2018 Kia Stinger GT V-6 Review: Korea Builds a Modern-Day Four-Door Muscle Car

But like all modern muscle cars, that's not to say it's a slob to drive.

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Kia Stinger GT GT2 RWD.

You might not think it from the pictures—I certainly didn't at first—but the Kia Stinger GT is a damn fine-looking car. Over the course of a four-hour drive, I got three lingering glances from pedestrians and other drivers alike, and one very enthusiastic thumbs-up from a woman crossing the street. Granted, it was on the Deathrace 2000 course of a road beneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, so she may have simply been glad that I stopped at the red instead of swerving towards her and mashing the gas, but I'm fairly certain she was reacting to the sleek chunk of Korean-sourced sheetmetal stopped in front of her.

Not that most people would assume this car hails from South Korea. If anything, the Stinger looks vaguely European, a cross-pollination of Continental design cues. The front end is vaguely French in its appealing oddness; the contrasting vertical and horizontal surfaces and lines that seem slapdash and disjointed in images meld together into something greater than the sum of its parts—still alien, but less disconcerting and more exotic. Think Captain Kirk's green-skinned Orion women, instead of the reptilian Gorn. The rear end is more Italian, bringing to mind the old Maserati 3200 coupe, or even some indeterminate Alfa Romeo. (Certainly helping bolster the Stinger GT's Italian vibe and its sex appeal alike: the f**k-me red shade sprayed over my test car, a Tawny Kitaen-lipstick crimson that looks like it was peeled straight off an '87 Testarossa.)

So if Kia's goal with the Stinger GT was to add some pizzazz to its U.S. lineup, it certainly succeeded. And as our own Lawrence Ulrich has repeatedly affirmed, the car's performance is more than able to cash the check its looks write. But it's one thing to test out a new car on the carefully-planned roads and closed-off tracks of a manufacturer's launch event; it's another thing altogether to throw it through the real-world blend of soul-crushing traffic, rough roads, and the occasional bout of chilly weather. 

Will Sabel Courtney

Hey, look, no traffic.

The Pros:

  • This puppy likes to play. The 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6—the same engine found in the Genesis family, more or less—pumps out 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, which, when routed through the rear wheels alone as on my test car, is more than enough to break the ass out; it’s almost like driving a V-8-powered Dodge Charger. The ass end tried to step out on my while making a right-turn merge from a stop sign onto a busy road, even under half-throttle. And that was with traction control in place. Turn them off, and the rear end swings wide with every lead-footed turn. It feels like the trunk is filled with helium, the back end feels so light when it gets loose. It’s a blast...once you get used to it.
  • Another item to prove this ain't your high school English teacher's Kia? Launch control, baby. It’s easy as holding down the T/C button for about eight seconds to turn it and stability control off, then mashing the brake, then the gas, and lifting your left foot. It feels quick, but not crazy-fast—like the mid-four-second 0-60-mile-per-hour car it's been proven to be. But the midrange punch, as in the Genesis G80 Sport it shares an engine with, is outstanding. It’s no revver, but there’s a fat belt of turbo torque sitting in the heart of the powertrain that makes this car pick up speed like a champ once it’s rolling.
  • It may not be a Porsche or Lotus, but it's certainly an adept handler, gripping flat and true through the turns of upstate New York's country roads in a way that would do a German sport sedan proud. That skill in the twisties is also in part thanks to its steering, which is far better than pretty much every other Hyundai/Kia product out there. The numbness is all but gone, especially once you pop it into Sport mode; it’s still a bit dead on-center, but otherwise it’s lively, quick, and engaging in a way other Korean cars aren’t.
  • The interior is very well-designed. It’s smart, sporty, and elegant, but also clean and ergonomically correct; just about everything’s where you expect it to be, the controls (actual, physical buttons and dials) are clearly marked, and the gauges and displays are every bit as large and clear as you'd like when glancing at them while zipping along at 120 feet per second. The infotainment screen is a touchscreen job—I admittedly searched for an iDrive-like controller in vain at first when trying to zoom in on the nav screen—which might be a bit of a problem for folks with short arms. And I’d kill for a bit of haptic feedback to let you know when you’ve tapped an on-screen button. But most of the important features have redundant hard controls—a tuning knob for the radio, a toggle on the wheel for presets, and volume controls in both places.

