Kia's philosophy of improvement has been pretty simple: Find the best people, let them go wild.
Kia poached Audi's lead designer, Peter Schreyer, after he had helped craft a sleek and modern lineup, letting him transform the brand's look. Then Kia wanted to get in the business of making good driving cars, so Hyundai-Kia hired Albert Biermann from his three decades at BMW where he helped lead the development of the M3 and M5.
Hey, if you're going to steal, steal from the best.
The culmination of these hires is a car that's completely gorgeous but unmistakably Kia. A car that handles and storms down backroads with the ferocity of a BMW 4 series, but costs thousands less.
The culmination is this, the 2018 Kia Stinger. And Lord Almighty is it brilliant.
For starters, ignore the badge and take one long look at this thing. The proportions are perfect, with a long, low nose and a tapering back. Details are there too, with aggressive front air intakes and blacked-out side sills. The 5-spoke alloy wheels are complex and sporting, with the car's red-painted Brembo brakes adding to the affect.
It's all rather brilliant, especially in the fiery red and bright blue colors on offer. Kia's not afraid to charge $48,350 for this Stinger as-equipped, but the mean styling is reminiscent of sports sedans costing double the price.
In fact, that's the Stinger's major trap card. For 48 grand, I get a twin-turbocharged, 3.3-liter, 365-horsepower V6 engine mated to a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system. You get adaptive cruise, lane keeping, leather seats, CarPlay, a Harman Kardon audio system, blind spot monitoring and auto high beams.
And that's just the GT1. You can add Napa leather, advanced driver assistance, a heads-up display and more if you step up to the GT2 trim. You'll still barely be past 50 grand. For that, you get all these features, seating for five — four adults — and a liftback that can swallow massive amounts of cargo. Whatever you think of Kia, that's a helluva lot of car for the price.
Of course, like many Kia reviews of the past, you may be expecting me to now say the "it costs so little for a reason" line, wherein I end every compliment with "for a Kia."
Not the Stinger. The Stinger is unbelievably good. Not unbelievably good for a Kia. Unbelievably good. Full stop.
The steering is direct and communicative, with the quite-large Stinger pivoting around corners with a deftness characteristic of smaller sports cars. The V6 is a sweetheart, pulling hard from down low and not running out of breath until you flick the paddle to grab the next gear. Always following orders, the eight-speed auto serves up cogs without flinching; it's no dual clutch, but a fantastic gearbox nonetheless.
On a twist backroad, the Stinger is a cannonball. It's unstoppable, unflappable. And even on this all-wheel drive model, it mostly handles as a rear-driver, with the front axle really only obviously pulling you when necessary to get you out of trouble. And when you're done with your tomfoolery for the night, the Stinger is a quiet and composed highway cruiser that tackles bumps and potholes without drama.
I'm effectively a professional complainer, but it's hard to find too much material about the Stinger.
The interior is nice, with high-quality materials and a good layout. But the screen is tacked on to the dash far above the controls, and the large area between the controls and the display is mostly dull plastic with a few vents. It's not terrible, but it feels like a gigantic piece of featureless, useless plastic taking up space.
The back seat also is a tad smaller than the Stinger's long body may suggest, though still more than adequate for the class.
But the big problem isn't with the Stinger. It's with Kia. You're not buying a product of a luxury brand, so you're not going to have a luxurious ownership experience like with this cars competitors.
You're going to have to work with a Kia dealer, not a BMW or Audi dealer. You're not going to get the luxury experience of concierge service or a high-dollar waiting room with tasteful food and drink options. And if you don't want to wait for your car to be serviced, your loaner car will likely be a Kia Forte, not a BMW 3 series.
Finally, when you're talking to people at a party and pull out your Kia keys, everyone is just going to assume you couldn't afford a BMW. That might matter to you, or it might not. Simply put, the Stinger is on a par or better with a number of luxury sedans. But with a Kia badge on the hood, you aren't ever going to get the luxury car treatment.
$43,250 gets you into a Stinger GT1, which means the more potent motor and more of the premium options discussed up top. AWD is $2,200, but we recommend skipping it and fitting snow tires instead if cold weather is a problem.
Add $2,000 for Kia's Drive Wise suite of active safety equipment, a life-saving and convenience package, and we're done.
$46,150 as configured, plus word is that Kia is willing to put cash on the hood and cut deals to move Stingers right now.
For years, we've been asking mainstream manufacturers to make a budget version of a German sport sedan. None of this hotted-up, front-wheel drive nonsense; we wanted the real deal.
Fast, capable, stylish and most of all fun. I knew someone would eventually make it, I'm just surprised it was Kia. But Kia did, and it blew me away. The Stinger is a revelation, a history-making car that we'll still reminisce over in 25 years.
I've been trying to think of ways I can beg, borrow, and steal my way into a new Stinger. I don't need one and I can't afford to buy one, but that doesn't mean I haven't seriously considered it anyway.
If you do have the means and it fits your life, I can't possibly recommend the Kia Stinger more. Like I said, it's unbelievably good.
Driving Experience: 5
Price as configured: $48,350