The Kia GT Line: Turbocharged performance in West Texas

On this particular morning, the West Texas sunrise is as symbolic as it is beautiful, casting its golden glow on Kia’s expanded line of turbocharged, high-performance sedans. It was just last year that Kia shocked the world and challenged Germany’s best for the first time. Building upon its well-earned reputation for creating fun-to-drive cars and SUVs with cutting-edge design and high-quality interiors, it introduced the Stinger and Stinger GT, redefining the affordable high-performance sports sedan.

With its powerful, turbocharged engines and well-balanced rear-wheel-drive chassis, the award-winning Kia Stinger was developed across Europe and on the world’s most grueling racetrack, Germany’s Nürburgring. The Stinger’s chassis dynamics were the work of Albert Biermann, who joined Kia from BMW’s M division, where he was responsible for performance legends like the BMW M3 and M5.

“I think for the Kia brand, the Stinger is like a special event,” he told us at the car’s launch. “Because nobody expects such a car—not just the way it looks but also the way it drives. It’s a whole different animal.”

Fueled by the Stinger’s success, Biermann and Kia’s engineers have continued to develop driver’s cars for enthusiasts. Now its high-performance line of GT models includes three impressive machines, which we’ve gathered west of the urban sprawl of San Antonio. Ready to take on this wide-open landscape of endless two lanes are the all-wheel-drive Kia Stinger GT, the special-edition Kia Stinger GTS and the all-new 2020 Kia Forte GT.

Unveiled at this year’s New York auto show, the Stinger GTS is packing a new version of the sedan’s optional all-wheel-drive system with a drift mode that allows up to 100 percent of its 365 hp to be sent to its rear tires.

With 201 hp, a four-wheel independent suspension and 18-inch summer tires, the Kia Forte GT is a compact sedan with some serious performance cred. Orth Hedrick, Kia’s executive director of car planning and telematics, is proud of the Forte GT and excited to get it into showrooms and out on the street.

“The fantastic capabilities of our team of engineers really shined in the development of the Stinger, and we’re thrilled to continue injecting a bit more sport into some of the other models in the lineup,” he told us.

We plot our route as the cars idle, their engines warming in the early morning chill. Our chosen testing grounds for these speed machines is as famous for its scenic rolling hills as for its vast oil fields, but this region of Texas is no stranger to such high-performance hardware. In the 1960s and 1970s, many thundering and innovative race cars were created just up the road in Midland.

2019 Kia Stinger GT

During development, Kia’s engineers tested the Stinger GT relentlessly on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife, or North Loop. It’s the longest, toughest and most dangerous racetrack on the planet. Nicknamed the “Green Hell,” it tortures cars and drivers alike with long 13-mile laps and 73 corners. This is where engineers test-drive the greatest driving cars in the world,  and it’s where the Kia Stinger GT became a world-class high-performance sedan.

Kia tested every development Stinger GT on the Nordschleife for a minimum of 480 laps, which is the equivalent of 6,214 miles. The track’s constant combination of hard acceleration, rapid deceleration, hard cornering and changing surfaces and cambers helps chassis engineers hone the cars driving dynamics, increasing its limits and improving its performance. But it’s also the ultimate durability test, assuring the quality and reliability of the entire machine. 

About an hour outside Pecos,Texas, powering through a series of long, fast corners, the Stinger GT’s world-class chassis tuning is immediately appreciated. The road is rough, with many midcorner oscillations that would upset the suspension and composure of a lesser car—but it isn’t a problem in the all-wheel-drive Stinger GT.

Reaching down to the console, we turn the knob behind the shifter and scroll through the Stinger’s five driving modes, which include comfort, eco for better fuel economy and sport. There’s also a custom mode that allows you to tweak the responses of the engine and transmission, steering effort and suspension tuning.

We find sport mode. It adds a bit of weight to the Stinger’s steering and firms up the sedan’s four-wheel independent suspension. Now it can soak up the road’s rough surface without disrupting the driver’s confidence or the grip of its massive 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Summer Tires. We pick up the pace, enjoying the Stinger’s impressive steering feel and the secure bite of its massive Brembo four-wheel disc brakes.

There seems to be endless traction as Kia’s standard stability control and all-wheel-drive system support the sedan’s driver and enhance the experience. Like the Porsche Panamera, the Stinger GT feels smaller and lighter the harder you drive it. Its chassis is incredibly stiff, and with just over 50 percent of its weight over its front tires, it’s well-balanced and turns in with an incredible athleticism.

