The 2018 Stinger fulfills Kia's sport-sedan destiny

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A little more than five years ago, Kia rolled out the GT Concept - a sheetmetal hypothetical musing on where the brand's sporting aspirations might go. Today on the eve of the Detroit Auto Show Kia unveiled the Stinger, the production version of that 2011 show car. While Kia Motors America says "the Stinger really is a dream car for us," enthusiasts anticipating something a lot racier have sobered up over the distance between the concept and the production reality. Nevertheless, the new Stinger will be the sportiest Kia ever, and not by a little.

True, there's a lot of Optima in the body - it's too bad they couldn't have made the 2014 GT concept - but details everywhere separate the Stinger from the bread-and-butter sedan. The Stinger's wheelbase is four inches longer than the Optima's, yet overall length is an inch shorter. The brand's corporate face looks to have dabbled in CrossFit, the wide, narrow "tiger-nose" grille jutting out ahead of plenty of black mesh, new LED headlamps, and a new hood with twin hood vents. Side vents and sharp sills carve up the flanks, and side mirrors mount on the bodywork instead of at the A-pillar. In back, the deck lid gently curves upward becoming an integrated spoiler above elongated LED taillights, and a full-length rear diffuser houses four oval tailpipes.

Inside, the dual-zone instrument panel boasts a "large" color touchscreen for infotainment, metal-accented dash gauges with red needles, and a small, color TFT screen in the binnacle for displaying tidbits like G-forces and lap times. Luxury touches include a heads-up display, an optional 720-watt, 15-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system with two subwoofers, a driver's seat that can be had with air-cell bladders for a snug fit, and lots of driver assistance systems.

When the Stinger goes on sale late this year customers get a choice of two engines that are currently still in development. The base model employs a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with around 255 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The upper trim, known as the Stinger GT, goes with the 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 found in the Genesis G90 and expected to put out the same numbers: 365 hp and 376 lb-ft. Both motors will shift through the eight-speed automatic shared with the Kia K900 but refined with a centrifugal pendulum absorber for reduced vibration. If all goes to plan, the dash from zero to 62 miles per hour will take 5.1 seconds with the 3.3-liter V6, with top speed capped at 167 mph.

Kia picked up ex-BMW M honcho Albert Biermann in 2014 specifically for this kind of exercise. To make the most of the Stinger's talents, Biermann's team tuned five available driving modes: Personal, Eco, Sport, Comfort, and Smart. Each mode commands a particular specific steering feedback, throttle and transmission mapping, and handling feel via the MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension. Putting the power down falls on 18-inch, 225/45 performance tires on the base model, whereas the 3.3-liter trim comes standard with staggered tires on 19-inch wheels and vented Brembo brakes.

The two drivetrain choices are rear-wheel drive for purists, and all-wheel drive for purists who live in regions with seasons. The AWD option comes with a brake-based torque vectoring. A mechanical limited-slip differential graces the all-wheel drive. Kia says it will announce pricing closer to the on-sale date.

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