Kia is upping its grand tourer stock at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in a big way. The all-new 2018 Stinger will hit the market later this year as the highest-performance car in the brand's history, a sharply styled, potent sports sedan that aims to take on the Europeans. Designed in Europe, the five-seater has been tuned and refined on the Nürburgring for the ultimate in spirited everyday driving.
While Kia used the Stinger name for the 2014 GT4 Stinger concept, also revealed in Detroit, the production Stinger is more closely related to the 2011 GT concept, which was also a four-door sports sedan. The 2018 Stinger was born in Kia's Frankfurt design studio, just like the GT concept, and did testing and tuning on the Nürburgring before jumping the Atlantic and debuting this week in Detroit.
"Although every Kia design study has a purpose, the GT concept was something considered by many outside the company as little more than a dream for a brand known for producing mass-market transportation rooted in value," the company explains in introducing the Stinger. "But the GT ignited embers of passion that sparked a fire within the organization, and over the next five years that fire would grow beyond fantasy and morph into reality."
With the Stinger, Kia attempts to fully encapsulate the term "gran turismo," combining bold, sporty looks, a lively, nimble ride, and plenty of space and comfort for a cabin of five people plus luggage. It starts with an aggressive face that lets the model's intentions be known. The pointed, determined gaze of the headlamps has been directly influenced by, though heavily revised from, the 2011 GT, and that concept's intake slashes have evolved into a more purposeful, well-sculpted air curtain design. The strong iteration of the tiger nose grille and the hood vents help to complete an aggressive but smooth first impression.
Moving back from the face, the Stinger has long, clean proportions, with the visual weight of the design pushed rearward of the central axis. The long hood flows seamlessly into the belt line supporting the gently dropping fastback cabin. Contrast gills just behind the front wheels add some sporty aggression to the two-doored flanks, and a combination of rear lip spoiler, slash air outlets and quad exhaust tips ensures a strong finish at the rear.
"A true gran turismo, a car for spirited long-distance driving, is not about outright power, hard-edged dynamics and brutal styling, all at the expense of luxury, comfort and grace," says Gregory Guillaume, chief designer, Kia Motors Europe. "The Stinger has nothing to do with being the first to arrive at the destination – this car is all about the journey. It's about passion."
Kia also notes this particular GT is all about "elegance and athleticism," not "boy-racer aggression," and we think that shines through. It's a sleek, sporty sedan, but not one that makes you terrified of slipping into the rear seat. The car measures 190.2 in (4,882 mm) long by 73.6 in (1,869 mm) wide, and Kia has stretched the wheelbase out to 114.4 inches (2,906 mm). That wheelbase figure, Kia takes care to note, is longer than the Audi A4, Infiniti Q50, Lexus GS and others. Kia promises generous front and rear legroom and says that a low seating position ensures that neither the driver nor the passengers will be testing the give of the roof with their heads.
The Stinger interior keeps the emphasis on driving with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, analog/digital-split instrument cluster and head-up display (HUD). Along with usual suspects like trip computer and diagnostics, the color TFT screen between the gauges relays information like cornering G-forces and lap times. The height-adjustable color HUD puts information like speed, turn-by-turn navigation, audio and cruise control settings, and blind spot detection on the windshield directly in the driver's vision.
Infotainment duties are handled by a UVO system with 7-in haptic touchscreen and a nine- or six-speaker audio system, depending on trim level. Buyers who want more audio power can upgrade to an available 720-watt, 15-speaker Harman Kardon premium system with under-seat subwoofers and QuantumLogic surround sound technology. There's also a wireless smartphone-charging console pad, available Nappa leather, and an available driver's seat with air cell bladders and bolsters.
To power the spectrum between Nürburgring laps and family holiday road trips, the Stinger will come with choice of two turbo engines, both of which are still under development. The range-topping Lambda II 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 will put out an estimated 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. Kia is aiming for a 5.1-second 0-62 mph (100 km/h) and 167 mph (269 km/h) top speed with that V6, while it expects the 2.0-liter turbo four Theta II to offer 255 hp and 260 lb-ft.
Whichever engine the buyer chooses, it'll be mounted longitudinally and set rearward below the stretched hood. It'll drive the wheels with help from a second-generation eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, which will be Kia's first gearbox to use a Centrifugal Pendulum Absorber to cut torsional vibrations through the drivetrain.
Kia will offer the Stinger in both rear- and all-wheel drive varieties. The AWD model will feature a rear bias and a dynamic torque vectoring control system, while the RWD model will employ a mechanical limited-slip differential.
The Stinger chassis begins as a rigid construction of 55 percent advanced high-strength steel, delivering cushion and feel through a MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension layout. A Kia-first dynamic stability damping control system lets the driver tweak the suspension to his or her current needs and whims using five settings. The system will soften the front shocks and stiffen the rear for sharp, quick cornering, or reverse those settings for high-speed stability. The five selectable driving modes (personal, eco, sport, comfort and smart) adjust not only the suspension, but also the boost of the rack-mounted, motor-driven power steering (R-MDPS), transmission shift patterns and throttle mapping.
A proper "long-distance driving car" in 2017 should certainly help the driver keep alert and stay one step ahead with the latest assistive safety technologies, and the Kia Stinger brings a suite that includes advanced smart cruise control, forward collision assistance with autonomous emergency braking, driver attention alert, lane keep assist and rear cross traffic alert.
The Stinger will go on sale in North America in late 2017, and Kia will announce pricing closer to launch. For now, the model will serve as one of the highlights of the North American International Auto Show, which got underway this week.