2018 Kia Stinger GT AWD Review - Icing On The Cake

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2018 Kia Stinger GT1 AWD

3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6 (365 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 376 lb/ft @ 1,300 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
19 city / 25 highway / 21 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
12.7 city / 9.6 highway / 11.3 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
20.8 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $46,350 US / $51,919 CAD
As Tested: $48,350 US / $52,119 CAD
Prices include $900 destination charge in the United States and $1924 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2018 kia stinger gt awd review icing on the cake

Kia has done a remarkable job at building a brand here in the U.S., and has done so without treading the well-worn path of appealing to enthusiasts. No, the Kia brand is built on solid small cars and utilities, with price and a great warranty being top of mind. Not squealing tires.

You knew that had to change. There is plenty of money in Kia’s corporate warchest to move away from the meat-and-potatoes commuter appliances to a nice, exciting cake or pie. Thus, the 2018 Kia Stinger GT — a tasty treat for the eyes and the butt dyno. But does it satisfy?

I’ve been begging Kia to drive the Stinger since the automaker unveiled it in a dank Detroit warehouse nearly two years ago. Shows what kind of pull I have with the automakers — the one that arrived had over 14,000 miles on the odometer.

[Get new and used Kia Stinger pricing here!]

Recall the adage that a rental car is the fastest car in the world, as you don’t care what happens to the car once you drop it off at the airport? Imagine getting paid to drive that car. That’s the kind of abuse a press fleet car sees. I’d love to see some sort of algorithm that plots press-versus-paying customer wear, but I’d wager that a 14k-old fleet car is worn at least as much as a 50k mile car that still has a loan balance.

I mention this since my initial driving impression of the Stinger was unusual. I hopped in, adjusted seat and mirrors, connected my phone, and drove to a drive-thru for lunch. I hadn’t adjusted the radio stations (seems that every press car I get is tuned to classical), so I immediately switched off the sound. A light creaking sound became instantly noticeable, even at crawling speed between the menu board and the window.

I initially thought a light rain was falling.

Nope. There is a noise emitted from the sunroof mechanism as the car flexes slightly over the tiniest bumps. It sounds like different materials — I’m guessing fiberboard from the headliner, foam from insulation, and metals in the roof itself — rubbing together, conspiring to annoy me.

A little noise shouldn’t be a big deal. Turn up the stereo, right? Plus, it’s a driver’s car first. But people who spend $48,000 on a four-door aren’t always hitting the track or the twisties. Occasionally, those drivers might need to drive the boss, a client, or a future father-in-law, and little things like squeaks can make a negative impression.

The 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 isn’t the most refined-sounding engine, either, though I dig the growl under throttle. That rumble is ever-present even at idle, which alarmed my wife a bit when encountering the start-stop system. You see, she has a history of exploding engines in various beaters, and when the Kia shut down at a stoplight, she noticed, immediately assuming something was wrong when all went briefly quiet.

The driving feel does its best to make up for the little noises, however. The steering does a nice job of communicating what the tires are doing, and the suspension is always willing to hustle around corners.

Managing Editor Tim Healey complained that there is an unusual degree of body roll in what is marketed as a sports sedan. I agree — the roll is unusual. However, the roll is accompanied by plenty of grip when driving aggressively. I can specifically think of another car that has both a good deal of body roll and great handling: the Miata. That’s good company to be in.

365 hp is plenty to get the big sedan/hatch out of corners briskly and up to unprintable speeds surprisingly quickly. I love the midrange punch — twitching my toe to change lanes and overtake a slow-moving hybrid (yes, said hybrid was lounging in the left lane at twenty under the limit), I quickly found myself approaching triple digits.

Thankfully, the Brembo brakes worked as one would expect. On one, ahem, spirited drive on a favorite back road, I encountered a Grumman LLV postal vehicle coming at me, inexplicably left-of-center. Other than the usual sound and feel of ABS engaging, there was no drama from the car. Drama between myself and the possibly-stoned letter carrier is not in the scope of this review.

