In the sedan world, which has been crushed by the sports utility vehicle segment in sales lately, there have been three types that roamed the plains. The economical (Camry, Accord), the sporty (BMW, Audi), and the luxury (Mercedes, Jaguar). In 2017, Honda introduced the all-new 2018 Accord at the same time that Toyota unleashed the all-new 2018 Camry, with new styling and features focused on what those companies are known for: producing dependable and economical sedans. In the midst of all of this industry-rattling mid-size sedan news, Kia burst on the scene with a brand new mid-size sedan model named the Stinger, and singlehandedly managed to shake up the segment by bringing together all three elements in one sedan. Somehow no car maker was able to manage that before the Stinger.
The Kia Stinger is economical, sporty in looks and performance, and has high-class cabin amenities that we dare to call luxury. It’s a bargain price for the amenities, and then there’s the industry topping warranty to control future costs of ownership. Despite the PR efforts of Kia, somehow people are still not widely aware of this groundbreaking new sedan beast which has been overshadowed by the Accord and the Camry since late 2017, even though they started showing up in dealerships in November 2017.
Be among the enlightened. There is no reason why the Stinger can’t do a bit of crushing of its own in sales against the mid-size sedan segment competitors. On horsepower alone, with 365 hp and 376 feet-pounds of torque coming from the 3.3 liter twin turbo V6, and 255 hp from the 2 liter twin turbo scroll cylinder version, it’s a roaring, howling, challenging beastie. Aggressive 19 inch wheels in a sporty design are there, as they should be. Adding to its sport cred is the hatch for the rear trunk instead of a typical sedan lid. Need more? Just check out the red brake calipers – yup, Brembos.
Where does all of this sporty goodness come from? James Bell of Kia explains it this way. It started off as the GT4 Stinger concept in 2011, and was shown off as a four door sedan with a hatch that had 40 cubic feet of capacity with the rear seats flat. It was engineered with a wing built into the hatch. The chief engineer on the project, Albert Biermann, was picked off from BMW, where he was the legendary leader of the M division for many years. He was put to work for Kia’s parent company Hyundai as Head of Vehicle Test & High Performance Development. Because of this move, the Stinger is Korean, but the German influence is undeniable and palpable.
Bell says that when the company came stateside, the goal was vehicle reliability. Once that was achieved, Kia moved in to conquering design, then to increasing fuel economy. Now, with the advent of the Stinger, the company is hitting its goal of producing a vehicle with superb world class handling and performance.
Another sign of attention to premium detailing on the Stinger is Kia’s decision to equip it with the Harman Kardon premium sound system. All the other interior design concepts echo the notion that this is an upscale sedan, including embossed “GT” lettering on the leather seats, a gorgeous dash, heated and ventilated seats, and the heated leather wrapped and straight bottom steering wheel with a GT logo. I appreciated that it had a power sunroof and shade that extended back into the passenger compartment, as well as the very comfortable seats with a wonderful dial-operated seat bolstering system for the seat back and cushion.
The ride is heavenly smooth, no matter what speed. Consider yourself warned.
We experimented with all five drive modes. Most interesting is Custom, which allows you to select how you want various elements to perform. I programmed all of them to be at sport level, which I suppose made it the same as sport mode. The car is fine in comfort mode, but it’s really clipping its wings and feels sort of wrong. The Stinger really belongs in Sport mode. The Eco mode is not an oversell. I was easily able to beat the EPA rating in Eco mode. Overall, my favorite mode was Smart, because I got a lot of power (but not at the top performance level), with decent fuel economy.
Even when equipped with every possible trim package, the price tops out at $52,000, making the Kia Stinger “the performance buy of the year,” according to U.S. auto journalist Brian Armstead. He’s right, but I’d go a bit more specific, and say it’s the sedan buy of the year.
2018 Kia Stinger Specifications
5 trim levels – base, Premium, GT, GT1, GT2
Engine, Base and Premium trim: 2.0 liter twin turbo scroll four cylinder DOHC D-CVVT 16V
Cargo area capacity, rear seats up: 23.3 cubic feet
Cargo area capacity, rear seats down: 40.9 cubic feet
Transmission: 8 speed automatic
5 Drive Modes: Eco, Smart, Comfort, Sport, Custom
EPA Fuel Economy ratings: 19 city, 25 highway, 21 combined. I got 24.6 highway in Sport mode and 26.2 highway in eco mode.
