It's January again, and that means that the world's bravest, smartest, thirstiest, most upstanding human beings — its automotive journalists — will venture to a frigid land known as Detroit in search of shrimp cocktails, free booze, and the promise of dream cars yet to come.
Last year's Detroit Auto Show seemed extremely promising for people who enjoy the pursuit of speed. I even wrote about all the cool stuff it had for enthusiasts, like the production 2015 Subaru WRX, the surprise Toyota FT-1 concept, the retro-tastic Nissan IDx Nismo, and the Corvette Z06. Maybe the car companies listen to us after all, I said.
A year later some of those things have become realities and some have not. Such is the way of auto shows. The FT-1 remains an interesting design study, possible proof that someone at Toyota still has a pulse, though it might influence the future Supra, whenever that happens. Nissan can't quite figure out what to do with the IDx.
But there's one very exciting concept, easily the most exciting idea that manufacturer has ever floated, that has all but disappeared from the "Will they or won't they?" news cycle: the Kia GT4 Stinger.
What the hell happened to the Kia GT4 Stinger, man?
This was an interesting machine. It was "Shut up and take my money" levels of interesting. Rear-wheel drive, a curb weight of just 2,874 pounds, six-speed manual, a turbo four putting out 315 horsepower, and a sleek, modern design. The damn thing also just looked good, especially in person.
And unlike a good many concept cars, the Stinger was actually drivable. It was built on a custom tube-frame chassis, not a current Hyundai or Kia platform like you might expect.
Very clearly inspired by the unexpected sales success of the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ, the Stinger seemed a perfect fit for the purest, most wonderful class of car there is: the small, affordable rear-drive sports car.
Kia even told us the idea was for it to be "a car that's pared down and simplified" and has "a more direct, analog connection between themselves and the machine." That seemed to make a lot of sense, especially after it came out that the next Hyundai Genesis Coupe would be more luxurious, more like the sedan it gets its name from, and more expensive. One would think Hyundai and Kia might need something to take its place, then.
It almost goes without saying why this car would be important to the Korean brands, but while you're here, I'll go ahead and say it anyway. Over the past 20 years they've gone from obscure, bargain-basement penalty boxes to cars that can at least compete in every segment — mid-size sedans, minivans, SUVs, and even luxury cars.
Except one — sports cars. Performance cars. Stuff that's fun to drive. Whatever you want to call it, they aren't really there yet. The Genesis Coupe was a solid attempt, but it didn't exactly ignite a tuner car renaissance the way everyone thought it would, and it's since become resigned to also-ran status behind the BRZ, Mustang and other, better competitors.
It's not surprising why that's the case. Unlike nearly every other automobile-producing nation, South Korea doesn't really have a long history of motorsports and racing, or even open roads. (It wasn't even really a modern democracy until the 1980s or so.) They've been playing catch up since then, but they just don't have much to build on when it comes to making fast, sporting cars.
That's another reason the Stinger was so exciting. It was like it was Kia's way of saying to the world, "We're here. We've arrived. We're ready to take our place at the table." And enthusiasts who would never have even considered the brand before were paying attention.
But nothing ever happened, and it still hasn't. For this story I reached out to Scott McKee, one of Kia's communications guys in the U.S., and here's what he told me:
We, too, are passionate about the GT4 Stinger and hopeful that it will go into production. At this point, however, we've not made any additional announcements regarding its future.
That's a shame. Maybe Kia will surprise us at one of the auto shows this year. I still think there's a place at the table for the Stinger. They've gotta start somewhere, and this seems like it could be a pretty strong place.