2018 Kia Stinger Buying Advice
This is the best midsize car for you if you like to fly in the face of the establishment. Kia’s most exciting-ever product is a four-door hatchback based on rear-wheel-drive engineering (with all-wheel drive optional) that targets the likes of the less roomy but more expensive — and more polished — Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe.
Introduced for the 2018 model year, the Stinger is boldly stylish, packed with features, and is available with up to 365 horsepower. With a $32,800-$52,300 base-price span, the five-seater fits into the premium midsize-car class, where rivals also include the Acura TLX, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Lexus GS, and Volvo S60 and V60. Note also that Stinger shares its basic engineering with the new-for-2019 G70, a four-door premium compact sedan from the luxury Genesis division of Kia’s South Korean parent company, Hyundai.
Kia has come a long way since it arrived in North America in 1994 and began sales on the West Coast with just two products, the Sephia compact sedan and Sportage compact SUV. Its philosophy largely mirrored that of then-rival Hyundai: Produce vehicles that offered a lot of features for the money. The formula proved successful. Through July 2018, Kia ranked 14th (and Hyundai 13th) in U.S. sales, ahead of such rival brands as Dodge, Mazda, and Volkswagen.
In recent years, company officials decided to take Kia upmarket. Their first efforts were a pair of large sedans, the front-wheel-drive Cadenza and rear-wheel-drive K900. Neither’s enjoyed much success, though both remain on sale. Since its launch, Stinger has outsold the Cadenza and K900 combined by nearly 3-1, though it’s still well off the pace set by its European and Japanese competitors.
Should you buy a 2018 model or wait for the 2019?
Consider waiting, mostly to see if Kia refines the Stinger for 2019. The 2018 model is a laudable first swing at a performance-oriented premium car. But it has a few rough edges that keep it from reaching the lofty heights to which it aspires. For our part, we’d like to see revisions to the suspension, a bit more sound-deadening material, and a simpler model lineup.
If you’re OK with Kia’s initial effort, you’ll choose from a 2019 Stinger lineup consisting of models powered by turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines, each with the option of rear-wheel drive or traction-aiding all-wheel drive (AWD). Entry-level Base and uplevel Premium grades comprise the four-cylinder roster. V-6 versions ascend through GT, GT1, and GT2 variants.
ChangesStyling: Like the four-door hatchback rival A5 Sportback, 4 Series Gran Coupe, and Buick Regal GS, the Stinger’s styling originates in Germany. Kia’s chief stylist, Peter Schreyer, used to design Audis. He developed the “tiger nose” grille as the face of the Kia brand, a key element that blends well with the rest of the Stinger’s look. Headlights that stretch over the front fenders and large cutouts for the fog lights are Porsche-esque. A long wheelbase, short overhangs, and broad shoulders imply a sporty character that, for the most part, matches the driving experience. Unfortunately, fake hood scoops serve no function than to clutter the otherwise well executed lines of this car.
We’re happy the Stinger reflects Kia’s straightforward approach to interior design. That’s not to say there isn’t some visual flair. The three climate vents in the center of the dashboard are a welcome contrast to the four-sided ones you typically see elsewhere. Our GT2 test vehicle’s leather-wrapped dashboard added an extra dose of sophistication.
All grades include a tablet-like screen. Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto are standard. These features supplement Kia’s excellent UVO infotainment system. We appreciate the availability of four USB charging points, two up front and two in back.
The instrument cluster has a configurable central display that can show performance data, such as a G-Force meter. We wish the dials were more special: they look like they were ripped from Kia’s Forte compact economy car. Compounding the trouble, the speedometer here is marked for 180 mph, meaning the printed markings are small and harder to decipher at a glance.
Passenger comfort is great up front. The seats have just the right amount of bolstering to keep you in place during spirited driving, yet they’re not overly confining. The rear seat is less inviting, as the steeply raked roofline cuts into headroom, and the low-seat cushion can result in a knees-up seating position.
We applaud Kia’s decision to make Stinger a hatchback instead of a less versatile traditional sedan. There’s a generous 23.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seatbacks and 40.9 with them folded. Interior small-items storage isn’t plentiful, though, and the center-console bin and glovebox are on the small side.
Mechanical: Base and Premium Stinger models employ a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine producing 255 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. We haven’t yet evaluated one of these grades but performance ought to be competitive with the many other entry-level segment rivals that have turbo-fours with similar power.
