Meet the Stinger GT, Kia Motors South Africa’s twentieth anniversary gift to itself – and it is changing brand perceptions as fast as it accelerates to 100 km/h. Which is to say pretty darn fast!
History has shown us time and time again that talent and natural ability will only carry you so far. No matter your innate aptitude in any field, there always comes a moment of reckoning; the ‘one shot’ moment from 8 Mile if you like; when you must take to the stage under intense scrutiny and, unequivocally, show what you’re truly made of. For one industrious Korean firm, that’s what the Kia Stinger GT represents. Let’s face it, the automotive world is chock full of talented, under-appreciated cars. Hell, it’s practically a cliché. What splits the very best from the rest is persistence, and in its twenty-year vigil, Kia Motors South Africa has shown it’s got all the sticking power in the world.
Looking at it with the benefit of hindsight, you could be forgiven for thinking when Associated Motor Holdings (later to become Imperial Motor Holdings) acquired local distribution of Kia in 1997, that its ascent to success was all part of some perfectly choreographed masterplan. When, in fact, the journey from complete obscurity to wholesale brand acceptance, with a mere 310 units sold in that first year, was anything but. Two-decades on, AMH is the custodian of 75 Kia dealerships countrywide, retailing in excess of 16 335 units each year. Sheer numbers aside, the brand’s growth is perhaps best exemplified through its evolution in design maturity – courtesy of the appointment of ex-Audi man, Peter Schreyer, as Chief Design Officer – as well as in pure quantitative terms, with a list of quality awards from J.D. Power and the like, that are as long as your arm.
However, solid market share, industry insight and immense growth potential are nothing without the correct product. Both the Sorento SUV and Grand Sedona people carrier pushed Kia into the R700k territory and beyond, but now there’s an offering that truly transforms the Kia proposition: a proper, pukka sports saloon worthy of a halo title at a not-so halo price. Kia knows it has an uphill battle to convince punters to part with big money for its products, and not just in a more-for-less sense, but if ever there was one to make you stand up and take notice, it’s the Stinger GT.
Brace yourself for these figures: a twin-turbo 3.3-litre V6 driven through an eight-speed automatic gearbox to the rear wheels via limited-slip differential means there is a serious sting in its tail. 272 kW / 510 Nm of torque available from below 1500 rpm ensures a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 270 km/h. Numbers that positively blow likeminded and like-priced saloons from Europe into the weeds. It simply erupts down a road with its clever launch control mode and has a lovely, gruff V6 snarl that really sounds like it stands for something. Like the mid-range turbo wallop that really squeezes you into the plush red leather seat.
Adaptive dampers give a bring-it-on enthusiasm in the corners, although it never errs too far on the side of jiggly sportiness: even on low profile 19-inch rubber, the Stinger glides like the supplest luxury saloon. This keeps the whole shooting match balanced on the limit, the steering is feel some and accurate and can be further tuned, like the throttle response, gearbox shift pattern to Eco, Comfort, Sport and Custom modes; ensuring the daily commute is far from a hardship when you’re in get-to-work mode. There’s also a clear advantage in pure real estate terms, too. From nose to stingy tail there’s 4.8 m of acreage and a wheelbase of 2.9 m, which puts interior space fore and aft closer to that of an Audi A6 than an A4, although the Kia’s fastback silhouette hardly suggests as much.
That’s down to Peter Schreyer, and another ex-Audi man, Gregory Guillaume’s, fine penmanship. An admirably clean design, but with plenty of sporting embellishments at a closer look (red Brembo brake calipers, quad exhaust pipes), it’s as if it’s been inspired by powerful, elegant GTs from Infiniti, Jaguar and Maserati. Although the biggest styling nod of all must go to the 2011 Kia GT Concept, which absolutely set the template for this handsome fastback. Its signature tiger nose and low bonnet garners maximum attention and while it is a five-door – it has a rear hatch – a strong horizontal line across the rear tail lamps keeps the eye’s focus low down. If you’re going to make a statement, don’t be all shy about it seems to be the message.
Equally arresting is the interior which mimics many of its premium competitors in design aesthetics, if not outright tactile quality. Three central air vents could’ve been lifted from the latest Merc E-Class and the silver-finished lower dash and transmission tunnel has a distinct Audi flavour to it, which is neither here nor there because everything works with the same fall-to-hand efficacy. The driver’s display has no trick virtual instrumentation and the central screen has a peculiar dual touchscreen / rotary dial functionality. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility aside, you’d be forgiven for thinking the smartphone-loving Koreans might’ve made a better go of this infotainment system. And there’s a thin LCD-looking display in the centre of the fascia which never illuminates and seems to serve no purpose whatsoever. Odd.
Nevertheless, the long-awaited arrival of the Stinger GT announces Kia’s up-market ambitions. It’s not some marketing creation, some car that’s all talk and no trousers. Quite the opposite – it’s a superb all-round package with distinctive design, strong performance and great dynamics. And at just R859 995 all-in, it could very well make a dent in the sales columns of some of more-fancied European carmakers in SA, especially when you remember a comparable Audi S7 Sportback starts life at R1.3 million. Although market conquest is not really the point this time for Kia, the Stinger GT is no end point, but rather a vehicle (no pun intended) to show just how far the firm has come in SA in two decades. If this trajectory is only the beginning, we can’t wait to see what the next twenty years has in store.
In a nutshell:
Kia Stinger GT 3.3T
Loads of car for the money, great performer, practical
Interior fixtures not quite on par with European counterparts… yet
Engine: 3 342 cc, 6-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 272 kW @ 6 000 rpm, 510 Nm @ 1 300-2 200 rpm
Performance: 0-100 km/h 4.9 sec (tested), top speed 270 km/h
Tyres: Continental SportContact5 225/40 R19 front, 255/35 R19 rear
Economy: 11.5 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
CO2 emissions: 239 g/km
Price: R 859 995