Kia's Stinger Succeeds in Making Us Take the Company Seriously
Kia wants to convince you that the Stinger is equal to the German competition so much that it will put you in the driver's seat of both of its cars.
Despite its name and reputation, Kia has positioned the Stinger to compete with the behemoths of BMW, Porsche, and Audi for less than half the price of the German competition. Kia really wants to convince you that despite some of the company's past models that weren't so great, the Stinger has what it takes to be a viable alternative to the Germans. In fact, Kia wants to convince you so badly that it is willing to put you behind the wheel of both the Stinger and a German competitor on a closed course and let you try each out at high speed. This is the Kia Stinger Experience.
To be clear, this is not a press event for credentialed journalists only. It's open to anyone with a driver's license, and it's completely free. This past weekend the Kia Stinger Experience took place in a parking lot at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. I went, not as a journalist, but as an enthusiast genuinely interested in what Kia has brought to the table. My wife and a friend came along as well.
We had signed up online the previous week, and checking in was a simple matter of confirming our information, showing our driver's licenses, and passing a quick breathalyzer test. After picking up snacks and drinks, we were brought to a rather nice trailer for a quick presentation about the Stinger and the event schedule.
We saw a few film clips demonstrating the Kia's performance against the BMW 650i and the Porsche Panamera—two established competitors costing more than double the Stinger's price tag. Independent testing of acceleration and handling determined that the Stinger will hang with the Germans in all performance categories. I appreciate that Kia was honest about not winning all of the tests. And that's okay. For Kia, even matching the Germans' performance is a significant accomplishment.
Then we were brought outside, split into groups with a product specialist, and given a tour around and inside the Stinger. The specialist pointed out everything from the functional ducts cooling the Brembo brakes to the numerous driver aids available in the Stinger. He even showed us the 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine under the hood sourced from the Genesis G80. The engine is the only thing they share, however.
Then it was the moment we'd all been waiting for: Our opportunity to drive the cars. Yes, cars, plural. Kia not only had a fleet of Stingers on hand, it also brought a BMW 650i, a Porsche Panamera, and an Audi S5. We were to drive both the Stinger and one of the German competitors to prove that Kia is in the same league.
Each of us was matched with an instructor. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds, from various racing series to law enforcement training. I ended up driving with Kevin, an instructor for Dirtfish Rally School. As a rally enthusiast myself we became fast friends.
The first part of the drive was a simple straight-line acceleration run from a set of drag strip style Christmas tree lights to a sign telling me where to brake, followed by a complete stop. This is brilliant. The first thing most drivers want to do in a performance car is to floor it, and Kia encouraged us to do exactly that.
After a full stop, I entered the curvy part of the track. It began with a tight slalom, then a long series of sweeping turns of various lengths and configurations. It flowed extremely well, and as an experienced autocrosser, I had no problem finding a decent line. Kevin also did a great job of telling me where to position the car right when I needed to hear that information, which helped.
We've already covered how the Kia Stinger drives, so I'll just add my agreement to what has already been written. The Stinger is a genuine sport sedan, with little resemblance to the other Kias I've driven before.
Once we parked the Stinger, we hopped right into one of the German competitors. In my case, it was the Porsche Panamera. We then proceeded through exactly the same course for a direct head-to-head comparison. The Porsche did feel like a more premium vehicle than the Kia.
Though the Stinger was far from floppy, the Panamera had more of that distinctive solid feeling I get from all German cars. For more than twice the price of the Stinger, that's to be expected. Yet despite being a Porsche, the Panamera felt slower in a straight line and heavier in the corners. Both cars were quite good, but the Kia felt faster and more nimble than the Porsche. That's a sentence I never, ever thought I'd write, but it's true.
Finally, we hopped back in a Stinger, only this time with Kevin in the driver's seat and me riding shotgun. This was the "hot lap," where an experienced racing driver shows you what the Stinger can really do. And since we'd already discussed my racing and track experience, he didn't hold back for fear of scaring me.
The acceleration portion of the track felt the same since we both just floored the gas pedal. But once we got into the corners, Kevin was significantly faster than I was in both the Stinger and the Panamera. The rear stepped out just a tiny bit a couple of times, but always under control, and his lines were much better than mine. Given another lap, I would've pushed the Stinger much harder, now knowing how fast it was capable of going, which is exactly why they didn't let me.
After the hot lap, I took a quick survey, similar to one I took when I checked in, to gauge my opinions about Kia. The Stinger definitely changed them. I had previously spent a week with a rented Rio in Puerto Rico. It was a competent car but nothing to write home about, nor a car I would buy unless I needed cheap basic transportation. But the Stinger is so different that it's hard to believe it's made by the same company.
We each received a gift box to thank us for participating in the Kia Stinger Experience. There's some good stuff in there probably worth about $100 total. I particularly enjoyed the chocolate raspberry candies.
This is how much Kia is willing to do to shed the image of the Sephia and Spectra and convince you that it is worth taking seriously. There wasn't very much marketing hype in the Kia Stinger Experience. Instead, the product mostly speaks for itself, both on and off the track. It made a believer out of me.
But, as Reading Rainbow's Levar Burton says, you don't have to take my word for it. You can check it out for yourself in Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix, the remaining events on the Kia Stinger Experience calendar.
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