2019 Kia Stinger

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If you want real Coke, you have to go to Mexico. Well, you have to get it from Mexico. That’s the only Coke still made with sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup.

And the good stuff still comes in glass – not plastic – bottles.

Kia’s new Stinger is the real Coke of sport sedans.

Even better, it’s priced about the same as the FWD HFC competition.

WHAT IT IS

The mid-sized Stinger is Kia’s first rear-drive sport sedan (AWD is optional) and one of the very few such sedans you can buy for $32,900 to start. Pretty much everything else around that price is front-wheel-drive.

And pretty much everything that’s rear-drive is luxury-badged – and much more expensive.

It’s also a hatchback’d sedan – and so has more than three times the room for your stuff as a typical full-size sedan.

Base price is as above for the entry-level trim with a 2.0 liter turbocharged engine, rear-wheel-drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

If you’d like all-wheel-drive, that can be added to the mix for $35,100 (which also gets you a heated steering wheel).

And if you’d like a 365 horsepower twin-turbo’d V6 – and the capability to get to 60 in 4.7 seconds on the way to a top speed of almost 170 MPH – that’s available, too. Plus Brembo high-performance brakes all around and an adaptive suspension.

For $39,100 to start, in rear-wheel-drive form and $41,300 with AWD.

A top-of-the-line GT2, with the 365 hp V6, AWD and an array of luxury features (including a 720 watt, 15 speaker Harman Kardon audio system) stickers for $52,190.

There aren’t many direct cross-shops.

There’s the Dodge Charger, but it’s a much larger car – with a much smaller trunk (16.5 cubic feet vs. 40.9 for the Stinger’s). You can get the Dodge with a big V8 – which isn’t offered in the Kia.

But not with AWD, which is only offered with the base V6.

And even with the V8, the Charger’s not quicker – because it’s so much heavier.

Another kinda-sorta is the Infiniti Q50, which is about the same overall size as the Kia and offers both turbo four and turbo V6 engines – with either rear or all-wheel-drive.

But the Q is several thousand dollars more expensive to start – $35,550 for the base trim – and comes standard with a much less powerful engine (2.0 liters and 208 hp vs. 2.0 and 255 for the Stinger’s).

It’s also $12k-plus more expensive when optioned with an engine that can compete with the Stinger’s optional engine ($51,250 for the Red Sport version vs. $39,100 for the Stinger GT).

The Q also has an even smaller trunk – 13.5 cubic feet.

WHAT’S NEW

2018 was the first year for the Stinger, so the 2019 receive a few minor tweaks only – including standard heated rear seats for GT2 trims and the inclusion of most of the previously optional driver assists – adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot monitor and automated emergency braking – with the Premium and GT1 trims.

Rear-drive models also now come standard with a limited slip rear axle and wireless cell phone charging is available.

WHAT’S GOOD

RWD layout – and performance – that’s better than many luxury-brand sport sedans – for about the same price as a well-equipped FWD family sedan.

AWD offered with either engine – or not, if you prefer being able to roast the rear tires.

Hatchback layout is practical – and invisible. It looks like a sexy fastback sedan until you raise the hatchback.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Two things – neither of them the Stinger (or Kia’s) fault.

One, the obnoxious auto-stop/start system, which hag-rides almost every 2019 model vehicle. Kia – and everyone else –  has been more or less forced to graft the system to their vehicles because of government pressure to squeeze out MPGs.

It doesn’t squeeze many. Maybe one.

In exchange, you have an engine that shuts itself off at every red light – and then (noticeably) re-starts when you take your foot off the brake. Off-on, off-on.

It gets old.

It’s also probably going to cost you more than any gas its saves (details below).

Two, the invisible mother-in-law who turns the radio volume off whenever you put the car in Reverse, interrupting whatever you were listening to.

It’s one of the latest and most annoying “safety” features – also becoming common in new cars (a VW I test drove recently also does this).

Three – and this one is Kia’s fault – the gas tank is on the small side, especially for the V6 GT. Those 365 horses need to be watered… often.

UNDER THE HOOD

The Stinger comes standard with more engine than several much pricier entry-luxury RWD sport sedans – the BMW 3 (and 5 Series) are for-instances. Also the Infiniti Q50 and Lexus IS250.

And as much as almost all the FWD HFC competition offers.

It’s a 2.0 liter turbocharged four that makes 255 horsepower and 260 ft.-lbs. of torque at 1,400 RPM.

Contrast this with what BMW charges you to get a 248 horsepower 2.0 liter engine in the 3 Series sedan ($45,000) or for the same 248 hp engine in the 5 Series sedan ($53,400).

The Kia’s base engine is also almost as strong as the optional engine in FWD sport sedans like the Honda Accord (2.0 liters, 252 hp).

