From Kia to Cool: The 2020 Stinger GTS
Almost exactly 11 years ago from writing this article, I was sitting in my friend's basement, on his desktop computer, googling to show him the new Hyundai Genesis Coupe concept car. It was beautiful. Painted in orange and carbon fiber, with tight, aggressive styling, rear wheel drive, and a turbo 4 cylinder engine, I was smitten.
Now, seeing cool concept cars was nothing new. Every year, automakers tease us with designs of what could be, beautiful bodies draped oven often comically oversized wheels, and filled with futuristic technology and interiors that surely will never make it to production once the company hands over the reigns to the accounting department to make sure they can make a profitable version.
Often times, a brilliant concept can be watered down so heavily that the remaining product is unidentifiable compared to it's original design. If you don't believe me, google the Pontiac Sunfire Concept car from the 90s, and see how that compares to what came out. So, as someone who has loved cars since before he could talk, I was used to seeing brands showcase concepts that never saw the light of day. I boldly claimed to my best friend while showing him a photo of the Genesis Coupe Concept Car, "If it still looks like that when they make it, I'm buying one!".
A year later, I was helping another friend purchase their first car, and the Genesis Coupe production cars had just arrived at the dealership. This friend actually was buying a car to get their license with, so I did all the test drives. I loved it, but it was out of budget for him, and I wasn't looking for a car at the time, so we moved on. Just over 6 months later, I drove off the lot with my brand new Hyundai Genesis Coupe. This was a car that changed the way the Korean car companies were seen, especially by enthusiasts like me. Hyundai dedicated a Superbowl spot to it that year, complete with a Smashing Pumpkins soundtrack to amp you up.
In Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, Han says sarcastically to the protagonist Sean: "You think Imma let you roll in a Hyundai? You're representing me know.". That was 2006. While not exactly the same, Kia and Hyundai are cousins of sorts, with Hyundai owning a controlling 34% of the company. Many of their newer vehicles share platforms and powertrains, although with substantial differences in styling and finishing. Plain and simply, back then, Korean cars were a joke, a punchline to get a cheap laugh because everyone knew what you were talking about when they were referenced.
I've never really bought into brand loyalty or stigmas, but their was nothing to combat this one, until the Genesis Coupe arrived. By the time the next movie was to be made, 2009's Fast and Furious, itself relaunching the franchise, the Genesis Coupe was slated to be one of the hero cars that Vin Diesel's character, Dom, drives during the movie. That opening scene where Dom drifts under a flipping oil tanker? He was supposed to be driving a Yellow Genesis Coupe there.
Supposedly, Hyundai got blocked from being a hero car by another company already involved with the franchise, rumor has it that it was Subaru, and that they didn't want another car competing for attention with their recently released WRX STi that showed up later in the film. The fact that the Genesis Coupe was widely regarded as being gorgeous while the STi was compared to a Toyota Corolla couldn't have helped either. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, and Dom drove a GNX for that opening scene.
But the fact that Subaru "allegedly" blocked it from appearing showed something far greater. The car industry was scared of the Koreans. Shortly after this, Hyundai released the new Sonata with great success, and Kia launched it's platform mate, the Optima. The Optima, formerly a dowdy mid size sedan, was now a bold, stylish offering, penned by the former head of design at Audi.
Over the coming decade, every vehicle in their lineups was transformed, with former bargain basement brands punching at or above their weight class. And that brings us to today. It's no longer a point of shame to own a Korean car. Even when I bought my car in 2009, people were finding ways to remove the Hyundainess from the car, by swapping the Korean logos on to the car in place of the regular Hyundai H. Now days, less so.
Last year, Kia and Hyundai brought us a pair of sedans, that while based on the same platform and having the same powertrain options, have distinctly different personalities, in the form of the Genesis G70 and the Kia Stinger.
The Stinger in particular is interesting because it makes use of really bold design choices, has a bright available colour palate, and has a rear hatch that is incredibly practical. This past week, at the New York Autoshow, Kia announced a new trim for the Stinger; the GTS.
Kia starts by taking the 3.3 liter, 365hp turbocharged V6 version of the sedan, and adds a bit of extra seasoning to the mix. A sprinkle of carbon fiber here and there, a dash of bright orange paint and the All Wheel Drive versions get an updated system that Kia calls D-AWD. And like the much more expensive BMW M5 or Mercedes AMG E63, this Kia is built to drift at the push of a button.
The D-AWD system allows you to disable the front part of the drivetrain, and have 100% of the power go to the back. It also adds a Limited Slip Differential to help keep things in line, so now you can drift your bright orange Kia sports sedan all the way to drop you kids off at school.
If Han from Tokyo Drift was still alive in the series, I think he'd be happy to roll in this Kia.