If you blindfolded the average driver and sat them behind the wheel of Kia’s new Stinger, we wager they’d struggle to identify the precise make and model they occupied. In pitching its new flagship saloon at the upper middle end of the saloon car market – in terms of scale, equipment level and price – Kia has effortlessly demonstrated its ability to deploy design and engineering to whatever end it sets its mind to.
Cartoonish name aside, the Stinger is something of a brand revolution for this resolutely mass-market South Korean company. In every way, it comes across as a hugely competent take on performance car design, ticking all boxes offered up by rivals with decades’ more experience. Kia and its sister company Hyundai began by resolving to re-shape the mass market car. Rigorous engineering came first, following by a design revolution, largely achieved by distilling the best minds from Europe’s biggest brands (and remember that car design is a largely internationalist occupation) into concentrated quantities of brand essence.
Pushed, the Stinger GT S can reach a top speed of 170 mph
These concoctions proved remarkably potent, and the South Korean industry is now riding high on quality, both real and perceived. So much so, in fact, that its principal manufacturers are starting to mix a little fun in with the serious business of shifting units (Hyundai Kia sold about 7.25 million cars in 2017). The Stinger is a manifestation of this, an almost transparent attempt to siphon the best qualities of high-end German car design through the techno-centric focus the company has been known for.
A four door liftback saloon, the Stinger has the kind of hefty proportions favoured by Audi’s A7. In this era of diminutive city cars and SUVs and crossovers of all shapes and sizes, the big saloon car is something of an anachronism to buyers. Car designers, however, still relish the freedom of such a generous palette. The Stinger is a sort of designer treat, a gift to himself from Peter Schreyer, the talented German chief designer who has overseen Hyundai Kia’s journey into the spotlight. There’s some wayward brightwork – bonnet vents without a purpose, the occasional leery spoiler – but overall this is a handsome machine. In GT S trim, the Stinger is also a fine performer, balanced and throaty with a sub 5 second sprint time and a proper Autobahn-bothering top speed (nudging 170 mph, if you’re ever geographically able to test it).
In short, it’s a true GT car, one that comfortably undercuts its rivals in price. The Stinger also undercuts the hard-won cultural meaning of established brands. Does a high performance, beautifully made and elegant looking motor car have to be German? And in the next years, as the throaty old internal combustion engine is removed from the equation, you can expect even more unrest.