expert tutelage, including 6000 test miles on Germany’s Nürburgring circuit, the Stinger aced virtually every performance test.

In our hands, the base Stinger’s ride is grand-touring plush, yet the GT, with a driver- adjustable adaptive suspension, Brembo brakes, and an optional limited-slip diff, rolls up its stylish sleeves and attacks canyon corners and descents with gusto. Mated to an eight-speed, paddle-shift automatic transmission, the brawny V-6 generates more power and torque (376 pound-feet) than any competitor, including a base-model Porsche Panamera V-6. A scorching 167-mph top speed and a 0-to-60-mph run of 4.7 seconds also top a long list of pricier rivals.

For badge snobs, spending $33,000 to $52,000 for a Kia might seem a stretch. But for drivers who always root for a talented underdog, the Stinger represents a rare bargain in the luxury set.

2018 Kia Stinger GT making a tight turn
2018 Kia Stinger GT
Kia