Payne: Kia’s affordable Stinger GT challenges Porsche Panamera

Posted by hpayne on October 11, 2017

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You saw the concept in 2011. You lusted for the production car at the Detroit auto show in January. Now the car that looks like an Audi A7 fastback with a Dodge Charger price is here.

All hail the growling Kia Stinger GT, a $39,895, 365-horsepower twin-turbo V-6, four-door fastback

Yes, Kia. The Korean maker of value cars has stolen Detroit’s GT mojo right down to the retro-1970s “Stinger” name. The name echoes autodom’s glory days before killjoy government bureaucrats dictated fuel-economy laws and Detroit automakers churned out sexy beasts with catchy names like Stingray, Javelin, Duster and Roadrunner.

The Stinger is a four-door Camaro that will have stroller-pushing muscle-car heads drooling.

As buyers have flocked to SUVs, performance brands have moved with them. Jaguar, Alfa and Maserati have smartly followed Porsche’s lead in transforming their sports car DNA into crossovers for customers who covet quickness but need more cargo room than, say, a 911.

Porsche innovated the same idea in the sedan space with its Panamera fastback —essentially a stretched 911 with four doors. Audi followed Porsche with the more aesthetically-pleasing, $70,000 Audi A7 and $54,000 S5 Sportback. And in the nose-bleed section there’s the jaw-dropping, $205,000 Aston Martin Rapide, surely the most beautiful sport sedan ever conceived.

But why should the jet set have all the fun? I’ve advocated that Detroit’s iconic Camaro and Mustang muscle car badge’s stretch into the sedan segment. Dodge has explored this space brilliantly with its “four-door Challenger,” the Charger. Three Chargers roll off the lot for every two Challengers, but with its aging 4,000-pound body, I pine for a modern four-door fastback version of the Camaro or Mustang.

The 3,600-pound Stinger is a visual knockout with enough punch to bury a Porsche Panamera out of a stoplight. Like the sixth-generation Camaro, the Stinger was baselined to the best coupe sedans on the planet — Panamera and A7 beauties costing twice as much.

The Stinger takes the same, athletic bones that stiffens Hyundai’s luxury Genesis G70 (Kia and Hyundai are bros, don’t ya’ know?) and dressed it up with the hottest wardrobe this side of Gal Gadot in a Wonder Woman suit.

Wonder Woman would admire its punch. Consider the numbers. The Stinger GT has gorged on performance hardware. A smooth, eight-speed transmission channels a relentless, twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 pushes out 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. I tested a comparably priced, $39,940 335-horsepower, 284-torque Camaro V-6 last year. With two doors.

I’ve been babbling on in this space for some time now about the disappearing line between luxury and mainstream brands. The Kia all but obliterates it.

This is a $40,000 sportback that hangs with A-list Bimmers, Audis and Porsches. I’ve been stung.

Over an autocross course and 21/2-mile test track at Kia’s Mojave, California, proving grounds, the Stinger matched its teachers stride-for-stride. Its chassis balance is nearly on par with the Panamera and bests similarly sized $80,000 sedans like the A7 and BMW six-series coupe while offering (no doubt terrified) rear-seat passengers more room. Go down a size and only the BMW 4-series can out-dribble Stinger while giving up acres of rear cargo room to the Kia’s hatchback.

I particularly enjoyed the rear-wheel drive Stinger. So playful are its dynamics that I drifted it out of hairpin turns and tight switchbacks. Unlike the muscle car set, Kia doesn’t offer a manual, but the eight-speed is so transparent that I didn’t miss the stick under hard caning — the SPORT setting (ECO , NORMAL, and CUSTOM also available) holding the right gear through high-speed corners.

My Michigan mates, of course, will want the Kia’s available snow-shredding all-wheel drive. That’ll tack on an additional $2,200 to the $39,000 sticker. It’s tenacious grip will bring other benefits: the Stinger will stomp a Panamera from zero-60 mph: 4.7 seconds vs. the Porsche’s 5.2 seconds.

More numbers? The Stinger beats the Porsche at top end with 167 mph, offers Apple CarPlay navigation (my attempts at Android Auto were once again foiled), and comes with Formula E-racing developed Michelin Sport tires. Yet, the affordable Stinger won’t come with its luxury peers’ stiff maintenance costs. Add to that Kia’s signature 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty and its vaunted J.D, Power-approved reliability.

So comfortable is the Kia in First Class that one wonders why it doesn’t get an alphanumeric badge (or at least a Euro name like Panamera). A mistake? I don’t think so. Badging matters and those who can afford a true luxury sportback will do so. For everyone else, there’s the Stinger.

At the ridiculously attainable price of $40,000, it’s three cars wrapped into a niche of one:

1. Affordable luxury sedan: The interior design — aviator-style round center vents clash with vertical slats at the corners — may lack the Audi’s coherence, but it’s much more sophisticated than a Charger. Aluminum, soft dash materials, T-shifter and infotainment tablet are agreeable and upscale-looking. Flogging the Stinger across the Angel Crest Mountains, the sedan was whisper-quiet except when clearing its throat with quad pipes.

2. Four-door muscle: While the long hood and tapered back reveal its German inspiration, the details are all Yankee swagger: faux hood intakes, lid-wide taillights and quad exhaust (even in the base four!). For all its sleek European pretension, this is a busy, look-at-me design. The Kia has an unmistakable road presence. The signature tiger-nose grille and glowing LED running lights menace in the rear-view mirror.

3. Pocket rocket sedan without the wing bling: The $40,000 segment is a gold mine of practical performance, from hot hatch VW Golf Rs to Subaru WRX STIs. But for a combination of sedan looks, hatch practicality — and unrivaled backseat room and horsepower — the Stinger is just the ticket for the STI driver that has outgrown the boy-toy wing.

My favorite Stinger trim (if you haven’t guessed) is the Stinger GT: standard leather, Apple CarPlay (who needs navigation if you have that?), safety stuff, V-6, 19-inch wheels. But this cat has range above and below GT. Load it up with luxury features like color heads-up display, Harman Kardon 19-speaker stereo and Napa leather to $51,000 and you’re still well south of the $70,000 base A7. Or opt for the four-banger and get 18-inch wheels and leather out the door for just $32,000.

Speaking of the latter, a classic, muscle-car yellow four lurked at the Mojave media drive. Kia hasn’t committed it to production yet (deliveries start in late November). They should. Along with bright red, bright blue and bright green. It’s how affordable muscle cars roll.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2018 Kia Stinger

VEHICLE TYPE

FRONT-ENGINE, REAR-

AND ALL-WHEEL DRIVE,

FIVE-PASSENGER SPORTS

SEDAN

Powerplant

2.0-liter turbocharged,

inline-4 cylinder;

3.5-liter, twin-turbo

V-6

Transmission

8-speed automatic

Weight

3,650 pounds 4-cyl.

RWD, est.; 3,900 AWD

V-6 est.)

Price

$32,000 base, est.

($39,895 – $52,000 GT

V-6 as tested, est.)

Power

255 horsepower, 260

pound-feet torque

(4-cyl.); 365

horsepower, 376

pound-feet torque

(V-6)

Performance

0-60 mph, 4.7 sec.

(Stinger GT, mftr.); top

speed: 167 mph

Fuel economy

NA. (14-22 mpg in

aggressive Detroit

News driving)

Report card

HIGHS

LUXURY STYLE, LUXURY

POWER; KIA RELIABILITY,

DRIVETRAIN WARRANTY

Lows

Interior style a bit

fractured; sedans out

of favor with buyers

Overall:★★★★

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