The 2021 Kia Stinger GT is the first performance car I have reviewed as part of the CarAdvice team, and as cliché as it may be, it delivered some unforgettable moments.
On my first drive in the Stinger, I had just left the CarAdvice garage in North Sydney, and was waiting at the traffic lights on my way out of the city, when I experienced something I never have before. My first car compliment. Ever. Yes, a good ol’ fashioned endorsement from the admiring driver next to you, seeing them wind down their window and shout across to you, “Nice car!”.
It’s the exact reaction the executives at Kia are looking for. Capturing the hearts of performance-sedan-loving Australians as Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores depart our lives, and to fill the gap of a genuine performance sedan to accommodate the family, and all wrapped up in a low-slung body with sexy design details.
To point out the obvious, Kia isn't exactly striking while the performance-sedan market is hot, but after spending some time with the Stinger, you realise it has a lot to offer beyond its looks and drivetrain.
Let’s start with the arrival of the midlife facelift for the 2021 Kia Stinger GT. It brings subtle interior and exterior updates and a new exhaust for the 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6, pumping out an extra 2kW, making 274kW and 510Nm channelled straight to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The updates have attracted a price rise, with the range-topping Stinger GT we have on test now asking for $63,260 plus on-road costs. That's $2200 more than its 2020-model counterpart on offer at the moment for $66,690 drive-away.
And that’s around $8000 more expensive than the entry-level V6-powered Kia Stinger 330S at $53,330 plus on-roads, but there is quite the list of luxury features and safety technology that go a long way to justifying the extra spend.
|2021 Kia Stinger GT|
|Engine||3.3-litre twin-turbo V6|
|Power and torque||274kW at 6000rpm, 510Nm at 1300–4500rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||10.2L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||10.5L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up/down)||406L/1114L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars (tested 2017)|
|Warranty||Seven years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Holden Commodore (if you can find one), Skoda Superb, Toyota Camry V6 (also on the way out), Volkswagen Passat|
|Price as tested||$66,690 drive-away|
Previous testers have described the Stinger GT as a ‘unicorn’ because it doesn't have any true competitors, with its closest rival considered the Skoda Superb or a Holden Calais, but in terms of performance these are very different cars.
With $60K plus to spend on a performance sedan with family practicality, you could see yourself wandering towards European-badged showrooms, so what can the Stinger do to sway you?
There’s no dispute between our testers, the Stinger GT has a cracker of an engine.
Kia claims the Stinger GT will cover the standstill to 100km/h sprint in 4.9 seconds, and we believe them. Previous CarAdvice testing recorded 4.8 seconds – safe to say, it's fast.
Appealing exterior styling is expected for any performance car, and the Stinger delivers looks worthy of a traffic-light compliment.
Our test GT was in Kia’s Neon Orange. Not to everyone's taste, but it certainly makes it easier to find in the shopping centre car park, and the ‘Tiger Nose’ grille surround, side mirrors and vents – all finished in dark chrome – admittedly look good.
The fake hood vents normally receive a comment from onlookers, but directing their attention to the 19-inch alloys and the sports exhaust, with the new addition of the chrome-coated quad exhaust tips for the V6, is a good comeback.
No, it doesn't have a classic V8 growl and it doesn't line up on the grid at Bathurst each year, but it is a car that puts a smile on your face as soon as you push the start button. The throaty exhaust comes alive and lets you know it's ready to deliver some happiness.
Push the accelerator and the Stinger shows you it's got some serious mumbo. Although it feels planted on the road, asking too much too soon can see the rear getting a bit lively, but the stability control does its job well to keep you facing the right way.
There are five different driving modes – with the choice of Sport, Comfort, Eco, Smart and Custom – so you can choose what you want the Stinger GT to deliver. The effortless nature of the V6 engine makes it easy to feel comfortable in this car, whether you are cruising down the highway or stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Call me boring, but I found the Stinger still delivered plenty of thrills in Comfort mode. There's no lag or hesitation from standstill, and it easily drives around town, albeit turning some heads on the way.
Staying in Comfort mode, the adaptive suspension tuning smooths out the worst of Sydney’s suburban streets – far more than we were expecting from a sports sedan. The firmness is there, it's a sports car, but not enough to make the coins jump out of your cupholder.
The steering is responsive and nicely weighted, even at lower speeds, making weaving in and out of city traffic at 50km/h feel like a stroll for the Stinger.
Our testers agreed that the Stinger GT can keep its performance in check for the daily commute, but it ensures you are constantly aware there’s more lurking under its bonnet. For someone not used to high performance on the school run, I preferred to keep the V6 animal on a tighter leash using Comfort mode for most of my daily driving.
But for the everyday thrillseeker, dialling it up a notch to Sport mode and making full use of the paddle shifters is endless fun, and you won't be able to help yourself from making an audible ‘ooh’ as the lights change inside the cabin.
Other CarAdvice testers reported – after some more spirited drives in the Stinger – how Sport mode unleashes a different beast, stiffening the suspension enough to see it planted through corners, before propelling itself forward and growling for more.
