The 2018 Kia Stinger: Banishing the Whispers

Kia Motor America’s COO and EVP Michael Sprague knows that even though the company has put out award-winning cars that sometimes create whole new niches (he cites the Soul of 2009, which has gone on to become one of the company’s biggest selling marques—in 2016 it outsold all other vehicles in the lineup), there are still those whispers: “Yeah, but it’s still a Kia.” He believes the Stinger is going to put an end to that.

There’s Albert Biermann, head of Vehicle Test & High Performance Development for the Hyundai Motor Group, who, prior to joining the group in April 201, had been the vice president of Engineering at BMW M.

And there’s Peter Schreyer, Hyundai-Kia’s head of design, who joined the company in 2006 from Volkswagen Group, where he’d been leading design for Audi.

Related Stories

And Gregory Guillaume, chief designer, Kia Design Center Europe, who joined Volkswagen Group in 1992, following receiving a degree in Transportation Design from Art Center College of Design in Europe, and between then and 2005, when he joined Kia, had a number of assignments, including being the exterior chief designer at the VW Concept Design Studio and the director of the VW Group Advanced Design Studio in Sitges, Spain.

You put those guys together and you get the Kia Stinger, a premium performance sedan that is, both in terms of the way it looks and the way it is engineered and setup, specifically targeting cars including the BMW 440i Grand Coupe, the Audi S4, and, yes, even the Porsche Panamera.

Does Michael Sprague, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Kia Motor America (KMA), necessarily think that people are going to forego the Panamera for a Stinger? No, but he does think that the Stinger “is an inflection point for the brand.” That it is a car with the design, style and a remarkable price point.

“We don’t want to get away from our brand DNA—which includes value. You can get the technology and the quality at what’s still a great price,” Sprague says.

“Great price” is a prime dictionary definition of “understatement.”

The Stinger with a 255-hp, turbocharged four starts at $31,900. The Stinger GT with a 365-hp 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 starts at $38,350.

The Stinger GT has, according to Kia, a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.7 seconds. Which, they maintain, beats the Panamera. Pricing starts at $85,000.

Orth Hedrick, KMA vp of Product Planning, suggests that the price points of the Stinger may appeal to people who get premium brands “who are tired of paying $800 or $900 per month” for a performance vehicle. “This gives us an opportunity to reach a buyer we’ve never talked to before.”

How It Came to Be
So let’s step back in time. Sprague says that in 2011, a concept car design came out of the Kia European studio that was revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show. A GT concept. It proved to be exceedingly popular among those who saw it. “We could have built it immediately,” Sprague says, but admits that at that point in time while they had the design chops, they needed more in the way of engineering—as in achieving better performance, ride and handling. So enter Biermann.

Gregory Guillaume set to work on designing what was originally known in the organization by the internal code “CK.”
 

Guillaume grew up in France. He recalls that during the early ‘70s he saw people who worked in Paris but then took off for the Cote d’Azur on the weekends, driving at high speeds in their GT vehicles. One that stuck with him (one that is a particular favorite with many automotive designers) is the Maserati Ghibli. While that vehicle has two doors, Guillaume was working on coming up with a shape that would accommodate four.

When models of vehicles-in-becoming were shown to executives, the standard approach at Kia was to paint them white. But the designers decided to do something different for the CK. They painted it red. Bright chroma red. And for the rest of the development program, the vehicle was simply referred to as “the Red Car.”

Meanwhile, Biermann and his team were hard at it.
They ran the car more than 6,000 miles at the Nürburgring.
They ran it on the Grosslockner in the Austrian Alps, doing braking runs.
They ran it for winter testing in the Arctic Circle.
They ran it for summer testing at the Kia proving grounds in Mohave, California.

They were going to make a car that drives as good as it looks.

Designed to be Slippery & Capable
In terms of the design, there were a variety of challenges. For one thing, they wanted to develop a car that could seat five (which, as everyone who has ever been in a five-passenger car knows, is really four, but in the case of the Stinger, it is four with comfort) and that actually provides some utility.

The fastback form is actually a hatch rather than a traditional trunk. And the cargo area in the back of the vehicle is 23.3-ft3 with the rear seats in place and 40.9-ft3 with the rear seats folded. Yes, this car can do Costco runs as well as the Nürburgring Nordschleife.

