A quartet of exhausts present a racy rear end, though their roar is quite subtle. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
A quartet of exhausts present a racy rear end, though their roar is quite subtle. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Until now South Korean car makers have quietly gone about their business producing practical and sensible cars. Except for the occasional stab at excitement with cars such as the quirky (but not terribly fast) Hyundai Veloster, there’s been nothing to quicken the pulse of performance enthusiasts.

But now Kia has arrived on the heartbeat-raising scene with the new Stinger GT sports sedan, all 272kW and R859,995 of it.

The four-door gran turismo (GT), the first high-performance car from the Korean stable, competes in power and price against German big guns such as the 260kW Audi S5 quattro, which sells for R936,000, and BMW’s 440i gran coupe which musters 240kW and costs R898,801.

The Stinger is ushered along by a 3.3l twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine with 510Nm of torque, making it the most powerful Kia yet — and by some margin, with power fired to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Electronically adjustable suspension hardens and softens to match driving conditions, and there are five drive modes: Personal, Eco, Sport, Comfort and Smart, which adjust the suspension and the steering feedback.

Kia SA offers the Stinger GT in a single, fully-loaded model packed with technology and comforts to go with the price tag (including an unlimited kilometre/five-year warranty).

These include a head-up display, a reversing camera, wireless smartphone charging pad, electrically adjustable front seats, heated front and rear seats and blind-spot detection.

High-end infotainment is supplied by a 20cm touchscreen and a 15-speaker, 720W Harman/Kardon audio system with subwoofers.

A Kia as you’ve never known it: a sports sedan packing 272kW of power. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
A Kia as you’ve never known it: a sports sedan packing 272kW of power. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Upmarket vibe

Kia has made a decent effort with the interior ambience, and though it’s not quite in the premium German league, the soft Nappa leather seats and soft-touch dashboard create a pleasantly upmarket vibe.

Due to the limited number of Stingers available to the SA market in 2018, the vehicle isn’t available through the Kia dealer network. Instead, it will be sold directly through the website www.kiastinger.co.za.

So, what is driving Kia’s first sports sedan like?

It’s more of a gentleman’s grand tourer than a full-blown sports car. The ride, even in the sportiest suspension mode, isn’t particularly firm, and is yielding enough to make the Stinger comfortable as a daily commuter and long-distance tourer.

The Stinger GT is on the heavy side at 1.8 tonnes (about 100kg heavier than a BMW 440i), but while it’s not exactly kart-like the mass doesn’t limit its cornering prowess too much. Kia has done its homework in chassis and drivetrain development, and the fact that the car was honed at the Nurburgring Nordschleife shows in this grand tourer’s pinned-down and surefooted handling. A limited-slip differential enhances grip, particularly when powering out of tight corners.

Playful

With the stability control engaged, the roadholding is foolproof, but the traction and stability control can be separately turned off to turn this Kia into a playful thing with a loose tail. Rear-wheel drive fans with a handle on their counter-steering technique will find much to amuse themselves.

The steering, not traditionally a Kia strength in terms of feel, is also well sorted in this car. It’s not too light and delivers decent feedback. The great chassis is rounded off by impressively solid torsional rigidity, giving this Korean car the gravitas to compete against its more established rivals from Europe.

The Brembo brakes worked fine in an emergency stop, but started fading earlier than expected around the handling track. The eight-speed transmission is a slick-shifting affair, but the paddles on the steering don’t allow the driver to take full control; the transmission still shifts up and down when it wants to.

Kia’s quoted performance figures for the Stinger GT are a 270km/h top speed and 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds. We achieved a somewhat slower 0-100 time of 5.4 seconds when we performed our own Gauteng-altitude test at Gerotek with a Vbox. That’s still pretty fast, and the Stinger gathers pace with appealing gusto when you floor the throttle. The same goes for its gutsy overtaking acceleration, which allows the car to whip past long trucks hastily.

While we didn’t test the claimed top speed the Kia displayed confidence-inspiring directional stability at higher velocities, without any hint of twitchiness. It’s in keeping with the Stinger GT’s generally polished, unflustered nature.

It is underlined by the subtly sporty growl from the six-cylinder engine but nothing that really rocks your socks, and this summarises the car in general. It’s a refined GT with a sporty streak, but without being outrageously charismatic.

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