2018 Kia Stinger: Slipping and sliding around Sweden in a 365-horsepower sport sedan

Kia's new Stinger features aggressive looks and an exciting driving dynamic not seen on any Korean vehicle until now.

Jon Wong Former editor for CNET Cars
Jon Wong was a reviews editor for CNET Cars. He test drove and wrote about new cars and oversaw coverage of automotive accessories and garage gear. In his spare time, he enjoys track days, caring for his fleet of old Japanese cars and searching for the next one to add to his garage.
Jon Wong
4 min read

"More power!" barks Markus, the development engineer sitting shotgun in a 2018 Kia Stinger prototype with me as I drift around a massive circle track on a frozen lake in Arjeplog, Sweden. I complete four laps while keeping the Stinger pitched sideways before I apply too much power abruptly, upset the car and spin out. The mountains in the distance blur by us three times before the car comes to halt, and we begin to laugh hysterically.

It's hard to believe that a little more than a month prior, I stood in front of the Stinger at the Detroit Auto Show for the Kia's world debut, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to drive this new sport sedan. I didn't imagine my first crack at it would happen so soon -- or on a giant block of ice 460 miles north of Stockholm -- but here I am and I'm not complaining, even though it's only for a short time under very slippery conditions.

Before the really sideways antics, my session on the ice circle began with Markus walking me through the Stinger's various stability control modes starting with Comfort, which dials back power at the first sign of wheel spin for maximum slick weather safety. Sport allows for a little more slip before cutting power and a second Sport setting doesn't cork thrust and allows for nice controlled drifts, requiring little driver skill.

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Stability control tuning for the Stinger is on point.


The majority of my allotted 7 minutes on the course is spent with stability control completely off, only the limited-slip differential and the additional traction from the studded Continental winter tires helping me around. The rear-wheel-drive car feels balanced and forgiving in a drift, the chassis reacting predictably to throttle and steering inputs. I manage opposite lock drifting without too much trouble, which is always a lot of fun.

"Fun" is the keyword here, as no Kia vehicle to date has featured a drive dynamic that could truly get enthusiasts excited. Sure, the Optima drives well for a front-wheel-drive family sedan, but it doesn't knock your socks off. After a brief sampling of the Stinger on ice, I'm feeling confident Kia will have a purebred performance machine in its stable shortly, thanks in large part to the arrival of Albert Biermann.

Following a 32-year stint at BMW, where he spearheaded the development of the company's high-performance M vehicles, Biermann joined Kia to oversee vehicle testing and high-performance development. In his position, Biermann also directs handling development of all Hyundai and Genesis vehicles.

2018 Kia Stinger is a balanced drifting machine on ice

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Biermann says he inherited a lot of talented engineers when he arrived in Korea at the end of 2014, but had to change the company's philosophy on vehicle handling, which previously focused on stability and safety. He created more dynamic targets for drive character, gearbox shift strategy, steering feedback, stability control tuning and even tire choices to give engineers a clear new direction. The philosophical change is apparent on the Stinger.

From the little time on the circle and in an all-wheel-drive Stinger prototype through a small slalom course, the intervention of the traction and stability electronics when fully on, feel well implemented. Neither is abrupt enough to startle you, but instead smooth and gradual to help maintain control. Sport modes give drivers more room to swing the back out, but still have a safety net in place to gather the car up if things get too out of shape.

The surefooted all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring snakes the Stinger through the tightly placed cones. Power adjustments and braking to each wheel aren't too apparent, letting you simply point the car in the desired direction and go.

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Well balanced and predictable in a drift.


Getting a good feel for things such as steering and suspension tuning are difficult to judge on ice and will have to wait until we get some time in the Stinger on pavement. I can say that throttle response from the 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged, 365-horsepower V6 engine in both Stinger prototypes is lively, and manual shifts from the eight-speed automatic transmission are snappy. Apologies to manual gearbox fans, but the Stinger will only be available with the auto.

The other Stinger engine option for the US market will be a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 255 horsepower.

Like I thought on the Detroit Auto Show stand, the Stinger's design looks just as gorgeous on a frozen lake in Sweden. A long hoodline, fast windshield rake and fastback roof profile look sporty, while the scrunched tiger nose grille is the centerpiece of the aggressive front end. For the US, Kia will offer four stylish 18- or 19-inch wheel designs providing additional visual attitude.

Seating position behind the wheel in the cabin is low and comfortable, while there's adequate room for two adults in the backseat. The rear can seat up to three people, but things would be cozy -- it'd be best to keep those trips short.

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The end of a tough day on ice.


Confirmed cabin technology features so far include a color head-up display, wireless smartphone charging pad and Bluetooth. Kia's UVO infotainment system will be standard on all Stingers and be capable of running both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The 2018 Kia Stinger will go on sale at the end of the year with its sights set squarely on luxury four-door fastbacks such as the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. It also isn't much of a stretch to think of the Kia as an alternative to the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti Q50 and Lexus IS.

While proclaiming the Stinger a serious contender to the above cars can't be done yet, initial thoughts from the small amount of seat time in Sweden are positive. I'm eagerly looking forward to getting more time in it on road or a race track, and I honestly can't remember ever saying that about any Kia vehicle.

Things certainly have changed.