WE PRIDE OURSELVES on being able to assess a car after the briefest of drives, but this is ridiculous. After being bundled out of a bus in the pitlane of the old Nurburgring Nordschleife, I’m hurried into a Kia Stinger GT, a car I’ve never sat in, let alone driven, and waved out on to the track in hot pursuit of Dirk Schoysman. He’s the bloke who broke the 8 min production car record here in a Nissan R33 Skyline 20 years ago. And judging by his pace on what is supposed to be the sighting lap, someone forgot to tell him he got it in the bag. Two laps, and less than 20 minutes later (even Dirk couldn’t manage an eight in the Stinger), we’re back in the pits and summarily ejected from the car. Wait, what just happened?
What just happened is Kia took a swipe at the BMW 4-series Gran Coupe, and managed at the very least a glancing blow. Having firmly established itself in the family car sector and caused a world of pain to mainstream European brands, the Koreans have set their sights higher. Likely to be priced from £29k to £40k when it arrives this winter, the Stinger is bigger, roomier, better equipped and more distinctive than some of its established premium targets, though some of the US-aimed detailing is a bit fussy.
Under that long bonnet you get a choice of three engines, all installed north-south, and all mated to Kia’s own eight-speed automatic transmission: a 252bhp 2.0 petrol that’ll do 62mph in 6.0sec, a 2.2 diesel good for 197bhp and 7.7sec to 62mph, and the top-of-the-range V6 GT. That’s the car we’re driving today, but is unlikely to be a big seller. A £40k twin-turbo missile with pictures of the Audi S5 Sportback on its dartboard, the GT’s 365bhp V6 pushes it to 62mph in 5.1 sec and on to a 168mph top speed that makes it the fastest production Kia yet and gives it a marketing boost over German rivals pegged to 155mph by their electronic limiters.
You can’t argue with those numbers, or with the push in the back you feel, but it’s not the most charismatic engine. US cars release alit-tle more exhaust noise, but EU rules demand a quieter system here, so most of what you hear is piped in through the speakers. The chassis is the real star, and justifies this whole daft Nordschleife caper. Chassis man Albert Biermann was poached two years ago from BMW after 30 years with the firm, the last eight of which he spent at M Division. No doubt he’s desperate to get his hands on the next Picanto, but recently he’s been busy tweaking the Stinger.
And he’s done a fine job. Some markets get the choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, but only the rear-driver is coming to the UK, and that’s fine with us. We drove both and the all-paw is noticeably stodgier, feeling duller both on turn-in and exit, despite the supposed rear torque bias. Considering its circa-1800kg kerb weight the rear-drive car has great body control, accurate, natural-feeling steering and the balance to let you hook up the mechanical limited-slip diff and drift the tail out on the circuit’s slower corners. An electronic diff will come later, but this is already a fun steer, provided you accept it’s not meant to be a fully fledged M4 rival.
We’ll have to wait until the autumn, when we’ll get more than 20 minutes behind the wheel, and in versions people will actually buy, to know just how good the Stinger is. CO2 figures are the too, and given the car’s weight and dimensions, it might struggle to compete. But there’s real promise here, and the Germans have cause to be concerned, if not by this car then the cars that will follow.