Kia is a modern disrupter. In 2011, the company shocked the world with its handsomely redesigned and massively affordable Optima. Sales of the mid-size sedan skyrocketed. A year later, Kia took that same svelte Optima on another radical and equally unanticipated journey as it leapt into professional racing, namely into the then-SCCA Pro Racing-sanctioned World Challenge series (with none other than Michael Galati pedaling the car). The problem for the street car, however was that while the Optima was available with a hot-rodded 2.0L turbo motor spitting out 274hp, it wasn’t a screamer; nor was it rear-wheel drive.
What if Kia actually built a rocket of a rear-drive sedan to knock your socks off?
In 2018, Kia did just, introducing the Stinger. With dynamic handling, hidden-hatchback good looks, and the ability to roast the back tires at will, the Stinger was built to wow. And, like its Optima sibling, it did so by offering top-dollar features for pennies.
If the Optima was the poor man’s Camry, the Stinger was Kia’s Panamera.
The Stinger is equipped with two motors, but the one with conviction comes in the GT-, GT1- and GT2-trim editions — a 3.3L twin-turbo V6 that punches out 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, running the roughly 3,800lb car to 60 mph in a claimed 4.7 seconds, although romping the right pedal certainly unleashes speed that seems quicker. The left foot gets a bit bored, though, since the Stinger is only available with an eight-speed automatic. Then again, perhaps it’s the slushbox that makes the Stinger such an enjoyable grand touring vehicle.
The Stinger’s interior expertly treads the line between sport and comfort. While the current automotive trend is massive infotainment screens, the Stinger bucks the system as a driver’s car utilizing a smaller center-mounted display with physical buttons doing the heavy lifting — the way the car gods intended.
When I test vehicles, I log positives and negatives in an old-fashioned notebook, and this was one of the few vehicles where I discovered the “pros” page far exceeded the “cons.” The bottom line is that the Stinger is excellent, but here are the crib notes from that positive page:
- Looks great with a super functional hatchback
- Equally stunning to drive on tight twisty roads and long trips
- Rear legroom is overly gracious
- Seats four adults better than the Optima, with three kids in the back a reality
- D-shape steering wheel rounds out this grand tourer with style
The Stinger’s not all rainbows, though. On an extended drive through the desert, I jotted down a note about the cruise control’s tendency to surge. I pointed this phenomenon out to others who rode in the car and none found it objectionable. This wouldn’t stop me from purchasing the car, but it’s still something that shouldn’t happen.
On that same drive, I discovered there were no good places to store my cell phone as it charged. I also found rear visibility akin to peering through a distant porthole, though as every racer knows, what’s behind you doesn’t matter.
A curiosity was that the arrow on the digital “distance to empty” display points to the opposite side of the car than the fuel filler. The physical fuel gauge, meanwhile, has an arrow pointing to the correct side. This discrepancy is a bit of an enigma.
Truly, that’s all that sat on the “cons” page.
Through 800 miles of freeway driving (in Eco mode), my test Stinger GT averaged 28.5 mpg, with city fuel consumption at 18. EPA numbers state 29 mpg freeway and 22 city. I suspect I could have hyper-miled closer to the city average had I tried, but I didn’t try, because when you’re wheeling a Stinger, you’re going to goose it.
A nicely equipped Kia Stinger GT rings up just below $45,000 ($5,000 less gets you a base model Stinger GT also riding the slick 3.3L twin turbo; $33,100 will buy you a GT-Line model with the 255hp 2.0L turbo). That’s a heck of a lot of car for the price. Also, since the Stinger doesn’t sell like the Optima (and presumably the new Optima replacement, the K5), the Stinger offers exclusivity on a relative budget.
I rarely get attached to manufacturer-supplied review vehicles. From exotics to economy cars and burley trucks, when my weeklong evaluations comes to a close and the manufacturer’s representatives show up to reclaim the vehicles, I hand over the keys with nary a thought. But the day before they reclaimed this car, I found myself Stinger shopping. My socks, it turns out, have been knocked off.