Kia puts sting into exciting new liftback

KIA STINGER: Also available with a four-cylinder option.

It was a brave move by the Kia Motor Corporation, and one that I would never have expected.

The company has developed a clean-sheet rear-wheel-drive platform which is the basis for a new car – the Stinger.

What surprises me is that in a world where front-wheel-drive is dominant and the popularity of sedans is waning, the cost must have been enormous, and I’m convinced it will be hard to recover.

Of course, you can argue that the Stinger’s liftback rear and strong coupe shape takes it out of the sedan category, but for my money it must be viewed as the quintessential four-door.

All that aside, the Stinger is a seriously good car and it’s no surprise that with its upmarket design, specification level and high degree of engineering that it is aimed squarely at, say, the Lexus IS series, BMW’s 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class.

The Stinger is all new and lands here in three levels with two engine options. Put simply, that means there are two turbocharged, 2-litre, four-cylinder variants – EX and GT at $54,990 and $59,990 respectively. While I’m eager to have a drive in either of the four-potters, the most exciting of the range is a $69,990, 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6.

While the basic block has been used in other Kia product – notably the Carnival and Sorento – the inclusion of the turbochargers is all new, and lends itself to some quite impressive all round figures.

Peak power is rated at 272kW, maximum torque is listed at a beefy 510Nm and is available all of the way from 1300rpm to 4500rpm. Kia says that a standstill to 100km/h time of 4.9sec is possible, it also claims a 10.2-litre per 100km (28mpg) combined cycle fuel usage rating; if you add all of these figures together and analyse them you end up with a strong, quick performance car and one which isn’t too hard on fuel.

Obviously, the evaluation car was the range-topper, and it’s a very satisfying drive. The Stinger is mid-size and that surprised me, I was expecting something a little less grandiose, but it is always nice to be surprised. Saying that, it still sits in the five-seat sports category and its power and handling qualities are most definitely there to thrill.

Drive is channelled through a paddle-shift, eight-speed automatic transmission, the rear axles are guided through a multiple-link set-up with the spring and damper rates not overly firmed.

However, bear in mind that engine management protocols can be altered through various drive modes, and there’s even an individual one which the driver can pre-program to suit his or her driving styles. Sport mode isn’t overly aggressive, but it does significantly enhance the liveliness of the engine and adds just a touch of firming into the dampers.

The driver is aware the whole time that the rear wheels are doing the driving and it’s a magical, natural feel that constantly tantalises.

Engine power is such that with forceful throttle openings the rear tyres can be encouraged to break grip; of course, traction control settings override that quickly, but there is an element of playfulness built into the system, oversteer is constantly possible. I never removed TCS to find out, but I can definitely report the Stinger is a full driver’s car.

What’s more amazing is that the tyres have significant grip in the first instance. Continental supplies the rubber, and the rears at 255/35 x 19in have massive road surface cover. The fronts are bit thinner at 225/40, but they still steer beautifully. I don’t think Kia has quite got the feel that its competition has with their rear-drivers but, nevertheless, the Stinger does have accurate turn-in and positive directional accuracy. Push is almost eliminated up front, it’s a case of point and turn.

When it comes time to slowing the Stinger, four-corner Brembo brakes provide massive braking power, the pedal feels is absolutely delightful.

Inside, the layout is spectacular. New-age gauges and all the mod-cons you could imagine come as standard spec. Leather trim is included and much space translates to high comfort front and rear. The low roof-line doesn’t affect rear head room, well not for me anyway, and I guess unless you are a six-footer that shouldn’t be an issue.

Regular readers will tell you that I’m very much a sports sedan enthusiast. That being the case, it wasn’t hard to be sold on the Stinger with its sedan look and clever liftback. Stinger is also a name which lends itself to the product well, and the car stands up to be counted in terms of looks and desirability.

If I was ever in a position to have 70k to spend on a car it may well end up on the top of my list. However, it has to do a bit more yet to convince me, I’m an avid Lexus IS fan and it would take priority.

It may be, though, that if I’m lucky enough to get behind the wheel of one of the four-potters it may be enough to put the Stinger at the top of my wish list.

Price – Kia Stinger GT Sport, $69,990

Dimensions – Length, 4830mm; width, 1870mm; height, 1400mm

Configuration –  V6, rear-wheel-drive, 3342cc, 272kW, 410Nm, eight-speed automatic.

0-100km/h, 4.9sec

Fuel usage – 10.2l/100km