All Stinger GTs use a version of the 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged engine found in versions of the Genesis G80 midsize luxury sedan. In the Stinger, you get 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration 0-60 mph takes less than 5 seconds, with almost no perceptible turbo lag (the delay in throttle response that occurs before the turbocharger activates). As with Base and Premium Stingers, the GT’s sole transmission is an eight–speed automatic and here it fires off immediate shifts and does not hesitate to downshift when you demand more power.
We do dislike the “Shift-by-Wire” transmission lever standard on the GT2 model. It replaces a conventional shift lever with a much fussier electronic wand similar to that used in some Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz products. More than once in our testing, we thought we had shifted from Reverse to Drive, only to quickly find the transmission instead in Neutral.
Rear-wheel drive is fine if you don’t live in an area where inclement weather is an issue. Otherwise, we strongly recommend the optional AWD system, although our dry-road testing didn’t seem to reveal a noticeable benefit to handling. Either way, direct-feeling steering, excellent tire grip, and almost no body lean make this a midsize car that’s a joy to toss around fast corners. Bumpy turns trigger a bit of deflection, but you’ll never feel the GT will veer off in an unwanted direction.
On the downside, the handling-calibrated suspension exacts a toll on everyday ride quality. It’s very firm, even with the standard drive-mode selector in the default “Comfort” setting. Engineers tuned the exhaust note for a sporty sound. It’s invigorating during acceleration but never fully goes away during steady-state cruising. Combined with aggressive tires that drone on coarse pavement, the daily driving experience comes off as slightly less refined than that of top German competitors.Features: Following Kia tradition, Stinger delivers lots of content for the money. Standard on every model is a suite of driver-assistance features including blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic detection, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, radar cruise control to maintain a set following distance from traffic ahead, lane-departure alert with automatic steering correction, automatic high-bream headlights, and drowsy-driver alert.
The Base grade includes leather upholstery, heated front seats, 12-way power driver’s seat, 8-way power front-passenger seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless access with pushbutton start, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and front- and rear-obstacle detection.
Premium models add full LED headlights, unique wheels, power sunroof, imbedded GPS navigation with 8-inch touchscreen display, 720-watt Harman/Kardon audio system with 15 speakers, driver-seat memory positioning, and a power tilt and telescopic steering column.
The GT builds off the Base car, adding the V-6 engine, 19-inch wheels on three-season performance tires (up from standard 18s), Brembo-brand brakes, and LED headlights. GT1 grades mirror the Premium for standard equipment while adding a handling-aiding electronically controlled suspension.
The flagship GT2 expands on that with the Shift-by-Wire transmission lever, Nappa leather upholstery, head-up instrument display, power tailgate, electronic parking brake, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and ventilated front seats.
Stinger pricing covers a broad range, overlapping with well equipped mainstream midsize sedans, such as the Nissan Maxium, and entry-level premium ones, like the Acura TLX. Base prices we list include Kia’s $900 destination fee and are for models with rear-wheel drive; to any of these, add $2,200 for AWD.
Among four-cylinder models, the Base trim starts at $32,800 and the Premium grade at $38,000.
The 2018 Stinger GT is priced from $39,250, the GT1 from $44,150, and the GT2 from $50,100. A traction-aiding limited-slip differential is standard on the rear-drive GT1 and GT2 and a $200 option on the GT. AWD models offer all-season tires as a no-cost option.
The only factory option of note is the $2,000 Drive Wise Package that includes all the GT2’s driver aids. This package is available on all grades.
The GT with Drive Wise Package is our pick for best value. It will cost $41,250-$43,450, depending on drive wheel selection.
Stinger’s EPA fuel-economy ratings track slightly below the class average. Four-cylinder models rate 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive and 21/29/24 with AWD. GT grades rate 19/25/21 mpg across the board. Our AWD GT2 averaged 22.3 mpg in a suburban test loop.
Kia recommends, but does not require, premium-grade 91-octane gasoline for all Stinger models.
Likely little in the near term. We would like to see Kia tweak a few things to make the Stinger quieter and deliver a more compliant ride. Shift-by-Wire is a nuisance we’d like to see go away in favor of a traditional shift lever. Absent these revisions, the next major update for this car is unlikely before model-year 2021.
Acura TLX, Audi A5 Sportback, Buick Regal Sportback, BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, Nissan Maxima, Volvo S60