The Kia Stinger constantly gets the comments section blazing on CarAdvice, with many questioning whether it stacks up as a proper replacement for the Aussie-built family sedans of yesteryear.
I recently decided to put the rear-driven liftback's grand touring abilities to the test, joining Automotive Club Melbourne on a drive day down the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.
Arriving at the Scoresby BP petrol station at 10am, our Hichroma Red Stinger GT really stood out from some of the other vehicles attending the day – there was everything from a Porsche 911 (in Miami Blue, no less) to a Maserati GranTurismo to modified Nissan Skyline GT-Rs and a Lexus RC F.
In the carpark, plenty of people came up and had a look at the Korean liftback, asking questions and praising its good looks. For me personally, the Stinger GT looks fantastic in this beautiful metallic red finish, full-LED headlights and lashings of dark chrome throughout the exterior.
We set off in convoy at 10:30am, with the destination set to the St Andrews Beach Brewery, 93.8km from the starting point. Our route would include a long stint on the Eastlink tollway before tackling some twisty back roads through Red Hill and Cape Schanck.
Setting off, it was fairly apparent the Stinger lacks the aural drama of some of the more exotic metal there – even with the optional bi-modal exhaust our tester had fitted, but more on that later.
But, accelerating onto the freeway was no issue thanks to the sheer muscle of the Kia's 272kW/510Nm 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6. You're at triple figures before you know it.
On the freeway, I got a chance to test out numerous driver-assistance systems, like adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-keep assist. All of the Stinger's systems worked very well, particularly the ACC tech that followed the car in front smoothly and intuitively, even when the leading vehicle applied the brakes abruptly.
The sunny weather meant we could have the sunroof open too, which isn't quite as panoramic as some, but allows plenty of extra light into the cabin.
Comfort on the freeway was great thanks to a well-damped suspension set-up in 'Comfort' mode. The GT's adaptive damper system allows you to really change the feel of the car – 'Sport', for example, is noticeably firmer and best left for more spirited driving.
Even over rougher surfaces, suppression from road and wind noise in the cabin is excellent, too, despite the GT's big 19-inch alloys shod in Michelin Pilot Sport tyres (the latter a running change for the 2019 model year).
Once we turned off the freeway, I got a chance to test out the Stinger's handling through the twisties, and get a taste of the bi-modal exhaust system under acceleration.
Using the steering-mounted paddle shifters, I was flicking through the ratios to find the sweet spot in the Stinger's rev range for maximum sound. It seems the valves close between 2000 and 2750rpm, and there's a noticeable change in exhaust note once you hit that mark.
When on song, the Stinger lets out a high-pitched, almost trumpety note that's characteristic of performance V6 engines, though it won't be challenging something like a Jaguar anytime soon.
It was easy to keep the Stinger on song using the steering-mounted paddle shifters to hold gears, though as we've noticed previously the eight-speed auto doesn't really have a 'manual' setting. Occasionally it shifts well before you want to, or reverts back to auto mode if you haven't pulled one of the paddles in a while.
The Stinger's 'Sport' mode was far more appropriate for these sections of winding back road, though once you hit a straight and settled back into a cruise, it was again too firm for regular driving – just like we noticed on the (much smoother) freeway.
I appreciated the Nappa leather-trimmed seats that held me in nicely as the Stinger negotiated bends, while the quick and direct steering made the big liftback feel surprisingly darty and light on its feet despite its physical size and 1780kg tare mass.
We arrived at the St Andrews Brewery in time for a quick bite to eat and a splash to drink, before assembling some of the cars for photos.
It was interesting to hear opinions on the Stinger's looks, with the majority of people complimenting its sleek proportions, and of course the lovely Hichroma Red metallic paint job.
Personally, I didn't think the Stinger looked out of place in the group of cars we had lined up – especially if you took away the badge on the nose – particularly in this specification with the deep red colour and full-LED lighting front and rear.
From the brewery, we drove to Mornington for some beachside photos; some of which were taken on my iPhone and others taken by my new photographer friend Nick. With clear blue skies, yellow sand and the Mornington foreshore as a backdrop, the Stinger's exterior finish really popped.
After a couple of hours of lying on the beach and wading in the shallows, we travelled back to Melbourne, which worked out to be an hour of mostly freeway driving. Like it did in the morning, the Stinger proved to be a fantastic grand tourer, settling into a quiet hum at 100km/h, with the adaptive cruise control doing most of the work for the near-70km journey.
My friends were very impressed with the comfortable seats and quiet cabin during the trip, while for me personally, it reiterated why I think the Korean liftback is such a capable family car for those who don't want another SUV.
Many will question whether the Stinger GT's $60,000 price tag is worth it, and for me, I try to look at it from the angle of not how expensive it is for a Kia, but how affordable it is for a high-performance sedan.
Think of it this way, the Stinger GT is similar in size, design, performance and equipment to the Audi S5 Sportback. Want to know how much the four-door S5 is? It's $105,140 before on-road costs. For the extra $45,000 outlay, you get a premium German badge, 0.2 seconds shaved off your 0–100km/h time, and the sure-footedness of quattro all-wheel drive.
However, you still need to option items that are standard on the Kia, such as a panoramic sunroof ($2850), a premium sound system ($1950), heated seats ($750) and a head-up display (included in the $5600 Technik Package).
When you look at it from that perspective, the Stinger is a relative bargain. Sure, there are certain elements where money has been saved (some cheaper cabin materials, lack of exhaust note as standard), but is it worth spending an extra $45K on a Euro model with equivalent performance? Probably not.
So, for those of you who are going to drag me in the comments about the fact it's a Kia, I'd strongly suggest going out and driving one, because if you buy cars with your heart and your head, this is definitely worth a look.
Click on the photos for more images by James Wong, Nick Belleville and Liam Kofoed