Other: Engine shut off at idle for fuel economy. Front cross traffic and object detection alert, with audible signal. Head-up display that can be disabled. Tilting and telescoping steering wheel. Lane keep and departure warning system which is very sensitive. Blind spot collision warning that isn’t sensitive enough. Backup camera and very sensitive rear cross traffic alert. Two USB ports and two 12-volt plug in ports, one each front and back seat areas. Made in Korea of 87% Korean parts.
Base price for GT2 V6: $51,400, plus $900 destination charge.
In this edition of Keeping Up With the Kias, we review two gas-powered Kias: the Sorento (a 3-row midsize SUV) and the Optima (a five person midsize sedan).
2017 Kia Sorento SXL V6 AWD
The Sorento is a three-row midsize SUV that fits 7 people, powered by a 3.3 liter V6 engine. The third row’s 50/50 split seats easily fold up and down with a quick pull of a strap; the second row seats fold down with the push of a button in the rear cabin sidewall. When the third row isn’t needed, the seats can be folded flat for maximum space for cargo; it’s easy to pop them back up when there are a few extra passengers. With the seats down, the cargo area has a segment-busting 73 cubic feet of storage space, accessible with a one-push button power liftgate.
2018 Sorento in Platinum Graphite
2018 Sorento SXL Trim
Today’s tester is the SXL, the top trim level, in Platinum Graphite paint with a chrome grille and 19 inch wheel accents that make it extremely attractive. Inside, there is very comfortable leather seating with Nappa leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, power seat adjustments with memory settings, and a heated leather steering wheel. USB and 12-volt outlets are located in convenient spaces in the front and rear cabin spaces. The UVO “eService” infotainment system is standard on all new Kias, at all trim levels, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems. There are knobs for easy volume and tuning and push controls for the heating and air conditioning, to allow for safe adjustments without having to be distracted. Other functions are on the 8 inch touch screen, including navigation. The Infinity audio is a surround sound system.
The SXL has a large sunroof and shade, which slides way back into the passenger compartment for plenty of natural lighting.
As tested, the Sorento provides state of the art technology for collision avoidance and safety. The surround view camera display functions beautifully for parking and negotiating tight spaces. It is a standout feature on this Kia, in addition to the right side view camera, the front camera, lane departure warning, the blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic alert. When freeway traffic slowed suddenly, the Sorento gave an audible alert, but it wasn’t overreacting or being overly cautious. It was spot on. I didn’t have any conditions occur that would have caused the autonomous emergency braking to kick in, but it is a reassuring safety feature on the Sorento that helps the driver avoid the most common kind of accident, the rear-ender.
The Sorento, like all Kias, gives the owner much more than you would expect for the money. A friend who owns a Mercedes sedan who I took to dinner in the Sorento SXL said that the Sorento was “way nicer” than her ride. The features and styling of the Sorento are on par with much more expensive makes.
On fuel consumption, the rating is 19 MPG combined city and highway. On two long trips in a mixture of driving conditions I got 21.1 and 24 MPG averages. At 290 horsepower, the Sorento is capable with normal city driving but it won’t light your hair on fire. The torque seems a bit anemic in spite of the claimed 252 pound-feet available.
Government crash test safety ratings are not available, but there’s no reason to believe that the 2018 Sorento wouldn’t meet the five-star ratings that it garnered in 2017.
There is available all wheel drive with locking center differential for poor road conditions, or off-road excursions, making the Sorento a great choice for those who go from city to backcountry or live in areas with challenging weather.
In 2017, The Sorento picked up the highest ranking for initial quality in the midsize SUV segment for two of three years in a row from J.D. Power. The segment is ultra-competitive, so the award is very impressive. Keep in mind that there is a 10 year, 1000,000 mile warranty backing up every Kia sold, so it’s a pretty good bet you won’t be spending much time at the dealership service center.
