I suppose this Kia Stinger story all started while going for a ride in my 2014 328i, a car with over 120,000 miles on it, and my faithful daily driver. Every pothole produced a sort of bone-crunching sound that reverberated through the chassis, a result of daily trips down Rt. 80 in New Jersey. I had been thinking that it might be time for a new ride, but after a particularly nasty bump, I knew, “It’s time Mike.”
Perhaps some backstory is in order. I like BMWs. A lot. Along with my 3 Series, I have an E92 M3, and an F10 528i. My friends all drive them. I take pictures of them. I work on them. So the love affair is real. Of these, my 3 Series had taken the brunt of driving, to the tune of 120 miles each day, without one hiccup. But I’m also not blind to the other choices available. The 328 could use more power for highway driving. It had an outdated iDrive that wouldn’t let me integrate my phone in any way, and it was expensive to maintain.
Picking a successor
People always come to me when asking what car to buy for themselves – but knowing what car to buy for myself is always a challenge. Rules were easy. It must be reliable, safe for my two-year-old daughter, room for plenty of stuff, good gas mileage, all-weather capability, and fun to drive.
I decided against another 3 Series – a 330i was too slow, and a 340 was too expensive. And let’s face it, the F30 was never going to be that much fun when the steering rack insists on doing its best dead fish impersonation. Also ruled out were a Lexus IS (too small), a 5 Series (too soft), any sort of SUV (too high) and the entire FWD crowd (I wanted a RWD-based car).
Now, I remember the first time I saw a Kia Stinger at the New York Auto Show. It was mean-looking, in that Korean car cartoon way. I liked it. “Good on them!” I thought. It wasn’t just another me too SUV. When I read that Albert Biermann, former head of BMW M, was spearheading the development of the car, I became intrigued. When I learned about the price tag for a GT, it was officially on my short list for my next daily.
Brand, with a big B
Let’s pause here for a moment and talk about BRANDS, which to me is the perception of a company in the eyes of both the public and the individual. BMW’s brand runs high among car guys, while Kia’s does not. They’ve never built a car any of us would be interested in, so why bother? I’ve only had positive encounters with BMW. When I need a loaner car, it’s ready. When I buy one, the salespeople treat me like a human being, not a piece of meat. And the cars themselves are both reliable and in many cases, fun. Would Kia live up to this premium experience with its premium-priced Stinger? The answer was a resounding no.
Buying the Stinger
This journey starts on a Saturday afternoon. I walked into the local Kia dealer with my wife and asked for a test drive of a Stinger. After being ignored for about 5 minutes, I speak up and ask someone for help. We go in an office, sit down with a sales rep, and he pulls out a credit application. “You can’t test drive a Stinger without having your credit checked”, he said. I was appalled. I assured him my credit was excellent, I had a BMW for trade in, and at 34 years old, was past any test-driving antics. “Nope, we’ve had too many incidents..”, but at that point I was already getting up. I’m not sure what credit has to do with driving habits, but we left.
I stopped by two other dealers, both either not budging on price, or not interested in selling me the car I wanted. A visit to a fourth dealer was successful. They had a Stinger GT1 in Micro Blue, exactly what I wanted. After the usual back and forth, we did a deal that made sense, I traded in my 3 Series, and drove off in my new Kia Stinger.
The good before the bad.
Least you think I hated driving this car, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I described it in a comment on a Tom McParland post as “90% BMW, half the price”. The engine was responsive, with power in every part of the rev range. The suspension was firm but not too harsh. The hatch made it practical, and I liked that it was bigger than the 3 Series, but smaller than the 5. And it was FAST. Fast enough to make every one of my skeptical car friends giggle when they drove it. I was happy with my choice.
After a week of ownership, the problems began. First, stepping on the brake pedal produced a shudder through the wheel. Knowing this meant warped rotors, I called the closest dealer to my house to schedule an appointment, and informed them I’d need a loaner. “Nope, I have a bunch of cars here without engines in them, and all my loaners will be out for months”. Relying on this car to get me to work 60 miles away, that wouldn’t do, so I called the dealer that I bought the car from. “Sure, you can have a loaner, but we need to look at the car for an hour to determine if you’re eligible for a loaner car”.
