It's fair to say the Kia Stinger has fallen shy of expectations. At the time of its Australian market introduction in 2017, the brand speculated that its sales would "bounce around the 200–250 mark" and potentially "build to 400–500" a month.
In 2018, Kia reportedly sold 1957 Stingers. That's 163 a month when averaged out over the year. 2019 and 2020's results were similar – 1773 and 1778 respectively, a pip under 150 cars a month for two years.
When it boils down to why, you can point a finger any which way you want: economic factors, changes in buyer types and demographics, even perhaps the death of Holden having some effect. All are debatable factors, but a concrete reason will be next to impossible to pinpoint.
However, what we can do is assess the product and rule out whether it's had a part to play. We're driving the facelifted, entry-level 2021 Kia Stinger 200S. It's the simplest version in the range, which should reveal warts and all, if any.
The 2021 Kia Stinger range has been slimmed from six core variants to four. The extra layers in the sandwich are gone, leaving the four-cylinder in entry 200S and top-spec GT-Line guises, and the six-cylinder similarly in 330S and GT versions.
Prices have been increased, but there's also promotional pricing to consider. Here's an explanation: The Stinger price spectrum starts at $49,550 for the 200S and rises to $63,260 for the 274kW high-performance GT model, both before on-roads.
Furthermore, Kia is also offering promotional drive-away pricing on all Stingers for the foreseeable future. That makes our 220S entry model currently $53,090 drive-away nationally, which represents a $1000–$1500 saving versus the list price plus on-roads, depending on the state it's driven away in.
Our tester wore no options, which is quite rare. It costs exactly $53,090 to buy the car in this review, regardless of where you live. No tricks here, no 'price as tested'.
|2021 Kia Stinger 200S|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged|
|Power and torque||182kW at 6200rpm, 353Nm at 1400–4000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.8L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||9.4L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up/down)||406L/1114L|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2017)|
|Warranty||7 years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Skoda Superb, Volkswagen Passat|
|Price as tested (drive-away)||$53,090|
The entry-level Kia Stinger 200S is powered by a carryover 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 182kW and 353Nm. Torque is offered in full from 1400–4000rpm. A respectable powerband in isolation, but it is working with 1758kg worth of weight.
I understand the bulk of Australia's excitement lies with the big power, twin-turbo V6. The sales split tells the story, as over 90 per cent of Kia Stinger customers have opted for the big motor.
However, the four-cylinder car is still respectable. Kia claims it'll manage 0–100km/h in six seconds flat, which is hot-hatch pace. Remember, this is a large GT-inspired family car and not an outright performance car. Compared to something more relatable, it's still a whole second faster to 100km/h than a $69,900 BMW 3 Series.
Its decent breadth of torque helps considering it's offered in full from 600rpm off idle. It's powerful enough to manage freeway overtaking and merging, and is fairly spritely off the mark, too. Aiding its performance is a slick-shifting eight-speed auto that uses a traditional torque converter.
In a car like this, a dual-clutch transmission is the last thing you need. The Kia Stinger's automatic is most importantly smooth, with its fluid-coupling nature providing a supple buffer between input and reaction. It's still responsive off the line, and also shifts quickly at request.
Modern, conventional automatics have dramatically reduced the amount of slippage and doughiness they were once plagued with, especially the sort once fitted to large sedans. If you're coming from an older, possibly Australian large sedan, it'll be night and day.
Coupling quick programming to eight ratios results in the Stinger feeling quicker than its theoretical power and torque figures suggest. In other words, it becomes more efficient at managing the engine's performance.
To answer the question most are wondering with the smaller engine, it never felt underpowered, even with four adults on board. Understanding this, I believe of the 5500-plus Kia Stinger owners out there, a decent chunk never gave the four-cylinder car the time of day, let alone test-drove one.
If you own one, reach out to us in the comments below, and tell us if you tried both versions, or instead ignored the four-cylinder demonstrator on the lot.
As with the engine, the Stinger's ride and handling set-up remains identical to before. Kia Australia puts every new model it launches through the ringer locally, and adapts their handling to better suit Australian conditions.
It often repeats the process during facelifts, or what the brand prefers to call 'product enhancements'. Here, subtle tweaks and changes are made if deemed necessary. However, with COVID-19 striking and affecting international borders, the brand was unable to fly in the overseas engineers required for re-evaluation testing and sign-off.
Thus, the suspension calibration remains the same. I used the term GT-inspired before for good reason. The entry Stinger 200S is the baby in a range originally designed to better align Kia's brand with sportiness and vigour.