2017 Kia Sorento Details
Power: 3.3 liter V-6 direct injection engine (SXL trim, top trim); 2.4 liter (L trim)
Price (as tested): MSRP $46,200, plus $940 for shipping from West Point, Georgia (SXL); $44,500 (L).
Interior and Infotainment (SXL): Infinity surround sound audio, Navigation with 8 inch touchscreen and rear camera, UVO eServices infotainment system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, Sirius XM radio with 3 month subscription, Metallic Nappa leather seats, Nappa leather seat trim, power adjustable front seats, driver’s seat memory function, heated and ventilated front seats, heated leather steering wheel, power sunroof and shade.
Exterior (SXL): HID headlights with auto-leveling and dynamic bending, LED positioning, fog and tail lights, power-folding heated outside mirrors with turn signals, smart “hands-free” power liftgate.
Safety: dual front advanced airbags, dual front seat-mounted airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, anti-lock braking system, traction control system, electronic stability control, hill-start assist control, surround view monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection system, lane departure warning system, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist system.
HP 290; Torque 252 pound-feet (SXL); HP 185; Torque 178 pound-feet (L)
Cargo net for rear cargo area, optional: $50.00
2017 Kia Optima SXL
The Optima is a five-person, four-door midsize sedan which is available in conventional gasoline engine and hybrid versions. Today’s tester is a 2.0 liter turbocharged gas engine powered sedan with a 6 speed automatic transmission. The Optima comes in five trim levels. The tester is the SXL trim, which bases at $36,090, plus $895 for shipping from West Point, Georgia.
The Optima is regarded as having state of the art features that are normally found on more expensive cars. It should be on the short list of cars to check out when shopping for a midsize four-door sedan, as the value is amazing in this segment.
The Optima got 29.3 mpg on average in a mix of both slow traffic and open highway driving, beating the EPA estimate of 25 combined. In mostly open highway driving, it got 31.4 mpg, making it very competitive with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion.
The interior is very nicely appointed, with knobs and push buttons for volume and air controls, in addition to a 7-inch touchscreen and a tilting/telescoping steering wheel. Even the base trim model features the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system (said to be better than most of its mid-size sedan competitors), but the Optima has even more available features that kick up its competitiveness, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (upper trim levels only), standard leather-wrapped steering wheel (starting at the LX trim level), standard multi-adjustable driver’s seat, and standard dual zone climate controls.
The upper trim level tester was outfitted with the Harman Kardon surround sound system and ten speakers, for an incredible sound experience, plus dual USB ports and 12 volt power outlets in the front and rear cabin areas.
The rear parking assist system (standard equipment on the tester) alerts the driver with a chime if an object is detected within 47 inches of the rear of the car at under 3 miles per hour, which is exactly what is needed when backing up out of the driveway or a parking space.
Two drive modes are available in addition to regular mode: Eco and Sport. When in Eco, the rpms stay low and the car adopts a restrained feel, allowing the car to maximize fuel economy. In contrast, the car completely changes its personality in Sport mode. Acceleration feels very strong and uninhibited, perfect for passing and entering the freeway.
What I didn’t like about the “regular” (gas) Optima was the amount of road noise; the hybrid Optima was much quieter. The inherently noisier nature of an internal combustion engine is a given, but maybe there was more of an effort made to make the hybrid a quieter ride, knowing that the customer would expect that. I wasn’t real turned on by the way the engine sounds, either. It’s just not a really sexy-sounding engine. Sort of like meat grinder meets coffee maker. Also, there was vibration in the steering wheel and in my seat that was present all the way from idle to freeway speed. It was a minor vibration, but nonetheless annoying and surprising, since that had not occurred in the hybrid. It could have just been the tester that I drove.
For anyone doing any test driving at a dealership, I would recommend asking for more than one tester, including the hybrid, if the noise and/or vibration issues are present in the conventional gasoline version that the dealer provides for the road test.
At 185 HP (LX trim) or 245 HP (SX trim), the Optima certainly gets the job done, but it’s not going to win any quarter mile trophies at the drag strip. This isn’t a car for those who need a very powerful engine.
There’s no compromise on safety. The Optima garnered five star ratings in every test performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2017 Optima a Top Safety Pick, giving it top marks in all crash tests, including a Superior rating in crash detection and mitigation (when equipped with optional crash-avoidance equipment).