Stopping is almost as much fun as going, with the Brembo brake package effectively stopping the 1793kg beast in its tracks. It's impressive, and funnily enough they're what ‘old mate’ was admiring at the traffic lights.
It is easy to get carried away with the performance of the Stinger. Back in Comfort mode on the highway, it will cruise at 110km/h like it's going for a stroll, with a quiet cabin and smooth ride.
Inside, there’s a lot to greet you that will make you rethink whether you're really in a Kia, with the choice of premium materials and design elements appropriate for a car asking $60K plus.
The 2021 update sees a larger 10.25-inch infotainment system powering the wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat-nav, a 360-degree camera, and DAB+ radio that’s played through a premium 15-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
The restyled nappa leather seats are plush and supportive, electrically adjustable, with two-position seat memory and easy-access function. Visibility was better than expected from a sporty car, with the front windscreen being wide and not impeded by overly large front pillars.
The flat-bottom leather sports steering wheel has paddle shifters and a heating function, with well-placed controls usable with your thumb so you don't need to take your hands off the wheel, whether answering a call, skipping tracks or changing volume.
The colour head-up display is very handy for keeping an eye on your lead foot, with the 7.0-inch driver information display customisable to your preference.
The Stinger GT comes with a real aluminium console and door trims, and black suede interior on the roof and sun visors, making the 64-colour interior mood lighting really pop.
Storage up front is plentiful, with deep side pockets and angled water bottle holders. The centre console has two cupholders plus storage for smaller items.
All the touchpoints on the dash feel luxurious, with hard plastics used on the places that really need it, like the bottoms of doors and the glovebox. The stitching adds a nice touch, but is a bit overkill on the doors as well as the dash. Kia could have let the aluminium do the talking here.
There's wireless phone charging up front replacing the USB port available in previous models, but the two 12V outlet ports remain – one each for the front and second rows, and one USB port in the console, plus one for rear passengers.
Here we come to the ‘need’ part of the family equation, and the second row goes a long way to accommodating them.
The second row is spacious, with comfortable seats with decent leg and knee space. The Stinger's sloping liftback design might impede the head room of those over 180cm, but the panoramic roof helps to make them not feel cramped back there.
For those with small passengers, there are air vents and ISOFIX points on the outer seats, with three top-tether anchors across the back row. With two child restraints you might find fitting larger passengers in the middle too much of a challenge, but for anyone under the age of 12 they are just excited to be in a Stinger, thereby minimising any complaints about seating capacity.
There are net map holders on the back of the front seats – which are hard plastic to help with little feet kicking the first row – and cupholders in the fold-down rear armrest. Side pockets in the second row are smaller, but can fit a bottle of water without struggling to pull it back out.
The boot space is where the Stinger's liftback design helps, offering up 406L of cargo space while using the back row and 1114L with the second row folded away. The Stinger GT benefits from a hands-free power tailgate, too, with four height settings.
It might take some more effort to fit your stuff in the back compared to an SUV – pointing out the obvious – but the Stinger has enough to swallow a full-size pram plus a medium and a small suitcase.
The Kia Stinger GT carries a five-star ANCAP rating awarded back in 2017. There’s a full complement of airbags for both rows, as well as a vast list of advanced safety features to mitigate potential accidents.
Most notably for the Stinger GT variant is the Blind-Spot View Monitor, which projects a camera feed from the mirrors into the driver's display as soon as you switch on the indicator. The resolution is clear and there is no lag time, making it a really useful feature alongside the blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, which provides a warning and automatically controls the car to help avoid a collision.
Advanced safety features continue with front parking sensors with dash display, rear cross-traffic alerts and collision avoidance, as well as safe-exit warning, which prevents the rear doors being opened into oncoming cars or cyclists. There is also rear occupant alert that reminds front passengers upon exiting to check for pets or passengers left in the rear seats.
The Stinger GT also carries Kia's standard safety features of autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and driver-attention alert, alongside the mandatory systems like anti-lock brakes and traction control.
All of the safety tech does mean the car communicates with you a lot, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but something a dedicated Holden driver of yesteryear may find takes some adjustment time.
We found all of the safety features to work well and be largely non-intrusive. The lane-keeping assist does like to correct you that split second before you naturally would, and jolts you out of the driving experience. But the CarAdvice testing team assured me it's how the technology is meant to operate – proving it doesn't take long to become a techno dinosaur in the car world.
Kia’s claimed 10.2L/100km fuel consumption came in at 10.5L/100km in real-world testing, which other testers agreed was not bad for a 4.8m, 1793kg sports sedan.
The Stinger GT is also covered by Kia’s excellent seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which continues to be a leading offering in the new-car world.
It's safe to say the Stinger gives you an all-access pass to the car enthusiasts' club, and there’s a lot of fun to be had behind the wheel, which earns it a well-deserved place in Australia’s automotive landscape.
But as reported by CarAdvice last year, this could be the last major update for the five-door performance sedan. Although relatively popular in Australia, overseas reports suggest it won't receive a successor, which underlines our ever-growing appetite for SUVs and crossovers.