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There was a time, not so long ago, when naming a Kia as our favourite executive car for more than £40,000 would have had us laughed out of our own awards ceremony. And yet the Kia Stinger justly holds that title, beating all of its rivals at the 2018 What Car? Car of the Year Awards.
But here's the rub: the GT S model that won our coveted title is powered by a 3.3-litre twin-tubocharged petrol V6, which endows it with enough poke to match the Audi S5 but also high running costs – not ideal for your average motorway-dwelling executive car driver.
For most executive buyers, then, the 2.2-litre diesel engine we're testing here will be the more appealing option. Although official fuel economy of 48.7mpg and 154g/km of CO2 emissions places this diesel Stinger a long way behind its most efficient rivals (step forward the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé, which promises a heady 67.3mpg), it's still the most efficient Stinger you can buy. And with 197bhp on offer, it shouldn't be a slouch.
In this form, the Stinger remains visually dramatic, too, although it only gets a pair of tailpipes, rather than the quartet fitted to the GT S.
2018 Kia Stinger 2.2 CRDi GT-Line S on the road
Unfortunately, despite being a tempting proposition for high-mileage drivers, this diesel engine is just too gruff for a premium car. You can feel plenty of vibrations being sent back through the steering wheel, pedals and seat at idle, and while it offers a pleasant surge of acceleration at around 3500rpm, you won't want to get there very often because of the booming noise.
Thankfully, the engine does pipe down when you're sitting on the motorway, but then there's wind and road noise in its place. And when you do decide to make a swift overtake, the eight-speed automatic gearbox drops a cog and that crass engine noise returns. The car doesn't feel especially fast either, with 0-60mph taking 7.3sec.
But what about on smaller, country roads? We've praised the Stinger before for feeling so well balanced, and the same is true here. It corners with an agility that belies its size, with steering that doesn't require continual adjustment through bends. You can add weight to the steering – and dial down the traction control system, if you wish – by changing between the driving modes. We found that Comfort offers the best all-round experience.
Ride quality is mixed, and that's an important point given the mile-munching nature of executive cars. Only the range-topping GT S gets adaptive dampers, so the lower-powered petrol Stinger and this diesel model do with a passive set-up instead. And while it's largely comfortable at cruising speeds, you'll feel small lumps and bumps around town more than you would in the 4 Series or Volkswagen Arteon.
2018 Kia Stinger 2.2 CRDi GT-Line S interior
Kia has worked hard on improving both perceived and actual interior quality in recent years, and it really shows in the Stinger. Material quality is better than anything that's come before it, and while the overall look isn't quite a match for Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, it's definitely within the same postcode. There is evidence of cost-cutting, though: the digital instrument displays that appear in the majority of its rivals (albeit as optional extras) are absent, although there is a 7.0in screen in between the analogue dials to display the most vital driving information. And while the floating 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system is fairly simple to use, it's not as graphically impressive as what you'll find elsewhere.
The sporty brief continues inside, too. You sit low down but, thanks to slim pillars, still get a great view out of the road ahead, past the long bonnet with its (sadly, filled-in) air vents. If the Stinger's size is likely to make parking an issue, you'll be pleased to know that a rear-view camera and 360deg view come as standard on this GT-Line S model, and even cheaper trim levels come with front and rear sensors.
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