A 5-passenger sportback poised to redefine a segment currently populated by European automakers, the 2018 Kia Stinger is the highest-performance production vehicle in the company’s history. Metro News Service photo

Kia Stinger is so much more than just a great name

Car names. I both love them and loathe them. All these numbers and letters are befuddling and annoying. They don’t say anything about a car and I wish all manufacturers stuck with actual names. So, for this reason and for so many others, I was excited about my tester this week.

The Kia Stinger has about the best moniker of any car on the market today. But what’s in a name? There’s so much more to this car than just that uber-cool word. The Stinger is almost tough to categorize. It’s considered a luxury small car, but that’s not really correct. With the Kia name badge alone, it will lose credibility as a luxury car – even though it is extremely luxurious.

Its looks and engine could make it a small sports car, but again, some of the bigger V8 cars would run it out of the segment. So, rather than try to define this car, let’s just categorize it as an awesome small car.

When I saw this vehicle at the Detroit Auto Show, it was love at first sight. The Stinger was my favorite new car reveal. The looks are stunning. I’ve often said that Kia had an underrated quality to much of its product line – even the Optima has boast-worthy good looks. But the Stinger is sexy, sleek and has European cues all over. Is it a BMW? It could almost be.

Every good sports car needs engine options. And the Stinger has that. There’s a 2.0-liter twin turbocharged four-cylinder, which is what my tester came with. But there’s the Stinger GT (aptly named) that has a powerful V6. I’ll say this, the four-cylinder is peppy and quick; don’t be deceived by its 255-horsepower rating. It performs better than that. Off the line and in the higher gears, the Stinger can go. The eight-speed automatic transmission is tremendous with little to no turbo lag.

My tester came with optional all-wheel drive, which as most of you know, I prefer. The steering is responsive, and the Stinger’s diminutive size helps it hug the road. But a comfortable suspension disqualifies this from a sports car rating, and that’s a good thing. It’s what you want a small car to be. Fun, peppy and comfortable, with superior handling.

Admittedly I think the Stinger would’ve been even more attractive as a coupe, but two-door cars aren’t in vogue now, so the Stinger’s four doors are adequate. It does make entering the interior easier.

The back seat has an amazing amount of legroom. For a car this size, I was surprised at how spacious the back seat is. Two adults can comfortably sit back, and a third child could join them. The sloping roofline, which makes the car so attractive, eats a little bit of the headroom, so taller passengers might want to call shotgun and leave the back seat for the shorter people.

The sportback-styling gives the Stinger a hatchback-like feel and thus a tremendous amount of cargo room. There’s 23.9 cubic feet of space behind the second row. And those seats have a 60/40 split which expands overall cargo area to 40.9 feet. This is an impressive amount for a small car.

While the interior of the Stinger is nice, this is where it’s hard to call it a luxury car. The touch points are quality, and this is one of the best interiors I’ve seen in a Kia, but it’s still not “European” enough to compete in the luxury category. Don’t throw the “L” word around and you won’t have false expectations. Expect it to be nice and high-quality and you won’t be disappointed.

The infotainment system is outstanding. Kia’s UVO system is one of the easiest to use. It has all the technology features you could want, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The seven-inch touchscreen is attractive and responsive.

The non-GT Stinger has two trim options only (hallelujah). My tester was the base trim with AWD. The starting price is $34,100. With the advanced driver assistance package my tester had a final MSRP of $36,100.

The AWD Stinger with the 2.0-liter engine has an EPA rating of 21 mpg/city and 29 mpg/highway. In a week’s worth of driving, I averaged nearly 25 mpg.

The Stinger is so much more than its cool name. It’s a new entry by Kia into the market. Whatever the market segment it’s trying to compete in is irrelevant. It is fun, punchy and so very sexy. The Stinger will be on my top 10 favorite cars of 2018 list.

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