Every Stinger GT is powered by an all-aluminum 3.3-liter V6 fortified with twin-turbos and backed by a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The engine is smooth and responsive, producing 365 hp at 6,000 rpm and 376 lb-ft. of torque at just 1,350 rpm. That’s considerably more power than you get in a 2019 Audi S5 Sportback or a 2019 BMW 440i Gran Coupe.

With all that bottom-end torque and high-rpm horsepower, the Stinger GT is seriously quick. Use its Launch Control feature and it accelerates to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds, which is quicker than the 330-hp Porsche 2019 Panamera4. The Stinger GT’s governed top speed of 167 mph is also faster than the Porsche’s, and its high-speed stability is exceptional.

By the time we reach the historic small town of Fort Davis, which dates back to the 1850s, it’s clear the Kia Stinger GT is the best high-performance sedan you can buy at its price. Rear-wheel-drive models start at under $40,000 and its optional all-wheel-drive system costs just $2,200 extra. Standard features include a heated steering wheel, heated leather-trimmed power adjustable front seats and valuable driver aids including front and rear parking sensors, Blind-Spot Collision Warning and Lane Change Assist. 

The GT1 model adds a long list of features, including the driver adjustable suspension, a larger 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation and a killer Harman/Kardon QuantumLogic Premium Audio system. Forward Collision Warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with pedestrian detection and Smart Cruise Control w/stop-and-go are also standard. Our loaded GT2 model, with napa leather and a head-up display, costs just over $50,000.

2019 Kia Stinger GTS

With performance figures strong enough to perform like its more expensive German rivals, the Kia Stinger GT hasn’t just redefined the Kia brand with America’s driving enthusiasts—it has become a popular player in the sport sedan segment. But Albert Biermann wanted more.

Kia’s head of research and development and his team of engineers went back to the test track and created the limited-edition 2019 Stinger GTS. It’s the ultimate Kia sport sedan with even more performance and visual impact than the Stinger GT. Only 800 will be built.

Every Stinger GTS will be painted the exclusive color of Federation orange and wear distinctive carbon-fiber trim. It’s a looker and it’s drawing attention outside the Fort Davis Drug Store where we currently are, which has been serving creamy milkshakes from the same soda fountain since 1913.

Genuine carbon fiber surrounds the sedan’s signature tiger nose grille, dress its mirrors and sizable side vents, which help cool its front Brembo brakes. Also part of the package is exclusive badging, with a center-mounted Stinger badge that replaces the Kia logo on the decklid for a custom appearance.  

To improve performance and the sedan’s driving experience, the GTS is available with a new version of the Stinger’s all-wheel-drive system, which has been infused with the mechanical limited-slip rear differential from the standard rear-wheel-drive model. Dubbed D-AWD, the new system offers the best of both worlds, providing all-weather traction when you need it and rear-wheel-drive action when you want it.

In the GTS, the all-wheel-drive system helps improve traction and enhance the dynamics of the sedan’s rear-wheel-drive chassis by sending more power from the 365-hp 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 to the Stingers rear tires. In comfort mode, up to 60 percent of the engine’s power is sent to the rear differential, and that number jumps to 80 percent in sport mode.

Those numbers are radically more aggressive than the power mix of the all-wheel-drive system used in the Stinger GT, and the difference can be felt as the Stinger GTS hustles down a tight twisty track. There’s more pace, with higher entry speeds, and sharper, crisper chassis response when you get back on the power.

On AWD models, engaging sport mode and disabling the Stinger GTS’s stability and traction-control systems activates drift mode, which sends up to 100 percent of the engine’s power to its rear tires and reprograms its eight-speed automatic transmission to hold gears without upshifting. Suddenly, the Stinger GTS behaves like a pure rear-wheel-drive car that, in the hands of a skilled driver, can also roast its sticky 19-inch Michelin summer tires around corners at will. This technology adds the Stinger GTS to a short list of all-wheel-drive sports sedans with the ability to behave like a rear-wheel-drive car.

