In 2011 Kia unveiled its GT Concept on the eve of the Frankfurt Motor Show. It was created at the company's European design studios next door to the show site, and a pointer to the fact that Kia did not intend to remain rooted in its then range of workaday hatchbacks, saloons, estates and SUVs forever. Since that day, the most frequently asked question at Kia events has been "when are you going to put the GT into production".
Gregory Guillaume, the Head of the European design studio, says: “All of our concept cars have a reason, a purpose. They are not designers' indulgences. They illustrate what we are thinking. Ultimately, what matters is what comes on to the street, not what stays in the design studio – and we knew the GT Concept would, one day, go in to production.”
So, when a rear-wheel-drive gran turismo based on the GT Concept was signed off for production, where better to turn than Guillaume and the Frankfurt studio, with the whole project being overseen by Peter Schreyer, Kia President of Design and Chief Design Officer.
Turning a concept into a production car is no small feat, however. "On a concept car everything is exaggerated. It's an abstract," says Guillaume. "Actually, we think the production car came out nicer than the project car – there were some areas we were never really satisfied with, like the C-pillar. So we started to change that area and it affected the whole car."
The idea behind the concept car was simple. It would echo the spirit of iconic 1970s gran turismo cars, the elegant and powerful vehicles capable of powering passengers from Paris to the Côte d'Azur for the weekend in impeccable style and at high speed. "As a child growing up in France in the 1970s, I was unconstrained by the limits of engineering and I drew cars that were to my eyes, beautiful, dynamic, original and, of course, very fast. I believed those dreams could be a reality.
"Those dreams were the inspiration for the GT concept in 2011. It embodied that grace, flair and dynamism, without being aggressive or gauche. But it was more than just a design exercise. Once Stinger was given the green light for production, the idea was to channel the spirit of those iconic gran turismos to create something emotional and elegant."
The GT Concept embodied grace, flair and dynamism, without being aggressive. “We were convinced from day one that we would take this concept car from motor show plinth to the road, knowing that we have the freedom within Kia to stretch the brand in many directions," says Guillaume. “Stinger is not about outright power, hard-edged dynamics and brutal styling at the expense of luxury, comfort and grace. 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."
Guillaume believes that to embody that passion, proportion is everything. From the wheelbase to the greenhouse, width and height – and even the shape of individual body panels – getting the perfect balance is critical.
Key to its road presence are its rear-wheel-drive proportions – a long bonnet and short 830mm front overhang, an extended wheelbase (2,905mm) to deliver a spacious cabin, and a long rear overhang (1,095mm) with strong, broad shoulders. Stinger’s stance, proportion and visual balance are designed to lend the car an air of elegance and athleticism, rather than aggression and brutality. Stinger measures 4,830mm in length and 1,870mm in width, and is 1,400 tall. The ‘Coke-bottle’ shape of the car’s flanks highlight the shoulder line, as well as the fastback silhouette.
This may be a new kind of Kia, but the design cues which have stood the company in good stead since Schreyer joined in 2006 are all in evidence. What Guillaume calls the "sleek and sharky" front end has a new interpretation of Kia's 'tiger-nose grille mounted between complex headlamp units. There is a castellated upper edge to the windscreen. And the flanks are simple and unadorned. Visual engagement also comes from the large lower grille and air intake, dark chrome highlights and bold rear diffuser. There are 18-inch alloy wheels on ‘GT-Line’ and ‘GT-Line S’ versions and 19-inch wheels on ’GT S’.
What exterior decoration does appear is there to aid aerodynamics and ensure the car remains stable at the high speeds it is capable of. There are air curtains at the front and finned gills behind the rear wheel arches to reduce wake as turbulent air passes around the large wheels and tyres. The final shape of Stinger called for intense collaboration between designers and aerodynamicists to make airflow around the car as clean as possible without diluting its stunning styling. As a result, the bodywork has been tapered slightly towards the rear and there is a partially flat underfloor tray, while the rear spoiler has taken on a slight ducktail shape to reduce lift. Even the roof was lowered slightly to give Stinger more of an aerofoil profile.
Schreyer says: “You cannot believe how excited I am about this car. Stinger is going to fundamentally change the global image of Kia. It will revolutionise the way people think about us. It’s going to propel us upwards into a different era.”
External gran turismo visual cues are complemented by the layout and atmosphere of the low-slung cabin, with a steeply-raked windscreen and high dashboard running along a horizontal plane. The dashboard’s centre console is split into two specific areas: the infotainment controls sit neatly below a large colour touchscreen, while the climate and ventilation controls are lower down. In front of the driver is a thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel and a single instrument binnacle with a combination of analogue and digital instrumentation. The large gauges are ringed in metal and accentuated with sweeping red needles.
Stinger's luxurious interior is a blend of cocooning intimacy and space for five people and their luggage. Occupants slip down into their low-slung seats – leather in ‘GT-Line’ and ‘GT-Line S’ versions, and Nappa leather in ’GT S’. There is 974mm of headroom in the front and only slightly less – 939mm – in the rear. The respective figures for legroom are 1,083mm and 925mm, and for shoulder room they are 1,433mm and 1,391mm. The boot capacity with the 60:40 split rear seats upright is 406 litres, which extends to 1,114 litres when they are lowered.
The wing-shaped dashboard – also covered in leather – is broken only by the 8.0-inch touchscreen for the navigation and infotainment system. Leather also adorns the door armrests, the D-shaped steering wheel and the gearshifter, which also has chrome sections.
The seats are snug and enveloping, and the two in front have eight-way power adjustment – with a memory function on the driver's side – and a two-way power cushion extender plus four-way power lumbar adjustment. The front seats and steering wheel are heated, and in ‘GT-Line S’ and ’GT S’ they are also ventilated, while the outer rear seats are heated. The chunky transmission tunnel that separates the driver and passenger compartments reinforces the car’s rear-drive layout.
The luxurious ambience is emphasised by an aluminium-finish centre console, a chrome strip running all the way around the cabin, suede-feel headlining, satin chrome interior door handles, alloy pedals, stainless steel door scuff plates and five aeronautically inspired spoked circular air vents.
To enhance comfort, dual automatic air conditioning is fitted to every model, while to aid the driver there is a 7.0-inch LCD Thin Film Transistor (TFT) supervision cluster and a customisable head-up display which allows key information – speed, navigation instructions and audio, cruise control and blind spot detection information – to be projected onto the windscreen. ‘GT-Line S’ and ’GT S’ also have a 360-degree around-view monitor.
Every model has a DAB radio with MP3 compatibility and Bluetooth with and music streaming. Additionally Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™ offer voice control. In ‘GT-Line’ there is a nine-speaker sound system with front under-seat subwoofer, while ‘GT-Line S’and ’GT S’ have a concert hall quality 15-speaker harman/kardon premium system with subwoofer, external amp and front centre speaker. It features Clari-Fi, which restores the sound often lost when digital music files are heavily compressed, and QuantumLogic Surround Sound, which redistributes signals from the original recording to deliver multi-dimensional playback.
“Working on this car was a dream. I still get a buzz, a thrill when I think about it, and I have been thinking about it for a very long time. It fills me with pride, and now I just cannot wait to see it on the road,” says Guillaume.