Stinger Will Wave The Flag For Kia in Europe.
“It certainly is impressive, and will help raise the profile of Kia”
As night follows day, most mass car manufacturers have an irresistible urge to prove they can really handle themselves in the rarefied luxury segments dominated by the Germans.
It’s all very well proving that some of your products can mix it with the industry’s aristocrats. That’s fine. But when this becomes hubris generated unreality, that’s when it spells danger for the company.
The Stinger, Kia’s highly ambitious attempt to show it can make a sports sedan just like the Germans, probably falls into the former category. But in Europe, France’s PSA Group, recent buyer of General Motors’ Opel-Vauxhall subsidiaries, has launched a full-blooded assault on the premium sector with its DS brand. So far this has not been a success, with sales peaking in 2012 at 117,400, then sliding to just under 46,000 in 2017, according to the website carsalesbase.com.
Even now, Ford Europe and Renault are trying to find ways to break into the fat margins generated by BMW, Audi and Mercedes, launching schemes which offer buyers some kind of luxury or concierge experience. Nissan’s Infiniti continues its uphill struggle here. Last year European sales were 12,600. Even mighty Toyota finds it hard to make much headway, in Europe at least, with its Lexus upmarket subsidiary. In 2017 Lexus sales in Europe hit 44,900. In 2007, they were 40,500, according to carsalesbase.com.
So what chance does Kia of Korea have with its new Stinger, now on sale in Europe as well as the U.S.? My impression after briefly driving it may surprise you because the way Kia has gradual upped its game in Europe – cheap and cheerful to start with, gradual and constant improvement as it relentlessly moves through price points into higher quality all the while with market leading guarantees – shows it is constantly aware of what must be done to achieve at each new level.
The Stinger looks great and has a beautiful interior. When I drove it, I’d recently driven an Alfa Romeo Giulia for a week, so comparisons with this other German wannabe were interesting. The Kia felt more luxurious, better designed and put together. It had a decent sized boot and much lavish equipment. It had plenty of room in the back with enough headroom too, unlike the Alfa. Admittedly, I only drove the Stinger for a couple of hours, but it revealed no crass design faults during that time. Being a pushover for gizmos, I was hooked the moment I turned on the Stinger and the Headup Display kicked in. The Stinger does sound very nice too, although I didn’t get to drive the top of the range 360 hp 3.33 litre twin-turbo V6, I had to make do with the 240 hp gasoline direct injection 4-cylinder machine. That was electrifying enough, although the roads around Maidenhead west of London, are hardly built for a car like this.
So if you can get past the name and want to find out what the Stinger is all about, Kia says it offers a choice of three turbocharged engines, all with an eight-speed auto gearbox. There are 5 versions based on three trim lines and three powertrains. Prices start at £31,995 ($45,000) after tax.
Kia in Europe is getting very excited.
“Stinger will be a game-changer for Kia – a car to convince people, if anyone still needs convincing, that the company has put the days when it was a value-driven brand mainly concerned with durability and practicality behind it. Those attributes are still important, but Kias are now highly desirable in their own right. Stinger epitomises that,” the company said.
There will be five versions, based on three trim grades – GT-Line, GT-Line S and GT-S. Heading the range is the GT-S, powered by the 360 hp V6 capable of taking the car from standstill to 60 mph in only 4.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 168 mph where allowed. The GT-S is priced from £40,495 ($57,000)
GT-Line and GT-Line S both offer the choice of a 240 four-cylinder petrol engine or a 195 hp diesel.
All models have an 8.0-inch touch screen navigation system. A head-up display is also standard. There’s a full set of safety and connectivity gizmos. Eight-way power-adjustable memory front seats are fitted to all models. GT-S has electronic suspension which can be set to one of five modes and variable gear ratio steering.
According to LMC Automotive analyst Jonathon Poskitt, Kia’s ambitions for the Stinger are suitably sensible.
“Yes I had a look at the Stinger while at the Geneva motor show. It certainly is an impressive vehicle and will help raise the profile of Kia. Of course, given its pricing and the competition that it faces at that price point — the Germans, among other brands — the Stinger has its work cut out for it as it ramps up sales through the year. With that in mind, we expect it to average 5,000 to 6,000 per year in Europe over the next few years,” Poskitt said.
BMW, Mercedes, Audi
In Europe, the Stinger’s competition comprises cars like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C class, Audi A4, Lexus IS, VW Arteon, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Volvo S60, and Jaguar XE, and Infiniti Q50.
Felipe Munoz, global automotive analyst at JATO Dynamics, agrees the Stinger has a clear job to do for Kia in Europe, while likely to be a success in the U.S.
“The Stinger is an attempt to grab again the attention of consumers, which are mostly shifting to SUV segments. As the demand for the mainstream choices like the VW Passat, Skoda Superb, Ford Mondeo, Opel Insignia is falling (off 12% in 2017 to 554,300 units in the Europe-27), brands like Kia or Volkswagen (and somehow Opel with the new Insignia, and Peugeot with the recently presented 508) look for reverting the trend by becoming “more cool”.
“At the same time the Stinger has everything to succeed in USA and China, where muscle/sporty sedans are well received. Nevertheless, it is more a niche car than a volume one,” Munoz said.
The Stinger is hard to fault and is a very ambitious effort from Kia. Everything about the car is terrific. On a strictly rational appraisal it would be hard to differentiate the Stinger from its German rivals. If you threw in comparative prices, the Stinger would win hands down, but this isn’t a rational world. Brand perception is all. Even Alfa Romeo can’t compete with all its flawed but seductive history. Hopefully, Kia won’t be giving up its day job of making high quality autos which are constantly forcing its European competitors to sharpen up their game. Nice try with the Stinger, but BMW won’t be losing much sleep I’m afraid.