2018 Kia Stinger: Aspirational Audi

By Frank A. Aukofer, December 2nd, 2017

It's rare, but occasionally something like the 2018 Kia Stinger appears and rides through a process of imprinting itself on the public consciousness -- first with insiders and enthusiasts, and eventually with everyone else.

Think Chevrolet Corvette in 1954. Ford Mustang in 1964. BMW 1600 in 1967. Volkswagen Beetle and British Mini in mid-20th century. Honda Accord in 1976. Mazda MX-5 Miata in 1990. And now the upstart Kia Stinger.

Usually it starts with surprise, morphs into appreciation and desire, and settles into a long-term relationship analogous to the St. Patrick's Day stereotype, when everybody is either Irish or wants to be.

The word is not yet widespread about the Kia Stinger, and most observers are surprised that it was conceived by the South Korean company, originally known for sometimes-shoddy economy cars. But it will achieve status because the company has finessed its way to the top on quality, styling, durability, and performance with a full line of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles, and even a minivan. There's not a bad apple in the barrel.

The Stinger shines as a multi-purpose car: high performance across seven versions with style and luxury-car features, two engine choices, family practicality, and prices that are doable for middle-income Americans.

The Stinger is a hatchback. But it is nowhere near what U.S. buyers rejected for many years and now are tentatively embracing. No, it's more accurate to compare the Stinger to German high-performance luxury cars, and particularly the new Audi A7 and Audi A5 Sportbacks, both stunners with hatchbacks, high content, and price tags to match.

The first impression is that the Stinger mimics the A7: low-down and sexy. But depending on the model, it matches up against both the nearly $70,000 A7 and the $52,000 A5.

Closest to the A7 (we're comparing to the 2017 model, not the recently announced 2018) is the most exalted Stinger GT2, which carried a $52,300 sticker as tested for this review. The tester had the optional all-wheel drive -- available for $2,200 on all Stingers -- while the A7 comes with Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive.

Side by side, the A7 is 7 inches longer than the Stinger, yet they have similar inside space: passenger/cargo volume of 94/25 cubic feet in the A7; 94/23 in the Stinger. The Audi, at 4,234 pounds, is lighter than the Stinger's 4,515 pounds, but the Stinger has more power thanks to a 365-horsepower, turbocharged 3.3-liter V-6 with 376 lb.-ft. of torque versus the A7's 340-horsepower, supercharged V-6 with 325 lb.-ft. of torque.

The Stinger GT2's extra power is canceled out by the A7's lighter weight so the acceleration of each car to 60 mph is rated by its manufacturer at 4.7 seconds. Both cars have eight-speed automatic transmissions with manual-shift modes.

At the other end of the comparison is the $32,800 rear-wheel-drive Stinger 2.0T, which contains a 255-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with 260 lb.-ft. of torque. It matches up with the new $52,100 Audi A5 Quattro, which is 4 inches shorter and smaller inside by 4 cubic feet. Its 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine delivers 252 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque.

The Stinger 2.0T uses an eight-speed automatic transmission while the A5 is equipped with a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It is about 100 pounds heavier than the 3,650-pound Stinger but has a slight edge in acceleration: 5.3 seconds against 5.9 for the Stinger.

The numbers are important, of course, though the proof is in the driving experience. Truth is, any of these four cars -- Audi A7 and A5, and Stinger GT2 and 2.0T -- would stir the soul of any driving enthusiast. They deliver exciting, right-now acceleration, fuss-free flat cornering and handling at speed, outstanding braking, comfortable and supportive seats, room for four adults (five in an emergency), and generous cargo space that can be expanded by folding the rear seatbacks.

The big difference is the Kia's more tolerable prices and one of the best warranties anywhere. For some, the Audi's reputation and prestige trump every other consideration. But it's worth noting that Consumer Reports now ranks Kia number three in reliability, based on owner reports. Audi is number four.

Specifications

Base price $50,100 (as tested: $52,300)
Curb weight 4,032 lbs.
Displacement 3.3-liter
Engine type Twin Turbocharged V-6 w/GDI
Epa mileage rating 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 15.9 gal.
Horsepower (net) 365 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 190.2 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 376 at 4500 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD midsize liftback
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