New GT from Kia sets an impressive pace

The 2018 Kia Stinger GT.

Special to The Globe and Mail

When the launch event for a car takes place at a racetrack, you can be sure there’s some nail-biting going on back at the manufacturer’s headquarters. Reason being, a closed circuit gives the typical ego-fueled writer an opportunity to accelerate with demonic intent, hurtle across curbs, bounce the engine off the rev limiter mercilessly, pound on the brake pedal and reduce tires to a molten mess. For some, it’s a licence to inflict mechanical abuse without fear of reprisal. Bring the car back in one piece and all is forgiven – give or take.

However, manufacturers will counter with steps designed to lessen the impact of a car withering under all the punishment. Stacks of tires are a common sight. Aftermarket brake components are used. Aftermarket transmission coolers make an appearance. Some manufacturers even bring spare cars that are swapped in quietly when the originals encounter problems.

All of these measures are understandable; none are used during the global launch of the forthcoming Kia Stinger GT. To cap it off, the setting for the launch is the Nürburgring Nordschleife, arguably the single most punishing stretch of tarmac on the planet. So what we see are six Stinger GTs pounding around the 20.81-kilometre track, stopping each time for a quick driver change, a check of tire pressures and the removal of insect detritus from the windshields.

The Kia Stinger GT’s look comes from the company’s design centre in Frankfurt.

This is not only remarkable, it’s unexpected – and it’s a sign that Kia is exceedingly confident of the engineering that underpins this vehicle.

To be clear, the Stinger GT is not a track car. It’s not even a sports car. By the definition of the design and engineering team leaders themselves, it’s a grand touring car in the classic sense – and one with distinctly European influences. The look comes from the company’s design centre in Frankfurt. A big percentage of the engineering development has taken place at the Nürburgring, where parent company Hyundai has a test centre. But the engineers have not been tweaking the car to threaten lap records around the track; in fact, they’ve not released lap times for the car and don’t intend to do so.

One lap behind the wheel reveals much about the Stinger GT. A second lap reinforces that there is much to praise.

The Kia Stinger GT’s suspension system does a remarkable job of dealing with the track’s countless bumps, curbs, jumps and compressions.

The suspension system does a remarkable job of dealing with the track’s countless bumps, curbs, jumps and compressions. In sport mode, it feels a bit more jittery; in comfort mode, more floaty. But once this difference is acknowledged, either mode works for powering around the Nordschleife. The steering is consistent, precise and nicely weighted. And the all-wheel-drive system leaves the car surprisingly free of understeer, even when entering corners carrying far too much speed. Even under the most extreme situations, only 50 per cent of the torque will be sent to the front wheels, so this is very much a rear-biased drive system. Torque vectoring by brake helps the Kia bend into the corners more readily.

In the final analysis, the Kia Stinger GT is a remarkable grand touring machine with a compelling blend of world-class design and engineering. In South Korea, pre-orders for the car are coming in at a fantastic clip. It’s a bigger mountain for Kia to climb outside of the home market, but it has a legitimate contender on its hands. The 2018 Kia Stinger GT arrives toward the end of this year.

The car’s cargo provides enough space for two full-size suitcases or two tour-style golf bags.

  • Base price: TBA
  • Engine: Twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V-6
  • Transmission/Drive: Eight-speed automatic/All-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBA
  • Alternatives: Acura TLX, Audi S4, BMW 340i xDrive Gran Turismo, BMW 440i xDrive Gran Coupe, Cadillac ATS 3.6L, Infiniti Q50 3.0t Sport AWD, Lexus IS350 AWD, Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC

The fastback shape of the Stinger GT looks like something out of an Italian design studio. It’s handsome, well proportioned and well finished. Small design features such as the air vents, side reflectors and trunk lip spoiler are integrated beautifully. The long hood, long wheelbase and short overhangs give the impression of a much larger sedan.

INTERIOR

The passenger cabin is clean and well organized, but light on outright luxury for a true GT. Dark trim pieces, accented by metal and satin chrome, is a common approach for everyday vehicles – but if the idea is to steal customers away from established luxury brands, more attention ought to be paid. On the other hand, the Stinger GT offers more interior space than others in this segment – it is longer, wider and has a longer wheelbase.

PERFORMANCE

The twin-turbo V-6 generates 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque from 1,300-4,500 rpm. The engine feels mildly underpowered only on the track’s steepest inclines. The sprint to 100 km/h takes just less than five seconds. Top speed is 270 km/h; we see 250 km/h on the finishing straight. The car’s weaknesses, the brakes and the transmission, are only weaknesses if you forget that the Stinger GT is not a track car.

TECHNOLOGY

Packaging details for Canada have yet to be finalized, but the Stinger GT will come standard with a head-up display, wireless smartphone charging pad and Bluetooth connectivity. At the high end of the spec sheet, look for an eight-inch touchscreen and a 720-watt, 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.

CARGO

There’s enough space for two full-size suitcases or two tour-style golf bags. The rear wheels encroach into the cargo area somewhat, preventing extra-wide loads from entering the picture. But the deep-set trunk is more than competitive for the segment.

THE VERDICT

An authentic European grand tourer from an unexpected source.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.