Kia is taking German executive models head-on with this classily-styled Stinger, a 'gran turismo' high performance five-door coupe flagship model that does nothing less than set out to completely change your perceptions of the brand.
Entry-level 'GT-Line' and 'GT-Line S' Stinger models are powered by either a 244bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder T-GDi engine or a 197bhp 2.2-litre CRDi turbodiesel. They're both reasonably fleet, the 2.0-litre variant capable of 60mph in 5.8s en route to 149mph. With the diesel, the readings drop to 7.3s and 143mph, but an increase in torque from 353 to 440Nm means that in real world driving, the CRDi variant will probably feel much quicker.
It's the top 'GTS' variant though, that should really get the juices following, this derivative featuring a potent twin-turbo 365bhp 3.3-litre V6 T-GDi engine beneath the bonnet, this variant capable of taking the car from standstill to 60mph in only 4.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 168mph where allowed. All models drive the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox with five different shift and throttle programmes and the option of full manual control using the steering wheel-mounted paddles. The 'GT-S' has variable gear ratio steering and electronic suspension which can be set to one of five modes. In the 'Sport' or 'Sport+' driving settings, the engine emits an exciting growl. In fact, this car is almost everything you wouldn't expect a Kia to be.
This model is a five-door hatch aimed at slinkier premium-badged models like Audi's A5 Sportback and BMW's 3 Series GT, plus also perhaps, four-door saloons with coupe-like rear styling like Volkswagen's Arteon. Kia prefers to call the Stinger an executive 'gran turismo' and says that this model's styling 'evokes memories of the classic age of grand tourers'. Whatever your perspective on that, it's difficult to argue that this is one of the most strikingly styled Kia models we've seen to date.
It certainly feels very opulent inside, where leather upholstery in either black, grey or red is standard across the range, as is front seat heating and electric adjustment for the D-shaped leather-trimmed steering wheel. More high-grade leather features on the dashboard and door armrests, plus there's an aluminium finish centre console, the highlight of which is an 8-inch colour infotainment touchscreen. Rear seat space is acceptable by class standards, with adequate legroom for even taller adults. Despite the coupe-like roofline, you shouldn't struggle for headroom either. And there's a decently-sixed 406-litre boot - though that's 74-litres less than you'd get in an Audi A5 Sportback.
Think of everything you expect a Kia to be. Bet you're not thinking of anything like this. But then that's just the point. The Stinger has been designed to get you thinking differently. It's arguably more stylish than rival Audi A5 Sportback, BMW 3 Series GT and Volkswagen Arteon models. It's certainly much better value, will be better equipped and will probably offer you a lot more performance for your money. True, efficiency figures aren't quite up to Teutonic standards. And the boot is a little smaller than rival trunks. But otherwise, this design is impressively hard to fault.
This is the South Korean maker laying claim to be a world-class car manufacturer. And with a Stinger in your driveway, that claim would seem to be very credible indeed.Click here to find out more about our Kia Stinger range
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa Romeo's new Giulia claims to embody the core elements which have made this Milanese marque one of the world's best-loved automotive brands. Distinctive Italian design, innovative powertrains, perfect weight distribution, unique technical solutions and the best weight-to-power ratio in the class all promise much as this car goes up against models like Audi's A4 and BMW's 3 Series.
Alfa knows it must bring it's a-game when it comes to engine technology in mainstream models, if it's to effectively take on German rivals. The engine line-up is built around a 2.2-litre diesel with 190hp or 210hp, along with a 2.0-litre petrol unit producing 200 or 280hp and the twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6 used in the top Quadrifoglio super saloon variant, this latter unit putting out 510hp. The Giulia gets a rear-wheel drive set-up, complete with classic 50:50 weight distribution and all models have to be ordered with auto transmission, an 8-speed unit. Pulling power is strong, whichver powerplant you select. Even the turbocharged petrol unit offers 330Nm of torque.
There are no significant changes to this improved Giulia beneath the bonnet, but the range does now feature a limited amount of 'Level 2' semi-autonomous driving tech - things like 'Lane keeping assist', 'Active blind spot' assistance, 'Active cruise control', a 'Traffic jam assistant' and 'Driver attention assist'. Otherwise, it's as you were. The Giulia benefits from the careful management of weights and materials to obtain perfect 50/50 weight distribution across its axles, while four-arm Alfa Link rear suspension (with an Alfa Romeo-patented solution for toe adjustment) and a double-wishbone front set up should aid ride and handling. Also debuting on the Giulia is a clever semi-virtual steering axis set-up which optimises the filtering effect and guarantees rapid, accurate steering by keeping a constant caster trail in corners.
The taut proportions of the Giulia have evolved from a rear-wheel drive architecture which bestows the car with short overhangs, a long bonnet, muscular haunches and the longest wheelbase in its segment. In the Quadrifoglio version, the use of ultra-lightweight materials extends to other components including carbon fibre for the bonnet, roof, front splitter, rear spoiler and body inserts, as well as aluminium for the doors and wings.
