2018 Kia Stinger GT review

Kia’s debut sport sedan has a starter’s endurance, and a closer’s speed

The Kia Stinger GT is what the stale luxury sedan market needs.
The Kia Stinger GT is what the stale luxury sedan market needs.
The Kia Stinger GT is what the stale luxury sedan market needs.

Highs

  • Fast, communicate steering
  • Silky smooth exterior design
  • Addictive acceleration
  • Luxurious cabin materials
  • Superb Harmon Kardon sound system

Lows

  • A $50K Kia is a tough sell
  • Make time for plenty of fuel stops

DT Editors' Rating

Supercars, military tanks, helicopters, flying saucers. These are just a few of the transportation devices that receive less attention than the 2018 Kia Stinger GT. During our week with Kia’s first-ever sport sedan, no fewer than 20 different people paused their lives to inspect the Korean-made five-door. Our favorite comment (and we suspect Kia would agree) came from a middle-aged male with mild slackjaw. “Sheesh that’s a beautiful car,” he remarked. “I was going to buy my wife a new Lexus, but maybe I should get her one of these instead.”

The Stinger GT is Kia’s most significant model to date, and a promised turning point for a brand best known for economy cars. Styling, technology, and performance will trickle down from the Stinger to all Kia models, but we don’t have to wait until some future date to get excited. The Stinger GT is handsome, potent, and luxurious in all the same ways as its German-made rivals, BMW’s 440i Gran Coupe ($49,700) and Audi’s A5 Sportback Prestige ($50,200). Our test vehicle is a top-of-the-line GT2 trim, retailing for $49,200 (plus destination and handling). Entry-level Stingers with a more modest turbocharged four-cylinder start at just $31,900.

Interior and tech

Performance figures make compelling headlines, but for Kia to actually steal buyers away from BMW or Audi, the Stinger needs premium amenities. To that end, the Stinger GT2 package includes Nappa leather, heated and ventilated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen display with voice commands, a 15-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system, a full suite of driver aids, and a 7.0-heads-up display. We’re hard pressed to think of anything the BMW 4 Series GC or the Audi A5 Sportback offer that the Stinger GT does not.

Special focus must be given to the Stinger’s available sound system. Harmon Kardon is renowned for its quality electronics, but the Stinger’s 720-watt, 12-channel unit is a new benchmark. Few vehicles — at any price point — can match the sound quality, range, and balance of the system. One trick to the Stinger’s system is a subwoofer placed beneath each front seat. For heavy bass music, the “butt-subs” add a new dimension to the listening experience. Clari-Fi works to restore audio details lost in digitally compressed music, while Quantum Logic’s surround sound is tailored to the Stinger’s hatchbacked interior for maximum impact. The system reminds us of a high-quality pair of headphones.

The Stinger is Kia’s most significant model to date, and a turning point for the economy car brand.

Another win for the Stinger GT is its comprehensive driver assistance suite. While both the 4 Series GC and A5 Sportback offer driver aids, they come at a hefty premium ($2,200 for the BMW and $1,800 for the Audi) and are do not match the range of features included in the Stinger. Included in the Stinger GT2 package is full speed adaptive cruise control, a backup camera with parking grid lines, front and rear parking sensors, blind spot warning with lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian protection, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and a driver attention monitor. At present, there isn’t a broader ranging suite of driver aids on the market – again, at any price point.

An upgrade to the standard 7.0-inch display, the 8.0-inch infotainment screen in our review car was neither innovative nor outdated. Resolution and response time were acceptable, though notably behind Audi and BMW’s systems. To its credit, the Stinger’s module is effortless to navigate and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (additional cost or unavailable options on the A5 and 4 Series). Another niggle is with the infotainment’s housing. Obstructively large, we wish the screen could at least stow within the dash when the vehicle is off.

The Stinger GT’s conventional luxury is as impressive as its technology. The optional Nappa leather seats with heating and ventilation offer the right blend of ergonomic support and relaxed comfort. Even after a long commute, these seats leave you feeling fresh. Fit and finish along the dash, center console, and door inserts is of similar quality to the A5 and 4 Series, though a few trim pieces feel cheaper. Cargo volume with the rear seats in place is a class-leading 23.3 cu. ft. and only the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe has more total volume with the rear seats folded (45.9 cu. ft. to the Stinger’s 40.9 cu. ft.). Rear passenger volume is excellent as well, giving tall riders ample legroom and sufficient headroom. An SUV will still offer more hauling options, but the five-door shape is certainly more practical than a traditional sedan.

