The new Kia Stinger has a world-class design and truly noteworthy driving performance, but can it out sell and out drive the most popular mid-sized sedans on the market right now? The Stinger is up against the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata. These cars have been the cornerstones of the American car experience for generations. But as SUVs continue to take over the market, can the Stinger compete? We’ll explore that question as we break down what each car has to offer, and whether the Kia name will be a deciding factor in whether or not consumers will be willing to buy it.
The top selling sedans in America, the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry and the Hyundai Sonata, have claimed their superiority for quite some time. But Kia, the South Korean car manufacturer known for value-priced cars and interesting crossovers, is hoping to change that. In 2019 Kia introduced the Stinger luxury sedan. The Kia Stinger is somewhat surprising: boasting a choice between a 365 horsepower engine or a 4 cylinder 255 horsepower engine, either one with rear wheel drive (RWD), its aim is to match, if not unseat, established sport sedan benchmarks.
Michael Cole, chief operating officer at Kia Motors America is confident that Kia can successfully compete with higher-end brands such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes. However, it’s possible that car buyers might not agree with Kia’s aspirations. While it offers excellent speed, German styling and quality craftsmanship, the bottom line is that the Stinger falls into a funny little niche all of its own. It is certainly less expensive than other luxury vehicles of its class, but those in the market for luxury are buying a name brand as much a car. And for those buyers that are interested in more affordable mainstream sedans, the Stinger will never carry the clout that the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata have built and maintained all through generations of cars. To get a better idea of what the Stinger is up against, let’s breakdown what each sedan offers.
The 2019 Toyota Camry is all new. While it consistently tops the charts for popular mid-size cars, it is often considered both boring and dull; a perfect ride for the elderly. This iconic model line however, has had a recent facelift and is now much more expressive, with styling that is legitimately sporty. Undoubtedly Toyota hopes that the revitalized Camry will help it shed its dowdy image.
Toyota has gone to the trouble to turn the Camry into a “real” car again. SUVs and crossovers are so popular now that most buyers are no longer buying “real” cars, but utilitarian vehicles that are both big and beautiful. But why try to change the Camry into a vehicle that is similar to Toyota’s many other SUVs? Toyota has lowered the proportions of the Camry in order to differentiate it from the taller, higher and roomier SUVs that dominate the market.
The new Camry’s seating and roof are now an inch lower than they were previously. This gives the Camry a sleek, refined look and an aggressive profile. The seating position is sportier, giving the Camry a boost in appeal for a driver at any age. The interior has really stepped up its quality in the materials used, and the color palette dramatically drives up the Camry’s desirability. Toyota has incorporated technology as well. While it does not have Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, Toyota’s own Entune 3.0 infotainment system comes with its standard. This App Suite is a great little system and the standard navigation is easy to navigate. An ensemble of safety technologies, including collision alert, automatic braking, self-adapting cruise control, and lane keeping assist are just a few of the standard amenities that comes with the Camry. Camry's base model engine is a 2.5L 4-cyliner, 206-horsepower engine. The V6 engine is paired with a V6, 301-horsepower 3.5L with an 8-speed transmission.
While the Camry no longer holds the Toyota record for top sales, (that now belongs to the RAV4), it is certainly safe to say that the 2019 Camry is not the car with which one grew up. It has matured into something both beautiful and exciting while still retaining its popular reliability.
The Hyundai Sonata obtained a major refashioning for 2019. Previously Sonata was criticized as being too conservative in their yearly model changes, especially after the surprising success of the 2010 Sonata model. The 2019 Sonata spent significant time in overhauling it’s less than desirable quirks and reclaims a place at the winner’s circle.
The styling throughout both the interior and exterior is completely new. Hyundai is embracing a much more expressive front, starting with the grille, just like Honda and Toyota did. Hyundai features two separate grille textures: a horizontal flow or a diamond patterned mesh. Other exterior styling’s such as the fascia and a bright, fluid spear that flows from the front fenders to the back windows completes the new look. The Sonata profile is similar to both the Camry and Accord, which gives it an edgy, modern look to it. Material upgrades throughout the entire interior propel the “cool” factor of the Sonata. Excellent design of the middle stack and dashboard controls is indicative to the overall attention to detail. And in addition, Hyundai also made their affordable blind spot warning system standard on all 2019 Sonatas.