The V6-powered Toyota Camry is stronger  (301 hp) but it’s still FWD . . . and you can’t get AWD.

The Stinger offers your pick of RWD or AWD.

An eight-speed automatic with four driver-selectable modes is standard.

With RWD, this version of the Stinger gets to 60 in about 6.3 seconds and carries and EPA rating of 22 city, 29 highway. With the optional AWD, the mileage dips by only slightly to 21 city, 29 highway.

You can get do better at the pump in the BMW 3 (24 city, 35 highway) but you’re paying much more for the car (and the brand) so you’re not saving any money.

And what you saved by going with the Kia, you can spend on more power.

The Stinger’s optional engine stands out like Hulk Hogan at the airport. It’s a 3.3 liter twin-turbo V6 that makes 365 horsepower and 376 ft.-lbs. of torque, all of that available from 1,300 RPM up.

You can go RWD – or AWD – and either way, you’ll get to 60 in the mid-high fours, performance that nothing in the HFC FWD class comes even close to matching.

And you still paid thousands less than BMW, et al, charge for their base-engined sport sedans.

The V6 is also paired with the eight-speed transmission but gets a different (higher) rear axle ratio – 3.53 vs. 3.72 for the four – which is interesting because if Kia paired the V6 with the more aggressive 3.72 rear axle used with the four, the Stinger would be even quicker.

Of course it would then use even more gas than the EPA-rate 19 city, 25 highway. Those aren’t bad numbers – given the performance. But Kia – like every other car company – is feeling the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) pinch and had to show some restraint.

Else Uncle would be angered – and fines would ensue and then it would very hard for Kia to sell a car like this without charging what BMW, et al, charge for a car like this.

ON THE ROAD

RWD sedans were once the default. You may recall. And it was mostly American cars that were RWD – and imports (especially Japanese imports) that were FWD.

Holy role reversal. The Koreans are resurrecting the once-traditional American car layout.

It is easy to forget how pleasant the RWD layout is. How balanced and correctly weighted it feels. Like a blade that’s just right.

Both are meant for the same kind of work, too.

A V6 Camry is quicker in a straight line than the base-engined Stinger – but come the curves, the Kia’s design advantages become immediately obvious.

The Stinger’s front tires are only tasked with steering the car – not also propelling it. This division of important tasks is sound policy in a sport sedan, if not ideal in a family sedan (in winter, the rear-drive car will slip sooner and requires more skill to get it up a hill).

Adding AWD counters the RWD layout’s tendency to slip sooner on wet and snow-slicked roads. But that takes away from some of the fun of hanging the tail out when it’s dry. And, of course, prevents the tires from going up in smoke.

But who would want that?

Ok, maybe some. But the AWD system also adds about 300 pounds to the Stinger’s curb weight. The AWD-equipped version of the GT is 4,182 lbs. at the curb vs. 3,887 lbs. for the same car in RWD form.

This costs performance. If you drive either the GT or the base-engined Stinger with RWD and then with the AWD system, you’ll notice the difference – for the same reason you’d notice it if you tried to run up the stairs with a backpack full of bricks vs. freestyle.

But it’s more noticeable in the base-engined car because there’s less power to mask the weight.

Surprisingly, there’s almost no MPG cost – with either engine.

But the car seems thirstier than it is -because of its fairly small (15.9) gallon tank.

Here the RWD layout can be limiting – because the rear axle takes up space that could have been devoted to a larger gas tank.

Every design involved compromises.

The Stinger may have to stop for fuel a bit more often than FWD sport sedans, but you’ll enjoy those in-betweens more.

AT THE CURB

It’s said looks aren’t everything. But they’re not nothing, either.

From almost every angle, the Stinger is striking. From the rear (just off center) especially. It has a Maserati-like rump, even down to the details such as the “Stinger” script. There are also BMW-like details, such as the air scallop on each lower front fender.

Those who suggest Kia copied miss the point. Bill Mitchell – the legendary GM designer of cars such as the ’55-’57 Chevy, the ’63 split-window StingRay Corvette and the 1970 Camaro/Firebird – was accused (in the case of the GM F-cars) of cribbing lines from Ferraris like the 1962 GTO. He didn’t deny it and reportedly said, “If you’re going to commit robbery, don’t rob a liquor store . . . rob a bank.”

Kia robbed the Federal Reserve.

And then decided to share the wealth. If this car had a Maserati badge on it, it’d also have an $80,000 price tag.

Instead, it has a loaded Camry/Accord price tag.

To complain seems . . . ungrateful.

It also has something else – a fastback that is also a very useful liftback. When closed, it’s sleek. When open, it reveals 40.9 cubic feet of space underneath that gorgeous roofline. Even with the back seats in place, the Stinger has 23.3 cubic feet of cargo space – almost twice the trunk space of conventional (and same-sized) sedans like the Camry/Accord. It’s also substantially more than much larger sedans like the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300.

