Kia has come a long, long way since it entered the U.S. market back in the mid '90s. Initially, the Korean automaker was known for affordable economy cars with questionable reliability and a distinct lack of charisma. That's no longer the case. Kia turned its reputation around, building solid if slightly sedate cars and crossovers with handsome styling and one of the best warranties in the industry. Our new long-term 2018 Kia Stinger GT is the automaker's first real attempt to inject some life into the brand.

The Stinger's development was helmed by some genuine all-stars. The design was led by Peter Schreyer — the man behind the original Audi TT — and Gregory Guillaume at Kia's European design studio. Engineering was handled by former BMW M Vice President of Engineering Albert Biermann. Biermann is now leading the way at Hyundai's N division. The end result is a front-engine, rear-drive sportback tasked with putting to rest Kia's budget-car image. The automaker has made no secret about targeting models like the Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera.

What we got
The Stinger comes in two flavors. The base model comes with a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbo four-cylinder producing 255 horsepower and 260 pound feet of torque. We opted for the more powerful Stinger GT and its 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6. That engine — shared with models from Genesis — makes 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic. While rear-wheel drive is standard, we opted for all-wheel drive ($2,200) to better deal with Michigan winters.

Our car comes in Hichroma Red with a red interior. Leather is standard on every Stinger model. A base GT starts at $39,250 and comes with LED lighting, 19-inch wheels with summer tires and Brembo brakes. Our GT1 package comes in at $46,350 and adds niceties like a sunroof, a Harman Kardon audio system and a heated steering wheel. Other features include dual-zone climate control and power-adjustable front seating. We added cargo mats and a cargo tray in the rear, bringing the total to $46,620.

Why we got it
Kia and Hyundai are working hard to move past their budget-car roots. In general, both companies are producing vehicles that no longer have to sell on value alone. For a while, Kia's lineup consisted mostly of vehicles that were closely related to a Hyundai counterpart, with sharper styling but few points of real differentiation. The Stinger might be related to the upcoming Genesis G70, but it's a wildly original interpretation of the shard platform. Like the distinctive Soul crossover, it gives Kia a sportier edge and pushes the brand upmarket.

We'll spend the next year living with the Stinger to see just how well Kia's new car holds up. The Stinger competes in a segment of one, so while we'll use it as a bellwether to determine if Kia's new verve will have a lasting impact on buyers' impressions, we'll also be seeing how the Stinger stands on its own as an affordable grand tourer with a serious kick.






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