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Kia generating buzz with Stinger concept

Strong design has been the foundation of Kia's growth in the past few years.

While he has moved upstairs to a new job that put him in charge of design at both Kia and Hyundai, Peter Schreyer remains one of the industry's influential designers and he is encouraging his designers around the world to build on the company's design success.

For the North American International Auto Show, Kia debuted a lightweight concept car: the GT4 Stinger. The concept suggests that Kia's management is thinking about building a sport car that could put a halo around the brand as a companion to the new Kia 900 luxury car unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto in November.

Kia GT4 Stinger concept
Getty Images
Kia GT4 Stinger concept

Kia designers from the company's U.S. studio in Irvine, Calif., said the GT4 hearkens back to the glory days of purebred, affordable sports cars. The design language moves in a new direction, while the concept pushes the boundaries of performance with a rear-drive 2 2 sports car, where Kia has made a substantial investment developing a racing team to challenge competitors, such as Mazda.

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"Driving enjoyment was the number one priority in designing the GT4 Stinger," said Tom Kearns, chief designer, Kia Design Center America. "It's an authentic 2 2 sports car that can turn heads as a daily driver while also being right at home on the track. It's about purity, simplicity and timelessness. The GT4 Stinger is a throwback to days when driving a car was a visceral experience that wasn't muted by electronic gimmickry."

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Emboldened by the brand's on-track success in the Pirelli World Challenge racing series with a pair of turbocharged, GTS-class Optimas, Kia's U.S. design team approached the GT4 Stinger project with an eye toward weight reduction, functionality and pure driving enjoyment. The concept shuns the luxury trappings of a traditional Grand Touring car and embraces the elemental experience of truly engaging with the vehicle.

"If anyone were to ask if Kia has the credibility to build a car like the GT4 Stinger," noted Kearns. "I would simply point out that Kia races—and wins—against some of the world's most legendary performance brands."

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Beneath the low wedge of the GT4′s sculpted hood is a tuned version of Kia's 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline direct injected four-cylinder engine pumping out 315 horsepower.

A six-speed manual transmission that routes power to the rear wheels completes the powertrain. The GT4′s appearance and performance is enhanced by Pirelli P-Zeros tires, which are nestled beneath the sculpted fenders.

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Custom 20-inch aluminum center-lock wheels feature carbon fiber inserts for strength and weight reduction. Tucked inside the massive wheels and bringing the GT4 to a halt are Brembo Gran Tourismo two-piece cross-drilled rotors with four-piston calipers. And underpinning the GT4 Stinger's sculpted "Ignition Yellow" body is a custom chassis with an independent double wishbone suspension.

Kia hasn't made any kind of commitment but analysts suggested that, depending on where the vehicle is priced, a production version of the Stinger could appeal to younger buyers and finally give the company a chance to build on its racing success.

By CNBC Contributor Joseph Szczesny. Follow him on Twitter @DetroitBureau or at thedetroitbureau.com.

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