Take a good cognac (preferably from German origin), some Korean mint cream, pour in a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a cocktail glass… and you have a Stinger. But is this heady mixture good enough to take on the best from Europe? FERDI DE VOS finds out.

The Stinger, as you may know, is a cocktail that originated in the US in the late nineteenth century and quickly became known as a high-society drink in New York City. It apparently remained a critical component of a bartender’s repertoire until Prohibition but began to lose favour in the late 1970s and is now not so well known anymore.

To concoct its own version of the Stinger (the origin of the name is unknown), Korean carmaker KIA recruited – or poached, whichever term you prefer – some of the best car alchemists from Europe to make certain that all the ingredients were mixed just right. One major German import was Albert Biermann, former head of engineering at BMW’s M division – hired by Hyundai and KIA specifically to infuse their luxury vehicles with some of the sublime driving ingredients found in Europe’s finest.

With Biermann’s arrival at Namyang, the base elements were already there. The BH-L (VI) platform for Hyundai’s Genesis brand and the KIA Quoris was in production; a jewel of an engine nestled under the hood of the Genesis G90, and fellow Europeans Peter Schreyer and Gregory Guillaume had put the finishing touches to the suicide-doors GT4 Stinger concept car.

Biermann immediately jumped in, and early last year the production version of the Stinger – now with four conventional doors but retaining its alluring coupe shape – was unveiled. By then, the new Genesis G90 had already put the auto industry on high alert, and the Stinger’s entrance begged the question: can this Korean GT coupe take the fight to the Germans?


KIA Stinger 3.3T GT vs Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe 4Matic

In the words of designer Guillaume, the Stinger GT is not about outright power, hard-edged dynamics and brutal styling at the expense of luxury, comfort and grace. No, it is a car for spirited long-distance driving and “has nothing to do with being the first to arrive at the destination – this car is all about the journey”.

It’s no M-car chaser then, and considering size, design and performance Biermann probably used the BMW 340i Gran Turismo as the benchmark for the Stinger. However, the 440i Gran Coupe and the latest Audi S5 Sportback should now be viewed as its natural adversaries, while the slightly larger Jaguar XF S can also be considered a competitor.

So, why did we choose the two-door Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic Coupe as its opponent for this test? Well, until the arrival of the CLS 450 4Matic – the latest C257 version of the four-door coupe class pioneer – the mildly AMG-infused coupe remains the only comparable model in Stuttgart’s stable. Truth be told, we also wanted to pitch the wayward Korean against a well-distilled, pedigreed German contender without Bavarian influence, just to check how much BMW DNA was really transfused to the Stinger.

Despite the Merc missing two doors, the two stacks up well in terms of weight (the Merc is slightly heavier, due to its four-wheel drive system), length, width and wheelbase, while in the power stakes the AMG C43, with its recently updated red-top V6, now lay claim to 287 kW worth of horses (up from 270 kW) against the Stinger’s 272 kW.


KIA Stinger 3.3T GT vs Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe 4Matic

Despite its four-door bulk, and some haphazard cut lines at the rear, the Stinger is a handsome coupe. It has just enough quirks to set it apart from the rest and, in much the same fashion as the iconic shape of the ’Benz, Guilliame’s slightly understated design grows on you over time. Getting into both takes some effort, but once ensconced in the racing style seats, it is the KIA’s layout and instrument positioning that impresses most. Sure, the Merc’s interior feels somewhat more sumptuous and shielding, but the Stinger’s cabin is roomier, while also managing to be racy.

KIA Stinger 3.3T GT vs Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe 4Matic

The deep burgundy Nappa leather seats gives the Korean (dare I say it) Maserati-ish feel, and in terms of kit it goes droplet-to-droplet with the Merc; offering heated, ventilated and electronically adjustable front seats, an up-to-date infotainment system with 8” colour touchscreen, navigation, a powerful Harman Kardon sound system, dual auto air-conditioning and a Head-Up Display.

