When it came time to spec, we went back and forth about whether we should test the standard, rear-wheel-drive setup, or shell out $2,200 for the optional four-season friendliness of all-wheel drive. After a trip home for the holidays, which took me from San Francisco, California, up and over the Rocky Mountains to Boulder, Colorado, I'm glad we opted for the latter.
Before leaving California, we swapped the Stinger GT's Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires for a set of Michelin Pilot Aplin winter rubbers. All-wheel drive is a nice thing to have in snowy, slushy, slick weather, but none of that matters if your car isn't fitted with the proper tires.
Bad weather hit as soon as I entered Colorado on I-70, electronic warning signs alerting truckers to put on tire chains, lest they face a $650 fine for blocking the road. Another sign simply said, "You are responsible for your own traction." Words of wisdom, indeed.
The Stinger's all-wheel-drive system helps put power to all four wheels to get me started after being parked on a steep slope, but it's those Michelin Pilot Alpin tires that really make the difference here. Even along I-70, heading up to an elevation of 10,000 feet, the Stinger was totally confident on the slick Vail Pass. Frankly, it was easy.
But as temperatures fell into low-20-degree Fahrenheit weather, I experienced a problem -- albeit a warm-weather, climate-specific one -- with the Stinger. As a passing car threw up a mess of salt, sand and snow onto the Stinger's windshield, I pulled the wiper stalk to wash the window, but nothing happened. Sure, the wipers themselves moved, smearing the miasma of road gunk all over the place, but no wiper fluid came with it.
The Stinger GT doesn't come with heated washer nozzles, so they're prone to freezing in lower temperatures. But as it turns out, that's only half of the problem. This California-living car wasn't filled with low-temperature washer fluid -- in fact, the sale of pre-mixed, low-temp fluid is actually banned in the San Francisco Bay Area because of chemicals.
Moral of the story, if you're a warm-weather resident who might travel into snowy conditions, check your wiper fluid before you go. Don't rely on the Kia's nozzles to keep it flowing.
Another big lesson of winter driving: go easy on the brakes. Winter tires help with slick-surface stopping, sure, but hard, immediate braking is a quick way to get your car into a skid.
On the slippery slopes while descending the Vail Pass, I actually found it better to slow down by downshifting via the Stinger's steering wheel-mounted paddles. But with the car in Comfort mode, the transmission won't hold gears for long periods of time. Switch to Sport and you can shift at your desired pace, but this also reduces the intervention of the traction control -- not ideal in this case. Sport mode also increases throttle response, another thing you do not want in these conditions.
That said, none of this would prevent me from picking the Stinger GT for another winter-weather road trip. Over my nearly 3,000-mile journey, the Kia was super comfortable, and the car's climate control system is quick to get the cabin warm -- ditto the heated seats and steering wheel. The 16-way adjustable driver's seat has plenty of thigh support, even for taller drivers like myself. The 720-watt Harman Kardon stereo kept my tunes bumping, and the full-range adaptive cruise control handled tough holiday traffic with ease (but not in treacherous conditions, of course). Heck, I even observed 24.4 miles per gallon over the trip.
Our time with the Stinger is coming to an end in the next few months, and I'll be sad to see it go. I love the turbocharged V6 engine and this thing looks like a million bucks -- even when it's covered in slushy, wintry schmutz.