- South Korea
"Drifting exercises will take place on the concrete skidpad," instructs Albert Biermann, the gentleman tasked with heading testing and high performance development of Kia's upcoming sport sedan. While the words 'drifting' and 'Kia' have been mutually exclusive for the past twenty years - never to touch each other in the same sentence - the South Korean automaker is drastically altering its course. Later this year, Kia will launch the 2018 Kia Stinger - a turbocharged, rear-wheel drive, four-door engineered to compete directly against the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Grand Coupe.
You read that correctly. Kia, an automaker that made a name for itself with reliable, low-cost, vehicles targeting mainstream consumers has realigned its sights. The premium sedan segment, dominated by a handful of Europeans for years, is now in its crosshairs.
"The new Kia Stinger is a true gran turismo, a car for spirited long-distance driving," explains Gregory Guillaume, Kia Motors Europe's Chief Designer. "It's not about outright power, hard-edged dynamics and brutal styling all at the expense of luxury, comfort and grace. The Stinger has nothing to do with being the first to arrive at the destination ? this car is all about the journey. It's about passion."
The passion that Guillaume romanticizes about was sparked by the Kia GT concept that was revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011. That forward-looking prototype was a powerful rear-wheel drive sport sedan that tugged at the heart of Kia's car enthusiast designers (and, being frank, most passers-by at the European auto show). "The Kia design team is full of car guys and girls. Cars are deeply rooted in our culture. We love cars - they're in our hearts and in our blood," professes Guillaume. The glistening pearl white GT concept would be the catalyst for the production of the Stinger, an all-new vehicle with a name paying homage to the GT4 Stinger concept revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in 2014.
Five years after the concept debuted in Frankfurt, I'm standing in a building at Kia's research and design center outside Seoul, South Korea, peering at a near production-ready Stinger sedan - and it appears, at first glance, undeniably striking.
As expected, some of the radical show car touches meant for flair (e.g., rear-hinged back doors, flush handles and exterior mirrors mounted on the quarter panels) have disappeared, but the overall theme - a sporty and aggressively styled fastback - has been retained. A tape measure reveals that it is physically longer, wider, and taller than the Audi and BMW that it will compete against. Its overall look, led by Kia's signature 'Tiger Nose' front grille, is well-proportioned and very European - I see hints of Audi and Porsche from various angles. The design is fresh, cohesive and not over-styled like many of today's Asian offerings.
The interior cleverly borrows more styling cues from the Europeans - Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar come to mind. The cabin is intelligently configured, more traditional than futuristic, with a sporty upscale feel and premium materials. Best of all, the Stinger's greater exterior dimensions and longer wheelbase translate to more passenger room than within the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Grand Coupe.
Read more on Forbes.