Kia UK are feeling bullish about the coming year. They sold more than 93,000 cars this year and expect to add to that in 2018, forecasting 94,700 sales in the UK for 2018.
The Korean manufacturer estimates that between 1,800 and 2,000 of those sales will be their new GT, the Kia Stinger, and a third of those the top spec GT S model.
It’s new territory for Kia, a 365bhp fastback rear-wheel-drive GT car with premium build quality and a 4.7 second 0-60 time.
It’s not a sign of Kia moving into the premium sector, says Steve Kitson, Kia UK’s director of corporate communications. The Stinger is a ‘brand builder’. An exhibition of what Kia can do. What it means for Kia’s future direction will, ultimately, depend on its market performance.
Kia Stinger GT S
Engine: 3.3-litre, V6, twin-turbo petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 168mph
0-60mph: 4.7 seconds
CO2 emissions: 225g/km
The executives present at the UK launch of the Stinger GT S emphasise that Kia are still a ‘volume manufacturer’ – yet the comparisons we keep hearing at the event in Devon are unmistakable: CAP have predicted the Stinger’s residuals will be seven per cent better than a BMW 4 series Grand Coupe after 12,000 miles, 12 per cent better than an Audi S5. After 36,000 the prediction from CAP looks just as rosy.
Trot out any cliches about Kias and depreciation and, says Kitson, you haven’t been listening. We’re also reminded that the Stinger will be the only car in the segment with a seven-year warranty – neither BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes offering more than three.
Albert Biermann – the man tasked with tuning the Stinger GTS for the UK market used to work for BMW. Do you get the picture? Kia aren’t seeking to transition into a BMW or an Audi – but they are definitely benchmarking against them and will be more than happy for the Stinger to take their business.
Who they are really going after, they say, are the buyers looking for something a little bit different.
The Stinger has undeniable kerb appeal, sitting on 19-inch rims with red Brembo callipers peeking through, our sleek and long test car is resplendent in red. Air vents on the bonnet and wings and the two twin exhausts on the rear give out all the visual cues as to what this car is all about – but it’s also quite elegant in profile.
Inside, the dash has echoes of the Mercedes C-Class without the bling and the materials are a cut above the rest of the Kia stable. As befitting a Grand Tourer, the Nappa leather seats are comfortable on a sustained drive and the cabin quiet and refined apart from the occasional growl from the engine.
So as to best scrutinise the Stinger’s handling, we programmed our satnav – presented via an eight-inch touchscreen above the dash – to avoid motorways for our 215-mile test drive from Alexander House near Gatwick to Bovey Castle in Dartmoor.
Ignoring it for the first hour or so and detouring down a particularly lovely stretch which took us south as far as Waterlooville I experienced a car that’s a lot of fun to drive.
Power delivery via the eight-speed DSG transmission is near instantaneous and the car feels blisteringly quick. The car is well-planted and handles like something a fraction of its size. The steering is generally light, but stiffens up enough to feel involving.
There’s a Sting(er) in the tail though and at times the GT S struggles to put all of its power down on the road and the back end is willing to kick out a little. It adds to the fun, challenging you to channel your inner rally driver and show the car who’s boss – have fun but don’t drive like an idiot and you’ll be fine.
The engine noise in the cabin, while synthetic, is utterly convincing and does the 3.3-litre V6 powerplant justice. The same can’t be said of the exhaust – from the outside the noise is completely lacking in theatre and gives little hint at the power hidden beneath the Stinger’s bonnet.
If you live in a built-up area and you’re a considerate soul maybe that’s a good thing, but the middle ground between souped-up Subaru and mainstream model would suit the Stinger better than the current whisper-quiet resonance.
The Stinger shares a platform with the Hyundai Genesis – an ambitious step in a different direction from Hyundai which didn’t make it to the UK. In fighting to make sure the Stinger made it to Britain Kia UK have taken a gamble its sister manufacturer were unwilling to.
I hope it pays off, because at £40,495* the Stinger GT S is a lot of car. Fully loaded, with the only optional extra being your choice of colour it’s a compelling proposition when compared with an Audi S5 which starts a full £6,000 more expensive before options.
Kia might say they aren’t going after the premium manufacturers – but, in a niche segment, it’s the only real comparison you can make.
*The Stinger starts at £31,995 for the GT-Line model, with the 2.0-litre turbo, which combined with the £33,595 2.2-litre diesel engine, Kia expect to make up the other two third of Stinger sales.