Racy Stinger moves Kia into new territory

Peter Atkinson
The new Kia Stinger is lusty and racy

The carpark guy rarely says much.

A bit of a wave each morning as I head to my allotted space, but not much more than that.

Once, curious to know why I arrived in a different vehicle every single week, he wandered over and asked: "Why so many different cars?"

But after receiving the explanation, it's been mostly silence, with the odd wave, ever since.

Until now.

A couple of weeks back, the carpark guy wandered over unannounced.

"Are you going to be driving that new Kia Stinger any time soon?" he enquired.

"I'm thinking about buying one of those. They look great."

So he was all ears - and eyes - this week when the Korean maker's new performance sedan rumbled its way down the carpark ramp.

Keep in mind that the carpark guy sees all manner of fancy machines in his line of work - from Rolls Royces and Aston Martins to Benzes and Beemers. Not to mention the wide variety of cars parked in my space.

But it seems the Kia Stinger is the first one to really pique his interest. Or at least, the only one in his price range.

And let's be honest - it's not all that often that people are so eagerly anticipating the arrival of any Kia.

So clearly the Stinger is already making precisely the mark Kia might have hoped for in Australia.

It's the biggest, most powerful and most marketable passenger model they've ever launched Down Under - and it is likely to further enhance the brand's growing reputation.

The Stinger is very different from any Kia to go before it.

Yes, they've developed a very attractive and impressive range of small cars with look-at-me styling and great value for money. And yes, they also offer some terrific options in the SUV category.

But the Stinger moves the ambitious Korean brand into entirely new territory.

Word-of-mouth territory.

Kia and its Korean cousin Hyundai have plenty of experience in designing good looking cars. But this is the first time the performance has matched the aesthetics - via a twin turbocharged, high-output V6 engine - to back up those sexy looks.

A very different Kia indeed. A Kia to lust over, in fact.

So, for the benefit of a curious nation (and particularly for the benefit of the carpark guy) - what's it like?

Well, it's a weapon, pure and simple. Seriously racy.

That twin turbocharged V6 delivers an imposing 272 kilowatts - good for a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.9 seconds. Yet it seems even quicker than that with urgent, exhilarating throttle response - matched by an appropriately throaty, unrefined burble from the quad tailpipes.

The Stinger will also be available with a second engine choice - a turbocharged, 2-litre four-cylinder that is no slouch either with 182kW - with an attractive $45,990 entry price.

Happily, we were assigned the mid-range example of the Stinger, the 330Si with twin-turbo V6 and an impressively smooth and intuitive eight-speed auto produced in-house by Kia - for a very tasty price of $55,990.

That brings a long list of equipment including a full suite of electronic safety aides, 7-inch touch screen, autonomous braking with forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, front and rear parking sensors and active cruise control.

For an additional $4000, the flagship GT also brings 360-degree camera view, blind-spot detection, dynamic, self-levelling LED headlights with high beam assist, colour head-up display and anti-glare mirrors.

There's no question this is the best-looking machine to emerge from the Korean Peninsula.

It's big, sleek and athletic - in fact one friend even mistakenly thought I'd arrived in a Maserati - until they saw the Kia badge on the front grille.

The cockpit has definite hints of Mercedes-Benz with its turbine-style air vents and sweeping, sculpted dash. The stubby electronic gearshifter shifter could be straight from an Audi.

Outside, the L-shaped breathing vents behind the front wheel arch are almost identical to a BMW 3, 5 or 7 series. And there's some Audi A5 about the functional lift-back rear hatch - which offers a very useful 406-litre cargo area.

So its designers have borrowed from the best in the business. Well, they do say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery - and by that measure the Stinger is a very flattering thing indeed.

It also brings surprisingly impressive dynamics.

Acceleration is potent. Under full throttle you can feel the rear wheels squirming for grip as the traction control system does its best to negotiate a favourable outcome.

Engine note and that thunderous mid-range response was reminiscent of BMW's potent M240i - admittedly a smaller and even more wicked proposition than the Kia - but the fact they can be mentioned in the same breath speaks volumes for the Korean machine.

It really is that impressive.

Its performance numbers seem to understate the real-world experience - perhaps because the 272kW are backed up by a beefy 550Nm of torque, available from as low as 1300rpm thanks to the sequential turbochargers.

On the road, the Stinger strikes a nice compromise between firm, sports car handling and some compliance in the ride. It's not perfect, but for quietness and comfort it's very acceptable.

It tends to occasionally crash a bit over bigger impurities in the road surface but the payoff is in its handling, which feels rock solid and sure footed - an absolute necessity given how quickly the Stinger covers the ground. Brakes are equally competent.

For a car with a price tag in the mid-50s, it feels impressively upmarket and plush.

The leather sport seats are particularly comfortable and well bolstered for spirited driving, and there's a solid feel to the chunky leather-wrapped sports wheel. Only the Kia badge in the middle will fail to please the brand snobs.

It all adds up to make this one of the true feel-good machines to live within the reach of the average buyer.

Especially the carpark guy.

KIA STINGER 330 SI

HOW BIG? Its considerable 4.83m length - and longish wheelbase - contributes to a spacious cabin, decent cargo space and, most importantly, a very solid road presence.

HOW FAST? Seriously - slipping beneath the landmark 5-second mark for the 0-100km/h sprint. It feels even quicker and its huge torque and instant response makes it a treat to drive.

HOW THIRSTY? The official figure is 10.2L/100km which is about what you'd expect for a car with this performance potential. You'll be tempted to use the right foot pretty heavily - which will push its thirst well into the teens.

HOW MUCH? Stinger prices range from $45,990 for the entry-level, four-cylinder 200S - while the flagship twin-turbo V6 GT is a tick under $60-grand, plus onroads. We thought the $55,990 330Si represented excellent value.