by Frank A. Aukofer

It is rare, but occasionally something like the 2018 Kia Stinger appears and rides through a process of imprinting itself on the public consciousness — first with insiders and enthusiasts, and eventually with everyone else.

Think Chevrolet Corvette in 1954. Ford Mustang in 1964. BMW 1600 in 1967. Volkswagen Beetle and British Mini in mid-20th century. Honda Accord in 1976.  Mazda MX-5 Miata in 1990. And now the upstart Kia Stinger.

The examples will prompt arguments. You could add the Tucker Torpedo of 1948, but it died in infancy. Or even the Acura Legend in 1986. But we’re talking here mostly about affordable cars that became highly prized and survived for a long time.

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 RWD & 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Usually it starts with surprise, morphs into appreciation and desire, and settles into a long-term relationship analogous to the St. Patrick’s Day stereotype, when everybody is either Irish or wants to be.

The word is not yet widespread about the Kia Stinger, and most observers are surprised that it was conceived by the South Korean company, originally known for sometimes shoddy economy cars. But it will achieve status because the company has finessed its way to the top on quality, styling, durability and performance with a full line of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a minivan. There’s not a bad apple in the barrel.

The Stinger shines as a multi-purpose car: High performance across seven versions with style and luxury-car features, two engine choices, family practicality and prices that are doable for middle-income Americans.

Full disclosure: The Stinger is a hatchback. But it is nowhere near what U.S. buyers rejected for many years and now are tentatively embracing. No, it is more accurate to compare it to German high-performance luxury cars, and particularly the new Audi A7 and Audi A5 Sportbacks, both stunners with hatchbacks, high content and price tags to match.        The first impression is that the Stinger mimics the A7: low-down and sexy. But depending on the model, it matches up against both the nearly $70,000 A7 and the $52,000 A5.

2018 Stinger GT2 RWD
2018 Stinger GT2 RWD

Closest to the A7 — here we’re comparing to the 2017 model, not the recently announced 2018 — is the most exalted Stinger, the GT2, which carried a $52,300 sticker as tested for this review. The tester had the optional all-wheel drive (available for $2,200 on all Stingers), while the A7 comes with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive.

Side by side, the A7 is seven inches longer than the Stinger, yet they have similar interior space: passenger/cargo volume of 94/25 cubic feet in the A7; 94/23 in the Stinger. The Audi, at 4,234 pounds, is lighter than the Stinger’s 4,515 pounds, but the Stinger has more power: 365-horsepower, turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 376 pound-feet of torque versus the A7’s 340-horsepower, supercharged V6 with 325 pound feet of torque.

The Stinger GT2’s extra power is canceled out by the A7’s lighter weight so the acceleration of each car to 60 miles an hour is rated by its manufacturer at 4.7 seconds. Both cars have eight-speed automatic transmissions with manual-shift modes.

At the other end of the comparison is the $32,800 rear-wheel drive Stinger 2.0T, which contains a 255-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with 260 pound-feet of torque. It matches up with the new $52,100 Audi A5 Quattro, which is four inches shorter and smaller inside by four cubic feet. Its 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine delivers 252-horspower and 273 pound-feet of torque.

2018 Kia Stinger Blue - GT2 AWD

The Stinger 2.0T uses an eight-speed automatic transmission while the A5 is equipped with a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It is about 100 pounds heavier than the 3,650-pound Stinger but has a slight edge in acceleration: 5.3 seconds against 5.9 for the Stinger.

The numbers are important, of course, though the proof is in the driving experience. Truth is, any of these four cars — Audi A7 and A5, and Stinger GT2 and 2.0T — would stir the soul of any driving enthusiast. They deliver exciting, right-now acceleration, fuss-free flat cornering and handling at speed, outstanding braking, comfortable and supportive seats, room for four adults (five in an emergency), and generous cargo space that can be expanded by folding the rear seatbacks.

The big difference is the Kia’s more tolerable prices and one of the best warranties anywhere. For some, the Audi’s reputation and prestige trump every other consideration. But it’s worth noting that Consumer Reports now ranks Kia No. 3 in reliability, based on owner reports. Audi is No. 4.

2018 Stinger GT2 RWD

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 3.3-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 365 hp, 376 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,032 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/21. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,100.
  • Price as tested: $52,300.

Disclaimer: This test drive was based on a loan of the vehicle from the manufacturer. It was driven by the author in circumstances similar to everyday driving by consumers.

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD
2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Photos (c) Kia Motors America.