An enlightened petrolhead sings the praises of the Kia Stinger.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

An enlightened petrolhead sings the praises of the Kia Stinger.

WHAT if I said that there is a brand new, rear-wheel- drive executive sports saloon packing 370hp? 

My friend’s left eyebrow hiked itself up a millimetre. His interest was piqued. 

What if I added that this sparkling new contender has the aesthetic pedigree of Audi, and that its reflexes were honed at the Nurburgring by talent hailing from the highest echelon of BMW’s hallowed M division? 

My friend’s eyes were properly wide now. 

What if I continued, pausing here for emphasis, that one of the automotive industry’s biggest players had thrown all its might behind this project? 

By now, he was all but properly drooling. 

All that, for less than three- quarters of what BMW will fleece you for a 440i M Sport. 

“Tell me! Tell me now! Wherefore dost thou tease me! Whence came this magical beast of steel and glass?!” 

Why, tell you I will. It’s the Kia Stinger GT. “Cheh, dowan,” said my friend. Perception is a funny thing. 

No doubt, Kia foresaw this response, and it is the primary reason why the 3.3-litre Stinger costs a fraction of the price charged by its German competition. 

It is one thing to make a good product, but it is another, amazingly difficult thing to convince people of it. It is why we writers still have jobs. 

Just ask Kia. It has been a long, arduous road from the 1990s, when their cars were barraged by jokes only now firmly aimed away and across the South China Sea. 

Today, nobody will argue with you that Kia makes one helluva good taxi (Optima, if you’re asking). But a sports saloon? By the South Koreans?? You jest! 

Now, I have driven the thing. And you have seen the giant billboard over the ECP. We all want to know if this Korean upstart can really stick it to ze Germans. Long story short: Woof, what a car. 

My Reading Room

The “Stinging” sensation from South Korea aims to score against Germany’s Audi and BMW. 

Beyond the fact that the Stinger GT blows everything in its price range out of the water with sheer pace alone, it is far more than just a throw-specs-at-the- wall-and-hope-it-sticks job. 

The saloon feels right in a way that cannot be described with mere numbers. It feels right, like how the texture of a perfect steak and the precise springiness of the best ramen have been carefully finessed by maestros. 

When you read the blurb about how people who love driving themselves have obsessed endlessly over countless testing kilometres on road and track adjusting minute parameters, from the driver’s seat is resounding evidence that it isn’t just marketing bluster. You really believe it. 

Forget that the Stinger is Kia’s first attempt at something like this. Straight off the blocks they’ve come barrelling into the Bundesliga and are challenging for honours. 

Let there be no doubt, this car is as good as the ones it is aimed squarely at. 

If you are shopping in the ballpark of a premium executive ride and do not even visit the showroom (there are reasons to choose something else, of course, mostly concentrated in the Stinger’s interior that is not quite Audi-level sophisticated), then congratulations – you are the kind soul who has made this Kia the Bargain of the Year 2018 for those who can look past the badge. 

If you do buy a Stinger though, more power to you. That’s taking advantage of market inertia and buying incredible value, at incredibly low cost.

Kia then hopes that you will be one of their evangelists spreading the gospel of their new-found ambition.

This is why the Stinger exists – not just as a product in its own right, but as a halo to cast a glow over the whole brand. So that the next generation can be priced perhaps a bit closer to a Mercedes, and the next one after that, fingers crossed, on equal terms. 

Like Lexus has done, come to think of it. Or conversely, like many others have not done. 

The automotive landscape is littered with the carcasses of failed, if not feeble, attempts at brand elevation. Volkswagen Phaeton, anyone? 

What exactly made Lexus succeed? I’m sure there are whole university theses written on the subject, but my entirely unscientific guesses are consistency and commitment. 

Lexus made its stand with incredible quality and craftsmanship in the form of the first LS400, then kept at it for generation after generation, until even the big man MM Lee himself bought one and personally congratulated the Japanese on their wonderful luxury car. 

They have forced their way into the automotive vernacular, with “Lexus-quiet” being a legitimately recognisable term. Even through the current generation’s hormonal styling explosions, every Lexus remains unparalleled in refinement and a sense of solidity. 

On the evidence of the level of investment, both spiritually and financially, made in the Stinger, I would not bet against Kia pulling off the same trick.