Hatchbacks

2018 Kia Stinger long-term wrap-up: It's so hard to say goodbye

Would we still recommend this 2018 Roadshow Shift Award winner after a year in the saddle? Heck yeah, we would.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

After a year in the driver's seat, it's time to say goodbye to Roadshow's long-term 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 test vehicle, belovedly nicknamed "Jerry Stinger." Like another famous Jerry, ours had a flair for the dramatic; whether we're talking neck-swiveling good looks or neck-snapping acceleration, the bright red grand tourer left a lasting impression on our staff and we're all pretty sad to see it go. But before we bid farewell, let's look back on some of the highs and lows of the past few months.

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Ups and downs

As a GT2 model, our Stinger came fully loaded. In theory, the optional Smart Tailgate feature should have increased convenience. You just walk up to the rear end with the key in your pocket and the power-lifting hatch automatically opens. In practice, the tailgate would often accidentally trigger whenever I was just pumping gas, so we ended up disabling it pretty early on.

Pumping gas is something we did quite a bit of over our year behind the wheel. After a first-quarter average of 18.8 miles per gallon, the Stinger's fuel economy climbed to 21.9 mpg for the second quarter, and settled at 24.2 mpg for the final half of our year-long loan. That lands us nicely in line with the EPA's estimated 21 combined mpg for the V6-powered Stinger with all-wheel drive. On one hand, most of the miles logged were fairly smooth highway miles, which surely helped our average. On the other, it's surprising that we did so well considering the auto stop-start function was disabled for almost the entire time the Kia was in our possession. Also, nearly everyone who drove the Stinger immediately popped it into Sport mode and left it there to fully appreciate the 365 horsepower. It's just so hard to not have a lead foot with such satisfying acceleration at the tip of your toe.

Performance, no surprise, ended up being the aspect of the Stinger that we loved the most. From the responsive handling to the meaty 376 pound-feet of torque to the powerful brakes, we've had almost no complaints regarding the sporty nature of the Stinger.

The all-wheel-drive system didn't get too much of a workout during a year in oft-dry California, leaving me longing for the more dynamic rear-drive variant. Thankfully, our own Emme Hall was able to step up and put the AWD system through its paces, shoeing the Stinger with winter tires and taking it on a snowy holiday in mountainous Colorado.

We put a set of Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires on the Stinger for a holiday trip to the mountains of Colorado.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

I was more than satisfied with the Stinger's performance, but an encounter with 2019 Roadshow Shift Award-winning Car of the Year, the Genesis G70 Sport, slightly complicated my feelings. Mechanically, the G70 is nearly identical to the Stinger with the same powertrain and available tech, but I preferred the slightly sharper suspension, more compact dimensions and traditional sedan profile of the Genesis to the Stinger, which felt more laid-back by comparison. However, the Stinger's more spacious second row and liftback utility appealed more to other members of our staff. With very similar pricing, packaging and performance, I don't think you could steer wrong choosing either of these close cousins.

A clean bill of health

I encountered only one performance hiccup during the whole year: a bit of shake from the Brembo brakes that I noticed at around 10,000 logged miles. This was possibly due to the Stinger being driven hard during the break-in period by our sometimes impatient staff members. However, the issue disappeared more quickly than it had arrived. After just a few more trips, the shake had vanished even before we could take a look at the rotors.

The rest of the Stinger's medical record consisted of just one regularly scheduled servicing (oil and air filter change and a good looking-over) and a short stop at the paint shop after one of our SF Bay Area neighbors used the Stinger's bumper to aid in parking-by-feel.

While I'm nitpicking, the black chrome on our example looked fantastic when it was clean. However, I found it nigh impossible to keep the dark trim on the front bumper and wing mirrors clear of blemishes. From water spots to bug splatters, every spot stands out on this finish, which was a small point of annoyance. Keep some spray cleaner and microfiber towels handy if, like me, you're a compulsive detailer.

One thing that I noticed throughout the year with Jerry is the positive attention that the Stinger garnered around town. At least once a week, some stranger would compliment me with a, "Nice car, dude," or, "Is that your Stinger? Sweet." I've never gotten so many compliments on a review car -- not on the BMW M5, not even the Porsche Panamera e-Hybrid. I chalk it up to the Stinger riding the line between desirability and approachability. People love the premium look and performance, but it's got a Kia badge at either end, so it -- and the person behind the wheel -- feels a bit less hoity-toity.

A really sweet deal

Speaking brand perception, at least one staff member expressed a bit of hesitation at the $52,000-plus asking price for a vehicle that wears Kia badges. However, considering all of the technology, performance and features you get for that price -- and just how good Kia's lineup and reputation have gotten over the past decade -- most of our staff agree that the 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD is a pretty sweet deal. A comparably equipped Audi A5 Sportback or BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe -- both smaller cars -- would be thousands of dollars more expensive. 

However, I think we could do a little better on the price. For 2019, pricing and packaging have been changed and simplified slightly, but my preference remains the same. I'd also step down from the GT2 model to a midtier GT1. That puts you at a sweet spot of about $46,295 delivered with all-wheel drive -- about $5,000 cheaper than a 2019 GT2. You lose Nappa leather and a few comfort features like the power liftgate, but the GT1 still features Kia's Drivewise advanced driver aid suite, the adaptive suspension and all of cabin tech and performance that matters. While I'm at it, I think I'd spec mine in Micro Blue Pearl; nearly every other Stinger I spotted in 2018 was red like ours.

In regions with milder climates year-round, I would also skip the all-wheel-drive upgrade in favor of a rear-wheel-drive model. Our staff who've driven both think that the rear-driven Stinger is a bit more dynamic, plus the 2019 RWD GT models now come standard with the handling-enhancing limited-slip differential. That potentially saves fair weather drivers $2,200 off the bottom line. Of course, if you've got money burning a hole in your pocket, the newly announced limited-edition 2020 Kia Stinger GTS seems like it'll be a no-compromises pick when it arrives later this year.

So would we still recommend this Roadshow Shift Award winner after a year in the saddle? Of course we would. Heck, we didn't want to give this one back. But it's time to make room for another long-termer, so we say farewell, Jerry Stinger. You'll be missed.