Could the 2018 Stinger Make Kia the Next Three-Letter Luxury Brand?

2018 Kia Stinger
2018 Kia Stinger | Kia

In 2011, Kia surprised the automotive world with the unveiling of its GT concept, a four-door sport sedan that was designed to compete with Germany’s best. What’s more, the company unveiled it on its competitor’s home turf, at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Three years later, it unveiled the GT4 Stinger, a gorgeous rear-wheel drive performance coupe. Back then, the concepts represented a bright future for the still up-and-coming Korean brand. But now, Kia has earned its place at the big kid’s table. The Optima is one of the best midsize sedans on the market. And the K900, though criminally unloved, offers Lexus-like levels of luxury at Toyota prices. And now that it’s got those models down, it’s ready to take on ze Germans for real. Say hello to the 2018 Kia Stinger.

An open secret for the past few years, the production Stinger makes Kia look like it’s ready to enter the luxury performance segment with guns blazing. With a 3.3 liter twin-turbo V6 sending 360 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels, Kia estimates that’s good enough for a 5.1 second zero to 62 mile per hour sprint. All-wheel drive,and a 2.0 liter turbo four will also be available, and both engines will be mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

2011 Kia GT concept
2011 Kia GT concept | Kia

Outside, the Stinger more than references the GT concept, but instead of just updating it, Kia’s design team has made it sharper and more purposeful looking. We rarely say this, but we like the production design even better than the concept. From the side and rear, there are echoes of Maserati and Audi (makes sense — Kia design chief Peter Schreyer had a long stint there), though it took us until now to realize that the Stinger’s kinked glass is shared across the Kia lineup; it’s there on the K900, Optima, Sportage, and even Forte5 hatch. It looks suitably upscale here, and shows just how good the brand’s design language has gotten. 

2018 Kia Stinger
2018 Kia Stinger | Kia

Inside, there’s room for five, with well bolstered thrones that can be trimmed in Nappa leather to tempt buyers away from Europe’s best. Round center-mounted vents more than echo Mercedes-Benz, but other than that, it’s all Kia in there. We mean that as a good thing; in our test of the K900, we marveled at how well the brand’s sturdy, stylish, standard switchgear translates into luxury segments. There are plenty of premium brands that could learn a thing or two about fit-and-finish from Kia. Now the brand has the opportunity to compete with them head on.

Aggressive styling and luxury accouterments aside, the Stinger has been engineered to drive as well as it looks. Composed mostly of stiff high-strength steel, it utilizes a MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension to make it a true driver’s car, and features Kia’s all-new Dynamic Stability Damping Control, an electronically-adjustable suspension with five drive modes, which is a first for the brand.

2014 Kia GT4 Stinger concept
2014 Kia GT4 Stinger concept | Kia

Of course, despite looking seriously impressive, the Stinger has to win buyers over to succeed, and that may not be easy. As impressed as we were with the K900, it hasn’t been able to pry many buyers away from the old guard even as its corporate cousin, the Genesis G90, is starting to gain some traction. Still, it looks great, and on paper seems like it can walk the walk. If it can keep up with Germany’s best, and cost less, BMW may not be the only three-letter luxury brand for much longer.