“What is that?” calls out a voice behind me as I shovel shopping into the Stinger’s yawning boot.

“It’s a Kia Stinger,” I counter to the man making his way across the car park towards me.

He stops in his tracks and glares at me as if I’ve just hurled obscenities in his direction.

“A Kia? You’re havin’ me on!”

Shopping safely stowed, I jab the button to close the power liftgate and point at the Kia badge as it lowers into view.

“Doesn’t look like a Kia.  Bet it’s powered by a lawnmower engine tho’, innit,” snorts the man derisively.

“Would have to be a pretty big lawnmower,” I retort.  “It’s a 365bhp twin-turbo V6.”

With the man’s perspective on automotive reality now irrevocably altered, I drop into the driver’s seat, punch the start button, and squeal off into the distance leaving behind nothing but an open-mouthed cynic surrounded by the distinct aroma of vaporised rubber.

You can see his point.  Just a few years ago, Kia was a company known for making beige cars for people with blue hair.

But you need some serious balls to build a car like this, a proper GT with a heady mix of pace and comfort.

you need some serious balls to build a car like this

You need some serious ability to be able to pull it off, too.

The thing is, Kia’s got both.

This is all started off as a concept car unveiled to the world in 2011, illustrating the company’s desire to break free of their somewhat staid image. Having attracted the likes of Peter Schreyer (head of design, previously with Audi) and Albert Biermann (chassis supremo, previously with BMW), the company knew they had the talent to make it work.

And so, seven years later, amongst the small SUVs and economical hatchbacks, we find a company equally at home offering us a near-5-metre long bruiser that can sprint its way to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and not let up until its speedo reads 168mph.

Like my doubting car-park friend, you might be expecting me to tell you how all that power achieves little except to accelerate the corruption of an under-par chassis.

But you’d be wrong.

Electronically controlled adaptive dampers firm up during cornering but lengthen their stroke to absorb bumps, and that tells you all you need to know about the Stinger’s attitude to road holding – there’s genuine all-day comfort, albeit tinged with a sense of tautness, coupled with the ability to firm things up when conditions (or the driver’s mood, via the Drive Mode selector) dictate.

Kia’s engineers have certainly put in the miles at the Nurburgring (one prototype in particular having notched up 20,000 km by itself) but the focus has always been on achieving a chassis balance that works where it really matters – in the real world, on the road.

For such a large car there’s a surprising degree of throttle adjustability on offer – that’s despite the somewhat limited feel through the steering wheel – and while the rear tyres squirm about playfully under power, the limited slip differential helps reduce the chance of an unexpected hedge interface.

It’s just as well it’s there, because that twin-turbo V6 is something of a torque monster – 510Nm of it, in fact, muscling in at just 1,300rpm and sticking around in sheer, dominating omnipresence all the way to 4,500rpm.

It’s apparent even before you’ve pulled away for the first time – so much twist is there at idle that a determined hoof is needed to hold the car back against the eight-speed auto’s creep, even with the massive Brembos.

Overtaking slower-moving traffic is an addictive blur of anticipation, kickdown, and hanging on for dear life as the Stinger squats down on its sizeable haunches, the rear tyres argue with the tarmac, and you instantly find yourself closer to the horizon than you expected.

overtaking is an addictive blur of anticipation, kickdown, and hanging on for dear life

But for all the performance on offer, the Stinger is still a naturally docile beast. Take things a little easier and it’s not hard to see a 34mpg average on a run, during which you’ll quickly grow to appreciate the effort Kia put into the interior.

For a start, it looks good, particularly the turbine-esque air vents. There’s good adjustability in the low-slung driving position, and the wide cabin adds a relaxing air of spaciousness. It’s a similar story in the back, with decent headroom despite the sunroof, although foot-room under the front seats is a little restricted.

Wind-noise is almost entirely absent, suspension noises hardly ever make their way into the cabin, and it’s really only tyre noise that makes itself evident – even then not to any great extent.

In fact, our only complaint would be that the engine is rather too subdued; a little extra sense of theatre wouldn’t go amiss when in Sport mode, as the electronic Active Sound system just doesn’t cut it.

A pair of less intimidating engine options are also available – a 244bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol and a 197bhp 2.2-litre diesel, neither of which are hardly lacking in the performance stakes (0-60mph in 5.8 and 7.3 seconds respectively).

All Stingers are positively glistening with kit, although only the balls-out GT S gets the adaptive dampers. Prices kick off from £31,995 for the two-litre, £33,895 for the diesel, and £40,495 for the V6.

Even without the hyperspace power-plant, the Kia Stinger might just represent the welcome return of a form factor many have forgotten in their clamour for an SUV.

The fact it comes from a brand that seems to positively relish the chance to challenge a few stereotypes only makes it even more delicious.

Tester’s Notes

  • Quiet ride, very little suspension noise, well isolated wind noise, but some tyre roar
  • Engine noise lacks character
  • Low driving position, wide spacious cabin, appealing design
  • Decent headroom in the back, but little foot-room under the seats
  • Even at idle, huge torque strains against the brakes
  • Throttle adjustability, squirms playfully under hard acceleration, very well damped
  • Decently weighted steering, but lacking in feel
  • 31.7mpg on test
Entry-level Price £40,495 Price as tested £41,140
Engine 3342cc V6 twin-turbo Transmission 8-speed auto
Power 365bhp @ 6,000rpm Torque 510Nm @ 1,300-4,500rpm
0-60 4.7 secs Top speed 168 mph
Economy 28.5 mpg CO2 225 g/km
Dimensions 4830 x 1870 x 1400 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1855 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.