It might seem a weird thing to fixate on but the Kia Stinger’s key in some ways sums up the entire car for me.
While Lexus builds some incredibly luxurious cars, many of their keys resemble the cast-offs from a 1990s Toyota. Kia, on the other hand, has clearly spent time and money crafting something unique and far distant from the fob for a Ceed or Sportage.
It’s a solid, simple design with a lovely textured finish, chromed edges and a very cool detonator-like lock button that you thumb just falls into.
A minor detail, perhaps, but one that hints at how seriously the Korean brand has taken this first foray into the executive sports saloon market.
Kia Stinger 2.0 GT-Line S
Price £35,935 Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol Power: 244bhp Torque: 260lb/ft Transmission: Eight-speed automatic Top speed: 149mph 0-60mph: 5.8 seconds Economy: 33.6mpg CO2 emissions: 191g/km
The Stinger is unlike anything Kia has produced before – a sports saloon (well, fastback) with rear-wheel-drive, the option of a meaty V6 and a price tag to start tussling with the likes of Jaguar, Audi and BMW.
It gets off to a good start with its phenomenal looks. There are shades of the big German brands in some of the lines but it’s recognisably different from the European models. Its low, long profile, broad stance and details like the aggressive bonnet vents and gloss black side strakes are a statement of intent.
Inside, it’s also a serious step up from your average Kia. They’re well made and sensible but the Stinger adds a layer of high-end styling through touches such as the triple air vents, metallic strip across the dash and the ribbed leather upholstery. It’s still a little way behind a Mercedes or Audi in outright quality but the simplicity of the layout and the balance of brushed metal and gloss plastic creates a suitably premium feel.
Of course, part of the pay-off for not quite matching the Germans for quality is that the Stinger offers far better value for money, with virtually every toy in Kia’s extensive box thrown at our GT-Line S model, from ventilated leather seats and a head-up display to adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree around view monitor and a 15-speaker harman/kardon stereo.
To really take on the big boys from Germany Kia offers the Stinger with a 365bhp 3.3-litre V6. But for those with a little more regard for their bank balance it also provides a 2.2-litre diesel an a 2.0-litre petrol. With 244bhp this turbocharged petrol unit is no slouch and posts a 0-60mph time of 5.8 seconds.
It’s a lively performer, enough to maintain a sporty edge and make good cross-country progress but, despite the official figures, it feels a quick rather than outright fast and it’s hampered slightly by a smooth but sometimes slow-reacting eight-speed auto box.
Kia like to point out that former BMW M division chief Albert Biermann was involved in the development of the Stinger. He may have only joined towards the end of the project but his hiring hints at what Kia and parent company Hyundai want to achieve with their performance models.
The Stinger certainly marks a good starting point. It’s rear-driven chassis is engaging and positive and the setup manages to make the car feel far smaller than it really is as you thread it down your favourite A-road.
What really impresses, though is the damping. Kia have managed to create a forgiving setup that is tight and controlled enough to cope with enthusiastic driving yet pliant enough that it won’t wear you out on the daily commute.
It’s another sign of the seriousness with which Kia has approached the Stinger. It views the Stinger as a brand-builder – a halo car that shows what Kia is capable of – so the car has to perform on every level. And it does, blending engaging performance, stunning looks and a more premium feel with its usual value offering.