Driven: 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Written by: 
Justin Kaehler
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There once was a time when Public Enemy once implored you to not believe the hype. And if you’re old enough to get that reference – and can restrain yourself from telling us that they said “don’t believe the hype” – you’re probably at just the right age to contemplate dropping over $50K on a Kia.

Yes, we said more than $50,000. For a Kia. For a Kia that has been heralded as the second coming of Jesus. For a Kia that’s supposed to give you the driving thrills of a Porsche, but at the price of, well, a Kia.

And if you look at the Stinger on paper, it does show a lot of promise. It was designed by Peter Schreyer, the man responsible for the New Beetle and original Audi TT. It was tuned on the Nurburgring, with Kia putting every development mule through a minimum of 480 laps. And even the base model Stinger comes with a turbocharged four-banger, rear-wheel drive and lots of leather trim inside.

Kia Stinger GT2 Profile

Step up to the fully loaded Kia Stinger GT2 AWD – as we did – and you’ll get a 365-hp turbocharged V6, Brembo brakes, specially designed Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires, an electronically controlled high-performance suspension, and a whole lot more.

So how does this $50,000 wonder-Kia drive? Well, to be honest, it doesn’t impress at first drive. When set to COMFORT – aka “normal” – this Kia doesn’t feel too different from a regular 4-cylinder sedan. And yes, we are driving the V6. There’s a pleasing low rumble to the exhaust, but the car takes its sweet time getting up to speed. It’s not bad, per se, but it left us scratching our heads as to what the fuss was about. ECO mode was the same, but slower, and didn’t really do much to improve our sub-20 mpg average.

But then we clicked the drive-select control to SPORT, and everything changed.

We’re not sure if this was a calculated move by Kia, but we have not seen a SPORT mode change the character of a car as drastically as it did the Kia Stinger. Was this ho-hum COMFORT mode designed specifically to neuter the car to make SPORT seem that much more aggressive? Or did Kia really want to unleash the full savagery of the beast they created? We may never know, but we’re glad that this SPORT mode exists.

Yes, SPORT mode sharpens the throttle, sharpens the steering and stiffens that active suspension. But what words can’t convey is the sheer force of acceleration one feels when stomping on that go pedal. The Stinger roars to life – literally – with that turbo V6 shouting as it rockets the car from null to sixty in just 4.7 seconds. And it’s an aggressive shove getting to that speed, feeling much rougher – and way more fun – than the linear shoves seen in some of the Stinger’s higher-end competition.

Cornering is decent for a sedan that weighs over 4,000 lbs. The AWD system in our GT2 tester is an intelligent one; it’s rear-biased but can split power delivery to each individual wheel as needed. The Stinger does a great job at holding its line, but on tighter, twistier, public roads, it can’t break physics to feel as nimble as a Miata. That said, with its size and long wheelbase, we’d love to see how a RWD version works as a drift platform…

Kia Stinger Interior

But back to the car and subject at hand. While the Stinger is a sporty car, it isn’t a sports car. Even Kia is quick to call it a driver’s gran turismo – something that’s suitable for a long road trip, but able to haul ass as needed. And it’s here where the Stinger GT shines.

Given that the exterior was designed by an Audi designer, it should come as no surprise that the interior feels very Audi-esque as well. Our GT2 features a flat-bottom steering wheel and  deeply bolstered seats wrapped in soft Nappa leather. The front seats can heat or cool your posterior, while the standard three-zone climate control blows air out through large, circular, very Germanic vents. A full-color heads-up display comes standard, as does a large 8-inch touch-screen display and 15-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system. Driving position is great, allowing for enough adjustability to make things feel just right. The shape of the rear doors makes getting in and out of the back seat a bit challenging for taller folks, but who cares about them? You’re buying this car because you want to drive – not be chauffeured. If you need to carry stuff, the trunk area is kind of shallow, but that fastback hatch shape does a lot to help you cram a good amount of stuff in the rear.

Kia Stinger Taillight and Badge

For what it is, the Kia Stinger is an excellent package. It’s got plenty of power, is a lot of fun to drive, and is actually practical for everyday use. But at $50,000 for a fully loaded one, it’s a hard sell. It doesn’t matter how good the car itself is, people still associate Kia with cheapness. For those who want prestige over performance, a comparably equipped Audi A5 Sportback Prestige sells for about the same cost. Yeah, it’s a tick slower, but at least you won’t have to walk into a Kia dealership to get one.

But if you don’t care about the badge, and you have an aversion to paying German luxury car repair costs, the Kia Stinger is one hell of a car. It’s every good thing everyone says it is. And it presents one of those rare situations where it is, in fact, okay to believe the hype.

Kia Stinger Rear