South Korean automaker Kia unwrapped a high-performance sedan designed for “spirited long-distance” driving in Detroit last week in advance of the North American International Auto Show in a bid to boost its reputation among sports car enthusiasts and rival European offerings that have dominated the segment.
The five-passenger sedan billed as a “gran turismo” and designed in Germany is called the Stinger.
“While at first glance it may seem like an odd addition to Kia’s line-up, the Stinger gives it the halo it needs to prove to customers it can deliver on its sporty, fun brand promise,” Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at the vehicle buying website Edmunds said. “The striking design also has the potential to attract people to Kia who may never have considered the brand before.”
Seeking buzz before the official opening of the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center, the unveiling at Detroit’s Russell Industrial Center on Monday evening came with promises for the Stinger to be the highest-performance production vehicle in the company’s history.
“A true gran turismo, a car for spirited long-distance driving, is not about outright power, hard-edged dynamics and brutal styling, all at the expense of luxury, comfort and grace,” Gregory Guillaume, chief designer for Kia Motors Europe, said in a statement.
Kia hailed the Stinger as the kind of vehicle that changes how a brand is perceived and asserted that the final product exudes a new muscular confidence. Offered with multiple engine and drivetrain configurations and luxurious finishes, the Stinger is expected to go on sale late this year in the US. Pricing was not immediately disclosed.
“Unlike any Kia that has come before it, the Stinger really is a dream car for us, and here today in Detroit, that dream is now a reality after years of commitment and hard work from a passionate group of designers, engineers and executives around the world,” Orth Hedrick, vice president for product planning at Kia Motors America, said in a statement.
BASED ON A 2011 CONCEPT
The new Stinger is based on a GT concept first unveiled at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show. The production car now adds all- and rear-wheel-drive, a pair of turbocharged engines and a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. The Stinger’s long nose, short rear deck, sweeping roofline and flared fenders demonstrate Kia’s “tiger nose” styling theme can stretch from the brand’s previous family sedans and crossover SUVs to a European style sport sedan.
The Stinger will offer a 2.0L 255-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine and 365-hp 3.3L twin-turbo V6.
Officials at Kia sought to differentiate the Stinger from its potential competition.
At 114.4 inches, the Stinger’ s wheelbase is longer than the Audi A4, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS, BMW 4 Gran Coupe and even the Lexus GS and Mercedes CLS1, according to Kia. It’s also longer overall and wider than the others in the segment, offering more trunk space than many in the same class, according to Kia.
Features include forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian protection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, color heads-up display and 720-watt Harman/Kardon audio.
The automaker had its best year in the US in 2016. Its sales were up 3.5 percent to 625,818 cars and trucks sold, according to Autodata. But their gains also reflected the larger dynamic in the market toward SUVs and away from cars. The brand is up 16.1 percent in SUV and truck sales year over year, and down 2.8 percent in car sales.
Last year, Kia revealed a new full-sized, seven passenger SUV concept at the Detroit auto show, providing a glimpse of how the Korean auto brand hopes to capitalize on the sport utility vehicle craze sweeping the US auto industry.
Like its sister brand, Hyundai, Kia has been on a campaign to expand its mainstream reputation to appeal to a wide range of buyers, including shoppers who would naturally trend toward luxury brands. In 2009, Hyundai debuted its luxury sedan known as Genesis — later expanded into a brand — and sought to dispel the lingering, and often undeserved, reputation as second-rate.
In this year’s closely watched J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, Kia earned the top score among the 33 brands evaluated, according to data from surveys completed by new car buyer.
It was the first time in 27 years that a mainstream automotive brand has achieved the highest score in the rankings and was the second consecutive year that Kia, which ranked second in 2015, has led all non-premium brands in initial quality. Two Kia models — the Sportage small SUV and Soul compact crossover — achieved the best scores in their segments.
Kia and Hyundai, which are owned by the same parent company but operate separately, have been improving their quality faster than the overall industry for the past three years. But the introduction of a high-performance sedan in an increasingly SUV world could be a tough sell.
“I think the Kia Stinger will be a great car for Kia in terms of reputation. However, most Americans are more interested in trucks and SUVs so I’m not sure it will result in a huge number of sales,” Brian Moody, executive editor of Autotrader, an online marketplace for cars and trucks, said. “The fact that Kia is able and willing to build a car like this says a lot about their confidence and the kind of car company they are becoming.”