The Cons:

  • Seriously, what's with the names, Kia? "Stinger GT" is already confusing enough—it makes it seem as though there's a non-GT version of the Stinger floating around somewhere—before building on it with trim levels called 2.0L, Premium, GT, GT1, and GT2. Which means that you could walk out of a Kia dealership with a car formally named the Stinger GT GT. Why not just save the "GT" handle for the V-6-powered versions (that's what the "GT" trim moniker refers to, after all) and call the ones powered by the inline-four the Stinger and Stinger Premium? 
  • That propensity for oversteer even with the anti-slip systems on seems liable to doom the RWD V-6 Stinger to the same fate that befell the RWD Jaguar F-Type R in the U.S. Considering the general popularity of all-wheel-drive in the U.S. in high-end cars, the mere $2,200 price bump it brings, and the fact that the system should tame much of the squirrely behavior, I wouldn't be shocked to see all six-cylinder Stingers boasting AWD as standard by the model's third birthday. 
  • I don’t want to make a thing about the price, considering how much muscle cars and sport sedans from other companies go for nowadays; after all, a loaded Mustang GT coupe sells for close to $55K, and an equivalently-specced BMW 430i Gran Coupe would go for $54,000 (and still be down 117 horses horses and 118 pound-feet). But...it's still a Kia with a price tag higher than even the most-expensive new Honda on sale in America. That's a big pill for some people to swallow. (And unfortunately, while the car starts around $32K and the V-6 around $39,000, Kia adds the performance goodies piecemeal, so if you want the fun stuff like an electronically controlled suspension and the LSD, you have to go all the way to the GT2 at $50K-plus.)

The 2018 Kia Stinger GT GT2 RWD, Ranked:

Performance: 4/5

Comfort: 4/5

Luxury: 3/5

Hauling people: 4/5

Hauling stuff: 3/5

Curb appeal: 4/5

“Wow” factor: 4/5

Overall: 4.33/5

The Bottom Line:

The Stinger seems to exist to fill the same role of the Mustang in Ford's lineup: To serve as an achievable flagship, a sexy speed machine that sells on style. But Kia, never one to avoid the chance to offer a bargain, upped the proposition's value game by offering its halo sports car as a four-door with coupe-like looks, one that folks who normally would dismiss a 'Stang or 'Maro for its lack of usability would take a second look at. 

Trouble is, are Americans ready for a Kia that plays in the $50,000 price range? In spite of the company's now decade-long stretch of building nice-looking, well-made cars that compete on more than monthly payments, many people still see the company as the Cheap Korean Carmaker. When I told a woman at a bar I was testing a $50,000 Kia, her eyes popped so wide, you'd think I'd told her I could fly. 

But worrying about sales, to a certain extent, defeats the purpose of a halo car. The Kia Stinger GT's primary role is to get people excited about the brand and suck people who wouldn't have otherwise stopped by into dealerships. Most of them will wind up driving off in Rios and Sportages—but hey, those are folks who likely would have bought Corollas and CR-Vs if they hadn't been wooed in to see the sexy new sports number. The Stinger's annual U.S. sales will likely never break five digits, but so long as it makes people think more highly of the brand, it's doing its job. 

And as a side note, to that end—if you buy a GT2 RWD version now and take good care of it, five gets you ten that you'll be able to get a pretty penny for it on Bring a Trailer in 10 years' time. 

The 2018 Kia Stinger GT GT2 RWD, By the Numbers:

Base Price (Price as Tested): $50,100 ($50,100)

Powertrain: 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V-6, 365 horsepower, 376 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic transmission; rear-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 19 city, 25 highway

0-60 MPH: 4.4 seconds (Car and Driver testing)

Quarter-Mile: 12.9 seconds at 11 mph (C/D)

Skidpad: 0.93 g (C/D)

Number of times I wondered if it could pass for an Alfa if I scraped the badges off: 2