Acknowledging that, it's no surprise all Kia Stingers, even our versions adjusted by the bright minds at Kia's Australian subsidiary, are tuned on the side of sportiness. There's some low-speed busyness as a result, but up at pace the ride quality settles.
What's more interesting is how the sporty suspension feels juxtaposed against the performance of the engine. If any Stinger in the range could be more approachable and friendly, it's this one. Another point worth mentioning is that while more expensive Stingers feature adaptive suspension, the 200S makes do with a fixed-rate set-up.
Aside from the quality of ride at low speeds, the Kia Stinger draws inspiration from large, rear-wheel-drive sedans of old. If this is a feeling you're missing, or you're worried to trade away your current car, it could be a viable, modern-age alternative for you. The steering feels great, and can be adjusted via the drive-mode selector switch in the lower centre console.
Inside the cabin, a handful of additions are new for 2021. Most noticeable is the introduction of a 10.25-inch widescreen infotainment system, which replaces a 7.0-inch unit. It's as quick as ever, both initially starting up and responding to input swiftly.
It features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but still requires a wired connection. This is unlike the brand's Picanto and Rio small cars, which both feature wireless connectivity. You'll also find DAB+ radio and native navigation in the Stinger's system.
Smaller details have been improved, with the introduction of a smart-looking frameless auto-dimming rear-vision mirror, and a larger 4.2-inch central display between a pair of analogue dials. No digital instrument cluster here, but then again, Kia does not offer this technology anywhere in the wider Kia Stinger range.
The front pews are tightly bolstered, as I found my weedy 73kg/183cm frame not fitting squarely into the seat back. If you actually have some muscle and bulk, you may find your back either squashing the bolsters or simply resting on top of their highest points.
The driver's seat also doesn't feature adjustable lumbar support, which matters on a potential long-distance cruiser like this. In terms of where you sit, it's low, hunkered down, deep in its hull. Driving positions are crucial with sports-oriented cars, and the Stinger nails it.
In terms of materials and overall presentation, it's neat. There's value for money here, especially considering its now slightly exotic rear-wheel-drive architecture. Active safety is decent, but there are some omissions. Our entry model features the basics: autonomous emergency braking with cyclist and pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control.
What it does miss are front parking sensors, which would be a worthy addition given the length of the bonnet, blind-spot monitoring, again worthy once you understand physical rearward visibility is poor, and rear cross-traffic alert. In order to get those things, you have to step up to the GT-Line version, which costs $7600 more than our entry-level 200S model.
As a large, four-door sedan, its second row remains pivotal to its success. After falling in, as you tend to do given the low hip point, it's a great place to be. Long rear doors result in a glasshouse that carries rearward enough to give passengers a line of sight outside once fully settled, which promotes habitability.
In terms of physical size, I found sitting behind my own driving position, catered for my 183cm height, left me with 3–4cm of leg room, as well as plenty of foot space. A forward-facing child seat works well given the length and width of the car. However, a rearward-facing seat has its challenges with the sloping roof line. You will find loading a child in this fashion awkward.
Rear-seat amenities are excellent. On top of rear air vents, there's an independent, manually controlled third zone of temperature control, a rear USB port, and a rear 12-volt power outlet.
The cargo area allows for 406L of load space. While not huge, and comparable to smaller hatchbacks and SUVs, its dimensions are long and wide. Throwing in foldable strollers and shopping bags works well given their lack of height.
Fitting anything square, or with more even proportions, can be challenging, however, as the Stinger's boot does thin out toward its most rearward point. Folding the second row unlocks 1114L of boot space – enough for a mountain bike to slot in easy, wheels and all.
Ownership costs are on the dear side given the engine is as regular as they come. Service bills for the first five years will cost $312, $598, $399, $685 and $351, or a total of $2254. Intervals are 12 months or 10,000km, whichever is first met.
Fuel usage over the duration of the loan was 9.4L/100km, just 0.6L/100km over the official combined claim – a good result.
Is the product at fault here? Absolutely not. Its rear-wheel-drive platform, great styling, and decent levels of equipment prop up any argument centred around Stinger versus SUV.
In relation to my previous statement, are its flaws enough of a reason to steer away? Possibly, if your lifestyle means the Stinger's shallow boot won't work, or if the thought of placing your children into rearward-facing support with surgical precision is tiring. Imagine having a fresh pair of twins with this car? No way.
If anything, given its historical sales figures, buying one at cut-price may even be an option. Don't discredit the four-cylinder until you drive it, though, as if you're after the look, feel and vibe, it's still a decent option in the $50K drive-away price bracket.