2021 Kia Stinger GT-S
While I’m aware that driving £10million cars is part of my job at Octane, I’m usually quite relieved to hand them back. And if I’m not then driving home in my 1989 BMW3 20i Convertible E30 (precious tome, if not quite so valuable), I may well be in our ten-year-old family Skoda Yeti.
Kia’s wild side
So, when I heard more than once recently that ‘40 grand is a lot to pay for a Kia’, my internal response was that ‘40 grand is a big stack of money, full stop’. And this Kia – as long as a Series 3 Jag XJ6, and at 1855kg, just as heavy – is a hell of a lot of car. It’s been subtly revised (new alloys, taillight graphics, bigger infotainment screen) and the range has been pared back to this full-fat GT-S, with a 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 that produces 361bhp. No more turbodiesels: it’s a long way from the Ceed and Picanto it’ll share showrooms with.
Which is kind of the point: annual UK sales will measure in the hundreds, not the thousands, but it will provide a wow factor for punters with less than half that budget to go gooey over when booking a test drive in amore prosaic hatchback. They all get the same seven-year warranty, of course. Ponder the quandary here: the Kia Stinger GT-S is the exclusive choice. Think of that while you pile an extra ten or 15 grand into a common-or-garden Audi S5 Sportback or BMW M440i Gran Coupé.
It’s dressed to impress. The Stinger is a bold-looking car, aggressive in a Merc-AMG kind of way with showy 19in wheels, faux vents and gloss black accents, against signature crimson paintwork. For me, a car like this is about going under the radar, so I’d be inclined to be a bit more wallflower in my colour choice, and I’d rather Kia cut down on the surplus of vents; the pair on the bonnet are the biggest offenders.
It gets better inside, flash enough with alloy-effect finishes, but pretty well-considered ergonomically, and with doors that clunk shut for that quality feel. A world away from the old Magentis, then. Start the V6 and you’re distantly aware of growls and swishes, which harden if you nail it. There’s loads of oomph on tap: I grinned as I hit my twisty test route, thanks to surprising acceleration and more surprising playfulness in corners.
Comfort mode makes for hushed and plush cruising; Sport mode tightens everything up (throttle, dampers, steering), though thus employed the steering feels curiously stiff and the ride can get a bit edgy. German rivals allow amore tailored approach to drive modes, and offer a quicker-responding transmission than the Kia’s dim-witted eight-speed sludge-pumper.
That and likely 20mpg Thirst make the Stinger feel old-fashioned in a world of 48V mild hybrids and twin-clutch autos. Shame it’s not a manual.
Let’s face it, if you were set on buying (or leasing) the BMW or the Audi, you’re probably not about to go Korean. That goes beyond the thick skin of dynamic achievement and into the much thinner veneer of brand image: more significant in the UK and Europe than in the US and the East. But the Stinger is a big laugh.
And that means anyone who’s outgrown their hot hatch or is considering an anonymous SUV should take it very seriously.
Left and below Big, powerful and fun to drive quickly, the Stinger is a surprisingly enthusiastic steer.