People room is good, too: 42.6 inches of front seat legroom and 36.4 inches of backseat legroom.

Even headroom – which you maybe would have thought not, given the car’s Maserati stance. The car is 55.1 inches high at the roofline – two inches lower than the Accord (57.1 inches) and yet has almost the same backseat headroom (37 inches vs. 37.3 in the Honda) and more than the Charger (36.6 inches) even though the Dodge stands more than three inches taller (58.2 inches).

One area where the looks aren’t Maserati is the instrument cluster. It’s the only area where the car looks its price. Analog gauges – not Star Trek Next Gen flat screens – but this is arguably a good thing if you plan on keeping the car after the warranty runs out.

Conventional materials for the dashboard and door panels – not quilted/tufted/hand-stitched leather sectionals mingled with carbon fiber trim. But nothing less than you’d find in other $30-something-k cars.

Its also less baffling than what you’ll find in the $50k-plus cars the Stinger undermines so effectively – which rely on electronic razzle dazzle and quilted/tufted/hand-stitched leather sectionals mingled with carbon fiber trim – to justify the typical $10k-plus more they’ll cost you.

THE REST

To complain about this car is almost like complaining about having to go pick up your lottery winnings – because they won’t send the Brinks truck full of cash to your house.

The two things one can legitimately kvetch about – the obnoxious auto-stop/start system and the equally obnoxious shutting off of the radio whenever you put the car in Reverse – aren’t Kia’s fault, even.

The auto-stop/start system is something pretty much every 2019 car now “features.” It is there to help the car companies achieve fractional per-car MPG gains that – when factored over tens of thousands of cars made each year – help them achieve “compliance” with federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy fatwas.

Send hate mail to Uncle. Ask him why it is any of the government’s business how much fuel your car – that you paid for – uses. And ask him if he’ll cut you a check for the more frequent battery replacement and other costs this system will hit you with to “save gas.”

The back-up camera is another of Uncle’s fatwas – though the turning off of the radio while backing up is saaaaaaaaaafety virtue-signaling by the car companies.

I hear lots of grumbling about all this peremptory/nudging/nannying saaaaaaaafety stuff. Maybe someone will point out that the emperor has no clothes – and the madness will stop.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Few cars can match this Kia’s cane sugar sting – without stinging you with a much higher price.

. . .

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23 COMMENTS

  1. The boss has one of these. Previously he had a Ford SHO but someone rear-ended him, pushing him into another car in front of him. He test-drove nearly everything – one of the Dodges was his second choice but the exhaust note was too loud for his long highway trips (it drones…). So he ended up with a Stinger GT and he loves it.

    He says it’s the first car he’s owned where people come up to him at the gas pump to ask him what it is.

  2. Nice review, Eric, and a ray of hope for new cars interesting to us. I’m impressed with Hyundai/Kia these days. Piling on a bit, I rent a lot and the auto start stop “feature” is disconcerting at best. In semi-random rentals, sometimes the shut off is not intuitive. It forces a bit more defensive driving at intersections…

    A (hopefully) quick question: lots of cars with 8 speed auto transmissions out there. I have heard great things about the 8 speed ZF box (beefy, high torque capacity, quality shifts, etc.). So, do any other manufacturers make an 8 speed or can I assume any 8 speed is a ZF?

    • Hi Scott,

      Thanks for the kind words!

      On the transmissions: Development costs are high and so there is a lot of sharing. Ford and GM, for example, developed the 10-speed box used in several of their RWD models jointly.

      But some are also brand-specific.

      I am not sure whether the Stinger’s eight-speed is a ZF. I will see what I can suss out!

  3. Thanks for the review. This is the BEST looking hatchback out there. I love the practicality of hatchbacks and this one seems like it will put a smile on your face while hauling the groceries around town.

    Question- can you manually disable the stop/start? I just drove a 2016 BMW 3 that had the stop/start and I HATED IT. What a ridiculous “feature”. I also find it mildly dangerous to your heart. That split second of hesitation while you’re trying to make a left in front of traffic is no bueno.

    Love you writing, even though I don’t always agree. Keep up the great work.

    • Hi FF!

      Yes, you can defeat the auto-stop… but you have to do it every time you go for a drive… sadly. And they are all like this now. Thanks for the kind words!

      • I am pretty sure that I could develop a workaround for that which would automatically defeat it everytime the car was started. You have to tie it to the starting circuit so that it resets the start-stop everytime the starter is keyed.

          • I stumbled upon how to defeat it on Fords when looking for something else. All it requires is a jumper wire from one pin of the button to other.

            So apparently the Ford ECU doesn’t care what the state of the button is in once it sees it was pressed.

