Big-car space and turbocharged performance are the calling cards of the Kia Stinger. So, if you’re chasing maximum bang for your buck, the Stinger 330S has your number with the biggest engine for the cheapest price. But do the compromises balance the savings?
Among Kia’s six-variant Stinger range, the very cheapest car you can get is the $46,990 200S with a 182kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, but that’s not the engine setting the hearts and minds of enthusiasts alight.
The headline act is the twin-turbo 3.3-litre V6 and its 272kW/510Nm outputs, which can be yours for a still reasonable $3000 step up over the entry-grade four-cylinder.
The 330S isn’t an outright bargain, though – $49,990 plus on-road costs would be better thought of as a relative bargain compared to big-ticket Euro sedans, but looks pricey next to the cheapest V6 Commodore RS that starts at $40,790 (let alone the better equipped RS-V from $46,990), which adds all-wheel drive and a nine-speed auto, but lacks the performance punch of turbocharging.
Because the Stinger is such a big deal to Aussie motoring fans, keeping the dream of rear-wheel-drive performance within the reach of average families, CarAdvice even owns one. Although, we opted for the mid-spec 330Si, from $52,990, as it’s the car we collectively consider the sweet spot of the range (read all about it here).
Curiosity has got the better of the team, though, and we’re keen to see if we could live with the more basic 330S and its missing bells and whistles.
That’s not to say the base car is any kind of stripped-out fleet special. You’ll still find dual-zone climate control, proximity key with push-button start, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, 18-inch alloy wheels and Brembo brakes.
That’s still only the starting point, though. So despite how it looks, the 330S doesn’t have leather seat trim – Kia calls the material covering the seats and steering wheel “premium” without mentioning the actual material type.
As you step up through the range, there are also additions like larger alloy wheels, a larger infotainment screen, additional seat adjustment, real leather trim, and upgraded audio systems.
The thing is, though, as you slide into the interior of the Stinger S, it doesn’t feel at all like a base model. Despite not being leather-wrapped, the seats still feel nice to perch upon, with the synthesised leather having a soft and supple feel.
It also has the potential to be more durable in the long run than real cow hide, though only time will tell for certain.
The sports-profiled front seats offer good lateral support, although the lack of adjustable lumbar support could be a problem. So too the incredibly long seat base, which is fine for tall drivers, but short-legged critters like me will either feel the need to scootch forward a little in the seat, or put up with a mid-calf support that feels as though your legs are dangling over the edge. Not ideal.
Your front seat passenger might notice the equipment step-down a little more, with a fully manual seat on the left, though it does include height adjustment, which is a little unexpected but definitely welcomed.
Perhaps more glaring is the 3.5-inch monochrome display in the instrument cluster, which is obviously configured with big borders where the Stinger GT’s larger 7.0-inch TFT screen would fit. The same applies to the infotainment system, with the 7.0-inch screen surrounded by a thick, chunkily styled frame that’s a touch less obvious on higher-grade cars.
Across the range, rear seat features are little changed, with face-level vents, a 12V power socket and USB power routed to the back of the centre console.
Despite a fairly swept roof, there’s good rear seat space once you duck past the cant rail. The impact here comes in loading either little ones into kids' seats, or incredibly tall teenage lumps, where head room takes a hit. Leg room is surprisingly generous, though.
Kia has at least, finally, addressed a former oversight with the Stinger range's safety spec. Previously only Si- and GT-grade cars scored five-star ratings from ANCAP. However, the S only managed a three-star result owing to a lack of advanced safety equipment. As of February 2018 production.
Base model cars now add, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. If you're shopping for a Stinger be sure to clarify if all the safety tech you want is included as old stocks clear out of showrooms ahead of fresh floor stock arriving.
The move is a smart one by Kia. It’s hard not to question how Kia couldn’t find a way to equip all Stingers with the added safety tech from the beginning when even the cheapest, smallest Kia – the Picanto, from $14,390 drive-away – includes AEB.
That means the $6K it takes to step from a 330S to a 330Si now pays for fluffy stuff like leather trim, bigger infotainment, and upgraded audio, with no major difference in safety specification (unless you're looking at a pre-MY17 car).
When the Stinger launched in September 2017, Kia boldly devoted plenty of track time to its new performance halo model as a signifier of just how capable its new rear-driver is. That’s a fine idea, sure, but considering very few Stingers will ever actually take to the track in anger, real-world capability matters the most.
It also happens to be where the Stinger starts to lose some of its sheen. That’s not to say it’s a particularly bad car, but there are some areas with room for improvement. Perhaps the most grating of the Stinger’s issues lies in its suspension.
The ride quality comes across as unsettled, with the suspension constantly busy over ripples, bumps, and joins in the road surface. The result is a fidgety feel over the kinds of roads that typify Australia’s landscape.
It’s not possible to simply write the jiggling off as a symptom of low-profile tyres either, as the 330S rides on a set of smaller 18-inch wheels with slightly taller sidewalls (225/45R18) compared to the Si and GT grades.
The suspension also has a tendency to transfer noise through to the cabin. Under compression there’s a booming sound betraying a lack of isolation, creating a sense of harshness.
Conversely, the Stinger is an absolutely stellar handler. Putting 510Nm to the pavement isn’t as straightforward as it seems, but the 330S sticks like glue to the road surface, gets power down cleanly, and features a well-sorted and responsive front end.
Put it all together and that makes for a perfect grand tourer, ideal for stringing a series of fast sweeping bends together. While it may be quick, the steering is a little rubbery, though, which pulls back some of the enjoyment a little.
Like the rest of Kia’s range, the Stinger boasts a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with seven years capped-price servicing at 12-month/10,000km intervals. Expect to pay $1056 after three years, $2010 after five, or $3412 after seven. Service costs start to escalate as time goes on, but Kia includes things like cabin filters and brake fluid that some brands charge extra for.
Of course, the implication of such a long warranty is that the car is good enough to stand the test of time, but with just a shade over 10,000km on the clock, this example had already developed an irritating rattle from somewhere in the boot. We ruled out the usual suspects like the numberplate, spare wheel and tool kit, but couldn’t actually pinpoint the source of the noise.
Other trims creak and groan as the body flexes over driveways and speed humps, but perhaps the biggest concern is a low-speed differential groan – not a noise any new car should make from an assembly that should otherwise be near silent.
Getting back to the original question then, could you live without the extra equipment of a higher-grade Stinger? There’s nothing in the base package that’s glaringly absent from a luxury or convenience point of view, and certainly little to want for in terms of performance.
As a performance car, the Stinger 330S is a little easier to forgive for prioritising handling over ride comfort, but then the lack of a manual transmission or proper manual mode for the eight-speed auto stands in the way of making it an enthusiast's dream
That doesn't particularly make the Stinger a bad car – maybe it’s just misunderstood? While it tries to be part family hack, part tourer, part performance bargain, right now it doesn’t excel in any of those areas.
The upgraded safety package for the S grade helps bring the Stinger up to scratch from a contemporary safety perspective and finally removes the need to shop for something higher in the range – unless you just can't live without the extra wow-factor of upscale models, the 330S is an ideal point to start your Stinger search.