It’s not known for its great drivers’ cars, but the luxury saloon class is the automotive world’s best window into the technology we’ll all be using in the future.
As such, you can view the latest Audi A8 as an indication as to what you can expect from the next couple of generations of more exciting cars like the RS4, from haptic touchscreens to semi-autonomy and road-monitoring active suspension.
The A8 is also an improvement in its own right over the car it replaces. Technology doesn’t raise as much suspicion in the luxury class as it does with sports cars or hot hatchbacks, and most of the new A8’s features ensure it gets closer to the luxury ideal than its predecessor, from an improved ride quality to a quieter cabin and an even more effortless drive.
It can’t quite entertain us like something smaller and lighter, but the latest A8 also handles better than before, with a nimbler feel thanks to four-wheel steering, while steady improvements in engine technology mean the initial offering of a pair of V6s (petrol and diesel) feel as punchy as they are refined and frugal.
Despite all this, the A8 doesn’t quite eclipse the Mercedes-Benz S-class for us. While the Mercedes’ baroque styling isn’t to all tastes and its cabin quality isn’t quite up to the Audi’s level, it’s both more involving and more comfortable than the Audi and feels more special from behind the wheel.Audi A8 in detail
Performance and 0-60 time - Healthy power and torque figures overcome a hefty kerbweight (despite the aluminium construction) to deliver strong performance - 0-62mph in 5.6sec for the 55 TFSI.
Engine and gearbox - Two engines currently available, both 3-litre V6s, one petrol and the other diesel - the latter sure to be more popular in the UK. Eight-speed Tiptronic automatic is standard.
Ride and handling - Four-wheel steering gives the A8 surprising agility and the ride improves on the previous model. It’s as relaxed as ever, too.
MPG and running costs - Diesel’s 50.4mpg and petrol’s 37.7mpg are both reasonable, but S-class and 7-series are more frugal still.
Interior and tech - Debuted Audi’s new trend for dual central touchscreens with haptic feedback. Usual Audi quality and sense of imperviousness are present and correct.
Design - Less cohesive overall than previous A8s but still relatively subdued next to rivals despite the comically large grille.Prices, specs and rivals
Just shy of £70,000 will get you behind the wheel of an A8, with the 50 TDI standard wheelbase coming in at £69,100. The 55 TFSI lifts that to £71,000, while the long-wheelbase versions of each add £3995 to those totals.
From that point you can quickly ramp up the price with options. Moving from 18-inch alloy wheels to 19s is £1900 and to 20s is £2850. Matrix LED headlights with laser technology are £4900, individual electric rear seats are £3200, ventilated massage seats £1600. S Line trim is available for £4495 which adds 19in wheels by default and sports seats in place of the usual “comfort” ones.
Standard kit is comprehensive though: the large but by no means exhaustive list includes LED headlights, leather trim, Virtual Cockpit instruments, navigation, 36 months of Audi’s connected services, adaptive cruise and a head-up display.
The A8’s most obvious rivals are the BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz S-class, with left-field alternatives coming in the shape of cars like the Lexus LS, Maserati Quattroporte, Jaguar XJ and - for a select band of customers - the Tesla Model S.
Competition among the German trio comes mostly down to personal brand preference, though evo’s own choice would be the S-class, which remains a dominant force in this sector of the market with a mix of luxury, driving characteristics and technology that gives it the edge over the Audi and BMW.
The others are more heart-over-head purchases, particularly the ageing but entertaining Jaguar and Maserati. The Tesla lacks the quality and pedigree of the others but probably leads the market in performance and technology.
Performance and 0-60 time
Until Audi produces an S8 or reverses its decision not to drop the W12 engine into the car, the 55 TFSI will remain the quickest A8 in a straight line sprint. With little fuss and only slightly less noise the petrol V6 will carry the A8 to 62mph in 5.6 seconds from rest, with the long wheelbase version of the same just a tenth slower. Top speed is limited to 155mph.
The diesel isn’t far behind - 0-62mph takes 5.9 seconds here and in contrast to the petrol, there’s no on-paper performance deficit for long wheelbase models. Top speed is, once again, limited to 155mph.
True to the luxury car brief, neither engine feels particularly stressed in its near two-tonne cage. Both the petrol and diesel remain relatively hushed however hard they’re worked - audible certainly, but not concerningly so - and the petrol in particular almost sounds like it’s doing its job in a neighbouring car. Performance is strong too, and you’ll only be left wanting more if you’re exploring the very top of the rev range in each; there’s a hint of breathlessness that admittedly might disappear once the engines are run in.