            For a more complicated system all that would be required is a simple timer circuit that would make it look like the button was momentarily pressed. Maybe only a relay that is triggered on the ‘start’ circuit.

    • Hi Rich,

      Just finished talking with Bill Meyer over at KMED in Oregon about this car; I can’t gin up sufficient superlatives. It gives me hope. It made me smile – and god knows, I needed that…

  4. Been saying for years….. Today its really out in Asia where people appreciate and respect cars the way they once did in the west…. And perhaps thats where the ICE will eventually be saved I hope…..

    • Hi Nasir,

      I agree with you… and the thought has crossed my mind to relocate… to China (or Japan). They are civilized people who haven’t been ruined by the PC idiocies which are destroying the West.

      • Japan has an aging population and i hear the women respond well to forward confident alpha males. My buddy was a navy sailor who almost got married in Japan. The car scene is super huge in japan. You’d be appreciated there. They let people get away with street racing including the insurance companies and the cops. You could get a ticket. That’s it.

  5. One of the greatest sedans currently out there. Its like a good looking and refined Chevy SS. I wish they had a manual option but Kia is known for only offering manual transmissions in their most base sedans and compacts so they probably don’t have a manual that can handle the power. My only concern is the carbon buildup on the valves. Kia still won’t adopt the PFI and GDI to remove the carbon buildup. They have a great warranty but after that 10 year 100k warranty i guess you’re up for the next stinger anyways.

    • Amen, Mooeing!

      I love this car, not just for what it is but also for what it represents… it’s sad that American car companies have retired from the field…

  6. This great body could have been even better if the designers had shown more restraint on exterior details. Nevertheless, it’s still a winner. The Hyundai’s comparable model is more tasteful, but less exciting.

    Compared to their Euro competitors, the Koreans offer more inspired styling with more performance, but significantly lower price due to less opulent interiors. If they can hold to this formula, they are going to totally kick ass.

  7. Nice review Eric. I went to get one last year, but as usual around here, all they had were AWD versions. And they wouldn’t even try to get me a RWD version. Couldn’t order one either. Also the better engine choices only come with the very low profile tires, which is trouble around here as well (NY metro).
    Soooo, I ended up with a 300S RWD V8 and I couldn’t be happier (well a little I could, if it came with a posi). And Chrysler didn’t stock what I wanted either, but ordering was easy, came in 4 weeks.

    Your description on AWD vs RWD is spot on, and why I wanted the RWD-only. And I test drove all AWD versions of the cars I was considering, Stinger, ATS, CTS, CT6, 300, Charger, E-series, A6, and I really disliked how the front wheels where pushing/pulling me in places I didn’t like. Plus the extra weight and what it did to the handling was obvious to me. I’m probably just an old crumudgin, but I come from a roadracing background and I really disliked the AWD’s. Almost everyone I know wants it though.
    To be fair though, my RWD kept me from getting home this past snowstorm, first time in 2 winters, but it was solid ice, (and my tires are crap). No biggie, was a mile from home. I’d rather enjoy the car for the other 350 days a year it doesn’t snow. And I could have taken my 4×4, but I like testing myself, and having a little fun too.

    • Here’s a YouTube video showing an AWD Stinger and RWD Stinger(both with TT V6) doing a circuit/roadcourse lap and the 2WD smoked the AWD by 6 seconds(an eternity):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6mKcJz-wTo

      I’m staring to think the base 4 cylinder with RWD might be able to give the AWD V6 a run for it’s money on a circuit too. I wonder how much horsepower you can safely squeeze out of the turbo 4 with a chip on pump gas?

      • Wow, thanks Nobody. 6 seconds seems like a lot, but in 2:30, maybe not.
        I tested two identical ATS’s, one awd, one rwd, to their limits, and hands down the rwd was significantly better, to me. The awd version was pissing me off at the limit with the fronts doing things I didn’t want them to do. push-pull, push-pull, left-right, etc….
        I think e-nannies play a role in the limits for sure. My experience with GM’s is that their stability control is non-compliant to the inch. My 300 though allows for the rear to step out almost 1-2 ft before it tries to rain you back in. not sure if these are deliberate or just good vs not so good software.
        I autocrossed my 300 and wow was it awesome to learn what the big boat could do or not do. i ran without traction on, so i was smoking one rear a lot, but i never ran without stability cause it was my first time with this club and I didn’t want to spin it my first day.
        Thanks again.

  8. Great review. I’ve seen a few of these around Houston and have been intrigued to go test drive one along with the new Ram truck. Might be an injection in the arm for Kia/Hyundai since there are quite a bit fewer Santa Fe and Tucsons on the road. I remember the Hyundai tiburon coming out as another import sport car but it had a ton of tranmission problems and Hyundai replaced it with the veloster.

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