Do you know that itching feeling, as fresh snow falls outside your window? The glut of possibility, your mind racing as you think of every large parking lot that might be empty right now, where you could do donuts, or figure eights, for eternity? This is what it is to drive a Kia Stinger.
Full Disclosure: Kia let me borrow this Ascot Green 2022 Kia Stinger GT-Line RWD for a week with a somewhat haggard plan to pick the car up in Los Angeles and return it in Sacramento, part of a trip that spanned the state of California, or at least the middle part of it. Kia supplied a full tank of gas, which I assume has a retail value of about $948 if you did this trip again.
Before I dive too deeply into the thematic nature, the spiritual ephemera of the Kia Stinger, let me get the groundwork out of the way.
This particular car is in Kia’s fleet perhaps to show off the new base-model engine, a 2.5-liter four cylinder turbo good for 300 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque, a fairly reasonably 45 hp and 51 lb-ft more than the 2.0-liter it replaces. The Stinger starts at $36,290 but this particular car was optioned up to $39,435.
As for practicality, this car is both spacious and comfortable, with a nice ride in all of its settings and tons of room for all your stuff. This is not a sedan but a five-door liftback. I don’t think Kia made the Stinger a five-door for practicality reasons; the fastback styling looks great. It is abundantly spacious.
It is not the most miserly car, rated at 25 mpg combined, but the highway economy is what I’d call acceptable at 32. I myself saw higher at 29 mpg overall over 1200 miles, though you should be warned about how small-displacement turbo engines work to maximize their fuel ratings.
This is a great road trip car, and the only things that were genuinely annoying about it were that you do really dip down into the seats like you would for a car much more compromised than this family car, and for whatever reason I found myself completely unable to park this thing with ease. Maybe I was extraordinarily nervous about curbing the rather nice 18-inch wheels, maybe the time change had me abundantly fucked up. Your experience may differ.
Now, if there is one car I can compare the Stinger to, its closest spiritual approximation, it might not sound immediately flattering: the V6 Toyota Camry. I should clarify that I love the current V6 Camry, an absolutely, definitively, hilariously overpowered car. It is unassuming, all-but invisible, and it magnetizes your right foot to the floor on every on-ramp. There is a humor in being pressed into the back of your red leather driver’s seat in a Camry. It’s not the kind of thing a Camry is supposed to do, and you want to take advantage of its power as often as possible. And you are free to do so, wherever and whenever you like. Nobody notices or cares; you’re in a Camry.
The Stinger provokes similar urges. Even this lower-spec model, with a turbo four-cylinder, has that same 300-odd horsepower to play with. Where the Camry is a front-drive sedan, hardly raising an eyebrow even if you spin those front tires, the Kia is a rear-drive liftback. Yes, you can chirp the back tires wherever you might please, but you don’t. Chirping the tires is beneath the Kia’s capability. This is to say there’s one big difference between the Camry and the Stinger: the same kind of behavior that cracks you up in a V6 Toyota feels juvenile in the Kia. You hunt for something more.
Your eyes start to scan every highway turnoff, every wide and open lot. You wonder how many people might see you. How many donuts you could do before you piss someone off, maybe call the cops. This is fun. Also, this is stressful.
Again, a V6 Camry asks nothing of you. It’s not ostentatiously ugly or pretty. It’s just... there. It is roomy and practical.
The Stinger is an imposition. It is gorgeous. Stunning! The old guys having an impromptu car show outside of Pann’s will ask you about it, and if you like it, and tell you how much they like its looks. You also do not simply get into it; you drop down into your seat. The cabin isn’t cramped. It’s as practical as the Camry by any real metric. It just tells you, from the moment you open the door, that it is special. You treat it special.
It takes something from you. What do you get in return? You get that itch. You start thinking about track days coming up this summer. Driving schools. Back roads to bomb, and distant country two-lanes where nobody would mind you doing a brakestand. Not that it particularly loves doing a brakestand even with a limited-slip differential at the back. It wasn’t all that stoked on doing wide, stinky donuts off the side of Angeles Crest, either, but it did ‘em.
Do you want every run to the grocery store to be accompanied by this brain worm? Do you want to live a normal life, but with a car that’s on permanent vacation?
For those of you who want anonymity, invisibility, there is the V6 Camry. For the rest of us, the Stinger is still around.