The petrol’s silken responses make it the more appealing of the duo and there’s a linearity to the performance that makes it easy to access without ever promising actual excitement. The diesel is hardly rowdy but Mercedes’ recent introduction of inline-six diesels (and BMW’s continued use of them) show that a V6 like Audi’s will never quite compete on refinement.
With both units delivering their maximum torque figures from little over 1000rpm, there’s effectively no penalty in lolling around at low revs and driving on the torque, but switch to Dynamic mode and both engines seem to work even harder in their mid-ranges with a welcome improvement in throttle response. Few owners will regularly use the gearchange paddles on the back of the steering wheel, but they do make it even easier to access the deepest reserves of urge, and react quickly enough to your gearchange demands.
Engine and gearbox
Slightly indecisive? Good news, because you currently have a choice of only two powertrains in the A8. Both displace three litres and both are V6s, with one being powered by diesel and the other using petrol. Nice and straightforward.
Well, not as straightforward as it might have been given Audi now calls them the 50 TDI and 55 TFSI, but that’s why we’re here. The 50 TDI produces 282bhp at 3750rpm and sends 443lb ft of torque (at 1250rpm) to all four wheels via an eight-speed tiptronic automatic, while the 55 TFSI develops 335bhp at 5000rpm and 369lb ft from a low 1370rpm, also sending its power through an eight-speed auto to Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive setup.
Both use mild hybrid technology. Audi’s take on the tech involves a 48-volt electrical system and a belt-driven starter-alternator, with the ability not just to start and stop the engine, but also cut it on the move for engine-off coasting, and energy recuperation under deceleration.
The benefits look bigger in practice than the fairly meagre 0.7-litre cut in consumption (0.15 gallons) every 62 miles suggests. It works out at around 80 miles of the A8 50 TDI’s theoretical 900-mile range on an 82 litre/18 gallon fill. Not bad for the fuel light bingo enthusiasts among us...
Ride and handling
Ride and comfort are more important in a car like this than handling precision and fun, and this brief has turned out a car that behaves much as you’d expect. The ride quality feels like an improvement on the old model, which itself wasn’t uncomfortable but was always a little more firm than you’d probably wish for from a luxury saloon. Equally, it isn’t quite up to S-class standards when it comes to flowing over rough surfaces, so the A8 always feels a little more like a high-end private hire vehicle than a proper luxury limousine.
The tradeoff here is that there’s surprisingly good body control despite the near-5.2-metre length and near two-tonne kerbweight. Body roll is kept to a minimum and the A8 tracks quickly and smoothly through most corners, the weight only starting to take its toll when you ask for quicker direction changes, where it takes a little longer to compose itself.
Audi’s fitment of four-wheel steering helps here too. While the smaller A7 is slightly disappointing with the four-wheel steering setup, it makes a bigger difference to the A8, particularly around tighter corners when the rear wheels turn up to five degrees in the opposite direction to those at the front. It shrinks the car usefully, making it feel almost like the much smaller A4 in certain corners - though like others in this class, the A8’s girth forces you to wind back the pace on tighter and narrower roads.
Grip levels are strong and while you don’t get much indication of what the front wheels are doing through the muted steering, there’s enough accuracy and response that the lack of feel isn’t too concerning.
And the rest of the time, the steering feels ideal for a car of this type - syrupy smooth and weighted well enough to give an impression of stability at speed. The A8 is of course in its element on the motorway, where only a small rustle of wind noise from the mirrors and a hum from the wide tyres disturbs an otherwise peaceful cabin.
MPG and running costs
With only two engines currently available you won’t need to burn many calories on deciding which model will best suit your idea of low running costs.
On fuel consumption, CO2 and related taxation alone, the diesel looks to be the better pick: both standard-wheelbase and LWB 50 TDIs are capable of 50.4mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle, with CO2 of 154g/km. That will result in a £515 first-year VED bill and £450 a year thereafter, owing to a list price of over £40,000. BIK for 2018-2019 is 34 per cent.
In contrast, the petrol 55 TFSI (again irrespective of wheelbase) achieves 36.7mpg combined and 175g/km of CO2. Its own tax figures are £830 in first-year VED and £450 thereafter, and 35 per cent in BIK for 2018-2019. In other words, the petrol will cost you more both to fill and to tax.
