There may be very different reasons behind two car makers from opposite sides of the world trying to inject some raciness into their respective line-ups, but Volkswagen and Kia’s new sporty four-doors broadly share the same automotive aims. The Arteon and Stinger both carry high hopes, the Arteon succeeding the CC – essentially, a go-faster Passat – while the Stinger is the first of its lineage; both come replete with fastback/sportsback lines and GT intent.
While VW has employed charismatic flourishes to its range over the years, from the Beetle to the Golf GTI, it is still struggling to regain public favour after its hugely damaging Dieselgate scandal and other subsequent allegations. Kia, on the other hand, has yet to build a model to truly set the pulse racing. You could count the genuinely exciting things that the South Korean car maker has achieved on an empty abacus. It has been enduring over enthralling; practical not Instagrammable; perspiration rather than inspiration. Until now.
The Stinger is the first Kia, indeed, to have been actively anticipated by the general motoring masses, since its forerunner, the GT Concept, made its debut at the Geneva motor show seven years ago. Its styling is a quiet victory, combining a bolshie grille and air intakes aplenty with the brand’s existing design language to make it seem more like an enthusiastic evolution than a total bolt from nowhere.
By handy coincidence, the car that regularly fills the slot next door to mine in my apartment block’s underground parking is a CC. That allows me to make a simple comparative visual study between the model that was quietly laid to rest last year and its peppier replacement, showing the leaps forward made by the latter. Much has been said about the Arteon’s low-hunched demeanour, embellished by a steeply-sloping bonnet end that lends it an almost scowling face, but the Stinger still edges the personality stakes, with the almost Panamera-ish bulk to its rear quarters also trumping the German’s slightly meek back end. It has a certain presence about it – I notice several fellow motorists steal a glance at it during my time behind the wheel, which can’t happen to many Kias, with the best will in the world. A 2.0-litre engine is the entry point here for the Arteon and the Stinger, although the Kia that you will want is powered by a far more potent 3.3-litre V6. The Stinger ups its sports credentials with flappy-paddle shifters, which certainly encourage it to live up to that venomous-sounding model moniker. All-wheel drive is available on the 3.3-litre, while the Arteon sends power to all four corners as standard. Kit levels are fairly inclusive across the board: the VW’s features include climate control with an allergen filter and a panoramic sunroof; the Kia has all-round camera views and wireless phone charging; rain sensors, head-up display and plentiful Nappa leather blesses both of my test models.
Up-to-the-minute options such as park assist and touchless under-car boot-opening sensors unfortunately aren’t included on my Arteon, the R-Line, which injects additional sportiness to the standard car, not least via 19-inch alloys that almost spill from their arches.
Where the pair both fall down slightly is the interior finish. My Stinger test car wins out in this regard thanks to the red tones that dominate – the metallic red paint job is definitely the exterior finish to pick – even if the general attempted premium feel somehow doesn’t quite match rivals from elsewhere in the world. That is hardly helped by a little jingle when you turn off the car that trills like you have just shut down Windows. The spacious Arteon has a comparatively more high-end feel, yet budget trim occasionally assaults your eyes, most noticeable the plasticky centre of the steering wheel, as well as the overly reflective roof-lights panel, which redirects a distracting amount of sunlight at certain angles and times of day.
The Arteon is no slouch, taking 5.6 seconds in the 0-to-100kph standings, yet it is no match for the Stinger, which sets a seriously nippy benchmark of 4.9 seconds. That extra half-second-or-so is tangible – the big VW feels like it takes a moment to truly get going, while the Stinger bounds along in energetic fashion.
Perhaps the cross-carmaker comparison isn’t an entirely fair one until the arrival of the Arteon R, with a V6 at its heart, to truly match the Stinger punch for punch – with a mooted 400hp or more, it may even top the top-level Korean, which pumps out 370hp. What it won’t render immaterial, however, is the dirhams required to get on this motoring ladder: the 3.3-litre Stinger costs an affordable Dh169,000, while the 2.0-litre Arteon R-Line is Dh220,500.
If this is the car that made Kia cool, you can only hope Volkswagen hasn’t priced itself out of a redemptive moment, because in isolation and with a slightly reserved German manner, it is also more than fit to lead the line.
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