As you’ll recall, Kia's GT4 Stinger debuted at the Detroit auto show almost a year and a half ago. From there, it went on tour around the world, everywhere from Russia to Brazil to Philadelphia. Everyone, we are told by Kia, loved it. So why are we writing about it now, all this time later? Because we just drove it. Yes, Kia called up and asked if we could come down to Kia Motors America in sunny Irvine, Calif., to their design studios and drive the GT4 Stinger around on California streets.
Of course we said yes. But being suspicious of pretty much everyone’s motivation about pretty much everything, we had to ask ourselves why this ginormous corporate entity would suddenly want to get publicity on a year-and-a-half-old concept car. Perhaps because Kia Motors America wanted to arm itself with some positive press to show to the high llamas back in Seoul to convince them there really is a market and not just enthusiasm for Stinger? Perhaps. Are we therefore being used as mere pawns in this product planning chess game? Possibly. But pawns just wanna have fun, and in this incidence, we didn’t mind being used. So off we plunged into LA freeway bedlam down to the OC to drive it.
When we saw it at Kia Design Center America, it looked pretty cool and not like anything else in the class. The first and most obvious comparison is to the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ, but that’s only in the car’s basic proportions and purpose. Apart from those traits, the Stinger stands on its own.
The rear quarter view sets the Stinger apart from pretty much everything.PHOTO BY BRUCE BENEDICT.
Kia’s chief designer Tom Kearns was there the day we drove the Stinger. Even though he and the staff at Kia Design America built the car, he hadn’t driven it yet. So we invited him to ride along.
“I think we made a pretty good case for something that really speaks to the brand,” Kearns said. “We wanted to make something that was very simple and pure. Our intent was to make it stunning.”
It certainly looks stunning, perhaps more so when you’re about to drive it.
If you’re ever going to hotwire the Stinger, the key is way, way up under the dash on the right side. Just grab the shackle, twist the key and it starts with a blap. The six-speed is pretty straightforward. The steering wheel is even connected to the front wheels, making it much easier to drive.
We drove it around Kia's U.S. office in Irvine. While it drove like a concept car the notion of a production version had us hopeful and intrigued.PHOTO BY BRUCE BENEDICT
Sure, it's a concept car, the drivetrains of which are only designed to get the rolling art off the truck and up onto the show stand. But still, you can use a little imagination and see that this could be a performance icon, the sportiest car to come from Korea since the Genesis Coupe. It might even be sportier.
How does it drive? It drives like a concept car. The Stinger is said to have a 2.0-liter turbo mounted longitudinally in front and driving the rear wheels. We weren’t allowed to pop the hood, but we could hear the wastegate opening and closing when we lifted off the gas pedal to shift the six-speed. Kia has just such an engine in its lineup, a 274-hp 2.0-liter gasoline direct injected turbo four from the Optima (260 hp in the Sportage). It wouldn’t be too difficult to take that engine and tune it to the Stinger concept’s claimed 315 hp. The Optima Kia races in the World Challenge is said to make 400 hp. So a sorted-out powertrain could really fly in a small, lightweight coupe like this.
Likewise, the Stinger concept’s suspension is just something put in there to hold the body off the ground and maybe get it up onto and off of the show stand. But a sorted suspension on a production car could certainly be figured out and would be terrific fun. Maybe shrink a Genesis Coupe platform or something? Car companies have guys who figure these things out.
You can also sit in it and see out of it just fine. So the basic body shape and pillars could work as-is. Unless those big, long rear corner pillars block some of the view, which they might. The A-pillars have really cool see-through slots in them that we’d love to see in production. The rear hatch promises a little practicality, while the rear +2 seats could even fit people for short stretches, adding to a production Stinger’s appeal.
“We wanted something that was really sporty but still had a 2+2 (configuration) so if you had to take someone in the back seat you could still do it,” Kearns said. “But the emphasis is really on the front two seats.”
The interior of the concept was completely finished.PHOTO BY BRUCE BENEDICT
Though a pure two-seater would be the ideal, it wouldn’t make as much sense as far as sales go, which is something all designers have to consider.
“We have to,” said Kearns. “Otherwise it’d just be art and not design.”
The idea was to make it simple and affordable to appeal to a wider, younger audience.
“A lot of cars have so many driver aids these days and are so complicated, so full of technology,” Kearns lamented. “Obviously technology’s good but (the Stinger) was almost kind of like a back-to-basics, driver-involvement type of vehicle that we were trying to make. It seems like there are some enthusiasts out there who would really appreciate getting back to basics, a car that’s not expensive, it’s really straightforward, it has great feel and handling, connected quality to the road. So that’s kind of the idea.”
And has anyone in Korea agreed with that?
“The reaction (to the car on its public tour) was super awesome,” Kearns said. “I think our management realizes that.”
But last year, Kia’s overseas marketing chief Lee Soon-nam was quoted in our sister publication Automotive News nixing the idea of the Stinger. Kia's first priority needs to be strengthening brand image and awareness, the article claims Soon-nam said.
"From a marketing point, a new car launch should be helpful to enhancing the brand image," Lee said then.
Interestingly, Soon-nam hasn’t been heard from in Automotive News for about a year. So maybe the forces of good have triumphed. Or maybe execs agree that a Stinger in showrooms would drive traffic. And be great fun to drive. We can hope.
While Kearns couldn’t be specific, we asked him if the project was killed off.
“Definitely not,” he said.
So there. Attention Seoul: build this thing!
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