IAIN ROBERTSON 

No matter how much Iain Robertson likes a new car, his opinions simply enter a literary stewing-pot that may possess greater merit, if the reader is intrigued by the subject matter, yet the majority of brands are reliant on good dealer networks to ‘move metal’.

Disappointingly, I received some feedback from a reader (Mr Gary Hancox), whom owns a Quality Assurance business in Birmingham. He liked a piece I had written about the Kia Stinger, located his nearest dealer and set about attempting to obtain a test drive. The authorised ‘specialist’ (only specific dealers are allowed the Stinger franchise) was evasive, obstructive and unhelpful. He was advised to sort out his request online. Unusual but inconclusive.

Although dented, his interest level in the car was piqued enough that he sought a second dealer, some forty miles away from his office. While initially helpful, when he arrived for the test drive he had booked, he was ignored for almost fifteen minutes. Eventually, a representative appeared, asked him if he was the chap wanting a Stinger test drive, only to be told that the battery was flat. I shall not enter the realms of excuses provided for not fitting a new battery, or even recharging the original item, but Mr Hancox is now a very dissatisfied potential Kia customer.

Sadly, it is not the first instance that I have been informed about, related to abysmal dealer service. Another reader, Mr Alex Puczyniec, experienced a similar ‘careless’ treatment at a London Kia centre. Kia is a brand that has been forced to bust preconceptions, as it has transitioned from ‘budget’ to ‘mainstream’. The last thing it needs is for poor customer perception to be introduced to its fast-developing world.

Defined literally, perception is ‘a taking in’, although it is a word that can be referred to as either intuitive, or insightful, in a modern idiom. Much like politicians, who have been known to polarise public opinions, a perception of their actions can often prove to be very flexible, even culminating in total rejection…and we do not need to look too far out of the ‘voting box’ to understand what that means at present.

My early perception of the Stinger was based on its initial projected image. No model name had been announced but I thought the car was a brave concept from a manufacturer aiming clearly at the stars. When I discovered its name, the inevitable jibes commenced. Yet, when I first drove the car in 3.3-litre bi-turbo V6 GTS form, it reaffirmed my earlier views, although it was easy to be swayed by its stinging 365bhp and BMW M4-rivalling rear-wheel-drive.

Living with the latest 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-petrol version, in reality, little has been altered, other than the engine, which develops a still impressive 244bhp. Yet, with four exhaust tail-pipes and not much else to differentiate it from its seriously faster brother, perceptions of the Stinger remain in the prescribed territory. However, to put the model into perspective, the stellar performance of the GTS, while not rivalled by the GT-line specification, is not far off the mark.

Given its head, the 2.0-litre steps off the line smoothly and briskly, without drama and thunderous sound-track, despatching the 0-60mph customary acceleration test in a zesty 5.8s, coursing on to a maximum speed of around 150mph. It is quick, by any definition, especially when you take into account its hefty 1,717kgs kerbweight, even though it feels refined and not quite as speedy as the figures propose. Much of that perception arises from the gentlemanly delivery of the power to the rear wheels through the car’s linear but leggy eight-speed automatic transmission.

While it may not transmit its verve to the driving environment, you only have to experience the fuss-free alacrity with which it zips past slower vehicles and leaves them in its wake, to appreciate its grandiose capabilities. In some respects, it is almost too good at delivering the consummate luxury car edge. Mind you, there is a penalty to pay; its Official Combined fuel return is given as 35.8mpg. While I did attain a dense traffic-flow enforced figure of 41.8mpg on one trip, the Stinger settled at around 33mpg for a week’s worth of test driving. It is not helped by a CO2 rating of 181g/km, which equates to a first-year road tax of £1,240, although subsequent years are at the standard £140 rate. A 2.2-litre turbo-diesel option is available.

Having mentioned ‘luxury car’ in respect of Stinger, another perception is ready to be busted. For a start, prior to applying dealer discounts, if you can get them, which does reduce the list price of £31,995, it is an amazingly low starting-point, especially when you consider that a specification-adjusted BMW, Audi, or Merc can be upwards of £10k costlier. Are they ‘better’ cars? In my honest view, they are not.

Quality, in terms of both tactility and build of the Kia, is excellent. The various touch points around the car are soft and compliant, while material textures are complementary and the visible fit and finish is exemplary, even in direct comparison to its significantly higher-priced ‘rivals’. However, perception steps into the equation once more. Consumer expectations with the renowned badges tend to be less critical than for the Kia, which has not, as yet, built a reputation for high-quality, even though the experience is perfectly sound.

Of course, it is a large car, at 4.8m stem to stern and it is also wide (1.87m), although its 1.4m height does introduce some minor access and egress compromises, notably for taller occupants, although there is space in abundance within the cabin. Large does not always equate to impressive, as there are other factors, such as overall design, to contemplate. That of the Stinger is superb. It truly looks smooth, muscular and lithe, which does grab the attention of onlookers. Yet, you can spot drivers of the ‘Teutonic Threesome’ eyeing-up the car at traffic signals, some finding it hard to disguise their envy, while others ignore the car studiously.

Having mentioned the weight penalty earlier, the car’s inherently good road manners are biased more towards comfort than sporting ambition. When driving, you can ‘feel’ the bulk, which is not unpleasant but some other cars in the class do provide a lighter feedback, which may be as much to do with Kia’s steering and suspension set-up, as any discrepancies arising. It is not that Stinger’s steering is slow, as 2.4-turns from lock-to-lock for a 5.6m turning circle is eminently wieldy, but it is weighty, almost as though Kia’s chassis engineers believed that telegraphing such an impression also imposes a ‘quality’ image.

The ride quality is fluent enough, helped by a 2.9m wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axle lines) and coil-spring suspension all-round. However, the car’s chassis can be tailored through five different electronic settings, of which ‘Smart’ is the automatic one that adjusts most elements to take advantage of the car’s dynamic balance.

When you ask people what they think of the car, the responses are split almost perfectly between ‘What is it?’, ‘Not sure’ and ‘Gorgeous!’, which comply with a suggestion of polarised perceptions. Even if they did know, would they acknowledge it anyway? It is of little consequence, other than Kia needs to make its mark in a market sector, with which it is unfamiliar, and potential customers seem to want more than they perceive Stinger can offer. Regardless, I really love the car and, as long as Kia continues in its upwardly mobile ambitions, I am sure it will achieve its aims, eventually.

Conclusion:   If you perceive that a Kia Stinger 2.0T-GDi could fit comfortably into your motoring life, I cannot recommend it highly enough. However, I also cannot help but feel that unless Kia gets its dealer act into gear, Stinger sales will be stung and harmed for a considerable time.