There are no solid indications on the horizon as yet how taxation and systems like the London congestion charge may change relative to petrol and diesel models, so for the time being the diesel - which also costs less to buy than the petrol - looks like the more affordable car to run.
Interior and tech
The A8 was the first recent Audi to incorporate a dual touchscreen layout for minor controls. Similar to that used in the Range Rover Velar it’s better to use in practice, with convincing haptic feedback to let you know when you’re using the virtual buttons - from a surprisingly realistic button press vibration to small scrolling clicks. The trick is remembering to use it like actual buttons - as a light touch is no longer enough to activate certain controls. Smartphone-style pinches and swipes can also be used, for example when operating the navigation system.
As such systems go, it’s well resolved and a relatively intuitive way of operating the various functions - including but not limited to audio, ventilation and the aforementioned navigation. But we’re still not convinced it’s better than systems operated by physical, tactile controls, such as BMW’s rotary iDrive controller.
The Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster remains an excellent setup though, and the rest of the A8’s cabin is excellent. It’s not as sumptuous as that of an S-class and lacks the wow-factor too, but many will prefer the A8’s ruthlessly logical horizontal architecture, beautiful standards of build and excellent materials.
You’ll not struggle to find a suitable driving position given the range of adjustment on offer, and the seats are well shaped - enough to secure you in cornering but wide and flat enough for long-distance comfort. There's plenty of space in the back too, which will surely be this car’s true purpose.
The A8 is packed with other technology too. Active suspension is available, and while the most useful daily feature of this setup is the ability to monitor the road ahead and prepare the suspension accordingly (a system we’ve not yet tested), the cleverest feature is an ability to lift either side of the car by 80mm if it detects an imminent side impact - ensuring the colliding car hits the stronger sills of the A8 rather than focusing energy into the doors.
A8s also get SAE Level 3 autonomous features - a level where where monitoring of the driving environment, and steering and acceleration/deceleration duties are conditionally autonomous, but the car still needs a driver to intervene in certain conditions. The A8’s take is “traffic jam pilot”, where systems can control the car autonomously at up to 37mph on dual-carriageways and other multi-lane roads in heavy traffic, and offer remote and garage parking functions.
You won’t need to be an ardent car-spotter to recognise this new car as an A8, even if you might need a little more skill to discern it from the model it replaces. In other words, it looks like a big Audi saloon, neither original nor particularly offensive, even if the new car’s front grille has grown to comically large proportions.
Current Audi design trends mean the company hasn’t been able to resist fiddling and tweaking individual panels and the result is a slightly busier shape than before, but by the standards of its closest rivals - the BMW 7-series, Mercedes-Benz S-class and Lexus LS, the Audi is fairly understated.
The exception is that new rear light setup and the Blackpool Illuminations impression it does when you unlock the car, but given it was Audi that started the trend for LED daytime running lights in the last few decades, you can bet that others will adopt the Christmas tree effect too, so you’d better get used to it.
The A8 remains a primarily aluminium car, but Audi has also increased use of high-strength steels, magnesium and carbonfibre too. Body strength and torsional rigidity have increased as a result and the body itself is physically lighter than it was before, but the influx of new kit means the A8 as a whole is nearly 100kg heavier than the car it replaces.3 May 2018
The Mercedes-AMG E63, a car designed to sit in the fast lane of the Autobahn pushing against its 155mph limiter, scaring other cars out of its way as it dispatches miles and effectively shrinks Germany. To be suited to such a task all the E63 really needs is a powerful engine and a relatively pleasant interior.
However, no one told the engineers at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ, because as well as both of those attributes, Merc’s big supersaloon is as gifted down a tortuous B-road as it is on a derestricted highway. It might well be long and heavy, but it’ll move with the agility of a car 600kg lighter while being thoroughly entertaining in the process.
Much of the new car’s vast range of abilities can be attributed to its new four-wheel drive system, a trait that means the latest big AMG doesn’t fit the mould created by previous generations of E63 that we got in the UK. But the all-wheel drive system has granted the E63 S Saloon another trick: an incredible 0-60mph time of 3.4sec.
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If you still object to the idea of an four-wheel drive AMG, and you think your V8-powered supersaloon should be for vapourising rear tyres, the more powerful E63 S allows you to disengage the front axle and run it rear-wheel drive only.
