Years after Hyundai and Kia emerged from automotive doldrums to offer stylish, top-rated, economic and performance-oriented vehicles, non-believers still quibble. A standard refrain is that South Korean manufacturers don’t offer prestige.

The argument isn’t valid, particularly with the introduction of the 2018 Kia Stinger. It joins a strong lineup from both manufacturers (Hyundai owns about one-third of Kia) challenging long-time standard bearers.

The 2018 Kia Stinger is new but already a strong rival for Audit, BMW and Mercedes-Bemz.
The 2018 Kia Stinger is new, but it’s already a strong rival for Audit, BMW and Mercedes-Benz and others in the small luxuty car segment. Image © James Raia/2018

The new, speedy and handsome sedan provides another strong example of how the once upstart underdog is a severe competitor to rivals like the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A5, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

In its initial year, the Stinger is available in five-tRIM evels. The top-line GT has rattled the parameters of what might be expected from a small luxury car. It features a twin-turbo 3.3-liter, 365-horsepower engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive is available on every trim.

The GT is also diversified with three available levels, including my review vehicle, the most elaborate (and most expensive), GT2. With a long list of standard features from other trims, the range-topping Stinger piles it with more safety and comfort and a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $51,400. That’s about $13,000 more than the base model.

Nappa leather upholstery, extra power adjustments for the front seats, heated and ventilated front seats, a limited slip differential, and a hands-free power trunk lid expand the comfort. There’s also a 15-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system.

Additional safety features include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and driver drowsiness warning. And there are automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality and a head-up display.

Regardless of trim level, the Stinger GT boasts its sportiness with a flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum pedals, Brembo brakes and 19-inch wheels. With the Stinger’s sporty exterior design, which features an ideally designed sloping roof and high-quality interior materials, there’s ample evidence to justify what several industry-leading analysts have noted. The Stinger received top-pick ratings within months of its debut.

Kia calls the exterior design a sportback. The hatchback lift offers easy access, and the available cargo area is 23.3 cubic feet. With the rear seat folded down, the area expands to 40.9 cubic feet, cavernous for the segment. The Stinger is touted with seating for five, but like most smaller vehicles with the same rankings, rear seating is best for two adults. Backseat space is only adequate.

While the equipment and materials inside and out are outstanding, driving the Stinger solidifies its place for end-of-the-year honors. It defines a sports car with its acceleration from 0-60 miles per hour acceleration in 4.6 seconds. It grips the road and maneuvers with confidence in city and freeway driving. It defines automotive agility.

Need proof? Take the Stinger on a winding country road or pass another driver in a tight spot on the freeway.

Much has been written about “technology overload,” the trend toward new vehicles’ overstock of counter-intuitive functions infrequently used. Kia avoids the issue. Menus are straightforward and conveniently located. Buttons on the steering wheel provide convenience for many of the features. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.

Gas mileage averages are 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 miles per gallon on the freeway. With Hyundai, Kia offers the industry-leading warranty including a limited powertrain warranty of 10 years and 100,000 miles.

Car-buyers’ habits are often hard to break. The mainstay brands are all worthy and for good reasons. But the new Kia Stinger doesn’t let any other manufacturer take its reputation for granted.

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