With the optional D-AWD system, the Stinger GTS costs about $46,500, which is only $2,500 more than the rear-wheel-drive model. And it comes with the luxury features you expect at this price point. A sunroof is standard, along with wireless phone charging and a 720-watt Harman/Kardon premium audio system with QuantumLogic and Clari-Fi signal-enhancing technology. 

Every 2019 Stinger GTS also gets exclusive premium interior appointments, including a steering wheel and shifter covered in Alcantara.

2020 Kia Forte GT

About 30 miles outside Fort Davis, the terrain flattens out and the road stretches to the horizon flat and straight. We begin to push the 2020 Kia Forte GT, the brand’s new aggressively styled compact sports sedan, which has been injected with turbocharged power, a sportier suspension and available summer tires.

Inspired by the Stinger GT, the front-wheel-drive Forte GT debuted at last year’s SEMA Show in Las Vegas. It sits atop the Forte’s five available trim levels, just above the also new GT-Line model. Although the GT and the GT-Line look similar, the amount of sport injected into the Forte varies greatly between the two.

The new Forte GT-Line gets a host of attractive cosmetic upgrades it shares with the more powerful GT. These exterior tweaks include a racy-looking black grille with red accents, gloss black outside mirrors, sport side sills and a tasteful rear spoiler on its shapely decklid.

Inside every Forte GT-Line, you’ll find alloy sport pedals and a flat-bottom steering wheel with white contrasting stitching. To hold you in place during hard cornering, a set of sport cloth seats with larger side bolsters are also standard. Under the hood is a naturally aspirated 147 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and an Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), a combination that offers plenty of power and spirited acceleration.

Move up to the Forte GT and you get the look along with a substantial boost in performance and athleticism. The Forte GT is powered by a turbocharged double-overhead cam four-cylinder with 1.6 liters of displacement and a heady output of 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Kia offers the GT with a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic unit with paddle shifters.

That’s some serious horsepower, and the Forte GT is seriously quick off the line, pushing you back in the seat and holding you there as its seven-speed clicks off firm upshifts at the engine’s 6,500 rpm redline. There’s plenty of passing power as well, making it easy to dispose of a few locals in their big white pickups along our route. And its sport-tuned dual exhaust sounds great but doesn’t drone on the highway.

The Forte GT impressed in the corners as well. Its front and rear suspensions are fully independent and retuned for additional performance, with thicker antiroll bars, increased shock damping, larger front disc brakes and available sticky 225/40R-18 Michelin Pilot Sport Summer tires.

Body control is excellent, and the ride is smooth, but the compact sedan changes direction like a sports car, with plenty of grip and little roll. There’s an extraordinary amount of steering feel and sport mode, which adds some weight to the wheel and retunes the powertrain for snappier response, adds even more performance.

LED headlamps are standard, and to spice up its interior, the Forte GT gets racier red contrasting stitching on its seats, steering wheel and shifter boot. Smart key with push-button start is also part of the GT treatment, as well as LED ambient lighting with an illuminated GT dash inlay.

Both the GT MT and available GT2 package add a power sunroof, a 320-watt Harman/Kardon premium sound system with eight speakers, wireless phone charging, and a 4.2-inch center LCD screen. Forte GTs with the GT2 package also get a very comfortable set of well-shaped premium Sofino sport seats with power adjustment, heat and ventilation.

A suite of Kia Drive Wise technologies is also standard on both GT sport trims. Both the GT-Line and Forte GT gets Forward Collision Warning, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist-Line and Driver Attention Warning. The GT MT adds Blind-Spot Collision Warning with Lane Change Assist and Rear-Cross Traffic Collision Warning. The GT2 package also includes Smart Cruise Control.

With the sun setting and the cars pointed south toward the Marfa lights, our full day of driving has left us impressed by Kia’s expanded line of turbocharged GT models. The Stinger GT was already a favorite, and now it’s better than ever. The Stinger GTS, with its new drift mode, offers world-class dynamics and visual impact. And the 2020 Forte GT is about to set a new standard for performance and value in the compact sport sedan class. 


1.   2020 Kia Forte GT shown with optional features. Not all optional features are available on all trims. Some features may vary. Expected early fall 2019 with limited availability. 2019 Kia Stinger GTS prototype with optional D-AWD shown with optional features. Not all optional features are available on all trims. Some features may vary. Expected late August 2019 in very limited quantities. 2019 Kia Stinger GT shown with optional features. Not all optional features are available on all trims. Some features may vary.

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