What’s more, the E63 is available as a über-practical estate. Is there anything it can’t do?Mercedes-AMG E63 in detail
Performance and 0-60 time – Be prepared for supercar-rivalling acceleration, even in the estate version
Engine and gearbox – AMG’s venerable twin-turbo V8 makes another appearance in the E63. We aren’t complaining
Ride and handling – It might be four-wheel drive and over 1800kg, but the big AMG is truly exciting to drive
MPG and running costs – Huge V8-powered saloons that have the ability to outrun mid-engined sports cars are not cheap to run; the E63 is no different
Interior and tech – The E-class interior isn’t transformed in the AMG, but that’s far from a problem when the original architecture is so well suited
Design – Without lots of sporty add-ons, the E63 is quite a subtle-looking car. That might not be to everyone’s tastesPrices, specs and rivals
Just a fraction less than £80,000 will buy you a basic E63, a non-S model in saloon form. But if you want more space, more performance or both, there are options. For an extra £2000 you can get the incredibly practical E63 Estate, with the same 563bhp twin-turbo V8.
Greater performance costs significantly more, however. The E63 S, with 604bhp, a 0.1sec faster 0-62mph time and a switchable four-wheel drive system, costs £89,290 – £9360 more. Again, like the basic car, an extra £2000 can turn the S into a wagon.
There’s one clear rival to the current E63, as there has been for every big AMG saloon, and that’s the BMW M5. Like the Merc, the BMW has a twin-turbo hot-V V8, an automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive that can be switched to rear-wheel drive at will, just like the E63 S. Despite having 0.4-litres extra engine capacity, the BMW doesn’t quite match the E63 S’s 604bhp, but sits ahead of the non-S with 592bhp. Both cars are so close on paper that you couldn’t guess a winner between the two, so we’ll have to get them both together to reach a proper verdict.
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The BMW doesn’t come as an estate, or Touring in BMW parlance. The E63’s other, less obvious rival, the Porsche Panamera Turbo, is available as a saloon and estate. The Porsche’s twin-turbo hot-V V8 engine (clearly the must-have engine for any modern super saloon) is down on power compared to the E63, even the non-S. The Porsche puts out 542bhp, in both saloon and Sport Turismo (estate to you and I) bodystyles. However, despite lacking the firepower and feeling a little dumpier than the Merc, on the road there’s very little difference in terms of pace. When we got them both together, it was the AMG’s more natural dynamics that helped it come out on top.Performance and 0-60 time
Purists and connoisseurs of sports saloons of old were appalled by the introduction of four-wheel drive on the E63 – cynics would argue the Drift Mode (the rear-wheel drive only setting) on the S is just a gimmick to placate fans of the old-style oversteering powerful saloon cars.
But the results of the all-wheel drive are clear when you look at the acceleration times. Officially, the 1880kg saloon accelerates from 0 to 62mph in 3.4sec. When we timed the E63 S with our own gear, we recorded a 0-60mph time of 3.4sec. That’s 0.1sec faster than the 0-60mph time we logged in a Ferrari 599 GTB or a F430 Scuderia. And that’s in a big saloon car.
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The non-S E63, with 41bhp less, to no one’s great surprise, is a little slower. But only just, it officially reaches 62mph in 3.4sec, 0.1sec behind. The Estate versions are also 0.1sec slower than the saloon equivalents. All cars have a limited top speed of 155mph.Engine and gearbox
Since its first appearance in the AMG GT, Mercedes-AMG’s 4-litre twin-turbo hot-V V8 engine has become ubiquitous throughout the range. Not only does it appear in all the GTs, from S to R, you’ll also find it in the C63, S63, GLC63 and, of course, the E63.
The same engine is used in both the S and basic E63, however AMG has turned the wick up on the S’s motor so it puts out 604bhp between 5750 and 6500rpm and 627lb ft of torque between 2500 and 4500rpm.
The regular E63 might not be quite as ballistic, but its output is still mightily impressive. Max power is 563bhp from 5750 to 6500rpm while torque is 553lb ft from 2250 to 5000rpm.
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The power disparity isn’t the only drivetrain difference between the E63 and E63 S. The more powerful car has an electronic locking differential instead of a purely mechanical version, and it also gets a switchable four-wheel drive system. With the traction control turned off, the car set to its Race mode and after you’ve pulled both of the steering wheel’s paddles, you then confirm the switch to rear-wheel drive, or Drift Mode, with a pull of the right gear change paddle.