The designers at the Frankfurt R&D center used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software to assure that they would get a slippery form that provided this functionality. This led to a variety of modifications, such as tapering the body form toward the rear of the car and using the gill-like forms behind the front wheel arches to manage airflow. They put a belly pan under most of the under carriage that directs the air to a rear diffuser. In the front there are inlets that serve functions from cooling the front Brembo brakes (the front brakes on the Stinger GT have quad-piston calipers on 13.8-inch discs; the rear, while on the subject, have dual-piston calipers and a 13.4-inch disc) to reducing front-end lift.
 

Hedrick says that they had to come up with something for the rear to reduce lift and increase high-speed stability. One solution, he says, that is used by some German builders, is to use an extendable spoiler. But they concluded that this approach is “relatively heavy, mechanically complex, and quite expensive.” So they, he continues, decided to do something that is “more elegant, simple and reduces weight and cost.” There is a kick-up at the edge of the lid, which does the trick.

Getting Power to the Road
Then there are the powertrains. There are two all-aluminum, gas direct injection engines on offer, the 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder Theta II engine and the 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 Lambda II engine. The former produces 255 horsepower at 6,200 rpm with 260 lb.-ft. of maximum torque available from 1,400 to 4,000 rpm; the latter provides 365 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and offers 376 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,350 to 4,500 rpm. Both of these engines are mated to a Kia-designed and produced eight-speed automatic transmission. Yes, there are shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel.

The vehicle is available with rear- or all-wheel-drive setups. The all-wheel drive system has a dynamic torque vectoring control system that senses road conditions and driver inputs in order to send power and braking force to the appropriate wheels to keep the vehicle going where it should be.  As much as 50 percent of the available torque can be sent to the front wheels and up to 80 percent (when the “Sport” mode is selected; other modes are Custom, Eco, Comfort and Smart) to the rear.

Under the Skin & Inside the Car
Hendrik points out that they wanted to make a solid foundation for the Stinger, so there is 55 percent advanced high-strength steel used for the structure, and in addition to spot welds there are laser welds and structural adhesives.

The suspension setup features MacPherson struts in the front with a reinforced five-link arrangement in the rear. For the GT models (five trim levels: Stinger, Premium, GT, GT1, GT2), there is Kia’s first continuously damping, electronically controlled suspension that can automatically soften the front shocks and firm the rear for cornering and stiffen the front shocks and soften the rear for high-speed stability.

The steering is electric rank-mounted motor power steering. For the GT trim variants of the Stinger there is standard variable-ratio steering, which means that the ratios are dependent on steering angle, such that there are, for example, slower off-center steering, and improved high-speed rigidity.

Inside the Stinger—of all grades—is a leather-appointed interior. Hedrick says there is an “aircraft-inspired cockpit, with a wing-shaped instrument panel, metal-ringed gauges, and turbine-shaped air vents.” He adds, “Real metal is used.”

Particular attention was paid to the seats. “We wanted to make sure that they’d be comfortable over long distances,” says Hendrik (remember that Guillaume was inspired by those people driving from Paris to the south; a trip to Nice can take nine hours or more), “so the designers, suppliers and engineers worked together on them.” All models with the exception of the GT2 have a 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat with four-way power lumbar support. The GT2 has a 16-way power adjustable seat with four-way air-cell lumbar support, two-way width-adjusting side bolsters and seat extension.

There is the now-obligatory touch screen—seven or eight inches—for infotainment. There are Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as Kia’s UVO 3, which offers no-charge services including diagnostics, geo-fencing and curfew alert. There is an available Harman Kardon 720-watt quantum logic surround sound system with 15 speakers. Hedrick notes that the subwoofers are located under the front seats for better sound and to help maximize the cargo capacity.

Which brings us back to a few remarkable aspects of the Kia Stinger.

One that here is a car that is specifically engineered to take on the leading performance luxury marques—Audi, BMW, Lexus—yet it is being done by a car company that is not thought of in that context—unless, of course, one takes into account that in both 2016 and 2017 Kia beat every brand in the U.S., taking back to back first place trophies in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS). And there is the pricing, with a 2.0-liter version starting at $31,900 and a 3.3-liter car at $38,350, and all-wheel drive as a $2,200 option.

The question is put to Michael Sprague: How can you do this? Yes, there is something to be said, he says, for the fact that this is a global product, so they’re able to leverage scale—but he admits that this is pretty much the case for all of the vehicles in competitive question.

But then there is this: “We’re a challenger of traditional automotive convention.”

That’s the real answer.