There are many changes unseen but definitely felt as well. The chassis structure is improved, making the 2019 model the best handling Sonata ever. The steering system has been tightened, but not in a bad way—it’s taut and crisp, like a professional athlete ready for the race. They also upgraded the rear suspension.
As for the power, the base engine for the Sonata is a 185-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder. The Eco model option has a 1.6L Turbo 4-cylinder 178-horsepower engine. The first-class engine is a 245-horsepower 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The 2019 Honda Accord closely follows that of Camry’s updating, and that’s a good thing. The new 2019 Accord is built on a completely new platform. It also incorporates a lower roofline lower seating height. Also like the Camry, the Accord’s sales record now belongs to the SUV model CR-V. But this not the fault due to any flaw inherent in the Accord, but can be ascribed to the population shift in preference from cars to SUVs. But for consumers who prefer sedans over SUVs, the Accord is cannot be beat. Despite its lower profile there is actually more trunk and interior space than ever before. The spacious cargo hold is in part due to an extended wheelbase, which also enhances the car’s exterior proportions. All these enhancements lend themselves to a luxurious feel. The delicate styling and attention to detail give the Accord a presence, which has been reticent in recent Honda products. The detailing is subtle and understated, giving an upper hand to the visual appeal and presence of the Accord. Honda has given the Accord a highlighted grille and a flowing arc to the tail end of the car. Flowing lines from the side body to the rear fascia are bright and elegantly modern. To complete the redesigned exterior, there is a lower rear fascia above the shiny chrome exhaust tips that gives the car a sleek look. The new Accord has played a different game when it comes to the powertrain strategy. Unlike similar sedans, the 2019 Accord does not offer the traditional four and six cylinder engines. Instead the Accord offers an all four cylinder engine featuring a 192-horsepower 1.5L direct injected turbo as the base engine and a 252-horsepower 2.0L direct injected turbo instead of last generation’s V6. A new non-turbo 2.0L hybrid four is also available. Most Accords will have automatic transmissions; the 1.5 is coupled to a CVT and the 2.0 is coupled to an entirely new ten-speed outfit.
Just as with its counterparts, safety technology has taken precedence to the standard amenities included. Sensory technology such as adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition is installed on every Accord. The infotainment center is enhanced as well, with a head-up display available for the first time.
So despite the declining popularity of the mid-sized sedan, there is a lot to get excited about from these three top carmakers. The competitive edges in each of these cars are both fresh and enticing.
So where does the Kia Stinger fit into this love triangle? It too is bold, fresh and a completely new offering from a respected, albeit economy carmaker. However, certain branding and marketing firms believe that despite the genuinely impressive quality of the Stinger, those in the market for mid-sized sedans will pass it over in favor of either the reimagined standards or the impressive luxury from solid manufacturers with whom consumers are already well acquainted. It begs the question, “should the Stinger even be compared with brands such as Honda, Toyota and Hyundai?” Because Kia is branding the Stinger as a luxury sedan, many comparisons are being made with vehicles in class with such as Audi, Mercedes and BMW. The idea that brands stick with one successful ideal that solidly exemplifies their vehicles is a strong force in the mind of the buying public. Trying to rebrand an image might not only make trouble for the new product, but also take away the focus on the image already established for the company, making it worse for both the new luxury car and the established economy cars for which Kia is known. Undermining a brand can certainly take time, but the illogic that sometimes accompanies the marketing of a brand can upset a manufacturer’s gamble. Expanding a line of car offerings could potentially backfire to Kia’s detriment by weakening its position within the consumer’s mind.
However, if the Stinger does fail to appeal to upscale drivers, the fault does not belong to the car. The Stinger is built on proven sturdy German architecture. In fact, it competes without the prestigious exclusivity associated with luxury brands.