All current E63s use a nine-speed automatic gearbox that Mercedes calls Speedshift MCT. However, rather than employing a torque converter to transfer drive from the engine to the transmission, it uses a pack of ‘wet’ clutches.Ride and handling
In a world where 700-or-so bhp supercars are now relatively normal and all-wheel drive hatchbacks can hit 60mph in sub 4sec, there’s a risk that even a 600bhp supersaloon could feel ordinary. That is not the case. The E63, even in its most sober guise, the non-S Estate, is astoundingly fast. It makes such effortless progress down A-roads and motorways, but is then explosive and energetic on twistier tarmac.
Its real potency can be attributed to its engine. There’s masses of low-down grunt, typical of a forced-induction motor, that the whole car never feels as heavy as its quoted figures when you accelerate. What’s not typical of a turbocharged engine is that there’s very little turbo lag. You don’t have to be wary that there might be a heap load of unexpected power unleashed moments after you press the throttle, instead the delivery is linear and practically instant.
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The rest of the E63’s pace can be put down to its fantastic traction afforded by its (some might say controversial) four-wheel drive system. But although there’s grip when you need it, don’t think the E63 is like other German all-wheel drive super saloons and estates - it isn’t. The E63’s 4Matic drivetrain has been very cleverly calibrated to not feel very all-wheel drive on the road, with real throttle adjustability right at the apex of a corner helping it rotate just enough as you squeeze the accelerator. Only once things get a bit squirrelly on the exit, when you actually want some help, do you really sense the front wheels helping drag you straight.
The engine’s delivery combined with the drivetrain makes the E63 an incredibly confidence inspiring and natural car to drive quickly. The steering, although it doesn’t exactly chatter with feedback, is crisp, fast and allows you to react appropriately to the chassis, further helping you tune into driving the car. Not only is the E63 far more alert and agile than you’d expect of a car of this size, it offers up a thoroughly enjoyable, deeply involving and exciting drive.
Thankfully, no matter which model you choose in the E63 range, the driving experience is very similar. The extra weight of the estate barely makes a difference to the way it corners or accelerates, mostly thanks to the masses of performance available.
The difference between the regular car and the S is more noticeable. The bigger wheels, and therefore lower profile rubber, make it feel as though it’s riding on tyres inflated to 50psi. However, the body control remains fluid while in Comfort mode. But just like the non-S cars it tightens up significantly when the dampers are stiffer without affecting the ride too badly. That is until you choose the firmest dampers at least, which are only appropriate on the smoothest of European roads or race tracks.
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Of course, the S’s party trick, its Drift Mode, makes it feel very different to the regular car once you’ve engaged it. The rear tyres are so willing to break traction that, despite its long wheelbase, it snaps into a slide as soon as you touch the throttle. Once sideways, however, the long E63 feels far more controllable, the engine feels as though it could spin the wheels forever and the reactive steering just helps you keep it at what ever angle you desire. It’s deeply childish and totally unnecessary, but wonderfully good fun.MPG and running costs
If you look at the E63 as a practical five-seat saloon or vast estate car, then it is not a cheap car to run. Think of it as a rapid, viciously accelerating missile of a car, which it is, then it’s amazingly cost effective.
Officially, the big AMG, in both regular and S forms, can achieve 31mpg on a combined cycle. The estate versions, which are 105kg heavier, aren’t quite as economical, and they achieve 30.1mpg. Those figures might not be spectacularly economical, but they’re not dissimilar to that of a brand new diesel-powered 187bhp Mitsubishi Shogun, car that absolutely couldn’t make use of a Drift Mode even it had one.
While on the subject of Drift Mode, if you’re going to partake in the sort of sideways shenanigans it encourages, you’re going to wear out the rear tyres rather quickly. A pair of 20-inch 295 section 30 profile Michelin Pilot 4 S tyres for the back wheels will set you back around £540. The 265/35 20 fronts are cheaper, around £488 a pair, but it’s unlikely you’ll need those quite as frequently.Interior and tech
The E-class’s interior is a mix of well-placed ergonomically pleasing controls, proper materials (like aluminium, leather and wood) and the sort of trinkets you might expect on an expensive Mercedes, like coloured interior lights, wide LCD screens and fancy analogue clocks. Despite being an AMG, however, there aren’t many overtly sporty elements within the interior; a steering wheel with a mark at 12 o’clock and faux suede sections for your hands, and an AMG badge on the centre console are the most obvious.
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A pair of modular front seats are optional on both the S and regular E63 and certainly make the interior look more purposeful. They aren’t as softly padded as the regular items, so if you’re seeking optimum cosiness they won’t be for you, but the AMG performance seats hold you better and keep you from sliding around so they’re far from uncomfortable.Design
Depending on your outlook, the E63 – especially the non-S with its 19-inch wheels – is either too demure and not aggressive enough, or it’s the perfect sleeper, looking much like a well-specced AMG Line E-class just with a different grille.
