Author: Kieran Bicknell - 02 December 2021
The 2021 Kia Stinger GT-S, hot and cool
As a young journalist, the Kia Stinger GT-S was ‘forbidden’ until I hit the minimum age restriction, such is the way with insurance and manufacturers.
Having waited until I hit the magical 25 to book the Kia Stinger GT-S, I later discovered – to my mild annoyance – that I could’ve booked it a whole year ago! That’ll teach me to read the small print.
Nonetheless, I was excited to get behind the wheel of Kia’s ‘Q’ car, as it were. Hidden in plain sight, the Stinger racks up well against its rivals from the likes of Mercedes and BMW on paper, and yet we rarely see them around, especially in comparison to the hoards of bland 3-Series’ and C-Class’ that seem to litter every roadway and car park across the UK.
So, why don’t we see the Kia Stinger? It seems to get great reviews across the board from motoring outlets and journalists and is well-respected by enthusiasts and even among the tuning community, both in factory form and in the form of a Stinger-powered DeLorean. Yes, you read that correctly!
Is the apparent lack of popularity simply down to so-called ‘badge snobbery’, or is there actually a deep-rooted issue with Kia’s V6-powered GT car? Either way, I was going to find out.
Initial impressions on delivery day were very strong indeed. Recipient of a minor facelift in 2020, which saw the range streamlined to offer only the top-spec, twin-turbo V6 GT-S, the Stinger still looks and feels fresh from an aesthetic standpoint and – in my opinion – is arguably better-looking than a lot of the competition.
Aggressively styled without being too overbearing or outlandish (Honda, take notes), the Stinger has the air of a car that’ll play nice 90% of the time, yet when you plant your foot or want to take advantage of the RWD platform, it’ll reward you for doing so.
Honestly, I’d say the Stinger is by far the best-looking car in Kia’s range. On a purely aesthetic basis, I’d take one over its rivals any day, especially in HiChroma Red (as tested) or Ember Orange. Above, the panoramic glass roof breaks up the swathes of wonderfully rich HiChroma red paintwork, and there are plenty of small details picked out in black or chrome without becoming too fussy. However, I must admit the chrome mirrors felt a bit over-the-top for me.
As with all Kia’s, the equipment and technology level that your money gets you at this price point is fantastic. Available only in top-range GT-S trim, the Stinger has all the convenience and comfort facilities you could ever want.
Too hot? Just turn the cooled seats on. Long motorway journey ahead? Adaptive cruise, please. Lovely, sunny day? Ah, pop open the panoramic glass roof. Lovely stuff!
Immediately, settling into the Stinger feels like home – anyone that’s driven any other high-end Kia product will find all the controls and switchgear laid out in a familiar position, and the overall feel of the cabin is of a much higher quality and standard than many would expect from a non-German saloon.
Superbly comfortable on long journeys and with that wonderful feel of a car seeming much larger than it is, there is plentiful storage for family duties, without the notion that Kia has tried to cram in as many cubbies, hatches and storage bins as possible.
Whilst I understand that the Stinger is a GT car first and foremost, I can’t help but feel that Kia has made it *too* quiet. In normal mode, this is a wonderful thing. Motorways, A-roads and even urban journeys are soaked up in blissful peace, but when you’re pressing on in sport mode (more on that in a moment), there is virtually no noise, and what you do hear is fake, synthesised noise that’s piped in, and even on loud mode it’s still too quiet. If the Kia CEED GT gets a raspy, valved exhaust, indeed the Stinger is worthy of one too?
On the Road:
Unfortunately for me, the weather decided to be typically British, and a blanket of annoying, drizzly rain descended on the North Wiltshire countryside. Now, I’d been forewarned the Stinger was rather tail-happy, so I approached with due caution given the less-than-optimal road conditions.
Out on the road, I took it easy, given the Stingers reputation. All seemed wonderfully at ease, with seemingly plenty of grip and ‘feel’ from the car. Why was everyone so worried or hyped up about the Stinger’s excitable characteristics, I wondered? Well, I’d discover why quite quickly….
Switching the car into ‘sports’ mode, which – among other things – sharpens up the gearbox, throttle response and inflates the side bolsters of the driver’s seat a’la E46 M3, I approached a long, straight stretch of road. Going to overtake a cyclist, I blipped down into third and gave the right pedal a hefty shove, almost immediately feeling the back end become surprisingly light and try to shift sideways. Ah, it turns out the Kia deserves its slightly ‘playful’ reputation, it would seem.
Having switched the drive mode back to ‘Normal’, it was like I was driving another car altogether. Still monstrously quick in everyday scenarios but seemingly tamed, it was as if the car had a full-on Jekyll and Hyde personality, becoming a wild, lairy beast at the flick of a button. In normal mode, the Stinger is an impressively refined GT car, offering fantastic comfort, an excellent entertainment system and a surprisingly laid-back driving experience, given that upfront there’s a twin-turbocharged V6 lump producing over 360bhp.
Motorways are an absolute pleasure from any position inside the well-appointed cabin. Progress is swift and comfortable as either the driver or passenger, whilst the dual heated/cooled seats are always a welcome addition to any car for added comfort.
On a dry, twisting road, the Sports mode is far more forgiving, and I’d certainly say it’s very flattering of a driver, making you feel much faster than you really are. If you’re feeling courageous, there is a ‘sports plus’ mode which removes most of the nannying safety systems, though I chose not to explore this – sports mode alone was more than entertaining enough, thank you very much.
The Stinger is one of those rare cases of being better for having a DCT transmission, and arguably a manual would be at odds with the Stinger’s GT characteristics, not to mention its tail-happy tendencies; If I was really pressing on (whether on track or during a particularly brave B-Road sprint) I’m almost certain that a manual – requiring the removal of my hands from the steering wheel – would become more of a hindrance than a help. In any case, the DCT’ box in the Stinger is certainly not something to complain about.
With the ability to switch from a comfortable, easy-going GT car to a road-going cruise missile at the flick of a switch, I have to say I was genuinely wowed by the performance and ability of the Stinger, not to mention just how good it is on long-distance, boring commutes also. Regardless of the journey length, I arrived fresh, comfortable and alert – as you’d want from a large GT car.
Granted, the Stinger is somewhat on the pricey side – £43,380 as tested – making it the same price as a very, very highly-appointed 3-Series or C-Class, or a decent specification 5-Series, which might explain why we see so few around. It’s a shame, really, given just how good the Stinger is, but at a c. £5-10,000 premium over even a moderately well-equipped rival, you’d have to really want to make the most of the Stinger’s performance to justify the cost.
An excellent car, but perhaps one that is simply too expensive for most people. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Stinger, and I hope Kia continue to explore this market segment more, perhaps bringing in a lower-equipped variant once again to try and steer consumers away from the mid-level executive market.
With the future looking decidedly electric, and KIA (along with parent brand Hyundai) making a conscious shift towards EV production, big, powerful GT cars such as the Stinger seem to be living on borrowed time, so it shall be interesting to see if the model receives another refresh or replacement in the coming years, or whether it’ll be phased out and replaced with an EV Grand Tourer.
Like most powerful ICE cars, enjoy them whilst they last and the Kia Stinger is one to check out!
Author Rating: 4/5