Edmunds gave the Optima a 4/5 rating, and Car Connection gave it 7.3/10.
The warranties on Kias are the best in the industry: 10 years or 100,000 miles (limited powertrain) and 5 year/$60,000 (limited basic) – that’s one reason why we say smart people buy Kias. The Optima’s features are the same ones found on much more expensive cars. All that makes a Kia a smart buy.
2017 Kia Optima Details:
Power: Varies depending on trim level. LX – 2.4 liter DOHC 16-valve l-4; LX Turbo – 1.6 liter with turbocharger; EX – 2.4 liter; SX – 2.0 liter; SXL – 2.0 liter with turbocharger
Transmission: 6 speed automatic
Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS
Wheels: 16 inch alloy (LX), 16 inch alloy with light grey finish (LX Turbo), 17 inch alloy (EX), 18 inch machined finish (SX), 18 inch alloy with chrome finish (SXL)
Hybrids have real time readouts on range and energy use
2017 Kia Niro and 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid
In the past ten years, Kia’s product lineup has come a very long way. Every time I mention that I’m test driving a Kia, the response is always the same: they are sooo much better now than they used to be. The brand was known for its inexpensive and boring-styled econo-boxes when they first hit the US market. While Kias are still a great bargain, it’s been said that the Kias being produced now have sophistication beyond their price tags. Let’s take a look at two of their hybrids, the Niro and the Optima.
2017 Kia Niro
Sure, Kia says it’s a Sport Utility Vehicle, but it’s really a pretty cool station wagon. There are those of us who think station wagons are overdue for a comeback in a big way, but the powers that be in the automotive world don’t agree, and so there aren’t too many mass-produced today. In the meantime, Kia makes a perfect station wagon that’s being peddled to the masses as an SUV. Whatever, Kia! If it’s 60 inches high, it’s a station wagon! For reference, the widely-accepted-as-a-station wagon Volvo V60 and V90 models are both 61 inches high, and the Subaru Outback, also considered a station wagon, is 66 inches high. Neener, neener, neener. I win this round, Kia.
Now that we have that out of the way, here’s the take-home message: Do you need to have that “sitting high” feeling? If you do, look elsewhere, because a Niro is not going to work for you. And while we’re at it, if you need a luxury or refined interior, another station wagon or SUV is going to work a lot better for you. If you are looking for a no-frills people mover with high MPG, then the Kia Niro should be on your short list.
In my week of testing, the Niro got rock star gas mileage. I took two road trips from Orange County to San Diego. On both trips, there was a blend of lousy stop and go traffic and free-flow highway driving. The Niro got 51-52 mpg on one trip and 53-54 mpg on the other.
A word on how the power system works: It’s a gas/electric hybrid, but it doesn’t exhaust the battery first and then switch to gas, as you might think. Rather, the Niro electronically decides which way to most efficiently send power to the wheels. The driver can monitor in real time on the display exactly what is happening and where things stand with the range, the remaining battery power, and the amount of gas in the tank. There’s absolutely no reason to worry about running out of battery. (Range anxiety, what’s that?!?)
In general, the Niro chose to use gas power when traveling at higher and consistent rates of speed and electric power in stop and go and slow traffic conditions.
The Niro comes in five trim levels: Base, LX, EX, Touring Launch, and Touring. The base version MSRP is $22,890.00. For that you get a no-frills interior (although the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system is included, so at least you’ll have that for the base price), 139 horses and 195 pound-feet of torque. This is not a car for speed demons and powerholics. The available power works just fine for the everyday driver looking for a hybrid that is wallet-friendly, basic transportation.
The back seat passenger space is very roomy, at 97.1 SAE and 102 EPA. The cargo area is a decent 19.4 cubic feet, and 54.5 cubic feet with the rear seats down.
The upper trim levels have all the extras, including a sunroof, Harman Kardon sound, heated steering, leather interior, and heated and ventilated seats, as well as technology extras like blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and a wireless smartphone charging pad.
Even without all the bells and whistles, it’s easy to understand why the Niro was chosen as one of the “Best Cars of 2017” by US News & World Report and was scored 4/5 by Car & Driver.