Even a sunroof is fitted as standard. Besides an electric parking brake, hill-start assist and stability control, the Stinger also features park distance control, a reverse camera and a blind spot detection system – things you pay extra for in the Merc. The panoramic sliding sunroof (as fitted on our test vehicle) will set you back an additional R20,700.

Everything in the KIA just feels right. Then there’s the soft, yet urgent tone of the 3.3-litre Lambda direct-injection twin-turbo V6 when you push the starter button. In comparison, the similarly endowed 3.0-litre V6 in the C43 has a definite snarl to it at start-up – signalling its ‘let’s do this’ intentions – before it settles down to a throaty rumble.

Moving off, you can hear the Merc’s all-wheel-drive system clicking into place, and even in placid mode, cruising along sedately, it feels like an animal just waiting to be unleashed. Unlike the Swabian, the KIA is much more comfortable in its role as cruiser-mobile and pottering around in Normal mode you wouldn’t guess its performance potential.


KIA Stinger 3.3T GT vs Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe 4Matic

However, stick it in Sport mode, pour on the power, and its demeanour changes dramatically. Even without a ‘loud button’, as in the AMG, its smooth engine note becomes fairly boisterous as the revs climb, but even so, it’s no match for the raucous AMG in the noise department.

What is impressive, though, is the silky smoothness of its eight-speed auto ’box as it hustles through the gears, and the engine/drivetrain combo works extremely well. In terms of refinement and flexibility, it matches the smooth and torquey V6 and fast-shifting 9G-Tronic transmission in the 43, and that is a huge compliment for Namyang’s performance engineers.

With rear-wheel drive and no launch control (it does have a LS differential, though) it is slightly slower off the line than its Teutonic rival – yes, those extra German ponies make a difference – but it holds more than its own over the standing kilometre run.


KIA Stinger 3.3T GT vs Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe 4Matic

The junior AMG really comes to life in the twisties; its suspension with optimised elastokinematics combined with the stiff C-Class platform contributing to its handling prowess. The 4Matic system is sufficiently rear-biased (31 and 69%) to have some fun, yet it is quite difficult to provoke the ’Benz, even with all the traction systems off.

In Sport Plus mode the transmission extracts the best out of the silky Vee, and to listen to the engine double-declutching in corners adds to the exhilaration. Further adding to its allure is its good stopping power and accurate speed-sensitive sport steering, which feels better weighted in normal mode.

As suspected, the Stinger’s steering characteristics have a definite BMW feel to it, particularly in sport setting. It is well weighted, sharp on turn-in, and precise enough to easily provoke the tail into a controlled powerslide when enough power is fed to the 19” rear wheels. Its red-callipered brakes provide bounteous stopping power.

Herr Biermann’s 32 years of BMW experience is also evident in the ride quality and driving traits of the Korean GT; very compliant on smooth surfaces, gliding over the road, but not particularly fond of interspersed ruts, in concurrence with most M-cars. Crisp, well-balanced and eager, the 43 Coupe performs as a pedigreed sport coupe should. Conversely, the Stinger is as dynamically capable, but less frenetic and more controlled in the way it goes about its business. It’s neither shaken nor stirred; as one would expect from a true GT.

KIA Stinger 3.3T GT vs Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe 4Matic


So, did the team from Namyang manage to get the mixture right? Did they find that elusive German balance of luxurious isolation, excellent handling and precise performance? Yes, they did and produced a great GT car that ticks all the boxes.

But therein lies the problem. You see, it is so far removed from anything we have experienced from KIA before that it just doesn’t compute. As Clarkson (Driven, July 2018) so eloquently put it; to us here in South Africa KIA makes a range of hatches and sedans for people who know nothing about cars. And those who do know about cars and want a fast coupe? Well, they don’t want a KIA. However, for about R100,000 less than its hallowed rivals, the KIA makes a lot of sense; the only issue being its resale value.

So, maybe the time has come to be a bit more adventurous and change your regular poison. Try a Stinger. I would surely have a sip if I was in the market…

Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © RYAN ABBOT


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