2021 Kia Stinger

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Updated: December 30, 2020

2021 Kia Stinger

The 2021 Kia Stinger is the brand’s entry-level sport sedan—as opposed to its more mainstream cars, from the Rio to the K5. The Stinger’s meant to lure buyers who want German sport-sedan handling with better value—and it does just that.

Kia doesn’t change anything for the 2021 model. That’s fine with us, as the current package is compelling enough as it is: an available twin-turbo V-6, alluring styling, and a roomy cabin and cargo area give the Stinger plenty of selling points.

The base Stinger gets a 2.0-liter turbo-4 making 255 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That power gets sent to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is optional. Expect 0-60 mph times of around seven seconds.

The more exciting option is the 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6, which doles out 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is again optional and an 8-speed automatic is again the only transmission choice. Lay into the V-6 and it’ll manage a 4.7-second 0-60 mph run.

Gas mileage for the base rear-drive turbo-4 stands at 22 mpg city, 29 highway, 25 combined, with all-wheel drive dipping that figure to 21/29/24 mpg. The V-6 Stinger checks in at 17/25/20 mpg regardless of how many wheels are driven.

Safety equipment continues to lag behind the times, with automatic emergency braking restricted to the priciest GT1 and GT2 trims. Only blind-spot monitors are standard on every model. Adaptive cruise control and active lane control are available, but only on GT1 and GT2 trims.

The NHTSA gives the Stinger five stars overall, and the IIHS named almost every trim a Top Safety Pick; only the performance of the standard headlights kept the base model from earning that title as well.

Model Lineup

The cheapest $34,125 GT-Line might not have the headlining performance of the V-6 models, but it comes well-equipped for the price. Among the notable standard equipment buyers will find leather upholstery, a 12-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, and 18-inch wheels. The infotainment system consists of a 7.0-inch touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB ports, two 12V outlets, and six-speaker audio. Wireless charging is standard as well.

The $40,625 GT is the cheapest of the V-6 models. It gets standard 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires, nine-speaker audio, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Other upgrades include Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential, and a variable-ratio steering rack.

For $46,525, the GT1 adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, 15-speaker Harman Kardon audio, cooled front seats, and a 7.0-inch driver information display. Safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking and active lane control.

The only Stinger to crest the $50,000 mark is the $51,425 GT2. It justifies its price with nappa leather, a power-opening trunk, rear heated seats, a surround-view camera system, and a 16-way driver’s and 12-way passenger seat.

Exterior

The Stinger has raised the bar for Kia in many ways, styling among them. Most prior Kias looked budget; the Stinger brought refined, debonair styling to a brand noted for its value. The long hood gives a sense of pedigreed power; the distance of the front wheels from the leading edge of the front doors highlights the rear-wheel-drive layout, which is a subtle, stylish way of suggesting performance. The long 114.4-inch wheelbase would probably be a bit shorter if it wasn’t pushing those front wheels so far forward.

See a Stinger in your rearview and the first thing you’ll notice is its width. The headlights don’t intrude toward the center of the hood, instead practicing proper social distancing by keeping a grille-width apart from each other.

The back is just as menacing as the front. Quad exhaust pipes poke out from below the bumpers, and the bulging fenders are more noticeable from this angle than any other. The slick tailights don’t look like anything else in the Kia stable, but we hope they find their way in more mainstream models.

Interior

With every trim getting leather upholstery, the term “budget” doesn’t factor in when evaluating the Stinger’s interior. The overall design suggests a price point at least $10,000 higher than the base GT-Line actually rings up for, an impression no doubt influenced by the three centrally-mounted air vents and low-set physical controls. The whole design was clearly well thought-out and the execution is commendable.

The only aspect that feels downmarket is the touchscreen surround, which is the same chunky plastic framing shared with lesser Kias. It doesn’t look particularly egregious, but in an otherwise luxurious cabin it’s a shame something more that felt a little dressed-up couldn’t have been found.

As for the touchscreen and infotainment itself, we find it works well, even if the base screen is an inch smaller than is ideal. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto help provide seamless connectivity, and a standard wireless smartphone charger will keep your phone at full charge even during long road trips.

Road trips will want to be on your radar, as the comfortable seats provide excellent long-haul support. Upper models get cooled seats, more adjustments, and nappa leather, but the base thrones are fine enough for us.

The back seat is spacious and comfortable. Big windows make it easy to see out and add a sense of airiness to the cabin. Rear leg room is 36 inches, which might sound a bit short but is actually about fair considering its 190-inch overall length. The mid-size German sport sedans the Kia is often compared to measure a few inches longer and only have an extra inch or so of rear leg room.

Cargo space is excellent thanks to the hatchback bodystyle. Some 23 cubic feet can be found behind the rear seats, which expands to 41 cubic feet with the seats folded.

Driving Impressions

Kia might posit the Stinger as a bona fide sport sedan, but how one defines that term will determine if Kia’s claim is fair or exaggerated. The Stinger is an excellent companion on long, sweeping back roads, but get into the technical stuff and it starts to stumble. The suspension is clearly tuned for more casual spirited driving than any sort of track-ready hijinks, and the same goes for the transmission. We would be more tempted to call the Stinger a grand tourer, a role that it plays superbly.

The base turbo-4 is the unexciting choice. Its 255 horsepower is completely adequate and has no trouble getting the Stinger out of its own way. It won’t sound particularly nice, however, and the fun factor plateaus quickly. If you can’t make a V-6 model work to your budget, the turbo-4 will suffice, but otherwise we would step up to the bigger engine.

The 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6 is standard on three of the four trims, and for good reason—this engine defines the Stinger. The 365 horsepower it generates is that rare sweet spot for modern cars: not too little so the fun ends too soon, and not so much you need the autobahn to really feel a thrill. The 4.7-second 0-60 mph time will brighten up any commute, as will the accompanying soundtrack from the quad pipes.

The 8-speed transmission plays well with the twin-turbo engine. Its shifts are fast, smooth, and confident. Clicking the console dial into sport mode sharpens everything up nicely and is our preferred mode when hustling along a back road. Still, we find the transmission can be reluctant to downshift on occasion, reminding us that the Stinger prefers to being hustled along quickly rather than driven hard.

Final Word

Kia upped their game with the Stinger in a big way: it proved to the world that they can play with the big boys when it comes to luxury and performance. The 2021 Stinger is an excellent choice that provides a rarely-seen balance of value and sophistication. Our choice is a GT1 for its safety equipment and upgraded infotainment.

 

—by Anthony Sophinos with driving impressions by The Car Connection