It was intended to be a sophisticated muscle car for the working class. The Stinger was designed in Kia’s Frankfurt, Germany, and was under the watch of the revered car designer Peter Schreyer and Gregory Guillaume who was a former Audi designer. The base model Stinger sounds great with a turbocharged four-cylinder 255-horsepower engine. The GT has an even heftier sound with a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6 spitting out 365 horsepower. It can go for an impressive 0-60 mph in just 4.7 seconds. Advanced safety technology is readily available in all models of the Stinger, and prices start at an affordable $32,900, and climbing to over $50,000. But that is still more than $10,000 lower than a base BMW 540i with all wheel drive. No matter if they become a popular luxury car, these are sweet little rides. We’d drive one, and when we were done, we’d safely park it in the garage, throw a car cover on it and then do it all again the next day.
The final liability to consider for the potential inability of the Stinger to compete is simply the fact that it isn't an SUV. More and more the American public wants SUVs. Their higher line of sight, reliable handling in all kinds of weather and the general ruggedness of SUVs are helping their unprecedented popularity. Kia appears to be interested only in creating more cars, while completely neglecting the SUV market. Kia is currently making just two SUVs: the Sportage and the Sorento. Compare that with Toyota, which is currently making six different SUVs: RAV4, C-HR, 4Runner, Sequoia, Highlander and last but not least, the Land Cruiser. And that list doesn’t even include pickup trucks, of which Toyota is making two different models: the Toyota Tundra and Toyota Tacoma.
Simply put SUV sales are rocketing upward. Car sales are tumbling down. And the best way to get a piece of this automobile pie is to capture impressionable, wealthy young consumers is to simply produce an SUV. And an SUV is most assuredly not the Stinger.
So what exactly does the Stinger have going for it? Many wonderful qualities have already been discussed such as its lower price point, powerful engine options and its fabulously sleek European design. If you have not seen a Stinger, it truly is beautiful, with a gorgeous silhouette that reminds one of days spent happily cruising on the Autobahn. Not to mention that the performance of the Stinger is simply amazing. It’s incredibly fast and responsive, with handling that is superb. Also impressive is the Stinger’s rear-wheel drive instead of front-wheel drive. Rear wheel drive (RWD) distributes both the weight of the vehicle and the workload placed on the tires, allowing for a more balanced, enjoyable ride. Steering is smoother, and the turning and handling capabilities are a step above what one would get in a Sonata or a Camry. Kia seems to have discovered what the buyer wants from a performance sedan; now they are delivering it as what they hope to be a force to be reckoned with.
Let’s not forget that they are also delivering all this for a lower price than most competing rivals. The strange niche the Stinger occupies spoken of earlier is in part because one seems to get a lot of bang for one’s buck so to speak, as it looks as if Kia precisely identified what it needs to be and do to compete in the sedan world: a work occupied by both the luxurious and hard laboring. The Stinger is without question a high value for a relatively low price.
So one can see the conundrum that the Stinger presents to the car buyer. It is neither the reliable workaday Accord nor the affluent Audi A6, nor the more sought after SUV. What it all boils down to might very well be this question: when someone goes looking for a sport sedan, are they really looking to purchase a Kia? Perhaps the sole reason the Stinger might never wear the victor’s crown is obvious: because it's a Kia. Despite its impressive design parentage, despite the fact that it’s a truly beautiful machine, despite its heady power and smooth ride, the simple fact that it is a Kia just might kill it.
Kia is trying to change the perception that it only builds cheap cars by offering expensive ones, which is certainly a risk. That stretch might be one too far in consumers’ minds, especially given the low sales number. Then again, there is always a chance the American Dream could become a reality for Kia’s Stinger. Perhaps if Kia is able to incrementally shift the brand’s image by offering its affordable luxury cars, it’s sales volume will begin to speak for itself and claim a place in the pantheon of top-selling vehicles. It will be worth the effort, if Kia can achieve that. If not, Kia will become another cautionary tale in the rich mosaic of cars that came close, but couldn’t make the grade.