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There aren’t any bulging arches, massive spoilers or garish badges on the outside of the E63. All you get are four square exhausts and a small lip on the boot at the back, some larger inlets in the front bumper, a more minimal grille and a few subtle AMG badges. The noise emitted from the exhausts attracts more attention and make it obvious it’s no ordinary E-class far more than the styling.
Those wanting the subtlest version should opt for the Estate - no one ever expects a wagon to move as fast as the E63 can shift.2 May 2018
There’s a case to be made for the enormous Hyundai-Kia group being one of the most exciting car manufacturers right now. Sure, they produce the same range of anonymous hatchbacks and crossovers as other car companies, but they’re also spending money where it matters for the car enthusiast.
On one hand you have Hyundai’s i30N. For a company with very little performance car heritage – and that’s being generous – it's astonishing that the i30N has become one of our favourite hot hatchbacks straight out of the starting gate, displacing plenty of long-established names in the process.
And on the other, there’s the Kia Stinger GT. That Kia has gone from producing depressing cars like the Pride supermini and desperate Shuma to a rear-wheel drive sports saloon in the space of two decades is remarkable in itself; that the rear-drive sports saloon is also an engaging and accomplished drivers’ car, while being competitively priced and better-performing than its closest rivals is appealing in itself.
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With a potent twin-turbo V6 along with four-cylinder petrol and diesel models, there’s also something for (almost) everyone. Sure, spending up to £40k on a car carrying the Kia badge may still put some people off, but in time people will get over their preconceptions just as they have with brands like Skoda - and if Kia keeps producing cars like the Stinger, that may happen sooner rather than later.Kia Stinger in detail
Performance and 0-60 time - Performance ranges from brisk – 7.6sec to 62mph for the diesel – to fairly rapid, the V6 achieving the benchmark sprint in sub-5sec. Weight blunts the sensation of speed.
Engine and gearbox - A choice of two turbocharged four-cylinders – a 2-litre petrol and 2.2 diesel – plus a 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6. An eight-speed torque converter automatic is standard across the range.
Ride and handling - Steering could stand to feed back more to the driver’s hands and the weight impacts body control, but at a less hectic pace it’s impressive indeed – fluid, agile, responsive and throttle-adjustable.
MPG and running costs - Combined economy ranges from 50.4mpg for the diesel to 26.6mpg for the V6, but the on-paper figures don’t seem difficult to achieve in the real world. Kia’s 7-year warranty remains a huge selling point.
Interior and tech - Hints of Mercedes-Benz to the cabin design. Build quality is good, use of materials less so, but it’s comfortable, quiet and has a great driving position. Technology prioritises usability over flashiness – just as it should be.
Stinger pricing begins at £31,995. For some, that alone will be enough to dissuade, as that’s strong money for something bearing the Kia badge. You do get a lot of car for your money though: that price refers to a Stinger GT-Line with the 2.0 T-GDi engine, with 18-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, a heated and 8-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat, navigation, a head-up display, cruise control and – get this – a standard limited-slip differential.
Opt for the diesel engine in the same trim and the price rises to £33,895, with GT-Line S trim above this. For £35,495 for the petrol and £37,395 for the CRDi, GT-Line S adds LED headlamps, heated and cooled front seats with heated rear seats, a 15-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, 360-degree parking cameras and a sunroof.
Top of the line is the Stinger GT S with the V6 powerplant. At £40,495 it’s well into “for a Kia?” territory, but as well as a sub-5-second 0-62mph time GT S models get 19-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, Nappa leather trim, and electronic dampers.
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The GT S’s positioning is interesting given its relative price to several key rivals. The closest BMW 4-series Gran Coupe is the 440i M Sport at £45,490, though sacrifice the Gran Coupe’s fastback styling and opt for a 3-series instead and a 340i M Sport is £40,260. It’s enough to make you think, though the Kia out-points the BMW on performance and gives it a real run for its money as a drivers’ car too.
Audi’s closest analog is the S5 Sportback, but while it nips under the Kia’s 0-62mph time at 4.7sec, it also differs in sending power to all four wheels and in costing £48,850. Mercedes likewise, whose AMG C43 is as quick off the mark as the Audi and as chunky in the showroom at £45,830, a figure that quickly escalates with options.
