It took years for Americans to embrace Japanese performance cars and the different philosophy behind them. If the 2018 Kia Stinger GT is any indication, it won't take South Korea nearly as long to gain a foothold with American performance shoppers.
That's because there's something intrinsically American in the way the Stinger GT drives. It feels like a muscle car, like a downsized, twin-turbocharged Dodge Challenger. This Kia doesn't have the soundtrack to support the designation, but it has the straight-line speed, the sensation of acceleration, the in-your-face looks, and the affordable price that define a muscle car.
I spent 226 miles behind the wheel of the most affordable V-6-powered Stinger, my second stint with the car following Motor Authority's Best Car to Buy testing back in October. The following are some observations on what it's like to live with Kia's appealing hatchback––it's not a coupe or even a sedan, so stop calling it either.
Acceleration and exhaust note
The Good: Boy, this 3.3-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 has some punch. A 3,800-pound car with 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque guarantees a good time. Accelerating from stoplight to stoplight is the Stinger's favorite pastime because that's where it can exploit its fat, juicy torque curve––peak twist is available from 1,300 to 4,500 rpm. Zero to 60 mph takes just 4.7 seconds. The Stinger GT is addicting in its quickness.
The Bad: If I were to take delivery of a Stinger GT my first stop would be to the local tuning shop. This car desperately needs an exhaust note to match its straight-line speed. It feels like Kia, in a bid to match the BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe the brand desperately wishes we'd compare the Stinger with, took a bit too much inspiration from the Germans in developing a smooth, refined exhaust note for its new car. But the Stinger needs a rowdy, boisterous exhaust note. Based on skimming some YouTube videos, a free-flowing aftermarket exhaust makes the Stinger GT sound like a cut-rate Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio...in a good way. It’s the one area where the Stinger fails to live up to its muscle-car aspirations.
The Good: The Stinger GT's 8-speed automatic is much better on public roads than on a track. Shifts aren't as quick or aggressive as the ZF-built 8-speed in the Dodge Charger (and a whole bunch of other stuff), but it never feels like the Stinger needs that kind of capability. It's a likable everyday transmission. Leave the Stinger GT in Normal mode with the shifter in Drive, and the 8-speed auto is an innocuous partner.
The Bad: The Stinger GT may not need the ZF's rapid-fire shifts, but man, I wanted them. The transmission holds this car back from feeling sharper, more immediate, and more unrelenting in its performance. Kia could also stand to improve its paddle shifters––the wheel-mounted units lack the solid, bolt-action feel found in similarly priced vehicles. It's also a little annoying that Kia limits its fancy electronic shift lever to the range-topping GT2 (although that's merely a personal gripe––I just don't like the look or feel of the traditional lever). Finally, I wouldn't be doing my job as an auto writer if I didn't complain about the lack of a manual transmission. I say this not (only) because it's expected, but because a good 6-speed manual could have a transformative effect on the Stinger GT in the same way that a better automatic would.