I can write what I think of the Kia now. But where to begin even?
It’s a Kia Stinger, if you have been under a rock for the last two years, here are the basic specs:
3.3L Lambda II v6 engine with twin turbochargers
In house tuned 8 speed automatic transmission that feels very fast
Rear wheel drive with limited slip differential
Power stands at 365HP and torque at 370lb-ft
It’s a heavy car at 1740kg.
Now, what really renders me numb about the Kia is that, I thought I knew what 365HP felt like in my jeep, what 400 felt in a Maserati, I thought I knew 570HP from a Ferrari felt like and what turbo lag felt like from a 993 Turbo.
But the Kia isn’t a Porsche or a Maserati, you don’t expect it to be fast, no matter how many fake vents and plastic exhaust pipes it has, it’s a Kia. It’s the underdog, not the established. Which makes it a bit odd that it lets the driver light up the rear tires at the slightest push of the throttle. The first day I drove it I made a promise to myself: you will not turn into that guy. The Kia makes keeping my promise both easy and incredibly hard.
It makes it hard because the first day I drove it, a very chilly morning, I took it out on sport plus mode, which was a mistake because it scared me. It spun up it’s tires at the stoplight and would unsettle at any sharp corner if you asked it to. The often complained about understeer was no where to be found. Its a car that requires a driver far better than I am in sport plus because it will do all those things that we see in the movies or in Top Gear. It also makes it hard because no one suspects Kias are fast, so you get away with everything, if people hear your tires squeal, they look at the guy in the BMW or Audi with disgust, not at you. Its a car whose manufacturer name and exhaust sound feel so benign that you couldn’t be the one doing such a mess.
Not that it will last for long, people are starting to get curious about it, back when I was smog checking it people asked me what it was, when I told them it was a Kia they answered “Yeah, I know it’s a Kia, but what kind of kia is it?” Plus, those who know what it is hate it, because they bought their 340i BMWs or s4 Audis to be faster than anyone, and they had to spend a premium on it.
Its a bit too much to ask of me that I stay on the left side of the rev range because all that teen-foolery was kept down with that Jeep that would scare the living crap out of me any time I had to brake or take a corner hard, it was so high up that being a lunatic was out of question because I had something most teens did not have: a sense of self preservation and a desire not to roll a 2.4 ton jeep. But, I then flipped the switch over to Comfort Mode, and the car changed entirely.
It became a car that would make it easy to keep the promise, before 3000 the engine is dead, dead and buried. Those turbos don’t have enough pressure to work properly and boost an engine normally relegated to under 300HP to over 360: so it’s a dog, it pulls as much as an under powered hatch. In Comfort and Eco mode the gearbox will be dammed if it lets you cross 3500, it will change up a gear and stay there, you can push the throttle almost 3/4 of the way down and it won’t kick down. I guess it’s kind of annoying to some, but it also means that it rejects your desire to be fast.
In comfort mode you don’t want to challenge the other drivers because it takes too much effort. Now... if you want power it will give it to you if you depress the pedal a bit more past 3/4, then the engine kicks down one or two gears and you’re off as if it was in sport mode, it’s so violent that you end up not wanting to do it because it would upset your passengers. I guess most people would complain of such gearbox tuning, but I find it perfect, because that power denial is just enough to keep your inner bro in check. Not that it matters if you drove like an absolute idiot though...
Those Continental Sport Contact tires will keep you glued at most speeds if you corner too fast, if you need to stop the brembos will clamp you down. That stability control that remains turned on in sport plus mode also means that your sick drifts will not turn into dangerous drifts, it’s a bit like the race mode in the 458 italia, it lets you pull out the rear enough to have fun, but not too much. If the worst happens, it’s rated as a 5 star car by the EuroNCAP testers. It lets you choose how much of an asshole you want to be that day with the flick of a switch, it’s a lot of responsibility, and one must be careful.
The true luxury of life is having a wealth of options, something the Kia gives you in spades: I could beat that 340i on the on-ramp, or that s4, or that c43, it doesn’t matter because they can’t touch me. You end up looking at other cars and realizing that, the tuned up Audi S3 with four bro exhausts and reggaeton bursting from the speakers can’t win if you chose to race it. It’s like being the guy that never got rejected by the beautiful people in high school; you feel a power that seems almost uneasy to wield. You go around parking lots thinking which cars are slower than yours, and you realize its all of them most times.
So speed no longer comes to mind, because you know you can have as much as you want. You instead focus on the cabin and you realize why this is a 38,000 dollar Stinger and not a 50,000 dollar 440i. The cabin isn’t very luxurious, sure, there’s a suede headliner and the design is quite good, but the dash feels like hardened Playdoh and the nasty faux carbon fiber trim makes you feel uncomfortable at how gaudy the cabin feels, they spent all this time making it look good that they didn’t focus on making it feel good. There are exceptions to this though: the leather on the seats and most of the control surfaces feel adequately matched if not better than those offered by the German, Japanese, and American luxo car makers, but it’s in the details that you start realizing that it’s not quite there yet.
For instance you can’t have the sunroof in the vent position because of reasons that are beyond me, the carpet that lines the boot and centre console isn’t cut perfectly so some places sort of don’t fit, Android Auto gets detected half of the time because the car’s computer gets confused, and the cameras don’t get disabled automatically when you start setting off, so you need to disable them yourself. The driver airbag cover is made out of cheap plastic that would look unfit in a Rio, never mind the range topper car, and whenever you rest your leg against the centre console it wiggles a bit because it’s not held together that well. The rear headroom sucks and all of the plastics that aren’t touched often feel cheaper than a Chinese ripoff of a lego block.
I’ll dare to say that this is a bit like a spiritual successor of the Chevrolet SS; its a very comfortable and understated
sedan liftback that is faster than almost everything and isn’t a fortune to buy new, a machine that would easily eat up a few thousand miles of highway and then murder a few Miatas in a trackday, what with it’s fancy suspension.
I’ve never driven an SS, so I can’t comment on GM’s (according to reviewers excellent) magnetic suspension, but the Kia has electronically controlled dampers and, meh... you can’t tell that much by the dampers alone if you’re in sport mode or Comfort.
It’s all about the gearbox really, and how it sees fit to muffle the engine. It might be that I’m a tech obsessed millennial and the car responds just as well in sport mode than in Comfort mode and the switch is a gimmick but I feel like the key aspect of the Kia is that it lets you chose what kind of person you’ll be: the asshole, or the nice guy.
It really spoils you, as many fast cars do, because now whenever I drive another car I don’t feel like I was given the choice. I get back on my jeep and I feel sluggish and tall, unstable and unable, if you will. I feel like I felt in highschool because I wasn’t the dreamy guy:
I was normal.