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Who woulda thunk it? With only a mere six years in development from concept to production, Kia has produced a seriously impressive and highly capable fastback. It’s the all-new Stinger, and it’s available in five levels of trim or models. There’s the base Stinger, the Premium, then the GT, GT1 and this: the 2018 Kia Stinger GT2.

The base and Premium Stinger house a direct-injected 2.0-liter, twin-turbo inline-4 that produces 255 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque from 1,400-4,000 rpm. All Stinger GT models are powered by a direct-injected 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V6 rated at 365 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The 3.3-liter mill also develops 376 lb-ft of torque from 1,300-4,500 rpm.

Both longitudinally front-mounted engines gear energy to either the rear wheels or to all four wheels through a $2,200 electronically-controlled AWD system. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Pricing ranges from $31,900 for a 2.0-liter RWD Base model to $49,200 for the 3.3-liter RWD GT2 model. Add another $900 for Destination and Handling.

The exterior styling of the 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 fastback reflects its European influence. It was overseen by Peter Schreyer, Kia Motors’ long-time chief design officer and his design team in Frankfurt, Germany. The Stinger is essentially a five door, five passenger GT with a long wheelbase, long hood, broad shoulders and short overhangs. Kia honed its abilities on the legendary Nurburgring circuit. The design off with Kia’s signature grille, positioned above a lower air intake and flanked by additional air ducts and wraparound headlamps. The profile is sleek and aerodynamic with a drag coefficient of 0.30. The rear finishes with an integrated deck-lid spoiler and twin dual exhaust outlets.

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Moving into the cabin, all Stingers come standard with a leather interior, with ultra-soft Nappa leather available as an option. The multi-function steering wheel is a thick leather-wrapped affair with paddle shifters, and the GT trim levels get a flat-bottom wheel. All Stingers offer an available, large color TFT instrument cluster with performance gauges including a track timer. The Stinger provides a substantial 23.3 cu.-ft. of cargo space that may be accessed via a power rear liftgate with available Smart Trunk functionality, as expected in a true GT car.

“But it’s a Kia!” might be the negative reaction of some naysayers. “How can it possibly compete in the high performance Grand Touring arena?” Well, if you’re one of those individuals, kick that line of doubtful thinking to the curb, because you’re simply wrong.

I’m here to tell you that the 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 is truly a genuine high performance four-door GT that is not only capable of competing against, but actually outperforming many Asian and European vehicles that fall into this category on many levels. How can this be, you ask? It isn’t often that an auto manufacturer goes to great lengths to substantiate or prove their claims referencing the mettle of their new wares. However, the Kia team did just that and it’s really most refreshing to find that a vehicle lives up to what it’s claimed to be. We’re not talking hype here folks, but fact. It’s just that good.

The Kia team arranged for a drive route that included the twisting mountain roads through the Angeles National Forest, freeways in the L.A. Basin and inner city congestion as well. The mid-point of the drive involved flogging the Stinger around a challenging autocross course at Six Flags Amusement Park. “That’s not so unusual,” you say? I agree – testing the Stinger over the course repeatedly was not really out of the ordinary. However, Kia putting the Stinger up against manufacturers over the same course was definitely out of the normal modus operandi. In this test, Kia pitched the Stinger against its German and Japanese rivals. Among 2017 models were an Infiniti Q50, Lexus GS 350, and a RWD Porsche Panamera. 2018 models included an Audi A7 Sportback, BMW 4-Seres Gran Coupe and 6-Series Coupe, and a Mercedes-Benz CLS – all powered by 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder engines.

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My schedule only permitted driving the 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 against the A7 Sportback, BMW 6-Series and the Porsche Panamera. The Audi A7’s performance was acceptable across the board, as was Panamera, despite feeling somewhat numb. I’m a fan of BMWs, but the BMW 6-Series was the worst of the lot. I didn’t test the 4-Series Bimmer, but those who did felt that even it was better than the 6-Series.

Among its rivals, the Kia Stinger GT2 was clearly the most impressive. It served up the most athletic feel, the quickest acceleration, as well as smooth and intuitive automatic shifting. It was both predictable and stable. The 6-Series BMW was the only car in which I managed to wipe out course marking cones – and I wasn’t the only one. The Stinger was the least expensive and the Panamera the most expensive. The Stinger’s 3.3-liter V6 also delivered the most horsepower and torque of the bunch.

The base Stinger rides on a more passive suspension that’s tuned to deliver a balance of handling and ride comfort, while the GTs are available with Kia’s first electronic Dynamic Stability Damping Control and standard high-performance Brembo brakes. Stock on my GT2 tester were staggered Michelin Pilot Sport tires. AWD models come with Dynamic Torque Vectoring offering five distinct settings – Smart, ECO, Comfort, Sport and Custom.

Kia included multiple advanced driver assistance systems that combine to provide an enhanced driving experience. Those systems include Driver Attention Warning, Forward Collision Avoidance with pedestrian detection, Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go, and Lane Keep Assist. You also get Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning. A height-adjustable color Head-Up Display is also available with info on speed, turn-by-turn navigation, blind spot detection, media and cruise control. The base audio system for the 2.0-liter turbo features six speakers and a seven-inch color touchscreen with the latest version of UVO, Kia’s infotainment system. The standard audio system found in the GT models ups the speaker number to nine and includes an external amplifier. A premium Harman/Kardon audio system is also available.

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Incidentally, the Kia Stingers happened to be pre-production vehicles.  The competitors were all production units. My test Stinger was an AWD GT2 with a HiChrome Red metallic exterior and a Black interior. Other colors in the range are Snow White Pearl, Silky Silver Metallic, Aurora Black Pearl, Ceramic Silver, Micro Blue Pearl, Panthera Metal Metallic and Sunset Yellow. The GT2 kicks off at $49,200. However, after adding all-wheel drive and destination charges, that figure rises to $52,200. All other features (and there were a ton of them – the complete list being too lengthy to include here) were standard fare.

Driving the 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD is a rewarding and joyous experience. It is comfortable and compliant over irregular surfaces, while exhibiting remarkably stable handling. It literally combines the ride quality of a luxury sedan with the handling attributes of a high performance sport sedan.

Acceleration is instantaneous as long as the you keep engine’s turbos spooled up. On the low end of the broad torque range, however, you may experience minimal turbo lag. The transmission shifts smoothly in its automatic mode, but isn’t designed to respond quickly for really spirited scenarios. Fear not, though, for the paddle shifters offer quick changes for a satisfying level of control. The Brembo brakes do an excellent job of bringing the Stinger to a halt from speed.

Given the performance quotient, feature content and value pricing, the 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 represents an outstanding initial offering. Bottom line, Kia is now a serious player in this highly competitive market segment. It displays an emotional design quality, and its performance capability matches its good looks. Does it throw down the gauntlet, capable of challenging the European examples in this category? We think so, and it’s sure to grow ever better as time progresses.

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