If slick styling is your game then Volkswagen’s Arteon may be on your list, rivalling the GT S with a 276bhp 2.0 TSI under the bonnet, all-wheel drive, DSG and R-Line trim for £40,305. It’s stylish and the VW badge still carries weight at this level, but the Kia is much more entertaining to drive and outperforms it at all price points. Kia may be short on badge appeal against the German brands, but for those prepared to overlook such baggage there’s a lot to like.
Performance and 0-60 time
In the GT S Kia has produced its quickest-ever vehicle, reaching 62mph from rest in 4.9 seconds and going on to a most un-Kia-like 168mph. Just roll those numbers around in your head for a second and then remember what Kia’s road cars used to be like – whatever you think of the Korean brand’s image, the reality of Kia in 2018 is quite appealing.
A kerb weight of 1780kg means the Stinger GT S never feels quite as quick as it looks on paper, though the engine’s relatively cultured and undramatic delivery is also to blame – the Stinger is very much one of those cars that delivers its performance deceptively rather than boistrously.
It might be more engaging if the engine and four-exit exhaust system produced a more musical note, but the 3.3 will not be regarded as one of the great V6s by automotive historians. It’s certainly not bad and in general driving it’s plenty refined and punchy enough; we’d just like a bit more aural character. Perhaps that’s a job for the facelift, or the aftermarket.
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The eight-speed automatic transmission is a good partner for the V6 though, slurring changes smoothly when you need it to and responding with suitable urgency if you opt to shift yourself using the paddles on the back of the steering wheel. Our biggest gripe here is that there’s no way of locking the transmission to manual mode, so after around five seconds the ‘box will revert back to its automatic mode.
The gearbox works well with the 2-litre petrol and 2.2 diesel too, though neither engine is quite as satisfying in the Stinger as the V6. Much of that is down to the car’s weight, which hampers performance here even more – it takes 6sec to sprint to 62mph in the petrol, 7.6sec in the diesel – but both four-pots are even less comfortable spinning at high revs than their six-cylinder counterpart, and both are rather tuneless when you extend them, even in the Sport and Sport+ modes, which introduce a little more sound into the cabin.
If the petrol sounded more like it does in the Hyundai i30N – or the gearbox had shorter ratios to help the car get up to speed with a little more vigour – we’d feel warmer towards it. In some respects the diesel is actually better, the gravelly note in Sport and meaty mid-range suiting the Kia’s chassis, but as a drivers’ car it has to sit bottom of the pile, being just a little too workmanlike and discouraging a press-on driving style.
Engine and gearbox
Star of the Stinger range is the 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6 model, badged Stinger GT S. It’s the one most evo readers will be interested in, offering the strongest performance and the most stirring soundtrack of the trio, and it’s the most potent road car Kia has ever produced.
Attached to an eight-speed automatic transmission – standard across the Stinger range – it develops 365bhp at 6000rpm and 376lb ft of torque from 1300rpm all the way to 4500rpm and sends its power (in the UK at least) to the rear wheels alone.
Next up is a turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol with T-GDi badging. With 252bhp (at 6200rpm) it’s clearly not as muscular as the V6, a fact also apparent in the 260lb ft torque figure from 1400rpm. On paper the 2-litre doesn’t seem too far shy of the V6 model in terms of outright performance, but in reality it lacks the bigger-engined car’s easy mid-range thrust and its four-cylinder note is disappointingly bland.
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Mid-range thrust has always been a diesel strong-point and with a quoted 325lb ft of torque from 1750rpm the 2.2-litre Stinger CRDi diesel has the measure of the 2-litre petrol in this department, if not quite to the same level as the V6 with its 50 per cent greater swept capacity.
Maximum power is less than either at 197bhp (at a typically low 3800rpm) which goes some way to explaining the slower 0-62mph time, but the main thing to discourage using the diesel’s entire potential is the usual bugbear of an uninspiring engine note. Instead, the 2.2 sounds, and performs best using the Kia’s paddleshifters to keep the engine spinning away in its mid-range sweet spot.
Ride and handling
There’s something very satisfying about the way the Stinger gets down a twisty road. While you have to account for its size, which chips away at the fun factor on smaller B-roads, all Stingers pair accurate and well-weighted steering with keen responses, good balance and a useful degree of throttle-adjustability. This combination begins to make sense when you realise who heads up Kia and Hyundai’s dynamics team these days: Albert Biermann, formerly of BMW M division.