Informing her that I’ve had the car a week and assuring her it would be covered did nothing. Since I didn’t think it was reasonable to have to wait for at least an hour, plus the time it took to drive there, I called the dealer by my job. “Sure, we have loaners, but only for safety issues, and warped rotor aren’t it.” But they did offer me a ride to work! Did I forget to mention that shuttle services ends at 4:30? Because the service rep sure did. I leave work at 5:30 and had to get a lift.
Paint, brakes, and the great Kia in the sky.
After keeping the car for the day and getting a call around that 4:30 time, I was told that yes, the brakes were warped, but I’d have to bring it back for a Kia representative to drive it, then again for a third time to repair it. I’d most likely only have the rotors cut, not replaced. When I informed him that bringing it back a total of 3 times was too much, and that I did not want the rotors cut on a car with 1,500 miles on it, he told me to call Kia Corporate and complain.
Though nicer to deal with, they also said it was corporate policy to cut the rotors, and that, unless it was a very bad case, these would fall into that policy. He was nice enough to inform the service manager at the dealership that I would be needing a loaner. Despite several attempts made to schedule an appointment with that service manager, he still has yet to return my call.
At this point, you might be thinking “What did you expect, it’s a Kia?” Yes, but one that stickers at $50,000. Some kind of service should be available for that price.
Let me love you.
Intent on loving the car anyway, that weekend I prepared my AMMO routine to bring out the best in the paint. After spending some hours with it, the Stinger was looking good, expect for one small problem – drying the hatch lid revealed paint peeling off the edge. I looked at my towel, and sure enough, blue flakes of paint were there. A closer inspection revealed paint bubbling off the inner track of the hatch, as well as drip marks along edges. “This is fine. Everything is fine.” I thought. But the idea of having Kia take my entire car apart to repaint it gave me minor pause – if I could even get them to agree to do it.
Rounding out my Stinger issues was a stereo that would constantly cut off and give static to anyone I was on the phone with, and a hatch that was starting to produce a rattle that resembled an old school bus going over a rough road. Taken separately, they are annoying but not crippling issues. But if the car was causing this much trouble now, how would it last to over 100,000 miles? And most importantly, would my daughter be safe? If something happened to her because I refused to return the car, how could I live with myself?
And that old adage about never buying the car in its first model year? I’ve done that before and never had an issue with other vehicles. The items on the Stinger you might expect issues from involve the new technology and engine, not so much how the car is painted, or brake rotors. Take a stroll through the Stinger forum to get a sense of the scale of problems. I was not alone.
The more I thought about it, the more I felt I had made a terrible mistake, like breaking up with a longtime girlfriend for someone new, only to find out that she chews loudly and takes the blankets from you every night. I missed my 3 Series.
The Empire Strikes Back
My wife and I did try to return the car at the dealer we bought it from. After being laughed at, we were informed that both the salesman and manager that sold us the car were recently fired, and they would offer me 50% of what the car was worth. We left, though the dealer did call me a few minutes later and offer 2 grand more for it, so that was really cool. I didn’t expect much more than that, but we had to try.
As for having Kia buy the car back? Maybe, but that would take months and money for legal fees, both in short supply.
So now what to get? The POWA of the Kia Stinger had left an impression. I wasn’t going to give that up. And that’s how I ended up trading in the Stinger after 3 weeks and picking up a CPO BMW 335i with 15,600 miles. It’s the loving embrace of my ex after she hit the gym. BMW’s are not perfect, but it is perfect for me.
Enjoy the ride
The point of this story isn’t to put Kia or the Stinger down as much as it is to make a future buyer aware of the potential for some of these issues – part of which exist with the dealership network. Despite the price, you’re still buying a Kia, one never made before. Expect push back on everything, or the car not to be screwed together as well. Expect to be inconvenienced through both buying and owning one.
Kia may be on its way to a better future, but if I were them, I would focus on the people element as much as the cars they sell. May you have better luck with yours on your Stinger journey.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
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