Driving experience

On the surface, the Kia Stinger GT is a simple car — rear-drive, front-engine, automatic transmission. The trick to a great sport sedan, however, is the quality and congruity of these components. Kia’s first attempt at constructing a performance car should, logically, be a learning exercise. Instead, the Stinger GT feels like it comes from a company with a long history building sports sedans.

2018 Kia Stinger GT review
Miles Branman/Digital Trends
Miles Branman/Digital Trends

The Stinger GT borrows its 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6 from the Genesis G90, delivering 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Rear wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available on all Stinger trims. Kia quotes a 0 to 60 mph sprint of 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 167 mph. By comparison, the 320-hp BMW 440i Gran Coupe is 0.1 seconds quicker to 60 mph, and the 252-hp A5 Sportback is far behind at 5.7 seconds. Both the BMW and Audi are electronically limited to a top speed of 155 mph.

While the Stinger GT’s output and performance figures are weighty, we think Kia is being humble. Independent sources have clocked the GT at much quicker acceleration bursts, and our own butts tell us the GT is faster and more powerful than its figures suggest. Sadly, the exhaust music from the car’s quad-port system is more whisper than roar.

Somehow, it feels like Kia’s purpose has always been to build sports sedans.

The Stinger’s biggest dynamic hurdle to effective competition with the 4 Series and A5 is its steering and handling. BMW is among the most consistently praised brands when it comes to precision handling, and Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system is equally legendary. Kia, with zero performance reputation, must prove the Stinger GT is in the right classroom.

No problem. The GT is so dialed in, we swear the car can read minds. Turn the drive mode dial to Sport, find your nearest curvy road, and prepare to giggle like a child. Kia’s electronically assisted rack is perfectly weighted and affords ample feedback as the car’s nimble chassis and burly Brembos encourage our boldest maneuvers. This is no poseur. It’s the real deal.

If there’s any drawback to all this performance, it’s the GT’s meager fuel economy. Both rear and all-wheel drive models return 25 highway, 19 city, and 21 combined mpg. By comparison, the 440i GC notches 32 highway, 21 city, and 25 combined mpg, and the A5 Sportback Quattro triumphs with 34 highway, 24 city, and 27 combined mpg.

Warranty

Kia offers a 5-year/60,000-mile new car warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Neither BMW nor Audi can match Kia’s confidence in this regard.

How DT would configure this car

Though we haven’t tested the base, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder Stinger, we can’t deprive ourselves the GT’s high-ouput mill. Our chosen trim level is the range-topping GT2 for its comprehensive list of convenience, safety, and performance features. Painted in Ceramic silver (a sort of flat gray color) with red quilted leather interior and 19-inch wheels, our perfect Stinger GT is both menacing and provocative.

Our Take

The 2018 Kia Stinger GT is one of the best cars we’ve driven this year, and perhaps the most surprising. We expected Kia to pull out all the stops on this one, but we just didn’t expect its best would be this good. Bucking the trend of SUV obsession, Kia embraces the dynamic strengths of a low-slung sedan for those who are still willing to stand out. The result is a playful yet sophisticated product that is precisely what the stale luxury market needs.

Is there a better alternative?

Measured against its rivals, the Kia Stinger GT is more powerful, more affordable (when similarly equipped), and, arguably, more handsome. In truth, Kia will have a tough time pulling buyers from BMW and Audi – especially those caught in the web of badge honor – but anyone who is willing to do the math will find a highly attractive package in the Stinger GT. Put simply, we don’t think there’s a better alternative in this class.

How long will it last?

In 2016, J.D. Power ranked Kia number one is new vehicle reliability – a feat no other non-luxury brand has accomplished in 27 years. As a new model, there’s no way to know the Stinger’s reliability for sure, but Kia has earned some trust in recent years.

Should you get one?

Yes. Kia may not have the luxury cred of BMW or Audi, but it more than makes up for lost time with a kick-ass product. The Stinger GT is stylish, fun, and upscale. What more do you need?