I’m not as thrilled with the eight-speed automatic transmission, however. It shifts imperceptibly when commuting, but it’s not tuned for driving fun. Even when the lever is canted left into the sport sector, shifts are lazy. Worse yet, even when trying to “manually” shift (via lever or column-mounted paddle), the Stinger will upshift for you before redline. A proper sporty slushbox should hold the gear on the limiter.

Another concern: the proximity sensors front and rear are hyperactive. Perhaps the sensors used are the same for other cars in the Kia lineup, calibrated for cars that ride higher than the somewhat low-slung Stinger, but they kept randomly alerting me to such serious dangers as speed bumps and leaves blowing across my path. PETA would be happy, however, as those sensitive bumper nubbins possibly saved the life of a neighborhood squirrel as I backed out of the drive one foggy morn.

Perhaps the rodent was in awe of the Stinger. It’s an unusually attractive sedan — well, really, it’s a five-door hatchback, but it doesn’t really scream hatch when you look at it. It’s long, wide, and low, making the Stinger menacingly elegant. The nose is festooned with vents and scoops and swoopy headlamps, and a pair of hood vents add to the sporty look. But beyond the front wheels, it’s reserved, with a nice dark polished vent behind each front wheel arch exhausting hot air.

Inside, the optional red Nappa leather seats are a great contrast to the rental-car white exterior — I’ve always been a sucker for red leather. The seats are plenty comfortable, though the lower cushion on the driver’s seat is a bit short for me, leading to a bit of cramping on a long drive. Rear seat comfort is quite good, though headroom is a bit pinched for me due to the sloping roof of the hatch.

That hatch, however, is a brilliant feature, giving a sports sedan buyer who needs a bit more utility a great option rather than yet another crossover. Kia quotes 23.3 cubic feet of space behind those rear seats. While it’s not that much more than most competitive sedans, the option to haul taller stuff makes those cubes quite useful.

The 2018 Kia Stinger GT is a great attempt at breaking into the sports sedan market. It’s incredibly fun to drive, yet civilized enough to not punish while commuting. Still, some details need a bit of finishing. This pie remains underbaked.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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2 of 79 comments
  • Z9 Z9 on Oct 26, 2018

    I spent some quality time in a Kia showroom recently and had an opportunity to look at a yellow example of one of these cars (paint looked OK so far). I like the fact that it is a hatchback in the A7 style, but I can't imagine who would prefer it to an A7. It's a car that catches your eye and then makes you feel bad for having looked at it. I guess that's kind of an accomplishment. I felt the same way about the 1974 AMC Matador, which might be the Stinger's original inspiration.

  • JohnnyBquick JohnnyBquick on Jan 09, 2019

    I have a friend who bought one of these in red. Beautiful! He usually buys American cars so I was surprised he went with the KIA. He was impressed with the car and wanted a V6, not a HEMI this time. I looked it over and was very impressed with the car. I didnt have time to drive it as of yet...but look forward to it.

  • JMII I know people behind me get POed when I refuse to turn (right or left) depending on traffic. Even my wife will scream "just go already" but I tend err on the side of waiting for a gap that gives me some cushion. It's the better safe then sorry approach which can be annoying for those behind. Oh well.
  • Bobbysirhan Next thing you know, EV drivers will be missing the freedom to travel on their own schedules instead of their cars'.
  • Cprescott I'm not surprised by this behavior - it is consistent with how owners of Honduhs, Toyoduhs, or Mazduhs drive. Without fail, these are the consistently obtuse drivers on the road.
  • MaintenanceCosts Timely question as this happened to me just this morning. The answer was "my kids were engaged in a stupid fight in the back seat." I was trying to drive and keep them from killing each other at once, and I cut off a pedestrian in a crosswalk while making a left turn. Thankfully I wasn't close enough to create serious danger, but it was a jerk driving move.
  • Dave M. "81 million supposedly". Landslide according to some statisticians.