2017 Kia Niro Details
Power: 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine with 43 hop electric motor; 1.56 kwh lithium-ion polymer battery
Transmission: 6 speed dual clutch, automatic
Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS; and Regenerative braking system
Idle stop and go system
Wheels: 16 inch alloy (FE, basic trim); 18 inch (Touring Launch trim)
Fuel economy, FE trim (best of all trim levels): 52 city MPG, 49 hwy, 50 combined. Touring Launch trim level: 46/40/43 MPG.
Price (as tested, FE trim): MRSP $22,890. LX trim: $23,200. EX trim: $25,700. Touring Launch trim: $28,000. Touring trim: $29,650. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
Interior and Infotainment (FE trim): Cloth seats, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity platform, dual zone climate control, power windows, door locks, and outside windows, 7-inch touchscreen, back-up camera, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, USB jack, 12 volt outlet, 60/40 folding rear seats.
Available on upper trim levels: leather seats, Harman Kardon sound with 8 speakers, sunroof, sunshade, leather seat trim, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, 18 inch wheels, push button start/stop, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, wireless smartphone charging pad, driver seat position memory, power adjustable driver’s seat, smart key, parking assist.
2017 Kia Optima Hybrid
The Optima is a five-person, four door midsize sedan which is available in conventional gasoline engine and hybrid versions. The tester was a regular hybrid (as opposed to a Plug-In). The Optima Hybrid comes in two trim levels, Premium and EX. This week’s tester was the Premium (base) trim level, with the Hybrid Convenience Package of additional features (listed below) added in.
The Premium trim level got 44.9 mpg on average in a mix of both slow traffic and open highway driving, beating the EPA estimate of 42 combined. (In comparison, the Accord Hybrid’s combined EPA rating is 49 MPG – but the MSRP starts at $29,605.)
The interior is nicely appointed, with knobs and push buttons for volume and air controls, in addition to a 7-inch touchscreen and a tilting/telescoping steering wheel. Like the Niro, the base trim model features the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system (said to be better than most of its mid-size sedan competitors), but the Optima has even more standard features that kick up its competitiveness, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, standard leather-wrapped steering wheel, standard multi-adjustable driver’s seat, and standard dual zone climate controls.
The rear parking assist system (a Hybrid Convenience Package item on tester) alerts the driver with a chime if an object is detected within 47 inches of the rear of the car at under 3 miles per hour, which is exactly what is needed when backing up out of the driveway or a parking space.
Two drive modes are available, Eco and Sport. While eco is the default, and allows the car to maximize fuel economy, the car really picks up power in Sport mode.
At 192 horse power, the Optima certainly gets the job done as far as keeping up with traffic on the freeway, but it’s not going to win you a trophy at the drag strip. Like the Niro, this isn’t a car for those who need a powerful engine. It’s for a different customer, a smart one.
As far as some objective analysis of the Optima Hybrid, US News & World Report gave it a score of 8.3/10; and Kelley Blue Book rated it at 9/10.
Smart people buy Kias. Really smart people buy Kia hybrids.
DOHC 16 valve engine, CVVT; Interior-Permanent Magnet Synchronous Electric motor
Transmission: 6 speed automatic
Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS – Anti-lock braking system
Trim Levels: Premium (base trim) and EX.
Safety: Dual front airbags, front seat side airbags, driver’s knee airbag, and side curtain airbags; 5 star government safety ratings (out of 5 stars)
Wheels: 16 inch alloy
Optional “Hybrid Convenience Package” on tester: Laminated front door windows, heated power outside mirrors, power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, driver’s seat memory, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, and rear center console USB and 12 volt outlet. (Add $1,795 to MSRP.)
Trunk space: 4 cubic feet
Available options at higher trim level (EX): Panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone charging pad, surround view monitoring camera
Price (as tested, base trim): MSRP $25,995. EX trim: $30,990. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
Interior and Infotainment: Dual-zone climate controls, 7-inch touchscreen, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity System, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, front seat area USB port and 12 volt outlet, cloth seat trim, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather wrapped steering wheel, supervision meter cluster with LCD display.