The KIA unlike no other
With the resurgence of the KIA brand in the country under the new stewardship of the Ayala Automotive Group, prospects look good. Consumer confidence is high, buoyed by both a very professional, far-reaching conglomerate such as Ayala, perfectly coupled with impressive new products slowly coming out of KIA’s HQ.
While the vast majority of KIAs sold will be the entry level sub-compact Soluto sedans, the highly underrated yet truly over-achieving Carnival minivan, and the popular Sportage cross-over, a halo model to give even more credence and desirability to the brand was in order. Enter the Stinger GT, arguably the year’s best performance car bargain.
Design was led by Peter Schreyer, the former designer from Audi, along with Gregory Guillaume, and the engineering and development was led by Albert Bierman, formerly of BMW’s M division. The Koreans truly went shopping for talent, an investment that will pay off in spades for many future KIA (and parent company Hyundai’s) models.
It uses the G70 Genesis platform, albeit shortened and reinforced in key sections to improve structural rigidity. Power comes from a 3.3 liter twin turbo V6 engine producing 365hp and 510 Newton-meters of torque. It also sounds like a cross between a Japanese and European 6-cylinder at idle and full-throttle: deep, cultured and mellow, with an angry rasp at redline. Brakes are courtesy of Brembo, featuring 4-piston calipers up front and 2-piston rear calipers clamping down on pizza-sized rotors. Wheels are a staggered set of 19-inch items, shod with 225/40R19 front and 255/40R19 rear Continental Sport Contact 5 ultra high-performance tires.
For the Philippine market, we only get the mid-range GT variant, which drives the rear wheels exclusively via an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters for more control and enjoyment when the mood hits you. It’s also fairly well equipped: soft plush leather interior is standard, and 7 airbags are included, along with traction / stability control, push START system, blind-spot monitoring, front, rear, side and bird’s eye-view camera making it a cinch to maneuver in tight spots, and parking sonars to help you ease it in further in tight spaces.
Albert Bierman is quick to point out that the Stinger is a true long-distance gran turismo which offers style, space, refinement, matched with the grunt and performance to boot; it’s not a one-trick performance pony or an out-and-out sports car such as those from Bierman’s former employers.
What better way to find out about the Stinger’s appeal, strengths and talents than a proper long-drive over a long weekend up north? If there are chinks in the Stinger’s armor, the planned 800+ kilometer trip would truly unmask them.
Leaving Metro Manila late morning for a relaxed drive, our route takes us to Edsa, then NLEx, followed by a short stop-over at Clarkfield in Pampanga for lunch. After the pitstop, we head out further north onto SCTEx, and TPLEx all the way to its current terminus, the town of Pozzorubio in Pangasinan. The advent of these modern expressways means the 203 kilometer drive from our start, to the toll plaza at Pozzorubio is dispatched in under 3 hours, while keeping within the speed limit of course. On the expressway, the KIA Stinger GT is truly comfortable: relaxed, composed and refined with no wind or tire noise. The Harman Kardon surround sound system fills the cabin with clear, crisp tunes, playing MP3 files exceptionally well, be it rock, ballad, jazz, pop and a sprinkling of classical music to keep things lively and avoid monotony.
As we exit Pozzorubio, we head further north to the country’s summer capital, Baguio City, to enjoy cool weather, good food and escape from the sweltering heat. All this time, on the highway, the Stinger’s mighty twin-turbo V6 engine has consumed a fairly impressive 14km/liter.
As we start our ascent to Marcos Highway, SPORT mode is selected, and the Stinger shows the rest of its latent abilities: straights are dispatched with ease, the brakes have amazing stopping power, and the somewhat heavy steering suddenly makes sense as its fluidity and precision are enthralling as Marcos Highway is climbed.
Upon reaching our destination, the KIA leaves you refreshed thanks to an excellent multi-zone climate control, excellent seating position, thanks hugely to the supportive seats with an electronically adjustable thigh support, perfect for long-legged drivers, and impressive side bolsters to keep you pinned in your seat even through hard, fast and successive corners. Being the only one of its kind out in the wild at the moment, the Stinger GT breaks necks as people look, point and some even take photos of our exotic Korean GT.
Coming down after a few days, we take the even longer Naguilan Road route, which adds two hours to our drive home, totaling six hours for the return trip with traffic. Despite intense rain and strong winds which batter the rocks and flood some parts of the road, the KIA Stinger GT prevails.
Reflecting on it after, the KIA moves and feels like no other KIA. It feels, for lack of a better word, very teutonic: hefty, heavy (in a good way), possessing that premium feel one expects from say, a Swiss watch, a nice fountain pen or a proper vault. It also demands respect: despite all the available driving aids, the Stinger GT in our market is still RWD. With the almost instantaneous torque 510 Nm of torque from 1,300-4,900 RPM, you will find yourself sideways, as I almost did a few times, flooring the Stinger GT on (unknowingly) wet patches of Marcos Highway, or on cold tires, or slightly muddy roads.
And it won’t be bullied on the highway either. Let’s say I got to try it really fast. It’ll give sports cars and muscle cars a cold sweat if you want to bait them on a high-speed chase, and also taunt the speed cops in the process.
The KIA Stinger GT is a truly awesome, excellent, impressive and crucially, desirable car. It will change your view of Korean cars, from bargain basement models, to real desirable cars that have a strong emotional connection to you as a driver and owner. In a word, it’s a KIA that THINKS, ACTS and FEELS like a BMW. High praise indeed.
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