Kia has certainly become a major player in the North American automotive industry, but what’s really remarkable is that, in 2019, the company will be marking just its 20th anniversary in the Canadian market.
The automaker has come a long way in a short period of time.
And in that time, the Korean manufacturer has overcome some early difficulties to build a strong reputation, thanks above all to one thing: a constant, gradual improvement in the quality of its products. At the turn of the present decade, the company’s sales in Canada had reached around 80,000 units annually, and the future looked very bright for Kia.
Its rate of growth has slowed since then, even as the quality of its vehicles has continued to progress, to the point where any complexes Kia may have had vis-à-vis its competitors are long gone.
Nowhere is that renewed confidence more evident than in the Stinger, which made its initial debut last year.
For 2019, Kia is coming back strong again with a new 4-cylinder variant, the GT-Line; this is the version we put to a winter-time test.
A stiff challenge
It’s important to make one thing clear right off the bat: the Stinger is an impressive car from just about every standpoint, and the new 2.0L 4-cylinder engine makes an extremely convincing argument for itself.
So everything is peaches and cream, right? Well it’s not quite that simple.
The question that needs to be asked in the case of the Stinger is not whether it’s a quality product, but whether it represents a good buy. And when you look at that element in detail, its sale pitch is less convincing.
So here are the factors that swing the pendulum in the Stinger’s favour… and those that send it swinging the other way.
Boldness and daring
These qualities are, in the automotive industry, sometimes rewarded, sometimes punished. Some of the critiques can be virulent, bordering on ridicule. Pontiac’s infamous Aztec somehow comes to mind. On the other hand, a model like the Nissan Juke can be successful and prove that thinking outside the box does sometimes lead to good things.
With the Stinger, let’s say that Kia got bold… but conservatively. The front end gets fairly typical styling, but the approach is more radical in back. The lines are more distinct than what you commonly find, and there’s that hatch opening of course, very similar to what you get with the Audi A7. A sedan imagined differently, in other words…
A smaller cousin of the G70 from Genesis (the luxury brand of Kia’s parent company the Hyundai group), the Stinger is built on a very solid foundation, and this is clear from the time you pull away from the curb. Whether you’re at cruising speed on the highway or taking corners on a winding road, the Stinger responds extremely well.
A number of factors work in wonderful balance here; the equilibrium between different qualities actually brings to mind BMW’s 5 Series. No, I’m not saying these two models operate on the same plane, it’s just that both feature the same satisfying blend of grand-tourer-style comfort and sporty performance.
The other factor that counts in the Stinger’s favour is the excellent value it offers. To benefit from the same on-road qualities and large number of interior goodies (equipment, safety features, etc.), you can expect to pay between $20,000 and $25,000 more for a competing product with a luxury name attached to it.
That’s lot of bonus value you get for your money. Not only that, but the Stinger occupies a unique place on the market. You’re getting something different; for many buyers, this is a significant plus.
Things only get better with this new 4-cylinder variant. For its initial year on the market in 2017, Canadian consumers only had access to the V6-powered version of the Stinger. This year, the 4-cylinder means that you can get a Stinger starting at $5,000 less than before, or about $41,895. The two V6-equipped versions start at $46,895 and $51,895.
And it’s not like you’re going to suffer on the road with the new engine: it delivers 255 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
Kia has thus put together an offering that combines bold styling and strong value. Pretty good sales pitch right there. Add to that an impressive driving experience and quality finishing, and you have the recipe for a successful car.
If only things ended there. Some other, more obscure factors come into play, however, that could hobble the sales performances of the Stinger.
Like any new model taking its first steps on the market, the Stinger has to prove itself in the eyes of consumers. What makes that problematic for this Kia is that it’s conceived as a premium product, but from a mass-market brand. It must convince buyers of its quality, yes, but must also persuade them to go with it in lieu of a BMW, Audi or Lexus, for example.
And that’s’ where it gets tricky.
The Stinger has a ton of qualities, but it’s missing one intangible that only time can confer on it: prestige. Buyers for whom that matters not one whit will be open to taking it strictly on its own merits. The problem is that many motorists shopping this segment do care about the prestige that comes with their car.
The other thing they surely care about is whether their investment will melt away like snow in the springtime.
Think back to the Equus from Hyundai a few years back. Some paid in the area of $80,000 for the big sedan. Three or four years later, dealerships were offering $20,000 to take them as trade-ins.
The lesson is this: the residual value of a luxury product that has not yet established itself, and that on top of which is the creation of a mass-market brand, is low, and this can be a major dissuading factor for new-car buyers.
An example to illustrate the point: There’s a $22,000 different in price between the base model Stinger and the cheapest BMW 5 Series. Leasing the latter model (with no down payment) for 48 months will cost only $100 more per month than the Kia; the BMW meanwhile will be worth double what the Kia’s worth at the end of it (around $27,000 vs $13,500).
A buyer who takes the time to do some calculations will quickly realize the BMW might be the better option.
This is the challenge that Kia faces with its Stinger, and the only factor that can overcome it is… time. That, and the model must be sturdy enough to hang in there while it gradually builds its reputation.
Our advice? If you want to buy and hold on to your vehicle for a number of years, the Stinger is an excellent choice worth strong consideration. If you’re going to lease, it’s a less attractive option, unless you plan to buy it outright when the lease contract expires.
The Stinger with 4-cylinder engine is loaded with positive attributes. At the wheel, you’ll be assured of enjoying a positive driving experience. The reliability question remains unanswered for now, as the model is just too new.
The challenge for Kia is not to give up too quickly, and count on those positive attributes to eventually increase the model’s residual value.
Meantime, if it’s not quite buyer beware, it’s buyer be informed.
- Excellent driving position
- Well-balanced on-road behaviour
- Efficient 8-speed automatic transmission
- Good fuel-consumption results (8.4L/100 km in our test)
- Ample and practical cargo space thanks to the hatch configuration
- Those anticipated resale value issues
- Atrocious rear and 3/4 rear visibility
- Reliability still an x factor
- Braking performance could use improvement