It was the interior that always let this car down a little in comparison to its premium rivals, so that's where the main emphasis has been directed for this minor facelift. There's a new 8.8-inch centre-dash infotainment screen. And another new screen in the instrument cluster, this one 7-inches in size. There's also a smarter central console which has been completely restyled to accommodate larger, more accessible storage compartments, as well as a wireless 'phone charger. The revised gear stick is now leather clad with luminous highlights and a signature Italian flag at its base, while the rotary knob that controls the infotainment system has been updated to gives the sensation of precision and solidity at every touch. The leather steering wheel has also been restyled to accommodate the functions and sensors for the autonomous driving systems.
As before, the cabin design is centred around the driver with the main controls grouped together on the small steering wheel. The human-machine interface consists of two simple, user-friendly knobs for adjusting the Alfa DNA selector and the infotainment system. Premium materials, including carbon fibre and real wood, are used throughout.
The Giulia should continue to rejuvenate Alfa's fortunes in the business-orientated compact executive market segment. For some time now, this sector has been too Audi/BMW/Mercedes-orientated and there are plenty of potential company customers out there looking for something a little different - more sporting and styling. This car could well suit these people perfectly.
Of course, Alfa must make sure that quality is up to snuff - but from what we've seen, the signs in that regard look good here. The Giulia certainly makes a more interesting driveway statement than yet another A4, 3 Series or C-Class would. It really comes down to whether, as a potential buyer, you're prepared to step out and be a bit different from others in your company carpark. Over to you.Click here to find out more about our Alfa Romeo Giulia range
The Jaguar XE continues to deliver a slickly executed take on the mid-sized executive genre, offering something different to the usual German suspects in the BMW 3 Series / Audi A4-segment. On paper at least, this revised version seems to have the design, technology and ambition necessary to succeed in this segment, with the dynamics of a BMW and the luxury of a Mercedes, plus all the efficiency and connectivity modern business buyers now expect. It's a strong contender.
When you compete in the same class as the BMW 3 Series, it's a measure of real confidence to bill your contender as "the driver's car in the global mid-size saloon segment". Yet that's exactly what Jaguar has done and a closer look at the XE reveals the reasons behind their bullishness. The chassis is a 75 per cent aluminium monocoque, light but immensely strong. The design utilises a classically correct longitudinal engine and rear-wheel drive architecture. Jaguar reckons that this XE has the best electric power steering in class and there are plenty of chassis goodies like torque vectoring by braking.
Automatic transmission is now non-negotiable and the car continues to be available in rear and all-wheel-drive variants. Jaguar's advanced torque on-demand all-wheel drive (AWD) system and Intelligent Driveline Dynamics technology maintain the XE's rear-wheel drive handling feel and agility while improving performance, traction and driver confidence. This revised XE, as ever, is available with a choice of Ingenium petrol and diesel engines. The 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol is available with 250PS and 300PS outputs, badged P250 and P300 respectively. The 300 PS petrol engine, equipped with all-wheel drive, accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds (0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds). While the efficient 180PS Ingenium diesel, badged D180, delivers 430Nm of torque and decent pulling power.
Jaguar has lightly updated the look of this XE to give it what the brand hopes is a 'more assertive' appearance, with smarter front and rear bumpers, advanced all-LED headlights and tail-lights with distinctive LED signatures. The cabin's much improved too, with the twin 'Touch Pro Duo' infotainment system centre-dash screens from bigger Jaguar models making an appearance on upper-spec XE models, along with a 12.3-inch interactive driver display to replace conventional dials in the instrument binnacle.
The interior now feels more up-market too, thanks to extensive use of soft-touch materials, premium veneers and new door trims that improve usability and practicality. Jaguar claims that every aspect of the cabin has been enhanced for increased convenience, improved stowage and better passenger comfort. The first-in-segment ClearSight interior rear view mirror improves safety and convenience by ensuring the driver has an unobstructed view of the road behind. Using a wide-angle rear-facing camera, the system feeds images to a high-definition screen within the frameless rear view mirror; unhindered by tall rear passengers, poor light or rain on the rear screen. A revised steering wheel, shared with the all-electric I-PACE, features hidden-until-lit graphics and capacitive switches for intuitive, tactile control of key functions. As before, space in the rear is fairly tight. And there's a 450-litre boot. The rear seats can be optionally heated and offer a 40:20:40 split-fold and a through-loading feature.
Bold, innovative, forward-thinking and able to level with the class best, this XE has proved to be the most credible Jaguar sports saloon we've seen since the Sixties. It chases bigger sales but unlike some of its predecessors, hasn't diluted crucial elements of brand credibility. On the contrary, it's a model company founder Sir William Lyons might have been proud of. He sought to make cars that made their owners feel 'alive' and the objective of this one is exactly that.
Failings are few. Yes, buyers will lack a little when it comes to boot space and some may find selected areas of the styling approach to be slightly conservative. There's nothing wrong with the fundamentals of this design though and the aluminium underpinnings that lie beneath that taut bodywork are pretty sophisticated. Potential business buyers will also note that in important areas like safety, connectivity and residual values, this car is difficult to better in its class, plus they'll also struggle to improve upon this model's diesel efficiency figures, thanks to Jaguar's impressively clean and frugal Ingenium technology. Yes, there's tough competition in the BMW 3 Series-sector. But this improved XE looks better set to size up to it.Click here to find out more about our Jaguar XE range