Years after Hyundai and Kia emerged from automotive doldrums to offer stylish, top-rated, economic and performance-oriented vehicles, non-believers still quibble. A standard refrain is that South Korean manufacturers don’t offer prestige.
The argument isn’t valid, particularly with the introduction of the 2018 Kia Stinger. It joins a strong lineup from both manufacturers (Hyundai owns about one-third of Kia) challenging long-time standard bearers.
The new, speedy and handsome sedan proves how the once upstart underdog is a severe competitor to rivals like the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A5, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The Stinger is available in five-time levels. The top-line GT rattles the parameters of what’s expected from a small luxury car. It features a twin-turbo 3.3-liter, 365-horsepower engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive is available on every trim.
The GT is also diversified with three available levels, including my review vehicle, the most elaborate (and most expensive), GT2. The range-topping GT2 piles on an already long standard features list with more safety and comfort equipment.
Nappa leather upholstery, extra power adjustments for the front seats, heated and ventilated front seats, a limited slip differential, and a hands-free power trunk lid expand the comfort. There’s also a 15-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system.
The Stinger GT boasts its sportiness with a flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum pedals, Brembo brakes and 19-inch wheels. The Stinger’s sporty exterior design, including a sloping roof as well as high-quality interior materials, also justify the Stinger’s top-pick rating within months of its debut.
The hatchback has easy access, and the cargo area is 23.3 cubic feet. With the rear seats folded down, space expands to 40.9 cubic feet, cavernous for the segment. The Stinger is touted with seating for five, but with most smaller vehicles with the same ranking, rear seating is best for two adults and space is only adequate.
While equipment and materials inside and outside are outstanding, driving the Stinger solidifies its place for end-of-the-year honors. It defines a sports car. It grips the road and maneuvers with confidence in city and freeway driving. It defines automotive agility.
Need proof? Take the Stinger on a winding country road or pass another driver in a tight spot on the freeway.
Kia avoids “technology overload” issues. Menus are straightforward and conveniently located. Buttons on the steering wheel provide convenience for many features. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.
Car-buyers’ habits are hard to break. The mainstay brands are all worthy. But the new Kia Stinger doesn’t let any manufacturer take its reputation for granted.
James Raia, a freelance writer based in Sacramento, California, specializes in sports and lifestyle topics. He publishes the website theweeklydriver.com.