As with the way the Stinger performs, handling is limited to some degree by the car’s relatively substantial weight. Pushed hard, the weight provides a challenge for the springs and dampers, resulting in slightly ragged body control, a little too much roll, and a tendency to push wide earlier than some rivals.
But a notch or two back from maximum attack (this is a “GT” rather than an out-and-out sports car, after all) those problems don’t seem to materialise. You’re still conscious of the Stinger’s weight but the car’s controls and handling characteristics all gel into something that’s both engaging and entertaining.
The steering doesn’t bristle with feedback but it does offer some. When combined with consistent and accurate responses, as well as reasonable weighting, you always feel in control of the car’s behaviour. Roadholding is good and all engines (but particularly the V6) give you the option of adjusting the car’s attitude with the throttle – though you’ll need to be in Sport (which relaxes the car’s safety settings) or Sport+ (which relaxes things further) to fully appreciate this, as Comfort mode doesn’t allow any shenanigans.
UK roads have slightly undone our initial impressions of the ride quality, but it’s by no means bad even in full GT S spec, even in Sport mode and on that car’s 19-inch wheels. In lesser Stingers on smaller 18in wheels (which still work visually – impressive given how lousy some rivals look in their lower trim levels) it’s better still, riding quite fluently for the most part with just subtle overtones of firmness to remind you that the car has some sporting intent.
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MPG and running costs
It will come as little surprise to learn that the 2.2 CRDi Stinger returns the most palatable fuel economy figures with a combined 50.4mpg and 154g/km of CO2. What might be more surprising is that figures in the 50s aren’t out of the question in real-world driving conditions, specifically on long motorway runs, though high 40s are more likely if you indulge in the car’s performance with any regularity.
Next up is the 35.8mpg 2.0 T-GDi, and again numbers in the mid 30s aren’t entirely out of reach. Once again this will drop – think high 20s – if you extend the four-pot, but neither four-cylinder model should be too frightening to fuel. The V6 might be a different matter with its official 26.6mpg, but early indications with our long-termer again suggest mid-20s are possible.
All Stingers benefit from one of Kia’s main selling points for new buyers: a seven-year warranty (unlimited mileage over the first 36 months and then 100,000 miles for the remaining period), which will also make two- or three-year old Stingers fairly desirable for subsequent owners.
Interior and tech
We suspect Kia’s interior designers might have spent some time in recent Mercedes-Benz models, as the Stinger’s centre console looks quite familiar - a trio of round central air vents, an infotainment screen perched atop the dash, and a large, flat-topped gear selector not unlike that used by AMG.
Unfortunately the materials Kia has used on its much cheaper car aren’t quite up to the level used by the German premium brands, with an abundance of faux-hide and shiny plastics, though Kia does seem to have spent money where it matters – the steering wheel, gear selector itself, the seats and the doorhandles all feel suitable for a premium market vehicle.
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The build quality is nothing to sniff at however – nothing squeaks, creaks or rattles and the cabin is sealed well enough to keep wind noise to a minimum – and the driving position is also hard to fault, with plenty of adjustability and supportive seats. You can site yourself nice and low if that’s your preference, and you’d struggle to find any irritations in the layout and operation of frequently-used controls. If anything, Kia’s slightly lower-market position is beneficial here; while you do get a touchscreen, there are still large, easy-to-find physical buttons and knobs for things like heating, volume, and menu access.
No Kia we’ve ever driven has attracted as many admiring glances as the Stinger. High-profile spots on certain well-known car TV shows have presumably raised the Stinger’s profile, but the bottom line is that Kia’s sports saloon has an eye-catching and attractive shape and plenty of road presence.
Its basic form is much like the kind of premium five-door hatchbacks we’ve seen from German manufacturers in recent years - think Audi A5 Sportback, BMW 4-series Gran Coupe and Volkswagen’s Arteon. It’s quickly identifiable as a Kia though rather than a slavish copy, thanks to the company’s unique “tiger nose” grille design, distinctive rear lights and an arc of contrasting trim around the window line.
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Some of these details jar in certain colours – the reflectors coming off the rear lights and onto the rear arches look like afterthoughts – but in the right colour and trim combinations the Stinger looks distinctive and expensive. Black works very well (particularly with a contrasting red interior) and the blue of evo’s long-term Stinger GT is also particularly attractive in the metal.
Throw in great proportions – a long bonnet, short front overhang and longer rear overhang, and a sensible ratio of bodywork to – and you have a car far more desirable than any Kia has produced so far.2 May 2018